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Title: The Grave-digger of Monks Arden
Author: Arthur Gask
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1203581.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: September 2012
Date most recently updated: September 2012

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

Title: The Grave-digger of Monks Arden
Author: Arthur Gask

*

_______________________________________

THE GRAVE-DIGGER OF MONKS ARDEN

WHAT THIS STORY IS ABOUT

In Colchester a recently bereaved husband sees in a shop-window a
plaster-cast made from a death mask of his dead wife. He is sure no
death mask of her was ever taken; and in great distress, asks Gilbert
Larose, the famous investigator, to solve the mystery. Larose is soon
upon the track of a sinister figure, but immediately he finds the trail
crossing that of a far greater criminal who believes he has committed
two murders and will never be found out.

Larose relentlessly pursues him, but his quarry suddenly becomes aware
that he is being followed. He strikes quickly and with a sure hand to
save himself; yet, with his escape certain and his safety quite assured,
he makes one great mistake. Larose then finds himself in danger from the
authorities, and it is only by a master-stroke that he succeeds in
extricating himself from a highly invidious predicament.

_______________________________________

THE GRAVE-DIGGER OF MONKS ARDEN

BY

ARTHUR GASK



HERBERT JENKINS LIMITED

3 DUKE OF YORK STREET

ST. JAMES'S LONDON S.W.I


First Printing 1938. Also published in The Advertiser, Adelaide, S.A. in
serial form commencing Wednesday 2 February, 1938.

_______________________________________

CONTENTS

CHAPTER

I........THE QUICK AND THE DEAD

II.......THE VAULTS OF THE RODINGS

III......THE DEATH MASK

IV.......AN ASYLUM FOR THE INSANE

V........THE ESCAPE FROM THE ASYLUM

VI.......THE SECRET CHAMBER

VII......THE RESOURCE OF LAROSE

VIII.....LAROSE IN DAGGER AGAIN

XIX......THE LIVING AND THE DEAD

X........THE TRAIL OF MURDER

XI.......SETTING THE TRAP

XII......A NARROW ESCAPE

XIII.....JUSTICE

XIV......GUILE

*

THE GRAVE-DIGGER OF MONKS ARDEN

*


CHAPTER I.--THE QUICK AND THE DEAD


Tall, lithe and of great strength was Daunt, the grave-digger of the
ancient church of St. Benedict, in the little village of Monks Arden,
about three miles from Saffron Walden. His head was big and
bullet-shaped and his hair was closely cropped, as if he had just come
out of prison. He had dark and deeply sunken eyes, and, as if to hide
their expression, he kept them nearly always half closed. His shoulders
were broad, but his loins were narrow and his figure tapered down to
bony legs and very long feet.

His general appearance was certainly not a pleasing one, and holding
himself, as he always did, with his shoulders hunched and his head bent
forward, he gave to many who encountered him in the country lanes at
night the suggestion of a prowling beast of prey.

A single man in the late thirties, he was of a most reserved disposition
and taciturn and short of speech. It was rumoured that he must be both
an atheist and an anarchist, for, upon one of the very rare occasions
that he had visited the village public-house, his tongue had become
loosened and he had been heard to state that the Vicar of St. Benedict's
was an old fool, and that the House of Lords ought to be abolished. At
any rate, it was held that, by the expressing of such opinions, he must
be a man of most extreme and violent views.

He lived by himself in a small stone house that was built against one of
the churchyard walls. His great hobby was carving, and, a fine craftsman
and very artistic, he was always able to obtain good prices for his
work. He knew all the old churches for miles around and had copied many
of the carvings in them. He possessed an old motor-bicycle and sidecar
outfit and often drove about late at night. Incidentally, it was reputed
he must be a poacher, but no one had any certain evidence of that.

In addition to being the grave-digger, he was the gardener of the
churchyard, attending to the shrubs and flowers and keeping the paths
clean and tidy. Also, he acted as handyman about the church, and being
both a good carpenter and a good mason, was able to carry out all sorts
of small repairs.

The church of St, Benedict's was very old, its outer walls being part of
a monastery that had been destroyed by fire in the fifteenth century.
But during the reign of Henry VIII the church itself had been rebuilt
and, although it now served a very small congregation, it was associated
in history with many of the old county families in the district. In
consequence, not a few notabilities, who rarely visited the church
during life, were laid to rest in its churchyard at death.

One cold and stormy afternoon in late November, the body of the
beautiful young wife of Captain the Honourable Arthur Haverhill was
being interred in the churchyard. She had been barely twenty-three and
had been killed in the hunting field. Before her marriage, less than two
years previously, as Esther Rayleigh, she had been hailed as a great
musical genius and, upon her presentation at Court, had been regarded as
one of the most lovely girls of the season.

And now all that remained of her was being lowered into the cold, dead
earth and it was in the minds of those about the graveside that no eyes
would gaze upon her loveliness again until the resurrection morn.

The grave-digger stood back behind the mourners with a face as
expressionless as that of a mask. Grief and tears were as nothing to him
and it might have been imagined that all his thoughts were concentrated
upon how soon the service would be ended, so that he would be able to
start filling in the grave.

But in this particular interment, for some reason, he was more than
usually interested and nothing of what was taking place escaped him.

He had taken good note of the coffin as it was being lowered from the
bearers' shoulders on to the ground, and he had counted the number of
screws in the lid. Also, he had many times looked up at the quickly
darkening sky to see how long it was likely the rain would hold off,
and, with a calculating eye, he had determined who among the crowd were
just idle spectators. He was not pleased there were so many wreaths, for
he knew how the curious often lingered long afterwards by the graveside
to read the names upon the cards attached to them.

"In the midst of life we are in death," droned the old vicar in his
mournful, solemn tones, and the undertaker's men began to get ready to
lower the coffin into the grave. "Earth to earth, ashes to ashes," he
went on, and big drops of rain impinged upon the coffin as well as the
handfuls of earth.

The remaining prayers were hurried through and, just as the benediction
had been pronounced, down came the rain in torrents. The mourners
scuttled to their cars, the undertaker's men hastened to pack off with
their trappings and the vicar hurried into the church for shelter; in a
few moments the grave-digger was left alone.

With no waiting, for he was evidently no more minded than anybody else
to remain longer than he could help in the pouring rain, the
grave-digger pulled back on to the open grave the big, heavy tarpaulin
that had been covering it all the morning. Then, running over to the
church wall for shelter, he took up a position at one of the corners
and, craning his head forward, for a long time peered stealthily all
round the churchyard.

On three sides this was surrounded by high and crumbling walls, but on
the fourth, which faced the main road, the wall was of much later
construction and less than four feet in height. In the middle of it were
the two big iron gates.

There was not a soul in sight and the rain continued to fall heavily.

After a few minutes, seeing the vicar leave the church and hurry away
under the shelter of an umbrella, the grave-digger, apparently at last
satisfied that everyone had left the churchyard, ran over to the big
gates himself. There, pushing them to, he placed a number of small
stones underneath, in such positions that he would be able to see at
once if anyone had opened the gates again to come in.

Then he hastened over to his small house, and shutting himself in, took
off his mackintosh and proceeded to warm himself before the fire. It was
then half-past three and under the lowering sky the short winter day was
drawing rapidly to a close.

The grave-digger's house consisted of only two rooms. One was kitchen,
living-room and bedroom all combined. The other was fitted up as a
workshop and contained a serviceable and good-sized bench. Round the
walls were racks of tools, and in one corner was a large cupboard. Upon
a shelf were a number of books and a few road maps, the latter, from
their soiled covers, having evidently been purchased some time ago.

An hour passed, and it had become quite dark.

With a quick glance through the window, the grave-digger rose to his
feet and lifting up the mattress of the bed, pulled out a small
sugar-bag, lined neatly with a piece of a mackintosh groundsheet. Then
proceeding into his workshop, he selected a few tools from the rack, and
from the cupboard a small electric lamp and a length of stout whipcord.
All these he placed in the sugar-bag, and donning a dark mackintosh and
carrying the bag under his arm, let himself out of the house. For a long
while he stood motionless by the wall.

It was still raining, but now only a steady drizzle. Then, as if
released from a spring, the grave-digger suddenly ran forward, and
placing his bag behind a tombstone, made his way quickly along the
sodden pathway and examined the stones he had placed under the gate
about an hour previously.

They had not been, disturbed, and if his movements had been quick
before, they became like lightning now. He darted over and retrieved his
bag from behind the tombstone, and then, proceeding at a run to the side
of the newly dug grave, lifted up the edge of the tarpaulin and slipped
underneath. The wriggling of his body could have been followed until his
head heaved up the tarpaulin in the middle. Then the tarpaulin settled
down again and everything became as it had been before.

For some minutes there was deep silence, followed by muffled sounds
coming from the bottom of the grave, beginning with the gentle sliding
off of the coffin lid.

Another silence followed, and then came sounds as of wood striking wood
again. Not a minute later and just as the worker in the grave was
preparing to climb out, his eyes opened wide in consternation, his
tongue clove to the roof of his mouth and a clammy sweat burst upon his
forehead.

He had heard movements upon the tarpaulin above.

Then, for minute after minute, he crouched in the inky blackness below
and alternately he held his breath and moistened over his dry lips with
his tongue. His heart was beating violently.

All at once he cursed deeply, wiping the sweat off his forehead with the
damp sleeve of his mackintosh, and then--he smiled. His ears had caught
the whimpering of a dog and he recognised it as coming from the vicar's
little fox terrier, who often kept him company when he was working in the
churchyard.

"Shut up, will you, you little fool," he called out sibilantly. "Keep
quiet, you brute," and with one end of the length of whipcord in his
hand he began to work his way quickly up the sides of the grave.

Gaining the top, he wriggled himself under the tarpaulin, all the time
vehemently urging the dog to be quiet. Finally, clear of the tarpaulin,
but still upon his hands and knees, he stretched out and grabbed at the
little animal, who all the time had been keeping up his whimpering.

In his fury, the grave-digger had seized the terrier by the scruff of
the neck, with the full intention of throttling him and throwing him
into the grave. He now gripped him by the throat with the other hand
and, holding his face up close, glared into his eyes.

"Blast you, to frighten me like that!" he snarled viciously. "Now
you'll----" but the little beast put out his tongue and licked the
grave-digger's face. A moment's hesitation and then, with all his fury
gone, Daunt was snuggling up the dog and affectionately stroking him.

But he quickly put him back on to the ground and with a sharp but not
unfriendly kick booted him away. "Hop it, you. Get away quick," and the
frightened dog bolted off at the unexpected violence of his friend.

The grave-digger pulled quickly upon the whipcord and up came the
sugar-bag, heavier now than when he had taken it down into the grave
with him. Tucking it under his arm he ran quickly back to his house, and
then for a good five minutes there were no movements in the churchyard
save for those caused by the wind and driving rain.

Then the grave-digger reappeared and, pulling away the tarpaulin, began
with great speed to fill in the grave. He plied his spade energetically,
with wide sweeping movements, and as if to encourage him the rain
stopped and the stars came out. In less than an hour he had finished
everything and tidied up all round. With a sigh of satisfaction, he
returned to his house and for the first time that evening pulled down
the blind and lit the lamp. The sack, with its contents, had now
disappeared.

The day was a Wednesday and at eight o'clock the usual mid-weekly choral
evensong would be sung. So the grave-digger was not startled when, a few
minutes before that hour, he heard footsteps outside and then a knock
upon his door. Opening the door with no delay, he saw the old vicar
standing outside.

"Good evening, Daunt," said the latter pleasantly. "Terrible afternoon,
wasn't it? Well, Mrs. Joles came and saw me yesterday to complain that
someone has stolen one of the flower vases from her husband's grave. Can
you think of anyone, now, who is likely to have done it?"

"No, I can't," replied the grave-digger bluntly. He spoke as if he were
considering the theft a reflection upon him, personally. "But she's
never had any vases on her grave," he went on. "They're just milk
bottles and they belong to the Saffron Walden Milk Company. There's the
firm's name on them and I've often noticed it."

"Dear me! dear me!" smiled the vicar. "Then I'll look at them myself
to-morrow and speak to her about it. That isn't quite the thing." Then
just as he was turning away, he added: "By the by, our little friend's
been fighting again with some other dog. When he came home to-night,
from the stains upon his throat and neck, my wife quite thought he must
have been badly bitten somewhere. But she washed him and couldn't find
any wound." He nodded. "Little animals are always pugnacious, Daunt, and
it's a good thing you and I are tall."

"Yes, it is," agreed the grave-digger gruffly, and the old vicar ambled
off to take the evening service.

Later on, although the night was chilly, the grave-digger opened his
door to listen to the music of the organ, Chopin's 'Funeral March' was
being played, as it always was when there had been a burial, and it was
his favourite melody.

Notwithstanding his gruesome occupation and his general surly demeanour,
he was artistic from his toes to his finger-tips.

       *       *       *       *       *

One afternoon in the following week, Professor Panther of Cambridge was
giving a small and select tea-party in his big house in Milton Road.
There were four pretty girls present, old Canon Wenthall and a retired
army officer, Colonel Plum.

The professor, well over sixty years of age, was a small man with a
large forehead and big eyes. His complexion was as clear as that of a
young girl. He had a happy smiling face, and, quick and active in his
movements, he gave one the impression that he was still full of energy.
For many years before his retirement he had been Professor of Anatomy at
Cambridge University and, specialising in the surgery of the brain, had
won for himself a reputation all over the world.

A bachelor of means, he was now entertaining his guests in a beautifully
furnished room with many lovely objects d'art scattered about, and
some almost priceless engravings upon the walls.

"Oh, what beautiful things you have, Professor!" sighed Mary Wenthall,
the vivacious daughter of the old canon. "You make me break the Tenth
Commandment every time I come into the room."

"Well, my dear young lady," laughed the professor, "I must have beauty
in some form or other to comfort me. As a dry old bachelor, the beauty
of your delightful sex is not mine to bring solace and consolation, so I
have to make up for it in the beauty of inanimate things."

"But you should have taken a wife long ago," retorted Mary sternly. "It
is such men as you who can't be brought up to scratch who make life so
worrying for us poor girls. For example, here am I, in the very heyday
of my charms, chasing round everywhere for a rich husband, and I can't
get one anyhow." She regarded the assembled company defiantly, and then
looked back at the professor. "Now, why don't you propose to me at once?
This carpet would just go with the shade of my new frock, and I'd say
yes with no blushes."

The expression upon the professor's face was one of great distress.
"A-ah, how you tempt me!" he exclaimed wistfully. He shook his head.
"But no, I must resist you, for it will be a nurse I shall be wanting
soon, and not a sweetheart."

"But I've taken a course of first aid," went on Mary briskly, "and know
all the antidotes for poisons and how to treat scalds and burns. So it
happens I am just the right woman for you and----"

"No, Mary," broke in pretty Ida Plum with great decision. "If anyone
here is going to marry the professor it will be me. I'm an excellent
cook and I've always had a preference for short men. You're short
yourself and so must marry someone tall to equalise the height of the
children. Besides----"

But the light badinage was interrupted by the arrival of another guest.
Tall and spare, with a keen intellectual face and wearing small
pince-nez, he was a smartly dressed man in the middle forties. He was
Dr. Joseph Benmichael and he ran a large private asylum for well-to-do
patients, about two miles out of Cambridge.

"Oh, welcome, welcome, Doctor," cried the professor, as if in great
relief. "You've come just in time to separate these young ladies who are
fighting tooth and nail for my heart and hand."

The doctor shook hands with the professor, and then bowed smilingly
round at the other guests, with all of whom he was apparently
acquainted.

"Fie, fie, Professor," he said reprovingly, "to see a man of your
advanced age trifling with the fair sex! I am astonished at your being
so reckless." He raised his eyebrows. "Why, I quite thought that, apart
from the grey matter of our brains, your only hobby in life was
orchids." He looked very stern. "And now I find you dallying with pretty
girls."

"And what is more natural," laughed the professor gaily, "for are not
pretty girls like orchids--as seductive and delightful to look upon and
as difficult to obtain?" He threw out his hands. "Does not our pursuit
of them, too, at once suggest to us the same dangerous forms of
adventure as we undertake in our quest of that rare flower--the perils
of the tropical forest, the miasmal swamp and the dizzy precipice side?
Why, I believe----"

"Oh, Professor, I think you are really horrid," broke in Ida Plum
protestingly, "I'm sure I'm not tropical and I'm certainly not an evil
miasmal swamp."

"Heaven forbid!" exclaimed the professor instantly. "You are sweet as a
rose in June." He bowed as if in apology. "No, I was only referring to
the perils we risk to bask in your smiles--the anguish of a broken
heart, the discomforts of impaired digestion and the poverty of the
emptied pocket," and he chuckled in great amusement at his own humour.

"You are dead right about the emptied pockets," grunted Colonel Plum,
whose face of violent hue suggested he was upon the verge of a fit of
apoplexy. "With three daughters for ever clamouring for new frocks, I
have to stint myself in everything and smoke the cheapest of cheap
cigars. I never have an odd sixpence to call my own."

"But oh, Father, you like us to look nice, now don't you?" remonstrated
his daughter, pretending to be distressed. "You wouldn't like me to look
a frump and have no boys coming to take me out. Now, would you?"

"You'd never look a frump, whatever you wore, with those eyes of yours,
Miss Plum," commented the professor gallantly. "Why, I notice the frigid
doctor here has been looking at you ever since he came into the room."
He turned to Dr. Benmichael. "But tell us, Doctor, how are all those mad
patients of yours?"

"As sane as you, Professor," replied the doctor coldly, evidently not
too pleased with the professor's remark about his looking at Ida Plum,
"and perhaps even saner." He smiled a grim smile. "Yes, thank you, all
my guests are quite well."

"But are you really willing to admit," asked Myra Girdlestone, an
athletic and healthy-looking blonde who rode to hounds twice a week and
smoked forty cigarettes a day, "that you are detaining people who are in
their right minds?"

"Certainly," laughed the doctor. "Four-fifths of my patients are
perfectly well as long as they remain with me. It is only when they are
brought in contact with the responsibilities of the everyday world that
the nervous systems of some of them break down."

"How terrible!" exclaimed Miss Girdlestone. "They must feel their
position most keenly."

"Not at all," said the doctor. "They live most happy lives. They golf,
they play tennis, they enjoy indoor games and at night they are always
squabbling at the six or seven tables of bridge." He shrugged his
shoulders. "I have a few, of course, whose misfortune is apparent to
everyone, but happily very few."

The conversation became general and then, tea being over, the professor
took them all to see his orchids. The girls were most enthusiastic, but
the colonel and the doctor appeared rather bored, and the canon had got
indigestion from the three chocolate eclairs he had eaten.

Presently Ida Plum pleaded. "And now, Professor, be a dear and take us
into your laboratory." She turned with enthusiasm to the other girls.
"He's got the most beautiful specimens of people's brains in glass
boxes, and you can look into them and see exactly how the inside of your
head appears."

Mary Wenthall shuddered but the ether girls backed up Ida in her request
and, after a few moments, apparently with some reluctance, the professor
led the way through the garden to a small building that stood quite by
itself, about twenty yards or so from the back of the house. He took a
bundle of keys from his pocket and unlocked the door. Then, as the short
afternoon was beginning to draw in, he switched on the lights.

There were only two rooms in the building, one long low chamber and a
smaller one that led directly out of it at the farther end. The walls of
the long chamber were lined all round with shelves upon which stood a
great number of bottles and big jars. Down the middle of the room and
along almost its entire length stretched a long narrow table upon which
was a double row of what Ida Plum had aptly described as glass boxes.
They were shallow and filled to the brim with spirit, and in each one
reposed a human brain in some aspect of dissection. Every box was
labelled with a numbered red seal.

"And every one of these brains," announced the professor proudly,
"belonged in life to some man or woman who was outstanding in his or her
achievements or calling." He indicated the boxes, one by one. "This came
from a great painter, this from a divine singer, this from a man whose
scientific discoveries were the admiration of the whole civilised world,
this from an orator who has thrilled millions with the magic of his
words, this from a great general whose genius enabled him to deal out
death to hundreds of thousands of his fellow creatures, this from a man
who murdered seven wives, and this from a Corsican brigand whose cruelty
was of so high an order that he tortured his only son to extract certain
information from him." He waved his arm round smilingly. "And so on and
so on."

Some of his guests shivered, but Colonel Plum appeared most interested.
That touch about the general who had killed hundreds of thousands
appealed to his professional instincts, and he nodded with great
approval.

"But what have you collected them all for?" asked the athletic Myra
Girdlestone wonderingly.

"A-ah!" exclaimed the professor with great animation, "I am a humble
worker among that vast multitude of scientific men who are for ever
delving into Nature's hidden secrets." He raised his hand emphatically.
"One day we shall know everything about the grey matter of our cerebra,
how it became convoluted and how----"

"Tut, tut," broke in Dr. Benmichael impatiently, "you are becoming too
technical for these ladies, Professor. Pass on now and show them the
casts made from your death-masks. Those will please them, I am sure."

"But one moment!" exclaimed the Girdlestone girl, before the professor
could speak again. "Where did you get all these brains from? That's what
is puzzling me."

The professor nodded solemnly. "From all over the world, Miss
Girdlestone. I have friends and confreres in all the big cities"--he
shrugged his shoulders--"and because of my one-time humble activities in
the surgery of the brain, they are always mindful of me when they can
procure a specimen which they think I would like." He turned frowningly
to Dr. Benmichael. "No? Doctor, I never show anyone the casts from my
death-masks now. Some of them have been lately given to me upon the
express condition that they are not to be exhibited to the public gaze,
and so I regard their possession as a sacred trust." He inclined his
head solemnly. "When I die they will all be destroyed."

"But where do you keep them?" asked Ida Plum. She pointed to the door at
the end of the long chamber. "In there?"

"Yes, in there," nodded the professor, and as the girl walked towards
it, he smiled. "But the door is always locked."

"Mean old thing!" pouted Ida, retracing her steps. "We shouldn't tell
anyone we'd seen them."

"But a trust, Miss Plum!" exclaimed the professor reprovingly. "Surely
you would not have me----"

But at that moment one of the professor's maids came in to announce that
he was wanted urgently on the phone. "It's a trunk call from London,
sir," she added, "and the gentleman seems in a great hurry."

"Excuse me, everyone, please," said the professor, "but this call is
very important. I shan't be a minute," and he hurried out of the room.

Colonel Plum took out and lit a cigarette. "I don't know whether it's
allowed," he said, looking guiltily at the doctor, "but I'll chance it.
The smell of this darned place makes me feel sick. My stomach isn't
feeling too good after those buns."

Everyone walked round, looking at the contents of the bottles upon the
shelf, until Ida found herself opposite a small cupboard, and she idly
pulled the knob. Rather to her astonishment, the door came open and,
upon peering inside, she gave a startled exclamation of great surprise.

"Oh-oh, come and look here," she cried out quickly, and then she half
pushed to the cupboard door again. "No, no, not you, Mary. You'd be
scared out of your life." She laughed in a great thrill. "Only
strong-minded people must see this. Come on, quick, before the professor
comes back. I'm sure he'll be furious."

They all crowded round the cupboard, even including the half-shrinking
Mary, and there were gasps of delicious horror from the girls. Colonel
Plum was unperturbed as became one who had fought in the Great War, but
Dr. Benmichael, after one quick glance inside, snatched off his
pince-nez, and after a few rubs upon his pocket handkerchief, replaced
them hastily and craned his head forward above that of Ida Plum's.

The cupboard was about shoulder-high of the shortest of those standing
before it, and it contained one single large glass jar filled with very
clear spirit. The glass was very clear also. In the jar was the head of
a woman, roughly and unevenly severed about mid-way down the neck. The
young and waxen face was oval in shape, and now in death, even as it
must have been in life, was one of extreme beauty. The features were
finely chiselled, the eyes long-lashed and the mouth was a perfect
Cupid's bow. The lips were those a lover would have longed to press.

For a long minute an awed and breathless hush fell upon those standing
before the cupboard, and then the colonel exclaimed hoarsely, "Gad! she
must have been a lovely girl!" His eyes seemed to bulge out of his head.
"But where the blazes did he get it from?"

"Quick, let's shut the cupboard," exclaimed his daughter peremptorily,
taking command of the situation. "He'll be awfully cross if he knows."

But they were too late, for as they all moved away to let the cupboard
door close, the professor bustled into the room.

"I'm so sorry----" he began, all smiles, but then, as in a lightning
flash, the whole expression of his face altered, at first to one of
intense chagrin and then to that of intense anger. He got furiously red
and clenched his bands together viciously.

"Which of my guests was it," he shouted, as he darted over and banged to
the cupboard door, "who was so dead to all sense of decency as to pry
into my private affairs?"

"It was I, Professor," admitted Ida Plum, looking very frightened. "I am
so sorry, but I just tried the door carelessly and finding it unlocked,
I----"

The professor swallowed hard, and then his anger appeared to subside as
quickly as it had risen. His face broke into a sickly and apologetic
smile, "Well, well!" he exclaimed, trying hard to appear as if he were
amused, "of course it is all my own fault. I might have anticipated the
natural curiosity of your charming sex and made sure that the cupboard
was locked before I left the room." He looked rather spiteful and his
voice dropped to very solemn tones. "But I would have preferred that
everyone had kept away from that jar, because the woman whose head is in
it died of bubonic plague in one of the Baltic ports." He nodded
ominously. "And you can never be certain how long some germs take to
die."

The girls were horrified and even Colonel Plum's face lost something of
its violent hue. The old canon made a quick move towards the chamber
door.

"But what was she," scowled the colonel, "when she was alive?"

The professor bowed his head in reverence. "A nun. She died nursing some
sick sailors and contracted the disease from them."

"But how long ago?" asked Myra Girdlestone, who had now recovered her
equanimity. She puckered up her brows into a puzzled frown. "Somehow or
other her face seems quite familiar to me."

"It would," nodded the professor instantly, "for it's an exact type--the
devotional type. She was one of those noble women who dedicate
everything to their fellow creatures."

"But I'm sure now I've seen her somewhere," went on Myra thoughtfully,
"or at any rate some recent picture of her in some paper. I remember her
mouth and----"

"My dear young lady," laughed the professor, "she died before you were
born. That specimen was given me by one of the officers of a cargo boat,
nearly thirty years ago." He moved over to the chamber door and held it
open wide. "But come on, now," he said briskly, "I am sure you have all
seen enough and so we'll go back into the house and get warm." He raised
a warning hand. "One favour, however, I want to beg of you all, I put
you upon your honour not to talk outside about anything you've just seen
here. There are such a lot of cranky people in the country, and I may be
bombarded with angry letters if they come to learn what this room
contains."

Some half an hour later, everyone, except Dr. Benmichael, had left. The
professor was a little bit surprised that the doctor had outstayed the
others, because, as a general rule, the latter never allowed himself
long absences from his large establishment.

But if the professor was surprised his friend was not in his usual hurry
to get away, he was certainly considerably startled to be addressed in a
very stern tone of voice when they were at length by themselves.

"See here, Panther," said the doctor eyeing him from under very scowling
brows, "I want some explanation from you." He paused a moment and then
rapped out sharply: "How did you come to get hold of that girl's head in
there?"

The professor glanced furtively at him and drew in a deep breath. "I
won't attempt to deceive you," he said at once, with an uneasy laugh. "I
bought it from a London undertaker some time ago. He managed to get hold
of it somehow, and I didn't ask him any questions."

"That's a falsehood," said the doctor instantly. He spoke scornfully,
"You got it from no undertaker, because for one thing it was hacked off
much too clumsily, and as for 'some time ago' that's a lie, too." His
eyes glinted angrily. "You obtained it last week, or, to be exact, on
last Thursday or Friday."

The professor's face had gone an ashen grey and he was now moistening
his dry lips with his tongue. "H-how do you know that," he gasped, "and
what is it to do with you?"

"How do I know and what has it to do with me?" asked the doctor, almost
threateningly. He dropped his voice to quiet and measured tones. "I
know because I was at her funeral in Monks Arden last Wednesday, and
it has to do with me"--he looked him straight in the eyes--"because it
happens Esther Haverhill was my cousin."

"Good God!" exclaimed the professor hoarsely, and he sank back limply
into his chair.

"Yes, and if you dare to deny it," went on Dr. Benmichael accusingly,
"take me back into that room and lift up her upper lip. Her left lateral
incisor is a porcelain crown."

But the professor made no attempt at denials. He shook his head weakly
and then covered his face with his hands. It seemed almost as if he were
going to break into tears.

A long silence followed and then the doctor went on: "So you must
realise I have a right to know everything." He stirred fidgetingly in
his chair. "But there, there, man, don't get the wind up. I'm not going
to shout it on the house-tops." He shrugged his shoulders. "I'm not
squeamish, as you ought to know, and a corpse is only just a corpse to
me, whoever it may have been. The fetish of the reverence for the dead
never runs in a dissecting room." His voice hardened. "Still, I insist
upon learning how the head of my cousin comes to be in your possession
now."

"The undertaker----" began the professor weakly, when Dr. Benmichael's
face darkened and he spoke with anger again.

"No, no, I'll have no more falsehoods, Panther, and don't you try them
on." He shook his head. "The undertaker, last week, never had the
opportunity to do any dirty tricks, for I saw the body just before the
coffin was screwed down and then, not three minutes later, it was being
carried out to the hearse. Come now, tell me everything at once and get
it over. I assure you I'm not going to do anything to you, and you may
retain"--he smiled very sarcastically--"the specimen given to you nearly
thirty years ago."

The professor wiped over his forehead with his handkerchief and heaved a
sigh of great relief.

"W-ell," he began hesitatingly, "it was the grave-digger who got it for
me and----"

"I thought so," commented the doctor sharply, "I saw him standing behind
us; a most repellent personality, with the face of a ghoul." He clicked
his tongue. "How much did you pay him?"

"Five pounds. That's all he asks when it's quite a simple matter."

"Asks?" queried the doctor, elevating his eyebrows in great surprise.
"Then do you employ him regularly on jobs like this?"

"W-ell," was the hesitating reply, "he's executed several little similar
commissions for me," and then as the doctor threw back his head and
burst into a cynically amused laugh, he added with a grin, "in fact,
Monks Arden is in the way of soon possessing an almost headless
churchyard."

Dr. Benmichael at once became grave again. "But you're running a great
risk, Professor," he said, "and this man is sure to be caught sooner or
later. Then he'll tell everything, and you just think of the punishment
you'll get," He frowned. "Think, too, of the disgrace that will come
upon the profession."

"But he is very careful," urged the professor, "and for difficult
commissions I have provided him with most suitable appliances."

"What on earth do you mean?" asked the doctor. The professor became as
gleeful as a little child, and a note of boastful triumph now ran in his
tones. "Goodness gracious!" he exclaimed, "you don't imagine that Monks
Arden is the only place from which I get my specimens! Why, he travels
all over the countryside for me. He has a black, light-proof tent that
he rigs up over newly-dug graves and just-opened vaults and, in the
night time, is able to work in perfect security." He lowered his voice
darkly. "It will surprise you that two of those glasses in there contain
the cerebra of Lord Barney and the famous baritone, Conelli, both of
which he has recently obtained for me."

The doctor gasped. "Barney, the late Lord Chief Justice!"

"Exactly! I am always on the look-out for the decease of prominent
people and, if their places of interment are within reasonable striking
distance, this man goes after them." He spoke with great pride. "I am
getting together quite a unique collection of cerebra of famous people."

"But the danger, Panther!" exclaimed Dr. Benmichael. "The risk of
discovery and the punishment and awful disgrace that would follow!"

The professor rubbed his hands together cheerfully. "We risk them all,
my dear friend; my exhumer for adequate remuneration, and I"--he bowed
his head--"in the sacred cause of my work of research." He went on with
animation. "And this man, Daunt is his name, is most capable and quite
an artist in his way. It is he who takes the death-masks for me and
later delivers the plaster casts." He nodded significantly. "That is why
I would not let any of those chatterers into that other room, just now.
I was fearful they would recognise Lord Barney, his face is so well
known." He shook his head frowningly. "As it is, I am not too easy in my
mind about that Girdlestone girl, for when she thinks it over she may
remember of whom that face reminded her." He opened his eyes very wide.
"But what a most wonderful coincidence that it should turn out you are
her cousin!"

"You ought not to have kept that cupboard unlocked," said the doctor
sharply, "It was most careless of you."

"It was," agreed the professor instantly, "I admit it."

"Yes," nodded Dr. Benmichael, "and any time another such act of
carelessness may be your ruin. That ghoulish colleague of yours will not
always go uncaught and then you will both be in the dock together." He
made a gesture of great disgust. "Think of it, Panther. Your safety
always hanging on the razor edge, and you, a man of culture and great
attainments, at the mercy of a common oaf like that."

"But he's not a common oaf," laughed the professor. "He's a very
intelligent and artistic man, with a most marked cranial development.
Although you may hardly credit it, he has a great enthusiasm for his
work. He is of most determined character, too, and if he were caught, I
am sure he would not give me away. We have discussed all that, and in
the event of any term of imprisonment, I have promised to provide for
him when he comes out."

The doctor rose to his feet. "Well, good luck to you, Panther," he said
drily, "I'll reserve a room for you at my place and it will be ready any
time when you are certified."

"And I may want it," said the professor seriously, as he opened the door
for his friend to go out. "My mother's brother was mental, and of late
I've occasionally heard voices speaking in my head."

"A very bad sign indeed," nodded the doctor, and he passed out to his
waiting car.

That night the professor worked until very late in his laboratory and,
in the early hours of the morning, all the unwanted parts of his latest
acquisition were immersed in a bath of fuming nitric acid. Dr.
Benmichaels warning had disturbed him.




CHAPTER II.--THE VAULTS OF THE RODINGS


The young baronet Sir Eric Roding, of Roding Hall, near the little
village of Ashleigh St. Mary in Suffolk, was dead.

He had died suddenly of heart failure, in what had seemed to everyone a
mild attack of influenza. He had only been confined to his bed for three
days and had been attended by the kindly old doctor from the village,
who had brought him into the world eight and twenty years before.

He had appeared to be getting on quite well, so much so, indeed, that
some guests who were staying at the Hall for the racing of the Newmarket
July Meeting had been persuaded by him and Lady Roding on no account to
terminate their visit as it was thought he would soon be about again and
able to resume his duties as host.

But towards night upon the fourth day of his illness, to everyone's
horror it was suddenly realised that he was lapsing into
unconsciousness, and the doctor being hurriedly summoned from the
village, it was found his heart was failing rapidly. Prompt measures
were at once taken to tide him over the crisis and a call was quickly
put through to a great specialist in London, but although the latter
started at once upon his journey, he was too late to be of any service,
as a few minutes before he arrived Sir Eric had passed away.

"But I am not so very greatly surprised," sighed the old doctor
afterwards to the weeping young widow, "for the dreadful privations he
underwent in Afghanistan, and those bouts of fever he contracted there,
must inevitably have taken their toll of him. You must realise that
there comes a time to the very strongest constitution when it begins to
get undermined."

Sir Eric had succeeded to the title but a little less than a year
before, and the sadness of his death was beyond all measure. In the very
heyday of his manhood, he had seemed to be enjoying all the happiness
that life could give. He was possessed of ample means and the owner of
broad lands that stretched for miles about his home, and he had been
married only six months to a beautiful and sweetly dispositioned young
girl.

All through his life there had been romance.

As a young subaltern, upon active service on the North-West Frontier of
India, he had received the Victoria Cross for conspicuous bravery; he
had come into the baronetcy through the unexpected decease of an uncle
and two cousins who had stood between him and the title; and his
marriage had come about in circumstances that would have delighted the
recorder of the most romantic tales.

His bride had been one of a large family and the eldest daughter of a
poor country doctor in Sussex. He had met her at a Hunt Ball and had
fallen instantly in love with her. His wooing had been swift and ardent
and, in less than three months from the day when he had first set eyes
upon her, she had been installed as the proud distress of Roding Hall.

And now she was in the depths of sorrow and bereft of all hope that she
would ever know any happiness again.

With the death of Sir Eric the baronetcy had become extinct, and in four
days the last of the Rodings would be lowered into the family vault,
beneath the lady chapel of the village church where for hundreds of
years the bodies of the line had been laid to rest.

On the day but one before the interment the grave-digger of Monks Arden
was engaged in weeding the paths of the churchyard when, hearing
footsteps approaching, he looked up to see Professor Panther coming
towards him and at once gave the nearest approach to a warm smile of
which he was capable.

The acquaintanceship, which had matured into a real friendship, between
the two men had begun some three years back. The professor had happened
to admire one of Daunt's carved panels in a friend's house and, learning
where he had obtained it, had promptly sought out the grave-digger and
given him a commission for a pair of similar ones. Then he had just been
turning away when he had noticed an ugly sore upon the palm of one of
the man's hands.

"But what's that you've got there?" he asked, his professional instincts
being instantly aroused.

"Eczema," growled the grave-digger, by no means pleased at the
professor's interest in him.

The professor reached out and took hold of the hand. "How long have you
had it?" he asked frowningly.

"Years and years," was the surly reply, "I've got it on my body too. The
doctor can't cure it."

"Show me the other places," ordered the professor. "I'm a doctor
myself."

A brief examination followed, with Daunt baring a hairy leg and exposing
his chest. Then the professor announced emphatically: "It's not eczema
at all. It's caused by a fungus and is a sort of ring-worm. I'll send
you something that will cure it in three weeks." He regarded him
curiously. "But, good God, man, doesn't it worry you?"

"Makes my life miserable," scowled Daunt. "I get hardly any sleep at
all."

The professor was as good as his word and, beyond that, even took the
trouble to motor over and make sure his patient was cured. The
grave-digger said little, but he was profoundly grateful, and deep down
in his usually unresponsive heart he conceived an almost dog-like
devotion for his benefactor. His gratitude was accentuated, too, when
upon observing the crude tools with which he had been working, the
professor presented him with a complete carving outfit, as well as some
technical books upon the subject. Daunt just barely expressed his
thanks, but the professor fully understood his feelings and, being of a
most kind-hearted disposition, was delighted to have been of service to
the man.

Then, one day, when as a special favour Daunt had been taken into the
professor's laboratory and shown the letter's anatomical specimens, he
remarked gruffly, "I could get you some of those if you wanted them. We
have a burial at Monks Arden every now and then and I am in sole charge
of the graveyard there."

At the time the professor had declined smilingly, but the idea put into
his mind gradually took possession of him, and so within a few weeks the
ghoulish partnership between them had commenced. All his life an
enthusiastic student of anatomy, corpses were just corpses to the
professor, and Daunt, who until he had met the professor had not had any
feelings of respect for any person living, certainly had not for anyone
dead.

The professor now tripped gaily up the path, his face all smiles and
enthusiasm.

"Another little commission for you, my friend," he said cheerfully. "Now
do you happen to know the church in Ashleigh St. Mary--St. Cuthbert's it
is called?"

"Never been inside," replied Daunt, "but I've passed it. There are yew
trees in the churchyard."

"That's it," nodded the professor, "and at two o'clock the day after
to-morrow Sir Eric Roding is being buried in the family vault. He died
on Monday, and I want you to get the usual specimen. He was a man of
dauntless courage and his brain should be most interesting."

"But burial in the vault under the church," frowned the grave-digger. He
shook his head. "It will be difficult."

"No, no," laughed the professor, "not difficult at all, as the masons
are not going to brick in the coffin until next week. They are engaged
to do some repairs to the church then, and as they come all the way from
Norwich, it has been arranged that the bricking-in shall wait until
then." He went on briskly. "Now listen. I have just come from having a
look over the church, and by a wonderful piece of good luck when I went
in the cleaner was there. She was dusting the pews, but I got her to
leave off and show me round. Of course, she was full of the burial on
Thursday and pointed out the flags that would have to be raised to lower
the coffin into the vault."

"Heavy ones?" asked Daunt instantly.

"That doesn't matter at all," replied the professor, "for she told me
the masons will get into the vault from the outside of the church. She
took me into the churchyard and showed me some narrow steps leading down
to a small door, under the east church wall and at least eight feet
below the level of the ground. She said that door opens into a passage
which runs under the altar and straight into the vaults."

"But locked, of course?" queried Daunt.

The professor nodded. "Yes, but both the door and lock are very old and,
as they constitute something of curiosity, she went and got the key out
of the vestry to show me. Naturally I showed a very keen interest, and
she allowed me to make a tracing of it upon a piece of paper. Here it
is, and it seems to me the lock must be so simple that a piece of bent
iron will open it."

Daunt studied the tracing for a few moments. "Yes, I can manage it," he
said. He looked up at the professor. "But that end of the church doesn't
face the road, does it?"

"No, it happens to be the side farthest away from the road and it's
quite secluded. There's a small plantation, too, not a hundred yards
beyond the churchyard, and I thought you could run your motor-bicycle
among the trees, with no likelihood of it being seen by anyone. Then
there would be only a low wall for you to climb over."

"If I remember," commented Daunt meditatively, "the church is at the end
of the village."

"At the very end," said the professor, "and from what the cleaner told
me, the door is never locked. So you had better go and look it over, if
you can, this evening."

So at five o'clock Daunt left his work and, tidying himself up and
putting on a dark jacket, set off for the little village of Ashleigh St.
Mary. It was about thirty miles from Monks Arden and lay midway between
Bury St. Edmunds and Sudbury. Reaching the village, he had a glass of
beer at the inn and then, leaving his motor-bicycle and sidecar in the
stable there, went off, as he mentioned casually to satisfy the rather
curious innkeeper, for a stroll to stretch his legs. He was annoyed when
he noticed that the innkeeper came to the inn door and watched which way
he went.

The church was only a couple of hundred yards or so away, and like that
at Monks Arden and so many others scattered about in the little villages
of East Anglia, was of great antiquity and much historical association.
The door was open, and proceeding inside, Daunt very quickly checked the
information that the professor had given him concerning the Roding
family vault.

Then he went outside and examined the little narrow door at the bottom
of the flight of steps, and was at once glad he had done so; for if the
lock were old, it was nevertheless of most massive construction and
would need, he saw, a very stout piece of iron to pick it.

He examined it minutely and then, emboldened by the silence and perfect
solitude of the churchyard, went back into the church and tiptoed into
the vestry to get a look at the key itself, if he could find it.

But no long search was needed for the key, as it was hanging upon the
wall just inside the door.

He snatched it down quickly and, an idea striking him, after a moments
hesitation returned with all speed to the narrow door. Inserting the key
in the lock, with a great heave he turned it round.

"Oil, oil," he murmured frowningly, "I shall never get this open if it
isn't oiled." Then, symptomatic of his methodical nature, with only just
one glance into the dark passage that now lay open before him, he ran
back into the church to obtain some lubricant.

The church had only oil lamps and he smiled a grim smile as he picked up
a lantern from off the vestry floor. He had found both a lubricant and
an illuminant at the same time.

The lock oiled as best he could and the key turned many times, he lit
the lantern and proceeded to explore the passage. It was very short and
led into a sort of long low cellar, extending down the whole length of
the church and lined all its way along with innumerable slate-bottomed
shelves. Many of the shelves had evidently received their coffins, as
they were bricked up, but there were many still open and unoccupied.
Holding his lantern high, he could make out the two flagstones above
that would be lifted to let the next coffin down, and he formed a good
idea as to which shelf it would be placed on.

Satisfied at length that he had learnt all he could, he relocked the
door and returned into the vestry to replace both lantern and key. Then,
upon a piece of paper, which he abstracted from a desk, he made a much
more elaborate tracing of the key. Finally, he left the church very well
pleased with his evening's work.

But he was not so pleased when, upon returning to his motor-bicycle, he
discovered one of the tyres was flat, and he was more disgusted still
when he found his headlight was not functioning properly. These troubles
delayed him a good half-hour, and the whole time he had an audience of
the landlord of the inn and three of his cronies, who all appeared to be
greatly interested in the proceedings. He swore under his breath, for
intending as he was to be present at the burial on Friday, publicity was
the last thing he was desiring.

He got away at last. Anxious to reach home before dark, as he was still
not too confident about his lights, he accelerated immediately, to be
pulled up, however, when not a mile from the village by a police patrol,
for speeding. Particulars were jotted down about his outfit and he had
to produce his driving licence. He was most annoyed, for cautious in all
he did, he realised there was now an official record that he had been in
the neighbourhood of the village.

The day fixed for the interment was beautifully warm and sunny, and,
having hidden his motor-bicycle in a disused quarry a good mile from the
village, half an hour before the funeral party was due to arrive Daunt
took a seat in the church in such a position that he would be able to
get a good view of the coffin and yet at the same time not attract, so
he hoped, any undue attention of the villagers, whom he was sure would
be attending the burial in good numbers.

But here again good fortune did not attend him, for just before the
burial party arrived, the landlord of the inn came in and plumped
himself down right beside him. The man remembered him at once, too, and
gave him a smiling but rather curious look. Worse still, after the
coffin had been carried into the church and the service had commenced,
another man arrived and seated himself next to the landlord. To Daunt's
mortification he recognised the second man as being a press photographer
from Cambridge who had recently been taking photographs of the church at
Monks Arden, and he saw at once that the photographer had recognised
him. Then the photographer and the innkeeper had a few whispers together
and, from their glances in his direction, Daunt had no doubt they were
exchanging confidences about him.

Having noted all he could about the coffin, Daunt slipped out of the
church before the service was concluded, being sure the inquisitive
innkeeper would want to talk to him if he got the opportunity. He made
his way back to where he had left his motor-bicycle, and there, lying
back in the hot sun, dozed away the afternoon and evening until it had
become quite dark.

Intending to lose no time, at half-past ten he set out again for the
church, but when about a quarter of a mile from the village, he stopped
the engine and started to push the machine and sidecar, so that the
noise of its approach should not be heard.

Then just as he was about to turn off the main road into a small by-lane
that would take him to the plantation at the back of the churchyard, a
car came up behind him and the driver pulled up and asked if he were in
any trouble. To his great annoyance he saw it was once more the landlord
of the village inn, and by a surprised exclamation, followed at once by
a friendly grin, he knew the man had recognised him.

"No, I'm all right," he replied surlily, and he went on with the lame
excuse that his engine had been running hot and he was giving it a
chance to cool down.

"Well, so long, mate," called out the innkeeper as he let in his clutch
and drove off. "I'll look you up when I'm next your way," and the
grave-digger frowned as the car disappeared round a corner.

He had soon parked his sidecar in the middle of the small plantation
suggested by the professor, and climbing over the low wall into the
churchyard, at once started operations.

The rough, home-made key he had provided himself with very quickly
opened the narrow door at the bottom of the steps, and, carrying a
half-laden sack of tools with him, he very carefully reclosed the door
and entered the vaults.

Flashing his torch round, his eyes at once fell upon the coffin that had
been lowered there that afternoon. It had already been lifted up on to
one of the vacant shelves, but there were no signs as yet of any
preparations for bricking it in.

Losing not a moment of time, he produced a small petrol lantern from the
sack, and in a few moments the whole place was brightly illuminated.
Then from the sack again out came a paraffin blow-lamp, a number of
tools including a big soldering iron, and the small mackintosh-lined
sugar-bag.

The coffin was lying upon a shelf of thick slate about three feet above
the paved floor of the vault and consisted of an outer shell of stout
oak and an inner shell, the coffin proper, of thick lead. The leaden
coffin had been well soldered up, so that the body would be kept for
ever hermetically sealed.

So Daunt was quite aware that he had by no means an easy task before
him, for, with the outer shell opened, he would have to cut through the
leaden one and then, having obtained all he was after, re-solder the
latter most carefully so that no putrefaction should set in and allow
the fact that the coffin had been tampered with to become known. He
expected the coffin would be very heavy too, and the shelf upon which it
was resting being only just high enough to let it slip in, he would have
to lift it down to work at it. He was uneasy there, for, with some
misgiving, he had noted with what efforts the six bearers had lowered it
from off their shoulders when, that afternoon, they had carried it into
the church.

Placing his lantern in the best position possible, he seized hold of the
foot of the coffin and, swinging it round until it was evenly balanced
over the edge of the shelf, with his legs planted wide apart and with
every muscle of his arms strained to their utmost extent, he pulled the
coffin forward and lowered its foot very gently to the ground. It was as
much as he could do to keep it from falling with a crash, and as he
wiped the sweat from his forehead, he thought ruefully of the task he
would have when he came to lift it up again.

Making sure the coffin would not slip from its semi-upright position and
topple sideways to the ground, he quickly unscrewed the beautifully
polished oak lid and had all the inner leadwork exposed to view.

Then with a stout knife he attacked the lead at the top and very soon
was able to tear back a broad strip, the head and face of the enclosed
body thus being exposed. He saw the dead man had been of strikingly
handsome appearance, but his good looks were marred now by the stubbly
growth of several days' beard.

The grave-digger snatched up a sharply pointed knife and, bending over
the body, tentatively pricked lightly at the place in the neck where he
was intending to start severing the head. Then in the passing of a
fraction of a second, he suddenly leapt backwards, as if he had received
a most violent electric shock. He made sounds of choking, and his
features were contorted into an expression of incredulous horror and
amazement.

The man in the coffin had moved his head when the knife pricked him
and had sighed deeply.

Perhaps a quarter of a minute passed and then the grave-digger, smiling
a cold contemptuous smile, had recovered from his shock and, knife still
in hand, was advancing again to the coffin. The apparent movement of the
head had been the flickering of the lantern, he told himself, and the
sigh had been the soughing of the wind! Men hermetically sealed in lead
coffins were dead men, and the dead neither moved nor sighed!

So, once more, he bent over the body, but this time he had himself much
better under control, when to his amazement he saw most unmistakably
that the supposed dead man had got his eyes wide open. Daunt did not
jump back, and, if his heart were beating wildly and he could hardly get
his breath, there were no signs now of his former panic. He just stared
and stared, as if he were fascinated by a snake.

Then, suddenly, the man in the coffin spoke. "I'm cold, I'm cold," he
whispered faintly, "Cover me up."

Daunt swallowed hard several times and then spoke with a great effort.
"What's happened?" he asked hoarsely. "How long have you been awake?"

But the man made no answer. He just closed his eyes and repeated weakly:
"I'm cold, oh, I'm cold."

As a general rule Daunt was not a quick thinker, but realising now that
the encoffined man was alive, thought after thought flashed through him
as quick as lightning and he envisioned a long trail of dreadful
consequences for himself from which, for the moment, there seemed no way
of escape.

If he bolted away at once and left the supposed dead man to his fate,
then, of course, the latter would die, and when the masons arrived to
brick up the coffin the following week, everything would be discovered,
and it would be seen the vaults had been broken into. If, on the other
hand, he released the man, then directly the latter was able to disclose
his identity to anyone, the same fact would become known.

Then, in either case, it was certain that he, Daunt, would become
suspected at once, as the innkeeper had seen him upon three occasions in
the vicinity of the churchyard. Once his occupation was known, everyone
would, of course, jump to the conclusion that he would be the very
person who would have no qualms about tampering with the coffins of the
dead.

Of course, there was one way out of it. He could dispatch the helpless
man and proceed as if he had found him dead when he had opened the
coffin.

But to the grave-digger's credit he never gave to this last idea a
second thought. There were limits to his lawlessness and he drew the
line a long way from murder. Indeed, in his surly way and behind his
intense reserve, he was quite kind-hearted, and children and animals
always took to him.

He quickly made up his mind what he would do. Leaving no traces behind
so that it could be seen someone had entered the vaults, he would carry
the awakened man straightaway to Professor Panther, throwing upon the
latter all the responsibility of finding some way out of the difficulty.

His actions became quick and certain. With a steady hand he ripped up
the leaden coffin down all its length, and lifting its occupant out,
laid him upon the floor. Then he squeezed the torn lead back into its
oak shell, screwed down the lid and with a supreme effort restored the
coffin to its place upon the shelf.

Seeing that the baronet had got his eyes closed and was now breathing
evenly and quietly as if he were asleep, he picked him up and, running
swiftly out of the vaults, deposited him in the sidecar hidden in the
plantation. Fortunately the night was warm and the unconscious man
continued to sleep on.

Then Daunt returned down into the vaults and gathered all his things
together, sweeping his torch round many times to make sure he was
leaving nothing behind. Finally, he relocked the narrow door and two
minutes later was manhandling the sidecar outfit with its sleeping
passenger down on to the main road.

So it came about that just after half-past one that night Professor
Panther was aroused from the armchair in his study where he was reading
by a gentle tapping upon the window. He knew who it must be, for he had
been expecting Daunt, and he tiptoed to the hall door and opened it.

"All right?" he queried in an excited whisper, and then taking in the
nature of the burden the grave-digger was carrying, he exclaimed
sharply, "But who's this? Who have you brought here?"

"The man himself," grunted Daunt. "I found he was alive when I opened
the coffin."

"Alive!" ejaculated the professor, and his voice would have been a
shriek if he had not been whispering. "Alive, when you opened the
coffin."

"Yes, he spoke to me," replied Daunt, "and said he was cold."

"But is he alive now?" asked the professor, all of a tremble.

"Yes, but he's asleep. He hasn't spoken a word since, but he's breathing
all right."

"Well, don't stand there like a block of wood," panted the professor.
"Bring him in at once." His voice shook with excitement. "But, oh, this
is interesting! One of those rare cases of catalepsy!"

Daunt carried the sleeping man into the study and, laying him upon the
sofa, the professor proceeded to examine him quickly. "Yes, he seems
quite all right," he ejaculated. Then he bent down and whispered loudly
in his ear, "Hullo, hullo, who are you? Come, wake up now," but he
received no response, and the recumbent man continued to sleep on. Then
the professor turned back to the grave-digger and asked breathlessly,
"Now, are you quite certain that leaden coffin was sealed hermetically?"

Daunt nodded. "Quite, it was well soldered up all round."

Then a thought came suddenly into the professor's mind, and on the
instant he looked very frightened and shook his head. "But this will be
very awkward for me--most awkward," he exclaimed. He glared angrily at
the grave-digger. "Why did you bring him here?"

"Where else could I have taken him?" growled Daunt. "I had to bring him
out of the vaults and----"

"Yes, yes, of course," interrupted the professor testily. "It was only
common humanity! But why didn't you leave him upon some well-frequented
road where he would have been picked up by someone immediately?"

"Yes," scoffed Daunt, "and then directly he told them who he was they
would go and look at his coffin and I should be the first one to be
suspected of having opened it." He went on to relate of his three
encounters with the innkeeper and how no doubt the press photographer
had made known to him who he, Daunt, was.

Then he pointed to the still sleeping man. "But, as it is, he'll
certainly remember me and then----"

"No, no, he's not likely to remember you at all," broke in the professor
quickly. "When he comes to, he'll probably remember nothing from the
time he fell into this coma"--he shrugged his shoulders--"and his memory
of things before that will most probably continue to be very hazy for a
long time to come. So you need not be afraid of anything at all."

"Then what are you going to do with him now?" asked Daunt.

The professor hesitated. "W--ell, I shall have to keep him here under my
eye for the present. That's certain." He became brisk and animated all
at once. "Now you shall help me to give him a hot bath and then carry
him for me into my spare bedroom. Fortunately, it's on this floor and my
two servants sleep at the end of the house. Then to-morrow I'll explain
to them he's a relation of mine who arrived here in the middle of the
night, very sick. Fortunately again, they have not been with me very
long and know little of my private affairs, so they will take anything I
say without doubting it." He looked scared again. "But the whole
business is certainly most awkward, and what to do later on I shall just
have to decide when the time comes." He laughed rather hysterically.
"But, ye gods, what an adventure for a man of my age!"

The following morning the baronet was running a high temperature and,
fearful of what would happen if he died, the professor called in another
medical man, and two nurses were at once engaged. Mentally, the patient
was very much in the same condition. Certainly he had opened his eyes,
but he did not speak and apparently took nothing in. All the time he
just lay staring into vacancy. He had to be fed with a spoon and
mechanically swallowed everything that was put in his mouth.

A very anxious week for the professor followed. To everyone he told the
same tale, that the sick man was a cousin of his who had just returned
from abroad, and finding himself suddenly ill, had come to him, the
professor, as the only relation he had in England. The patient's
temperature gradually went down and in ten days he was out of bed and
able to sit up in an armchair, but still he said no word and took no
notice of anybody or anything.

And so, from day to day, things drifted on in the same uneventful way,
except that, physically, the baronet began to show a marked improvement.
It had turned out to be a particularly fine summer, and sitting out in
the garden for many hours each day, his face had assumed a healthy and
bronzed colour. By the end of six weeks he had grown a beard and, nicely
trimmed, it gave him quite a distinguished appearance.

"By Jove, Panther," remarked Dr. Benmichael, who had called several
times and been told the usual story, "he looks much too handsome to be
any relation of yours. There must be a mistake somewhere."

The doctor was very interested in the case and frankly admitted he could
not understand it in the least. "It looks to me," he said, "as if he had
received some dreadful shock, and I would not like to prophesy about his
recovery. The longer he remains in this state, of course, the more
doubtful it is he will ever become normal again. This continued and so
pronounced helplessness, apart from his amnesia, is not a hopeful sign."

And certainly Sir Eric Roding could not have been more helpless. He was
just like a new-born animal, but without even the instincts of one. He
did absolutely nothing for himself, and never showed the faintest
interest in anything. His eyes never wandered and, except when he was
blinking, they were always staring before him. He could walk, but
someone had always to be beside him and when they took his hand to guide
him there was never any answering grip in his fingers.

The professor had, of course, done nothing to establish any
communication with Sir Eric's relations, salving his conscience that it
was far better for them to believe him dead rather than to have restored
to them the mindless being the baronet now was.

But the anxiety was undoubtedly preying upon the professor's mind, and
in his quiet moments he began to get worried about his own state of
health. He could not sleep now without large and increasing doses of
hypnotics; he kept on forgetting the simplest things, and many, many
times he found himself talking aloud to himself. He told Dr. Benmichael
about it, but while looking at him very curiously the doctor pooh-poohed
the whole matter and advised him to think nothing more about it.

Then ten weeks to the day from when Sir Eric had been brought to the
professor's house, he suddenly refused to take his food. He kept his
mouth shut tightly and, with no expression whatever upon his face, kept
turning his head away and struggling violently.

Very disturbed, the professor rang up Dr. Benmichael, and the latter
appeared within the hour. "Of course he'll have to be nasal-fed," he
said at once, "and I'd better have him at my place. You can't manage him
here."

"Then he'll have to be certified," said the professor uncomfortably.

The doctor nodded. "There'll be no difficulty there. In fact to my
thinking he ought to have been certified many weeks ago."

"Well, it will be a great load off my mind," said the professor.

"Has he any means?" asked the doctor tentatively. "Because if not,
I'll----"

"Oh, he's quite well off," was the instant rejoinder of the professor,
"and he can pay the usual ordinary fee. There'll be no difficulty at all
there, as I happen to be holding certain moneys of his in trust. Now
what would you charge a perfect stranger?"

"Twelve guineas a week," replied the doctor, "but as he is a relation of
yours I'm quite agreeable to make it less."

"No, twelve guineas let it be," nodded Professor Panther. "I have good
reason to know you are a good friend of mine, but this is quite a
business transaction." So two strange doctors and a local justice of the
peace, one Admiral Fenwick, visited Sir Eric that morning. The two
medical men were instantaneous in their decision, but the admiral, full
of his own importance, asked many questions of the professor and the
nurse before he finally expressed himself as willing to sign the order
for the reception of the baronet into an asylum. Then he was quite sure
he was doing the right thing, for as one who could always enjoy a good
dinner himself, his opinion was that anyone in perfect physical
condition who refused food must undoubtedly be mentally unbalanced.

So Sir Eric Roding was taken to the asylum, and yet another chapter
closed in the romantic life story of the eleventh baronet of the line.

About a week later Professor Panther motored over to tell Daunt
everything that had happened. "So you need not worry any more!" he said,
"for everything is quite safe now. No one can determine how long Sir
Eric may remain in his present state of mind, and when he does get well,
if indeed he does ever"--he shrugged his shoulders--"Heaven alone knows
how he is going to be restored to his family." He sighed heavily. "I've
seen his wife. I went to Ashleigh St. Mary last Sunday and she was in
the church. She's a beautiful little thing, but looks, oh, so dreadfully
sad! All the time, too, during the service her eyes kept wandering
towards the lady chapel and those flagstones through which she knows her
husband was lowered down."

"But it was not our fault," commented the grave-digger gruffly. "I saved
him from a dreadful death."

"Yes, yes," nodded the professor eagerly, "we have done him a great
service." He sighed heavily again. "But I can't see how it's ail going
to end."




CHAPTER III.--THE DEATH MASK


Lady Roding was certainly a very pretty girl. Of medium height, with a
supple and beautifully proportioned figure, her profile was clear-cut,
her eyes were long lashed and of a deep blue, and her hair was of a rich
auburn colour. Her complexion was faultless and her mouth a perfect
Cupid's bow.

In the late spring of the year following her husband's burial, upon one
glorious afternoon in June, when the air was heavy with the scent of
coming summer, she was standing on the terrace of Roding Hall saying
good-bye to a tall, good-looking man who was bending, almost reverently,
over her.

"Thank you so much for your many kindnesses, Mr. Hellingsby," she said,
looking up smilingly. "I'm sure I don't know what I should have done
without you."

"Anything I have done," said Miles Hellingsby very solemnly, "has been
done with the greatest of pleasure." He held her eyes with his own. "You
know quite well there is nothing in the world I would not do for you."

Lady Roding looked quickly away. She could not help liking the speaker
very much, for, apart from his good looks and charming manners, she had
good cause for being very grateful to him. A one-time bank manager, he
was a shrewd business man and had been of great service to her in the
winding up of her late husband's affairs. Yes, she liked him very much,
but at the same time she had to acknowledge to herself that somehow she
was becoming a little bit afraid of him.

She could not pretend to herself to be unaware that he admired her and
although he always treated her with the greatest of respect and without
the slightest trace of familiarity, of late, especially when they had
been alone, she had sensed a certain tender and caressing note in his
voice as if it were quite natural for him to have taken on the role of
protector to her.

This rather jarred upon her, as he was a married man, and his wife a
friend of hers. Not only that, but had he been single and unattached her
bereavement was so recent that the very thought she might allow herself
to become, so soon, fond of anybody else was repugnant to her, as a
desecration of her husband's memory.

So she was quite relieved now when she saw his wife appear upon the
terrace, all ready for her journey. Mrs. Hellingsby, in the middle
forties and not a few years her husband's senior, was one of those women
who, however expensively they are dressed, always appear dowdy and
uninteresting. She was very plain, and in disposition shrinking and shy.
She seemed most devoted to her husband, and to outsiders, at least, they
appeared to be a happy couple.

Miles handed her into the waiting car as if she were a duchess, and then
when Warren, the Hall butler, was helping him on with his overcoat,
slipped a couple of one-pound notes into the latter's hand.

"It always pays to keep in with the servants," thought Miles
complacently, "for you never know when you may want them to do you a
good turn, and they think you're a fine character if you throw your
money about." But Miles would not have been quite so self-satisfied if
he had read the letter the butler wrote that evening to his married
daughter in Australia. This daughter had been one of the parlourmaids at
the Hall up to a little time before Sir Eric's death and then, upon her
marriage, had left straight away with her husband for the Commonwealth.

The butler wrote quite a good letter.



"MY DEAR BETSY,

"I am ashamed I have not written to you since you left, I know Mum has
been writing pretty often, but I don't suppose she'll have told you
much, except about what clothes the girls you used to know are wearing
and what babies they've had.

"Well, as of course you will expect, things are pretty quiet here now.
The poor little mistress is just as sweet and pretty as ever, but she's
sad, oh, very sad. And it makes me feel very angry, for I always think
the master ought never to have died. There was something very funny
about the whole business.

"There was he talking to me, bright and lively as could be, at three
o'clock, and then, at half-past nine the same night, he was dead. I'm
sure old Dr. Curtis bungled things somehow. He had got too old for his
work. You know he treated Mum for six months for lumbago when she had
that pain in her back, and I had to rub her with liniment, every night,
until my blessed arms were fit to fall off. Then young Dr. Burnaby, who
took over his practice when he retired in September, said it was not
lumbago but a stomach ulcer Mum had got and she never ought to have been
rubbed at all, as rubbing was the worst thing she could have had. He
made her keep in bed for a fortnight and she got quite well. So that's
what old Dr. Curtis was.

"We've had a few visitors lately, but, of course, nearly all relations.
Still, that Mr. and Mrs. Hellingsby have been staying here for a week,
you remember them, and they're only just gone this morning. When they
went he gave me two pounds. But, all the same, I don't like the
gentleman too much, and I think a lot of that fondness he always
pretends for his wife is put on. She's a plain, woebegone creature if
ever I saw one, but I hear she had all the money, and, of course, a bit
of cash gets a plain girl off as quickly as a pretty one.

"Another thing about Mr. Hellingsby is that he eyes the little mistress
much too much to please me. He's always looking at her and bows and
scrapes to her as if she was a queen. But he's handsome, I give you
that, and if he was not married I should never have been surprised if
he'd hung up his hat here.

"Heigh ho! but what a pity there wasn't a baby! How a little baronet
would have been worshipped now. They say mistress's relations want her
to sell up the whole place, but she's told me for a certainty she's not
going to do it. Still, how she's going to live on here for years and
years I can't think. It's so big and lonely and must be always reminding
her of the happy days she once had.

"There's no particular news. Norah has been made head parlourmaid and is
going out with the new chauffeur, quite a decent young fellow, called
Stokes. He gets 4 a week and would be a good catch. Norah certainly
means business, whether he does or not, and I believe from the way she's
managing things she'll get him in the end. She's told Mum she's giving
nothing away and won't even let him kiss her properly until they are
engaged--only just a pecks she says. And that's what I call a sensible
girl and not making herself too cheap.

"Gertrude had six young 'uns last week, but that's no good, and I shall
fatten her now for the butcher. A sow that can't do better than that
isn't worth her keep.

"I hope you like Melbourne all right, but you haven't told us anything
yet about the droughts and the blacks. I should like to see what the
gins are like. Are they good-looking?

"Your loving Dad,

TIMOTHY WARREN."



Some three weeks after the departure of the Hellingsbys from Roding
Hall, Gilbert Larose, the one-time famous international detective, but
now a country squire and married to the rich widow Lady Helen Ardane of
Carmel Abbey, was sitting reading in his study, when the butler entered
and handed him a card upon a silver salver.

"Wimpole Carstairs, The Grove, Little Easton!" ejaculated Larose, "I
don't know him." He frowned. "What does he want? Didn't he say?"

"No, sir, he just asked if he could see you," replied the butler.

"All right, show him in," said his master, and in a few moments the
visitor was ushered into the room. He was a small, intellectual-looking
man of about fifty years of age, with a rather white face, a high
forehead and a very pointed nose. He wore large glasses, from behind
which peered out two big, dark eyes. He was well dressed and carried a
small bag in his hand.

"Mr. Gilbert Larose?" he queried, and when Larose had inclined his head
he went on a little nervously, "I must really ask you to pardon my
intruding upon you, but when you have heard my story I feel quite sure
that you will say you have never heard of anything quite to equal it."

"Well, sit down, sir," smiled Larose, "and tell me what it is I can do
for you."

Mr. Carstairs did as requested and then asked hesitatingly: "But do you
happen to know me by reputation?"

Larose hesitated, too. "Your name somehow seems familiar to me," he said
politely, "but I can't exactly place it for the moment."

"No, no, of course not," went on Mr. Carstairs hurriedly, "and I
oughtn't to have expected it either, for, with no offence, your life
must have been a very materialistic one." He smiled proudly. "I am the
editor of The New Spiritualism and, without boasting, may refer to
myself as one of the best-known spiritualists in the United Kingdom.
Indeed, for many years now I have been devoting a not inconsiderable
amount of money to the encouragement"--he spoke with the utmost
reverence--"of communion with the spirits of the dead."

Larose thought it only courteous to look reverent, too, and his visitor
went on. "My poor wife also, until her untimely death last year, was as
enthusiastic as I am in the great cause. She was also well known in the
literary world and for her work in the feminist movement."

"Ah, now I remember her!" smiled Larose. "She was Alma Carstairs, and I
recollect several of her books were banned by the authorities." He had
once been an ardent suffragette.

"Exactly!" smiled back Mr. Carstairs. "Imprisoned four times when the
struggle for the vote was going on, and once for striking Mr. Bellow,
then Prime Minister, with an umbrella." He spoke with great pride. "A
wonderful woman, and one of the most fluent speakers of her generation.
She had a marvellous brain."

"Undoubtedly," agreed Larose. "I remember someone gave me the obituary
notice in The Times to read and it referred very highly to her
intellectual gifts."

"And it's about her I've come to you now," said Mr. Carstairs with a
deep sigh. Then suddenly he sat up in his chair and all at once became
brisk and businesslike. "Now, Mr. Larose, here's my story. I live, as
you see from my card, at Little Easton, some three miles from Thaxted,
and last year was a very unfortunate one for me. In June my poor wife
and I were involved in a bad motor accident, and then not three weeks
after she was out of the doctor's hands, she contracted pneumonia and
died in four days." A sad note came into his voice. "We were a most
devoted couple and you can imagine my grief when she was laid to rest in
the village churchyard. That was on Monday the fourth of September last.
Well, the months sped by and, with her image continually in my mind, I
tried to get in contact with her in the spirit world. Money was no
object to me, and bringing over one of the most renowned mediums in the
world, a strong-souled practitioner from Budapest, I at last succeeded
in my desire." He spoke only in a whisper now. "I saw her twice."

"You saw her!" ejaculated Larose, frowning hard so that he should not
smile and hurt the other's feelings.

"Yes," nodded Mr. Carstairs, appearing almost as if he were going to
burst into tears, "but, instead of looking at me tenderly as she always
did in life, her look was now a reproachful one and"--he pressed his
hand over his eyes--"her face was covered over with blood."

"Goodness gracious!" exclaimed Larose, and although his visitor's
expression was so pitiful he felt inclined to laugh.

Then once again Mr. Carstairs took a quick hold upon himself and
returned to normal tones. "Yes, I could not understand it, for a
returned spirit has always some message to deliver and hers was so
obviously one of sorrow, when, instead, it should have been one of joy."
He sighed heavily. "I say, I saw her twice, but after that second time
all our calls were vain, and sit for hours and hours as we did, her
spirit was never visible again."

"Most disappointing!" said Larose sympathetically. "Most disappointing,
I am sure!"

Mr. Carstairs suddenly shot out a trembling hand and opened his eyes
very wide. "Now comes the bomb that has burst into my life!" He could
hardly speak in his excitement. "Last Tuesday I was in Colchester. I
walked down Bent Street and happened to look in the window of the
second-hand shop there, I saw, I saw"--he pressed his hands tightly over
his heart to control his emotion--"oh, I saw a plaster cast of my dead
wife's face exposed for sale and I knew"--he clenched his fingers
viciously together--"that never in life or death had a cast of her been
made."

A long silence followed with Mr. Carstairs looking away out of the
window and biting upon his lip so that he should restrain his tears.
Then Larose asked very quietly:

"And what are you suggesting, Mr. Carstairs? What do you mean?"

Mr. Carstairs turned sharply round. "Suggesting!" he exclaimed
irritably. "I can't suggest anything." His voice dropped to awed tones.
"But don't you realise the mystery of it? A cast of my dead wife, when
no cast of her was ever made!"

"Come, come," said Larose gently, "is it not possible you may have made
a mistake?"

"A-ah!" came from the other with a scowl, and he now looked most annoyed
with himself, "but I ought to have shown you these first," and with
shaking hands he opened the small bag he had with him and produced from
a folder two large photographs. "See, these were taken of my wife only
three weeks before she died, full face and profile." He pointed with his
finger. "Note well that scar over the left temple. She got that from the
motor accident, and it is most significant."

The photographs were those of a woman about fifty years of age, with an
oval-shaped intellectual face and big dreamy eyes. Her expression was a
very gentle one but, at the same time, rather sad.

"Now, compare them with this," went on Mr. Carstairs excitedly, and from
the bag he now snatched out an object wrapped round many times with a
thick roll of cotton wool. "Look! This is the cast I bought in the
second-hand shop!"

Larose took the cast he held out and examined it carefully. It was that
of the face, part of the neck and half of the head of a woman, set up
upon an oval background about half an inch thick, all made of the same
material. The whole thing was beautifully executed and although
obviously composed of plaster of Paris, as could be seen where someone
had cut into it at the back, the plaster had been so treated with some
preparation of wax as to make it hard and enduring and resemble the
colour of old ivory. At some time the cast had been broken midway across
the chin but it had been mended, although a fragment was still missing
from the join.

"And will anyone dare to say," asked Mr. Carstairs fiercely, "that this
cast was not taken from the face in the photographs?" He snapped his
fingers together. "Why, that scar on the forehead makes the matter
beyond dispute!"

For a long minute Larose considered, looking alternately at the
photographs and the cast, many times holding up the latter to examine it
from every angle. Then he said very quietly: "You are quite right, Mr.
Carstairs. This cast is that of your wife and it was made from a
death-mask."

"But it couldn't possibly have been made from a death-mask," almost
wailed Mr. Carstairs, "and that's the whole mystery. I didn't have a
death-mask taken and no one else had any opportunity to make one. There
were children in the house when she died and so the bedroom door was
kept locked the whole time until the coffin was carried out for the
funeral. No one entered the room without my being present. I saw the
undertaker take the measurements of her dead body, I saw her put in the
coffin, and I saw the coffin screwed down."

The interest of Larose was now thoroughly aroused, and he commented
frowningly: "Then it's mysterious, most mysterious."

"Of course it is," exclaimed Mr. Carstairs irritably, "and if that cast
were not made from a death-mask but taken from the living body, it is
equally as mystifying." He punctuated his words with his hand. "That
scar on the forehead narrows down the time from when the wound was
beginning to heal after the motor accident to the moment when the coffin
was screwed down, and never during those few weeks did anyone have
access to her, in life or death, to get an opportunity to make a cast. I
was always near her, and practically never left her."

Larose shook his head. "But this cast was not made from a mask taken
during her lifetime. I am quite sure it was made from one taken after
death."

"But how?" asked the other, his voice rising querulously. "That's what
I've come to you about." He went on quickly: "I have told you about the
locked bedroom door, and then under my very eyes the coffin was lowered
into the grave, and before we had left the churchyard I saw the two
grave-diggers, who had been standing by during the service, begin to
fill it in. Barely an hour later I went back there on foot--my house is
not a quarter of a mile from the church--with another wreath that had
arrived after we had left, and saw the grave was already filled in."

"Well, it's certainly most puzzling," commented Larose, and then he
asked sharply: "And how did the cast come into the hands of the
second-hand dealer? I suppose there was no mystery there!"

"No, none at all," replied Mr. Carstairs instantly. "It was labelled
'St. Mary Magdalene' and I went in and bought it for five shillings.
Then I said it reminded me so much of someone I had once known and I
asked the proprietor of the shop from where he had obtained it. He said
he had bought it last January at a lost property sale in the police yard
at Colchester. It had been among some odds and ends of no value in a
leather suit-case and he had bid for the lot to get the suit-case only."

"And what were the odds and ends, as he calls them?" asked Larose,

"There were several, he says, but except for two working shirts, he
doesn't remember what. He recollects the shirts were new, but of very
cheap quality, as he sold them to a garage man for three shillings."

"And, of course, you've enquired at the police station in Colchester to
verify what he said?" suggested Larose.

"Yes, but I didn't get much satisfaction," replied Mr. Carstairs with a
frown. "They said the sale had been the usual half-yearly one of
unclaimed articles that had been found over a large part of Essex and
that scores of suitcases had been collected from the different towns to
put in the sale. They wanted more particulars to identify the particular
suit-case and told me the search would entail a lot of trouble." He
looked rather shamefaced. "I know I didn't make a good impression on
them, because to show my right to make enquiries I invented a story
about the cast having been stolen from me. Then when they asked me when
and under what circumstances I hummed and hawed and then foolishly
declined to say. So, in the end, they said they couldn't help me, and I
came away in bad odour."

A short silence followed and then Larose asked: "Now was any jewellery
buried with your wife?"

"Nothing but her wedding ring. She possessed very little jewellery at
all. She was not that kind of woman."

Larose pointed to the cast. "Did you mend that break, then?"

"No, that's exactly as I bought it."

"Did the man in the shop mend it, then?"

"I don't know, I didn't ask."

Again Larose compared the cast with the photograph, and this time he was
so long in his consideration that at length Mr. Carstairs broke in
anxiously: "Do you think you can help me?"

Larose looked up. "I am not quite certain," he replied slowly. He
regarded him very intently. "I'll be quite frank with you, Mr.
Carstairs. You are an entire stranger to me and so, of course, I don't
know how much reliance can be placed upon your memory. No, no, please
don't get offended, but you see this investigation would mean quite a
lot of work for me, and I should be very disappointed if it all ended in
my finding you had made a mistake."

"Mistake!" gasped Mr. Carstairs. "In what way?"

Larose shrugged his shoulders. "You may have altogether forgotten that a
cast of your wife was made after her death. You may be under the
delusion----"

"Ah! I get you," broke in Mr. Carstairs quickly. "I see what you mean."
For the first time his face broke into a smile. "You are thinking that
because I am a spiritualist perhaps I may not be mentally sound." He
shook his head. "Well, have no distrust there. I have been a
spiritualist for five and twenty years and at the same time have
conducted a very successful business in the city. Up to the year before
last I was a member of the Stock Exchange, often employing more than
twenty clerks. I had a splendid connection and"--he smiled broadly--"the
man who could get the better of me in any deal had to get up very, very
early in the morning."

"Well, well," laughed Larose, "in that case I feel more assured." He
sobered down. "But if all your statements are correct, you must realise
what can only have happened." He spoke very solemnly. "Your wife's grave
was interfered with, for I repeat"--he tapped the cast with his
finger--"this was made from a death-mask."

"But why are you so sure there?" came anxiously from Mr. Carstairs.

"The repose, the peculiar laxness of the cheek muscles and, perhaps
above all, the sharpness with which the inner part of the nostrils has
come out," replied Larose. He spoke emphatically. "I know a cast made
from a death-mask when I see it, for I've examined hundreds made from
murderers and murdered people, and I'd stake my life no quills were put
up those nostrils to enable the subject to breathe while the mask was
being taken."

"But why, in heaven's name," asked Mr. Carstairs, "should anyone exhume
a body to make a cast of a face?"

Larose shrugged his shoulders. "That's what we've got to find out." He
rose to his feet. "Yes, I'll make some enquiries about it and see what
happens. Leave the photographs and the cast with me, and now give me
that second-hand dealer's address."

The following morning Larose walked into the dingy little shop in
Colchester where the cast had been bought, and asked a woman dusting
over the things there if he could speak to the proprietor. The woman
said she was sorry, he was away at a sale, but as she was his wife she
could transact any business in his absence.

Larose thought she looked sharp and intelligent and so, with no
hesitation, told her what he had come after, and asked her if she could
tell him anything.

"Oh, yes," exclaimed the woman instantly. "I know all about it." She
looked a little bit uneasy. "But if it was stolen from anywhere it's
nothing to do with us, for we bought it honestly at the police sale. My
husband told that other gentleman so last week."

Larose laughed merrily. "No, no, it's nothing to do with any stealing,"
he said, "and as far as I'm concerned I've only come here out of
curiosity. The truth is, my friend who bought the cast the other day is
very worried because it is exactly like his wife who died some years
ago, and he can't think how there comes to be one of her." He smiled his
most pleasant smile. "Now I only want to ask you a few questions, and
the first one--can you be certain at which sale you bought the suit-case
and its contents?"

"Quite certain!" replied the woman. "Why, I'll show you the sale in our
books." She led the way into a little room behind the shop.

"My husband's very careful about keeping an account of all his
expenses," she went on as she produced a small ledger from a shelf,
"because of the income tax people." She grinned. "Perhaps he's not quite
particular about all his receipts." She found a particular page and ran
her finger down. "See, there it is, January 15th, leather suitcase,
etc., six and sixpence. Oh, no, don't think we make a tremendous profit.
I remember that suit-case quite well, and it was a damaged one. One end
of the handle was torn off, and we had to pay for it to be repaired
before we could offer it to anyone for sale, I had to put in a new
lining, too, because the old one was so filthy dirty."

"But have you sold the suit-case?" asked Larose eagerly.

"Oh, yes, long ago, but we don't remember who bought it. We handle lots
of suit-cases, as they always sell well."

"And what, then, do you recollect was in this particular one when your
husband brought it home?"

"Just what he recollects and no more," replied the woman, "that plaster
cast and two shirts." She frowned. "There were some other things, of
course, but they were of no value or I should be remembering them. They
were probably put in our sixpenny box and sold as rubbish."

"Ah, that reminds me!" exclaimed Larose. "That cast had been broken at
some time. Was it mended when you got it?"

The woman shook her head. "No, I mended it myself. We were just going to
throw it away as worthless, because part of the chin was missing, when I
found the broken piece in a separate little parcel in the suit-case. It
was well wrapped up in cotton wool and brown paper." She nodded.
"Whoever lost the suit-case must have been thinking quite a lot of that
cast, because it had been carefully rolled round in cotton wool, and
cotton wool of very good quality, too."

"It was, was it?" said Larose thoughtfully. "And was there the label on
it, 'St. Mary Magdalene'?"

The woman smiled. "No, I put that on. I thought it would sell quicker.
The face was very sad and it seemed a good title."

Larose cross-examined her at some length and then, finally, took his
leave with many thanks to her for her courtesy.

"But there's something funny here!" he murmured as he drove away from
the shop. "The cheapest shirts and cotton wool of very good quality." He
shook his head. "The two things don't harmonise."

The police station was his next objective. The superintendent did not
happen to be in, but when Larose had made himself known, a sergeant
there expressed his willingness to be of any service.

"Yes," he said, when Larose told him what he wanted, "it was I who spoke
to the party who came about the same thing last week. He was a queer
bird, and as he declined to answer our questions properly, we didn't
make any move to help him." He explained: "You see, sir, it will be very
difficult to place that particular suit-case from among some scores of
others drawn from a radius of nearly fifty miles all round the
districts. We shall have to ask for a report from a good many towns."

"But this suit-case ought not to be so difficult to trace," said Larose,
"because it was one with a broken handle."

"Ah!" exclaimed the sergeant, "that certainly will make it much easier
as it will be marked on some list sent here as 'leather suit-case,
damaged.' I'll go and look up the files."

And Larose was not kept waiting long, for in a very few minutes the
sergeant returned with a paper in his hand. "Here it is, Mr. Larose," he
said smilingly. "This must be it. It was sent in from Saffron Walden and
has got 'broken handle' on it." He nodded. "You see, any external defect
has to be put down, so that we can be sure the damage was not done at
this end."

Some three-quarters of an hour later Larose was at the police station in
Saffron Walden and going through the lost-property records with the
sergeant there. He had told the latter he had personal reasons for
wanting to know what the particular suit-case had contained, and the
sergeant, knowing him well by reputation, had shown himself most anxious
to oblige.

The reference to the suit-case with the broken handle was soon found in
the book, and Larose gave a low whistle when he saw it had been handed
in upon the evening of September 7th, only three days after the burial
of Alma Carstairs. He repressed a second whistle when, in reply to his
enquiry, he learnt that Little Easton, the place of her burial, was only
about ten miles distant from Saffron Walden.

It appeared the suit-case had been brought into the police station by a
passing motorist who had picked it up on the Thaxted road about a mile
out of Saffron Walden.

"And it had undoubtedly fallen off the carrier of a motor-bicycle,"
commented the sergeant, as he proceeded to read out what it had
contained. "Well-patched inner tube of motor-bicycle, two new brown
working shirts with no tab on them of place of purchase, broken plaster
cast wrapped in cotton wool and brown paper, broken piece of cast,
cotton lamp wick, two mantles for petrol lamp, three motor maps, large
bunch of grapes in cardboard box, half a Dutch cheese, three pork
sausages, and some newspaper." He smiled. "The grapes were kept until
they had gone bad, and I expect the cheese and sausages were eaten here,
too."

"Then do you remember this suit-case being brought in?" asked Larose.

"Oh, yes," replied the sergeant, "the grapes fix it in my memory.
Besides, we don't get too many things brought in as we are off the main
road."

"Is this your handwriting?"

The sergeant shook his head. "No, Constable Brook made those entries."
His face brightened. "Ah, now would you like to talk to him? He's a very
smart young fellow and probably will remember all about everything the
suit-case contained. He's always amusing us by trying to tell us about
the owners of lost things when they are brought in, and sometimes"--he
nodded--"he's very near the mark."

"The very man!" laughed Larose, and so a bright-faced young constable
was brought in and introduced.

Yes, he told Larose, he remembered quite well about that suit-case, if
only because of the grapes. They were beautiful big hot-house ones, as
fine as ever he had seen in any shop window in London, from where he
came. The bunch had weighed over two pounds and they had all had a taste
at the station.

"And what sort of party was it, do you think, who had lost the
suit-case?" asked Larose smilingly. "Did you try to form any opinion
there?"

The constable looked down the list of articles recorded in the book to
refresh his memory. "He was a labouring man, sir, as the shirts were of
very poor quality, and the inner tube had been mended so many times that
anyone in good circumstances would certainly have thrown it away. The
piece of Dutch cheese also suggested the same thing, and the fact that
he had only bought half a pound of sausages inclines one to think he was
a bachelor or, at any rate, lived by himself."

"Quite sound deductions," nodded Larose. "Go on."

"Then he was on his way home, sir," continued the constable, "because he
had made his purchases and the suit-case had got in it as much as it
could comfortably contain. Also, he was going away from Saffron Walden
and not approaching it when the suit-case fell off."

"How do you make that out?" asked Larose.

"Because one doesn't come out of towns and go into villages to purchase
things. His purchases concluded, he was leaving the region of any
good-sized towns. Besides, it is hardly possible he would have filled up
his suit-case at the beginning of his journey, instead of nearing the
end of it."

"That seems good reasoning," agreed Larose, "and another thing of which
we can be sure is that his journey that day was going to end at the same
place where it had begun. He was not staying away for the night, as his
suitcase contained no clothes or personal effects."

"And also," went on the constable, "he lives in some little
out-of-the-way village which has no gas or electricity, because of the
cotton lamp wick and those mantles he had bought."

"Well, what did you think was his occupation?" asked Larose.

"A gardener, I should certainly say," said the constable, "as two of the
three papers in the case were weekly gardening ones."

"And what was the third paper?"

"A Times." The constable shook his head. "I couldn't understand that,
but I don't think he had bought any of the papers himself, as I remember
remarking to the others here that they were not current issues."

"You don't happen to remember the dates of any of them, of course?"

"No, but if it were important enough you easily can find out the date of
The Times, for there was an article in it dealing with the pedigree
breeding of canaries, I happen to keep canaries myself and it caught my
eye and I read it."

They talked on for quite a long time, and then Larose made his good-byes
and drove away with a very grave expression upon his face.

There could not be the very slightest doubt now, he told himself, that
the grave of Alma Carstairs had been rifled and either the whole corpse
bodily removed, or else--he made a grimace here--the head cut off at the
neck and taken away. It was inconceivable to think the cast had been
made from an authorised death-mask before she had been placed in her
coffin, and that it was only just a coincidence that it had been lost
barely three days after the burial, not ten miles distant from where she
had been buried.

No, the husband had spoken the truth when he had averred so strongly
that no one had meddled with the body before it had been lowered into
the grave. So, undoubtedly, the cast had been obtained in an unlawful
way, and the very fact that no one had come forward to claim the
suit-case after it had been lost pointed to a guilty conscience on the
loser's part. He had been afraid to claim it, because of what might have
been the consequences.

What in Heaven's name did it all mean? Was anyone going about rifling
graves, just to take death-masks of the faces of the dead? The very idea
was preposterous!

Some twenty minutes later, Larose had parked his car just outside the
churchyard of Little Easton and was walking round to locate the grave of
Alma Carstairs.

An old man was clipping the grass edges at the sides of the paths and he
touched his cap respectfully as Larose passed.

Larose quickly picked out the grave he wanted, as the sculpture over it
was heavy and ornate, picturing the life-sized figure of a winged woman
bending over. The lettering read---


"To the loving memory of

ALMA CARSTAIRS

who joined the heavenly throng in the

fifty-first year of her age."



"Ay!" he murmured, "and over what does that stone rest, an emptied
coffin or the rotting body of a headless corpse?" The grave was well
looked after with a beautiful show of late spring flowers.

Returning towards the gate of the churchyard, he was about to pass the
old man again when a thought struck him and he stopped to speak.

"Some beautiful flowers here," he smiled. "Are you the gardener?" When
the old man nodded, he went on: "I don't suppose you get many burials
here now."

"No, sir, very few," replied the old man. "We haven't had one now for
six months."

"Do you dig the graves?" asked Larose.

"Yes, sir, me and my son. The work's too heavy for me alone now,
although I digged them myself up to five or six years ago."

"Do you always fill them in directly after the funeral?"

"Yes, sir, straight away. That's the custom and the law, too. An hour or
two hours and all the earth has to be put back, and the wreaths laid on
top."

"Have you ever found anybody disturbing the wreaths?" asked Larose.

The old man looked horrified. "Taking them away? Oh, no, sir, this is a
quiet little village, and nothing like that goes on here."

"I didn't mean that," smiled Larose. "I meant you've never come back next
day and noticed the wreaths different from how you'd placed them after
the funeral?"

The old man considered. "Well, I won't say that, sir, because I've known
folks come and pull at the wreaths to have a look at the cards on them
and see who sent them, and once"--he nodded grimly--"when a great writer
was buried here"--and Larose's eyes glinted in expectation as the old
man jerked his head in the direction of the grave of Alma Carstairs--"a
person of no quality in the village here pulled out his wreath from
under the others and placed it on top." He frowned at the recollection.
"I noticed it first thing the next morning, and it was just like his
impudence, too."

"A sure thing!" murmured Larose, as he drove out of the village. "The
wreaths were moved and the grave opened during the night." He shook his
head. "But that old fellow had no hand in it. He's as honest as a
clock."

That night, with a pencil and piece of paper before him, Larose started
to go over everything he had learnt that day.

"Well, Gilbert," he said to himself, "you have now a splendid
opportunity to show what your boasted powers of deduction are worth, and
if that very lively imagination of which you are so proud is really as
good as you have always thought it to be."

He sighed heavily. "Certainly, some imagination is wanted now, for how
hopeless it seems to be able to trace any particular person from the
contents of that suit-case! You've not much to go on, Gilbert, for
you've only seen one of the articles that was in it, and so nearly all
of your information comes to you second-hand."

His face brightened. "Still, you were very lucky to strike that young
policeman in Saffron Walden this morning. He was unusually intelligent
and what he remembered should be of great help. No, things are not
really hopeless, for certain points stand out very clearly. The
first--two distinct persons are involved here. One, a well-to-do person,
and the other of the labouring classes. One gave and the other received,
and that plaster cast was the bond of union between them. That bunch of
grapes was a gift, and was not bought at any shop or nursery, because
the policeman says it was in a tin biscuit box, tied up with odd pieces
of string. Now that's not the way a shop would hand it over to a
customer, neither would they put in good quality absorbent cotton wool
to prevent it from being bumped about. A shop would use wadding and no
cotton wool at all."

He nodded. "By the by, that woman in the dealer's shop also remarked
upon the quality of the cotton wool in which the cast was wrapped, so
undoubtedly both cast and grapes came from the same person, and as the
grapes were ones that had been grown in a hot-house, then this first
person, as I say, must be in good circumstances. Yes, he lives in a nice
house with a good garden and conservatories and most probably keeps a
gardener."

His thoughts ran on. "Now for what purpose did this rich man hand over
the plaster cast to this poor man who wore cheap shirts and bought pork
sausages three at a time?" He answered his own question. "Surely, for
one purpose only, and that was that he should mend it. Of course, the
rich man could have stuck the broken piece on just as the dealer's wife
did, but he evidently wanted the repair done properly, with the little
missing piece from the chin filled in and perhaps the whole cast dipped
in the boiling wax again when it had been re-plastered at the back."

He nodded a second time. "And so that brings us logically to the
conclusion that the poor man made the cast and the rich man had paid him
for it, and then we at once ask ourselves the question, what manner of
men are these two who conspire together to violate the dead? There is no
doubt the poor man had a hand in it, if indeed he were not the actual
violater of the grave, as he had undoubtedly considered it too risky to
make any attempt to find out if his suit-case had been picked up and
handed into a police station. The reasoning of that young policeman was
quite sound and the man most certainly lives in this district. So he was
afraid to make any enquiries, either because he was fearing that, Alma
Carstairs being a public character and living near, the cast might have
been recognised as one of her by someone at the police station, or else,
he himself being well known in the district, he didn't want to arouse
curiosity as to how he had become in possession of such a thing as a
plaster cast."

He smiled to himself. "Now I'll start guessing. The rich man is an
ardent spiritualist and he wanted a death-mask taken of Alma Carstairs,
because he had been a great admirer of hers, and the poor man was a
gardener and accustomed to shovelling earth. So the two put their heads
together and this cast was the result."

His smile changed suddenly to a frown. "But am I right about that man
being a gardener, simply because two gardening papers were found in the
suit-case? Poor working gardeners don't run about on motor-bicycles with
three well-thumbed motor maps in their possession, neither are they
usually artists in plaster casts! That cast is quite a work of art, and
the oval background of the plaque is of perfect shape, with the edges
all beautifully bevelled as by a sure and accustomed hand. No, I don't
think I'm right there. My guess is going, obviously, astray." He sighed
heavily. "Now if I could only find somewhere to start off from. If only
I could sense somewhere the beginning of a trail."

But, rack his brain as he might, he could not find anywhere to start
off, and two days after his visit to Saffron Walden he was still doing
nothing.

Then, on the third day, an idea came to him, and eight o'clock in the
morning found him driving up to London in a much more hopeful frame of
mind.




CHAPTER IV.--AN ASYLUM FOR THE INSANE


Now Larose always held to be one of the inspirations of his life the way
he dropped like a plummet upon Professor Panther as one of the
conspirators involved in the violation of Alma Carstairs' grave.

It was not by chance or coincidence that he found him, but by intense
thought, plus painstaking investigation and a reasonable indulging in
the promptings of his imagination.

From the very first he had been quite sure that the rich man, as he
called him, had given to the other that copy of The Times because in
it there was something of interest to them both. Some mutual interest
must undoubtedly be referred to somewhere in its pages and, believing
the two men to live not far from Saffron Walden, he was hoping that if
he lighted upon that interest it might furnish some ideas as to who they
were. He knew already they were both interested in gardening, that one
was rich and grew his own hot-house grapes, and had expensive medical
cotton wool in the house, and that the other was strong and hardy and,
if not a gardener, was accustomed to shovelling earth and lived by
himself and possessed two lamps, one an oil one and the other petrol.

Entering The Times building and obtaining access to the files, he
quickly came upon the issue containing the article upon the breeding of
pedigree canaries. It was dated September 4th and was therefore printed
the same day as the burial of Alma Carstairs, and given to the owner of
the suit-case three days later. Going quickly through it, for the moment
he could see nothing that appeared to help him in any way. However,
holding the matter to be one of the greatest importance, he bought a
copy of that issue and took it away with him to read quietly in his
hotel.

There, in a corner of the lounge he began to run through its columns,
prepared, if necessary, to read every line of the paper even to the
advertisements.

An hour's steady reading, and he had found nothing to help him, nothing
that would in any way be of common interest to the two men he had
pictured in his mind. Then he turned back to the correspondence columns
and re-read a letter there that had struck him as very interesting. It
was headed 'Auguste Rodin,' written from the Athenaeum Club on the
preceding day, and signed Arnold Panther, and he scanned it down
quickly.

It appeared that another biography of Rodin, the sculptor, had just been
published, and this Arnold Panther was condemning the author because,
apparently, he had not praised the great Frenchman highly enough. In
many ways, the writer declared, Rodin's genius was unique, and was not
overshadowed even by that of the mighty Michelangelo himself. For
example, Rodin's knowledge of anatomy was far more than a knowledge
laboriously acquired. It was an instinct, a veritable gift of the gods,
and of so profound a nature and so perfect in its expression that any
advanced student of anatomy, even with his eyes shut, by just passing
his hand across any of Rodin's sculptured faces, could tell at once
whether the subject were intended to be alive or dead, awake or
sleeping.

The letter was certainly an interesting one and went on to discuss
sculpture in general, the writer finally averring that in his opinion
Rodin's 'Thinker' would rank for ever among the most perfect pieces of
sculpture given to the world.

"A-ah!" exclaimed Larose triumphantly, "now there's something that would
interest them both, for no one would better appreciate a sculptor's art
than a maker of casts from death-masks." He screwed up his eyes. "He
must be somebody, too, this Arnold Panther, to be writing from the
Athenaeum Club, and having his letter placed first in the correspondence
columns of an important newspaper like The Times." He rose up from
his chair. "Well, it'll be easy to find out about him," and he walked
over to a telephone cabinet across the lounge. Looking up the number of
the Athenaeum Club, he was soon in touch with the head porter there and
asking if by any chance Mr. Arnold Panther happened to be in at that
moment.

"Professor Panther, you mean, sir!" came the voice at the other end of
the phone. "No, sir, I'm sorry to say he's not. He's not been in for a
very long time now, not for many months."

"Then will you kindly give me his home address?" asked Larose, and his
heart gave a bump when the man replied:

"Yes, sir, it's Milton Road, Cambridge. That'll find him, for he's very
well known."

"Oh, by the by," added Larose, "I've just come from Australia and know
very little about our distinguished people here, so will you kindly tell
me what he's professor of?"

"Professor of Anatomy, sir, but he's retired now. He is a very
distinguished gentleman and was a great brain surgeon once."

Larose hung up the receiver, with his face now rather white and his eyes
opened very wide. "Goodness gracious! a great brain surgeon once and he
lives in Cambridge, barely a dozen miles from Saffron Walden! What if he
had wanted that woman's brain as well as the cast of her face?" He
whistled softly. "Either I'm guessing wildly or I'm dead on the centre
of the target!"

He borrowed a medical directory from the office and there read that
Arnold Panther was a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, a Doctor
of Medicine of Cambridge University and a Fellow of the Royal Society.
The professor had held many public appointments and written many books
and treatises dealing with the anatomy and surgery of the brain. Then,
from a copy of Who's Who, which he examined in a public library, he
learnt more about the professor and among other things that the latter
was an enthusiastic collector of orchids.

Partaking of a hurried lunch, Larose was in Cambridge by three o'clock
and by half-past was interviewing a friend of his, Dr. Fergus, who was
the professor of physics at the university.

"It's about Professor Panther I've come," said Larose, when they had
exchanged greetings. "You'll know him, of course, and I want you to give
me an introduction to him."

"What's up?" queried the doctor with a smile. "Wanted for murder, is
he?" He shook his head. "Well, I'm sorry, old man, but you'll never get
him before a jury now, as he's out of his mind and in a mental home!"

"Dear! dear!" exclaimed Larose, looking very disappointed. "That's
deuced awkward, for I wanted to ask him a few questions about a private
matter concerning a friend of mine. But how long's he been like that?"

The doctor considered. "A little more than three months. It came on very
suddenly, and it's dreadfully sad, for he's been a most brilliant man,
one of the finest specialists in brain work the world has ever known."

"But he'll get better soon, won't he?" asked Larose.

The doctor shook his head. "No, I'm afraid not at his age. He's nearly
sixty-eight."

"Can he talk now?"

"Good gracious, yes! That's part of the trouble! He's always talking! He
thinks he's an orchid!"

"And what asylum is he in?" asked Larose.

"One close near here, not three miles away. He's at Barnwell Hall, and
it's run by a Dr. Benmichael, a friend of his."

Larose considered for a few moments. "Do you think I could get speech
with him?"

"Certainly, if you want to," replied the doctor. He hesitated. "But
perhaps you'd better call yourself an old friend of his, and then
that'll make it easier." He moved towards the telephone on his desk.
"I'll ring up Benmichael and just say you're coming."

"Yes, and say I'm a Mr. Watkins," interposed Larose quickly, as the
doctor was lifting the receiver. "I don't want to go there under my
proper name."

A short conversation ensued on the phone and then Dr. Fergus hung up the
receiver. "Quite O.K.," he announced. "You can go any time. Benmichael's
away to-day, but his assistant, Dr. Quail, will be pleased to do
anything for you."

"And you say you don't know how his insanity came on?" asked Larose. "It
wasn't a sudden shock, for instance?"

"No, no," smiled the doctor, "it had probably been coming on for years."
He seemed amused. "But if you want to know all about him, go and see old
Colonel Plum. He was a great friend of the professor, and I'll scribble
you a letter of introduction."

About half an hour later Larose drove up to the big gates of Barnwell
Hall and rang the bell. A man from the lodge, just inside, came out at
once and, unlocking the gates, passed him through. Proceeding up the
drive, he found himself before a large old-world house, surrounded by
very beautiful grounds. A number of well-dressed and quite
normal-looking persons of both sexes were either reclining in
comfortable deck-chairs or walking and chatting together. Two games of
tennis were being played and there was a bowling green in use in one
corner. Altogether, there was nothing anywhere to suggest anything of a
mental asylum except the high fifteen-feet walls which surrounded the
demesne on all sides.

Seeing the car drive up to the front door, a good-looking youngish man
detached himself from a group of ladies who were watching the tennis
and, advancing up to Larose, introduced himself as Dr. Benmichael's
assistant, Dr. Quail.

"I thought it would be you, Mr. Watkins," he said, "and there's your
friend upon that bench under those trees. I'm afraid, however, you won't
find him very sociable to-day, for he's now taken it into his head this
morning to ignore every one of us."

Larose breathed a sigh of great relief, for he had been wondering how he
was going to pick out his supposed friend from among the other old men
he saw there. So he smiled to himself as they walked up to a small man
with a huge forehead and big ox-like eyes, who was holding delicately to
a small blown-up paper bag, and regarding it intently with a very
melancholy expression on his face.

"He thinks it's an orchid," whispered Dr. Quail, indicating the paper
bag, "and if his thoughts continue to be concentrated in that direction
you will not get a word out of him." He shook the professor gently by
the shoulder. "Look up, sir, I've got an old friend of yours here, Mr.
Watkins."

But the professor did not lift his eyes from the blown-up bag. "This is
a Roxy-lipped Cattleya," he growled, "and its flowers ought to be quite
six inches across. It's not been looked after properly."

"Good morning, Professor," greeted Larose heartily, "I've come to know
if you'd like the brain of a great Chinese statesman. I've brought it
all the way from Pekin for you. Now what about it?"

But the professor took not the slightest notice, although Larose, much
to the amusement of the doctor, went on to offer him the brains of most
prominent people, including those of the Prime Minister and the
Archbishop of Canterbury. Then Larose, thinking that perhaps the name of
Alma Carstairs might strike some chord of memory in him, and not wishing
to refer to her in front of witnesses, suggested he should talk to the
patient alone.

"Certainly," smiled the doctor, and he returned at once to the ladies
who were watching the tennis. Then Larose put his mouth close to the
professor's ear and whispered hoarsely: "Look out, Professor, I've come
to warn you it's been found out you dug up the grave of Alma Carstairs,
I've just heard it from the police. Alma Carstairs' grave, do you hear
me?"

But the professor apparently did not hear him, and although Larose went
on to whisper most insistently about graves, churchyards and broken
plaster casts, he could evoke no interest at all. So at last, rather
crestfallen, and with his voice quite hoarse from his fierce
whisperings, he gave it up as a bad job.

"I thought you wouldn't get anything out of him," said the doctor. "He's
as obstinate as a mule sometimes, and to-day is one of his bad days. But
if you are staying in Cambridge and come again to-morrow, you may find
him quite different and willing to talk freely."

"Well, I am staying in the town," fibbed Larose, "and I'll do as you
suggest and come to-morrow."

They chatted together for a few minutes, and then just as Larose was
upon the point of taking his leave, he remarked smilingly: "Well, at any
rate, there's another person here who's interested in me, if the
professor is not. That good-looking man with the naval beard, who's just
walked by, has been staring at me quite a lot."

The doctor looked round. "Oh, yes, and perhaps you know him! He's
Professor Panther's cousin."

Larose shook his head. "No, I don't know him. I've never met any of the
professor's relations." He nodded in the direction of the man who was
still staring at him. "Is he a patient, too?"

"Yes, and he's been here nearly a year now, and funnily enough it was
the professor himself who petitioned for the receiving order and got him
admitted here. We are all very interested in him. His was a bad case of
melancholia, and for more than six months he refused all food and had to
be fed through his nose. He was as helpless as a baby, too, in
everything when he first came. These last weeks, however, he's been
showing marked improvement and when he speaks he talks quite rationally,
but the poor fellow remembers nothing. He doesn't know who he is, or
where he is, or anything about himself. It's very deplorable, for he's
such a distinguished-looking man, as you can see."

Larose left the asylum very disappointed that he had been unable to get
anything out of the professor, for, quite certain now that the latter
had been the prime mover in the violation of the grave at Little Easton,
he had been hoping to get at his accomplice through him.

"I'm beginning to have an idea, too," he told himself frowningly, "that
Alma Carstairs is not the only case of grave-robbing that's been done.
If, as Dr. Fergus says, the professor possesses a private museum of his
own, then it's not unlikely that some extensive body-snatching has been
going on. The perfection of that cast suggests experience and plenty of
practice, and those well-thumbed motor maps in the suit-case make one
think a lot of travelling has been done"--he nodded significantly--"for
what purpose?"

He drove up to Colonel Plum's house to present his letter of
introduction, and was not too pleased to be told that the colonel was
not at home. However, apparently overhearing the conversation that was
going on in the hall, a pretty fresh-faced girl in the early twenties
appeared and informed Larose that she was Miss Plum, and although her
father was out, he might yet return any moment.

"He's golfing," she explained, "but I know he won't be late, for he's
going out to dinner to-night."

So, again giving his name as Watkins, Larose was shown into a little
morning room and amused himself with looking through an old Army list,
which told him among other things that Colonel Plum was a D.S.O. and had
been three times mentioned in dispatches during the Great War.

"And his daughter's a pretty girl," commented Larose, "not quite my
style of beauty, but just the type to marry well and have a good number
of red-faced, healthy children."

Ten minutes passed, a quarter of an hour, and then Miss Plum came into
the room.

"I'm so sorry father's so late," she said. Her blue eyes looked
troubled. "Is it upon very important business you want to see him? Do
you want him as a justice of the peace?"

"Oh, no, nothing like that," said Larose. "In fact, I've only just
called to talk to your father about my old friend, Professor Panther."
He pursed up his lips. "I've just come from Barnwell Hall, and I'm very
shocked."

"Yes, isn't it sad!" exclaimed the girl. She sighed. "We feel it very
much, for he was such a great friend of ours."

"But what made him become like that?" asked Larose. "Has anyone any
idea?"

"I have," replied the girl quickly. "I think it was all brought about by
his taking that sick cousin of his into his house." She frowned
prettily. "I suppose you know all about that."

Larose shook his head. "No, I don't," he said. "I haven't heard from the
professor for a long time, and meeting a friend here in Cambridge this
morning, was horrified to learn what had happened."

"And I should think you would have been," nodded Ida Plum. "As I say, it
was a great shock to us."

"But tell me about the cousin," said Larose. "He was pointed out to me
just now in the asylum."

"Well, he arrived at the professor's house very suddenly in the middle
of the night," said the girl, "so deadly sick that he could give no
account of himself. Then, the next day we learnt the whole place had
been turned into a sort of private hospital, with night and day nurses
and no one allowed inside, because the cousin must be kept absolutely
quiet, as it was feared he was going out of his mind." He nodded
solemnly. "And that's what did happen, although not until after nearly
three months, when the professor had become a nervous wreck from the
worry of it all."

"But why didn't Professor Panther put this cousin into a private
hospital at once?" asked Larose.

"That's what no one knows," said Ida Plum significantly. "It was
ridiculous for a man of the professors age to have all his habits
suddenly turned upside down, and no wonder he went out of his mind
himself." She looked curiously at Larose. "But had you not met this
cousin before?"

Larose sensed something mysterious in her tone and instantly played up to
it. "No, I'd never even heard of him before," he replied.

The girl nodded impressively. "And neither had we, and it came as a
tremendous surprise to learn that the professor had got a cousin at all.
Father's known him for more than twenty years and had always understood
he had absolutely no relations at all except a sister in Edinburgh." She
shrugged her shoulders. "And the whole time the cousin was in the house,
I never set eyes on him once, and neither did anybody else, except the
doctors and nurses." She nodded again. "We all thought it very strange."

"And you think, then," said Larose, "that the worry of having this sick
cousin in the house was mainly the cause of the professor going out of
his mind?"

"I'm sure of it," said Ida Plum, "for when his cousin had been at last
put away and we took to visiting Professor Panther again, we found he
had become quite different in his manner. He seemed nervous and fidgety
and had taken to muttering a lot to himself. Everyone noticed it and it
was dreadfully sad, because he had had such a brilliant career as a
professional man." She spoke with enthusiasm. "You've seen his wonderful
collection of people's brains, of course?"

"Not for several years," replied Larose carelessly. "I suppose it's
become a big one now?"

"Yes, he's got a great many specimens in a beautiful new building he's
had built in his grounds, and when he was showing them to us one day he
said every one of them had belonged to some man or woman of outstanding
ability. I mean all of them were the brains of very clever people. He
only collected that kind;" and then, to the intense interest of Larose,
the girl went on to relate what had happened upon that afternoon when
the tea-party had been reluctantly allowed into the museum. As she went
on to tell how, in the professor's absence from the room, she had opened
the little cupboard and discovered the severed head of a beautiful young
girl, in spirits, in a big glass jar, the one-time detective could only
with a great effort mask the excitement that he felt.

"And for a moment the professor was so furious," said Ida Plum, "that I
thought he was actually going to strike me, but he calmed down very
quickly and then told us all about it quite pleasantly."

"And where had he got in from?" asked Larose, breathing hard.

"Oh, he said it had been sent to him from some foreign country, years
and years ago, although it looked so clean and fresh to us that it might
have been cut off from the body that very day."

"Did he tell you who the girl was?"

"Yes," replied Ida, "she was a nun who had died from the plague when she
was nursing some sick sailors." She screwed up her face. "But the creepy
thing was, one of my friends there, Myra Girdlestone, was sure somehow
that the face was familiar to her, and some days afterwards it all came
back to her that it was exactly like Esther Haverhill, who had died only
about a week before. Esther Haverhill had been Esther Rayleigh in her
maiden days, the great violinist."

"Oh, oh!" exclaimed Larose frowningly, "what a strange thing." He looked
very thoughtful. "But didn't that Mrs. Haverhill live somewhere near
here?"

"Yes, not far away, at Monks Arden in Suffolk."

They talked on for some little while, and then Larose, thinking that he
had learnt all she had to tell him, bade her good-bye, with the smiling
intimation that she had proved a very good substitute for her father.

"Hum, not a doubt about it," he told himself, as he drove away. "This
distinguished professor, this man of culture and refinement, perhaps for
years and years has been employing someone to rifle the coffins of the
dead. That head of Alma Carstairs was probably just a common happening
to him and, if we only knew it, many a graveyard for many a mile round
could tell its dark tale of hurried violation in the dead of night. Ay,
many a well-kept grave over which some poor souls continue to sigh and
weep, probably contains but the headless trunk of the dear one they
loved so much."

He snapped his fingers together. "But no one is really harmed by it and
maybe, even, humanity is benefited by the knowledge gained." He shook
his head solemnly. "Still, still, it's a crime against sentiment and
forbidden by the law, and you, Gilbert, are on the side of the law
to-day." His face broke into a whimsical smile. "Besides, for your own
vanity's sake, you have got to unmask the confederate at the other end.
Yes, you've got to meet this nice gentleman who is so handy with his
spade and learn how he's managed to dig up grave after grave and open
coffin after coffin without being caught. So to-morrow, if you can only
manage to lead that mad professor's thoughts into the right channel for
half a minute, no, perhaps only indeed for ten seconds, you'll be able
to show that spiritualist chap what a clever fellow you are."

The next morning, proceeding again to the asylum, Larose was introduced
to Dr. Benmichael, and this time it was the latter who took him to where
the professor was seated, in the same place in the grounds.

But the interview was just as unsatisfactory as that of the previous
day. Someone had given the great man a big brown-paper bag that had
contained oranges, and, with the fruiterer's name upon it in big
lettering, he was pointing out to everyone who came near the rare and
beautiful markings upon his new orchid. To nothing else would he give
any thought.

"And he may always continue like this, now," commented Dr. Benmichael.
"At his age, the chances of recovery are very poor."

So Larose resigned himself again to disappointment and, accompanied by
Dr. Benmichael, was returning to his car, when suddenly the patient who
had been pointed out to him as the professor's cousin, the good-looking
man with the naval beard whom he had noticed staring at him so hard the
previous day, advanced up close and planted himself right before them.

"Excuse me, Dr. Benmichael," he said very quietly, "but may I speak for
a few moments alone"--he indicated Larose with his hand--"to this
gentleman?"

Larose stared hard at him. Where had he seen that face before? Where had
he heard that voice?

But if Larose stared hard, so did the doctor. It was the first time the
patient had ever addressed a remark to him personally and he had not
been even aware that the man had got hold of his name. He frowned
heavily.

"What do you want, Mr. Winter?" he asked. "This gentleman is probably in
a hurry."

But Larose had suddenly become most interested. He was realising what a
talk with this cousin of the professor might mean. He might just
possibly pick up valuable information from him. So he spoke up quickly.
"Oh, I'm not in as great a hurry as all that, Doctor. In fact I'd rather
like a little chat with Mr. Winter, as he's a relation of my old
friend."

"But do you know him?" queried the doctor sharply. "Have you met him
before?"

"No, I don't know him," smiled Larose, some instinct prompting him not
to disclose that the man's face seemed familiar. "But Dr. Quail pointed
him out to me yesterday and told me who he was." He nodded. "Yes, I'd
like a talk with him, if I may."

Just for a few seconds the doctor hesitated, and then his face cleared.
"All right, then, Mr. Winter," he said. "Take this gentleman over to the
bench by the wall." He smiled. "Tell him what sort of treatment we give
you here."

So Larose and the bearded Mr. Winter strolled off together, but they
went a little farther than the bench the doctor had indicated, for Mr.
Winter pointed out there was more shade upon a garden seat under some
trees.

Then Mr. Winter, to Larose's great surprise, in the most natural manner
possible, asked him for a cigarette. "I'm afraid I shall have to come
upon you for the match as well," he went on with his eyes twinkling, "as
we patients are not allowed to possess any."

Then, to Larose's absolute amazement, he said sharply: "Now please don't
show any signs of being astonished, for that doctor is watching us. I'm
going to startle you, but don't be nervous, as I'm quite sane." He spoke
without moving his lips. "Just lean back, if you kindly will, and
pretend to look bored as I talk to you, or, better still, shift yourself
round sideways so that Benmichael can't see your face. Ah, that's
better. Keep just like that."

Larose would have liked to whistle. He didn't think he had ever been
more astonished in his life. This supposed insane creature was taking
command of the situation like a general planning the strategy of a great
battle!

Mr. Winter went on. "Yes, I'm quite sane now. I've been getting so for
weeks, and recognising you, as I did yesterday, put the finishing touch
to everything. The sight of you was like someone striking me a great
blow. It brought back all my memory."

Larose held his breath for what was coming next. Notwithstanding his
emotion, Mr. Winter's lips moved only ever so little. "Look here," he
said slowly, "I want to know what we two are doing in a private lunatic
asylum, masquerading under names that are not our own. I heard both of
those doctors address you as Mr. Watkins and I'm supposed to be Mr.
Winter." He made the slightest movement of his head. "But we are not
Watkins and Winter"--he paused a long moment--"you are Mr. Gilbert
Larose and I am Sir Eric Roding of Roding Hall. No, no," he went on
quickly, for Larose had half risen to his feet in his amazement, "don't
run away. I tell you I'm quite sane now, however mad I may have been,
and I want you to help me as the great detective you once were."

He raised his voice ever so little. "Good God, man, you can't deny who
you are! Why, I shot with you once at Lord Deering's the same day that
Peter Wacks won the Manchester November Handicap, and the news came
through as we were waiting together at the end of that long wood. Don't
you remember, too, we had just missed a good bird, because each of us
had thought the other would take it? And you gave me some brown sherry
out of your flask." He gripped Larose stealthily by the arm. "You don't
deny it, do you?"

Larose could hardly speak. His mouth was dry and his tongue wanted to
cleave to the roof of his mouth. "N-o-o," he replied hesitatingly, "but
you're----"

"But I'm what?" interrupted Sir Eric sharply. He gave Larose no
opportunity to reply. "But you've met my wife! And we've met yours!" He
spoke almost pleadingly. "You recognise me, don't you? Of course I know
I've got a beard now and my hair is almost grey. Also, I should say I've
lost two stone, but still--come, speak, man."

Larose cleared his throat. "Yes, I recognise you, Sir Eric," he said
slowly, "but you can understand my bewilderment. I was told you were
Professor Panther's cousin and----"

"Bah!" snapped Sir Eric contemptuously. "I'd never seen the slobbering
little devil--he sits opposite me at meals--until I came here. I'd never
heard of him. I'm not his cousin. I have no blood relations at all. I am
the last of the Rodings, as you must know." He took out a handkerchief
and mopped over his forehead. "But come, I mustn't get excited, I can't
stand too much." He spoke very quietly. "I want you to help me if you
will."

Larose saw he was upon the verge of breaking down and, reaching out,
patted him kindly upon the shoulder. "Of course, I'll help you," he said
reassuringly. "There's been some dreadful mistake made somewhere, but
I'll see you're put right."

"Good man!" ejaculated Sir Eric, and he bit hard upon his lip to
restrain his tears.

"Have another of my cigarettes," smiled Larose, "and as we're smoking
you can tell me all you can remember about your coming here."

And so the baronet told his tale, but it was not a very long one, for
there was still a wide gap in his memory, and between the last moments
of his illness when at Roding Hall and the first feeble gropings of his
mind when he began to realise he was in a lunatic asylum, he remembered
nothing. And all the time he spoke with the least possible movement of
the muscles of his face and with his eyes never long away from Dr.
Benmichael, who was chatting with other patients upon the lawn.

"And it was only when I saw you yesterday," he went on shakily, "that my
memory rushed back to me and I knew who I was. Yours was the first face
of my old days that I had seen, it seemed, for years and years, and when
I saw you and heard your voice, it was as if a curtain had been
violently torn away, and my whole life as Sir Eric Roding and before I
succeeded to the baronetcy was instantly clear and perfect to me in my
memory!"

"But hadn't you remembered anything before?" asked Larose.

"Nothing about myself," replied the baronet. "I didn't know who I was or
how I had come here, but I had somehow come to know quite well that I
was one of the patients in a lunatic asylum, and I had a horrible
feeling, too, that everyone here was my enemy and I must not let them
know I was regaining my sanity." He spoke with intense feeling. "Yes, I
have that feeling still, and I keep asking myself who placed me here,
why do I never get any letters or parcels as the others do, why does no
one ever come to see me, and why does that Benmichael always look at me
more than at anyone else."

He leant back and, closing his eyes, drew in a deep breath, not very far
from a sob. "Oh, please find out everything about me, Mr. Larose, or I
shall become insane again--and that time perhaps for ever."

Larose thought like lightning. He had not the slightest doubt now that
the man before him was in truth Sir Eric Roding. Certainly he and the
baronet had been only slight acquaintances and if he remembered rightly
they had only met twice, but he never entirely forgot a face, and this
man's was unquestionably that of the master of Roding Hall.

But Sir Eric Roding was dead! He had read his obituary notice in The
Times. He had seen the account of his funeral in the newspapers and
he remembered scanning through the names of the many distinguished
Service people who had been present at the graveside. Why, there had
even been a photograph in one of the Society papers of the funeral
cortege arriving at the little churchyard of Ashleigh St. Mary--a-ah,
but an almost incredible thought surged through him. A churchyard again.
The baronet brought to the asylum by Professor Panther! The professor
telling everyone he was his cousin and no one had heard of this cousin
before! Good God! what did it all mean?

Then, instantly, he made up his mind. In a perfectly frank and open
manner Sir Eric must be told at once that he was supposed to be dead,
but at the same time he must be convinced of the need of the utmost
secrecy about it. No one in the asylum must be taken into his
confidence, and no one must know Sir Eric had recovered his memory.

He spoke sharply. "Listen to me, Sir Eric. There is some great mystery
here, but you must trust me to put everything right. Now, pull yourself
together, as the brave soldier that you are, and if Dr. Benmichael is
watching you, don't let him see the slightest change of expression upon
your face." He smiled reassuringly and went on as if he considered the
matter was something in the nature of a joke. "You are supposed to have
died of that illness last year, and everyone believes you to be dead.
They think you were buried and----"

"My God! my God!" whispered the baronet hoarsely. "I died and I was
buried!" His face went ghastly pale. "Does my wife think that?"

"Of course, like everybody else, she does," smiled Larose, "and it will
be the most wonderful happiness of her life when you are taken back to
her. My wife saw her in Ipswich a little while ago and said she was
looking quite well, although very sad. But all that sadness will pass
now." He spoke in most businesslike tones. "But you see, Sir Eric, we
must go slowly. We mustn't give her a great shock. We must prepare her
mind for your coming back. We must make no stupid blunder now."

"But how did I get here?" asked Sir Eric breathlessly. "If I was
supposed to have died, then I must have been buried?"

"No, no, not necessarily," prevaricated Larose. He put the utmost
assurance into his tones that he could. "You were only in a trance when
they all thought you dead. Then you probably got out of the coffin
before it was screwed down, and wandered away. You couldn't remember
anything and you didn't speak a word, so that's how you probably came to
be here." He nodded. "All that mysterious past will have to be cleared
up, and you can trust me to do it."

"Well, what are you going to do now?" asked Sir Eric weakly. He closed
his eyes again, and he passed his hand over his forehead. "My brain's
all fogged and I can't think properly after what you've just told me,
but one thing I know: I don't want everyone in the country to learn I've
been put away in an asylum."

"No, of course you don't," agreed Larose promptly, "and so whatever you
do you must not let anyone here know who you are. If you tell them, they
won't believe you and will only think it's part of your illness." He
nodded solemnly and lowered his voice. "As Mr. Winter you came here and
as Mr. Winter you shall go away. See?"

"Yes," whispered Sir Eric. His voice shook a little. "You are a good
friend, Mr. Larose, and I shall never be able to repay you."

"Oh, but I'm being repaid already," laughed Larose. "You will be under
no obligation to me, for this is one of those mysteries that I love and
I shall get all the reward I want by solving it." He rose to his feet.
"Now, I'll go straight off to Ashleigh St. Mary and on the quiet find
out everything about your supposed death and how things are going on at
Roding Hail. Then I'll come back here to-morrow and we'll have another
talk and decide what we must do."

"But perhaps Dr. Benmichael won't give us another chance of talking
together," said Sir Eric uneasily. "I tell you I'm afraid of him and he
didn't want me to speak to you just now."

"He certainly wasn't too willing," agreed Larose, "but never mind him.
I'll manage it somehow." He spoke most emphatically. "If I'm not able to
speak to you to-morrow, I will the next day or the next." He smiled. "I
have another patient I'm interested in here, so I have always a good
excuse for coming."

He rose to his feet and then, for a few moments, stood hesitating. "Oh,
one thing more. Now, the doctor may want to know what we've been talking
about for so long, so if he says anything I'll tell him you asked where
you'd met me before; then when I couldn't tell you, you shut up like an
oyster, and were no more interested in me than to smoke my cigarettes.
Good-bye, here is the gentleman coming over to us," and he strolled off
to meet the principal of the asylum.

Dr. Benmichael eyed him curiously as they came up.

"Not a very sociable chap that!" exclaimed Larose at once. "He wanted to
know where we'd met before and when I couldn't tell him, he hadn't any
interest in anything except my cigarette case. He was decidedly
peculiar. He asked the same question several times and each time as if
it were the first time he was asking it."

It seemed to Larose that there was a look of some relief upon the
doctor's face, as he commented smilingly: "Mental patients often get
strange fancies like that, especially when they're getting better, and
this particular one is decidedly getting better. Indeed, what exactly
he's able to take in now we don't know. His mind's clearing but he's
secretive with it." He looked sharply at Larose. "By the by, have you
met any of the professor's other relations?"

Larose shook his head. "No, never, and I have not seen him for some
years."

Larose drove away from the asylum with his brain in a perfect whirl of
excitement. By blind chance he had stumbled upon one of the greatest
mysteries of his life, a dreadful tragedy of the living, where he had
only been seeking to unravel the secrets of the dead.

Then how had Professor Panther been brought in contact in the first
instance with the young master of Roding Hall, and why was it he had
become on such intimate terms with a perfect stranger all at once? He
had never met the baronet in his pre-burial days, yet he had suddenly
and unexpectedly received him into his house in the middle of the night,
proclaiming him to everyone the next day as his sick cousin, but
refusing to let anyone but the doctor see him or have speech with him!
Everything had suggested secrecy and mystery exactly as if the professor
were in deadly fear of his supposed relation being recognised as
somebody else, if outsiders were admitted.

Yes, the two could have been brought in contact in only one way. The
professor's accomplice, in rifling the Roding vaults to obtain the head
of a dead man, had been faced with the dreadful predicament of having to
deal with a living person, who had been buried alive, but who, with the
opening of the coffin, had awakened suddenly from his trance. Then
rather than commit absolute murder, or for some reason in fear of his
grave-violating proclivity being found out if he left the awakened man
where he was, he had carried him straight away to the professor, leaving
it to the latter to get out of the difficulty as best he could.

In the meantime, and indeed, long after Larose had driven away, Dr.
Benmichael had been thinking hard about this Mr. Winter too. Larose had
been quite right when he had agreed with Sir Eric that the doctor had
not been too pleased when his patient had suddenly planted himself in
their way and asked for a private conversation with this chance visitor
to the asylum.

It happened that the doctor was particularly not wanting this man, known
as Mr. Winter, to be brought in contact with outsiders, for he was
regarding him as liable at any moment to bring an unenviable notoriety
upon the asylum. He was sure that sooner or later some scandal would
eventuate as to the manner in which this patient had come to be received
as an inmate of the institution, as he had been aware for some time now
that the man was no relation of Professor Panther's and that therefore
false statements had been sworn when the receiving order had been
petitioned for.

He had not been altogether surprised to learn of this deceit, for, from
several little things he had been inclined to be suspicious from the
very first that the professor had been lying about the relationship.
Then when the latter had himself become of unsound mind, his suspicions
had been confirmed in a most disconcerting manner.

Miss Panther, the professor's sister, had come down post-haste from
Edinburgh to see her brother, and on the following day, had actually
accompanied him upon his short journey to the asylum. When the matter of
another of her relations being already an inmate there was referred to,
she had been astounded to hear of it, denying most emphatically that
they had any cousins at all. Mr. Winter had then been brought in for her
to see him and she had said instantly she had never set eyes upon him in
all her life before.

Whereupon Dr. Benmichael had pointed out the great unpleasantness that
would ensue to everyone if it became known what her brother had done,
and, very frightened at the mystery of everything, Miss Panther had
readily agreed to preserve silence. Fortunately, she and Dr. Benmichael
had been alone whilst the matter was being discussed and so no one else
in the asylum and none among the professor's circle of friends had
learnt anything of the fraud that had been perpetrated.

So things were up to the day of Larose's second visit to the asylum,
everyone but the doctor continuing to believe that Mr. Winter was
Professor Panther's cousin, and the doctor himself always on tenterhooks
either that the police would arrive upon unpleasant business or that the
patient himself would recover his memory and then--well, no one knew
what would happen then.

Dr. Benmichael strolled over to the bench under the trees where Sir Eric
was still sitting. "Well," he asked cheerily, "and what did your friend
say to you?"

The baronet's face was wooden and without expression. "He wasn't my
friend," he said after long consideration. "He wouldn't give me any
matches." The doctor moved away, frowning to himself that if any trouble
were coming it would be coming soon, as his patient was now able to
reason.




CHAPTER V.--THE ESCAPE FROM THE ASYLUM


The night of that same day upon which Sir Eric Roding had disclosed his
identity to Larose, one of the attendants of the asylum, a
superior-looking man of about thirty, reported to Dr. Benmichael that
Mr. Winter had eaten very little that day.

"He took his breakfast, Doctor, but he hardly touched his lunch and his
dinner and he had no afternoon tea at all."

"Hum!" remarked the doctor thoughtfully, "but does he seem all right in
other ways?"

"Quite all right, except that he's taken to staring at Professor Panther
a lot. He hardly took his eyes off him to-night at dinner. Oh, but
there's another thing. He was very busy with the newspapers to-day, and
was looking at the photographs in this week's Sketch, I should think,
for a good half-hour."

The doctor considered for a few moments. "Well, keep your eye on him and
notice what he does." He nodded. "We can be quite certain he's getting
better but I believe he's now trying to keep us from knowing how great
the improvement is."

"Very good, Doctor," said the man, "I'll report to you again to-night."

"Yes," frowned the doctor when the man had left the room, "there's going
to be trouble there soon. All the cards will have to be put down, and,
as likely as not, it will be said that, as a friend of Panther, I
connived at the whole irregularity." His frown merged into a scowl.
"Damn the little wretch. I'd like to know what dirty business he was
engineering that night when this Winter fellow came to him!"

The hours of darkness that followed were very dreadful ones for the
baronet, and try as he would, for many hours he could not fall asleep.
He tossed and turned and was tormented with a thousand anguished
thoughts.

He thought of the great happiness that had been his up to the very hour
when he had been taken ill. His beautiful young wife had been only a six
months' bride and he had been as passionately fond of her then as at
that thrilling moment when they had exchanged their first wedded kiss!
He had had his friends around him and life had been heavy with the
promises of more happiness and joys to come.

And now--he had been coffined as a dead man; he was but a memory to the
woman he had loved so well, his friends had forgotten him and, whatever
happened, the shame of the madhouse would be upon him for ever and ever,
as long as he lived.

And all the time, apart from his repinings, one terrible idea had seized
his mind, for he was sure now it had been no sickness that had caused
him to sink into that trance! It had not been the poisons of his fever
that had laid him cold and rigid as a dead man! No, his lapse into
unconsciousness and his seeming death had been deliberately brought
about by someone who had given him a deadly drug, and he knew from where
this drug had been obtained.

He had not the slightest doubt about it, but he would tell Larose
everything and Larose would find out who his would-be murderer had been.

A great wave of hope surged through him as he thought of Larose and he
took a grip of life again. Then at last, sheer exhaustion taking
possession of him, he dropped off to sleep in the sure confidence that
Larose would speedily obtain his release from the asylum in some way,
and with as little publicity as possible.

And certainly the next morning it was in Larose's mind that the
departure of the baronet from his place of detention should be
accomplished as secretly as possible. It was not only of Sir Eric he was
thinking, but also of his wife.

Larose had spent the greater part of the previous day in Ashleigh St.
Mary and had both seen and had speech with Lady Roding, making his
slight acquaintance with her the excuse to call in at Roding Hall and
look at some very beautiful Gloire de Dijon roses that, he had heard in
the village, she had grown.

She had welcomed him graciously, seeming quite pleased to see him, but
he had been touched by the unnatural quietness of her demeanour.
Certainly she had lost nothing of her beauty and was quite as lovely as
he remembered her before, but it was evident her grief was still with
her and that she was very lonely.

He had felt a most profound sympathy for her, and, realising the
tremendous interest that would be aroused everywhere when it became
known that the baronet was alive, he wished to save her from the
distress of realising that everyone would know that her husband had
been--and still was--an inmate of an asylum for the insane.

So it was in a very determined frame of mind that he drove up to the
asylum gates. He parked his car just outside, explaining to the
lodge-keeper who admitted him that he was not driving up to the house
this time, as seeing him leave in his car had been very upsetting to the
friend he came to visit.

It was quite early when he walked up the drive, but as the morning was
warm and sunny a number of the patients were already about in the
grounds.

He saw no sign anywhere of Dr. Benmichael, but Dr. Quail was there and
apparently about to take part in a game of tennis. Out of the comer of
his eye he saw Sir Eric lying back in a deckchair under the trees.

He went up and shook hands with Dr. Quail. "No, Doctor," he said, "don't
let me prevent your game. I'll just look about for my friend and have
another shot at making him remember me."

"But he's not out here this morning," returned the doctor. "He seems to
be in for a bad cold, and so we're keeping him indoors."

"Bad luck!" smiled Larose. "Then I'm afraid I'll have to give him up
this journey, as I expect to leave Cambridge this afternoon." He looked
round carelessly. "Ah, there's his cousin, I'll go and try to make him
talk to me. Dr. Benmichael introduced us yesterday."

So moving off from the tennis court, he approached Sir Eric, who made no
attempt, however, to rise from his chair.

"Now you listen most carefully to what I have to say," said Larose
sharply, "for I shall only stop a minute as I don't want that Benmichael
to see us together." He spoke quickly. "I've thought it all over and the
only way to avoid a horrible publicity is for you to escape secretly
from here. I'll get you out over the wall and then you shall come and
stop with me until everything has blown over." He regarded the baronet
intently. "You're game, aren't you?"

"Of course I am," replied Sir Eric stoutly. He smiled a wan smile.
"Anything short of murdering some of the attendants."

"Well, are you out in the grounds after dinner?" asked Larose.

"Yes, if it's fine, until it begins to get dark."

"Then about ten minutes before you think you will be called in," went on
Larose, "slip away to that little summer-house in the corner there. Take
some stones in your pocket and, if there is no one near you, start at
once throwing them over the wall. I'll be waiting on the other side with
my car bang up against the side of the wall, and directly I see the
stones falling, I'll throw over a knotted rope. You can climb a knotted
rope, can't you?"

"Yes, yes," exclaimed Sir Eric, breathing hard in his excitement, "of
course I can. Physically, I'm quite strong."

"Well, you're to pass the rope round the summer-house and then throw the
end back over the wall. This end will be weighted, so you'll have no
difficulty. Then scramble up as quickly as you can, and I'll pull the
rope over again so that no one will know how you've escaped. But you'll
have to be quick as lightning, and if you manage it, wait until it is
nearly dark. Now, don't bungle it, and if you can't get there unnoticed
to-night, leave it until another night. I'll be there every night until
I get you out. Now here's a cigarette, and don't look so miserable."

Larose took a good survey of the others in the grounds. "Why, goodness
gracious!" he exclaimed. "I think we could almost risk it in open
daylight. There seems to be only Dr. Quail looking after everybody
here."

"Oh, don't you imagine that," retorted Sir Eric quickly. "There are
plenty of attendants about, but you can't tell them from the patients.
That young fellow by the tree there, in flannels and a blazer, is one,
and that tall, good-looking girl in blue by the nets is another. None of
the staff is in uniform and there are none of them of a poor class. This
must be a most expensive place for people to be put away in, and"--his
voice trembled--"I keep on wondering who's paying the money to keep me
here."

"Well, don't think about it," said Larose, "and for Heaven's sake don't
let anyone see you're upset or they'll probably keep an extra eye upon
you." He nodded encouragingly. "Good-bye for the present. To-morrow
you'll be in a very different place." Strolling away, in a few minutes
he was out of the grounds and driving off in his car. The day was a long
one for the baronet, but, buoyed up now by hope, he was feeling ever so
much better, and after dinner that evening it was reported to Dr.
Benmichael that he had been taking his meals properly.

Some little time before dark he proceeded in a roundabout way to the
summer-house, and there, crouching down at the back and with his heart
beating fiercely, waited for the light to begin to fail. Then, when in
the distance he saw the other patients preparing to go indoors, he
started throwing his stones, one after another, in quick succession over
the wall.

For a few moments nothing happened and a dreadful fear surged through
him that Larose had not come. Then suddenly there came a whizz through
the air and the weighted end of a rope impinged with a sharp crack upon
the roof of the summer-house. He darted out and grabbed hold of the
rope. Running round the summer-house, he threw the weighted end back
over the wall. In a few moments he felt the rope pulled taut and at once
began feverishly to pull himself up.

"Here I am," came a sharp voice when he had reached the top of the wall.
"Hang on with your hands and wait until I've got hold of your legs.
That's it. Now leave go," and he was gently guided down into the seat of
an open car.

Then like lightning Larose started to haul in the rope, but to his
horror it came only a very little way and then, pull hard as he did, it
would not move an inch farther.

"And there goes all hope!" he exclaimed disgustedly, "of them never
learning how you've got away. This darned rope's caught somewhere and I
shall have to leave it."

But he was mistaken, for most unexpected assistance was immediately
forthcoming from the other side of the wall. A man had glided suddenly
out from behind a tree and with a jerk of his arm had freed the rope
where it had caught in one of the feet of the summer-house. Then, upon a
last despairing pull from Larose, the rope leapt forward and disappeared
over the wall, the man now crouching down in a listening attitude.

A few moments' silence followed. At last the purr of a started engine
sounded in the night, and the man glided back among the trees.

About a quarter of an hour later it was reported to Dr. Benmichael that
Mr. Winter was not to be found. He had not come into the house and a
hurried search with electric torches round the grounds had revealed no
sign of him anywhere.

"Nonsense!" exclaimed the doctor angrily. "He must be about somewhere.
I've just come up from the lodge gates myself and know they've been
shut, so he can't have got out anywhere."

But a most systematic search both of the house and grounds speedily
convinced everyone that the patient had escaped somehow, and Dr.
Benmichael at once sent out attendants to scour the nearby roads, whilst
he himself got in touch with the Cambridge police.

"But, of course, I want as little publicity as possible," he insisted.
"Just pass the call round for the tall man I have described with the
naval beard. He is quite harmless and is afflicted only with a loss of
memory. Remember, his name is Harold Winter, but I don't expect for a
moment that he'll answer to it."

In the meantime Larose had driven off like a shot from a gun, and
avoiding all the main roads, was soon deep among the Ely marshes.

"There's not one chance in a thousand," he comforted Sir Eric, "of
anyone stopping us now. You won't have been missed, say, for ten
minutes, and it'll have been another twenty before they are sure you are
not in the house or the grounds. Then they won't look for you far away.
They'll just think you've slipped out of the gates, somehow, and will be
wandering upon the roads round about." He pulled the car up as they came
to a small bridge. "Still, we won't take any chances, so out you get and
I'll clip off that nice beard of yours. It's the only thing that would
make it possible for anyone to recognise you from a broadcast
description."

So, under the bridge and by the light of a torch, the incriminating
beard was quickly clipped away.

"And now, in less than half an hour you'll be in Carmel Abbey," said
Larose. "I've told my wife everything and she is expecting you. You'll
have a small suite of rooms all to yourself and, to minimise the chance
of your being recognised, only one of the maids will wait upon you. We
shall give out that you're a friend of mine, a Mr. Jocelyn, and that
you've arrived with a bad chill coming on, and so will have to keep to
your rooms."

Larose was as good as his word and the baronet was soon partaking of
sandwiches and a bottle of champagne with his host and hostess. Mrs.
Larose, who had been Lady Helen Ardane before her marriage, was a
beautiful woman in the early thirties and Sir Eric regarded her
admiringly.

"Oh, but your husband is being kind to me!" he exclaimed warmly. "I am
so grateful to him and regard him as quite an earthly Providence."

Mrs. Larose laughed merrily. "But he's being well repaid," she said,
"for he's getting a great thrill out of it." She regarded her husband
affectionately. "Nothing so pleases him as doing something that would
get him into bad trouble if he were found out."

"Now, you'll go to bed at once," ordered Larose when the meal was over,
"and I'll give you a sleeping tablet so that you'll get a good night's
rest. No more talking for you now, but to-morrow I'll hear your tale and
you shall hear mine."

So the following morning he came bustling into the room just as Sir Eric
was finishing his breakfast.

"Splendid!" exclaimed Larose, "you look quite fit and although you may
have temporarily aged a little, no one who has ever known you could fail
to recognise you at once." He raised his hand warningly. "But listen--no
moving out of those rooms for a few days. Oh, I know how you must be
longing to meet your wife, but it's too risky to make the slightest
movement until any search that is being made for you has cooled off a
bit."

"But they can't have traced me here," began the baronet, "and even if
they have----"

"They can at once invoke police assistance to get you back," interrupted
Larose. "Remember you are still certified as being of unsound mind, and
until fourteen days have elapsed, according to the law, Dr. Benmichael
has the right to claim you without any further certification. After
those fourteen days he can't take you back unless you are certified
again." He shook his head. "No, no one can have actually followed us
here, but what I'm thinking of is the chance that someone in the asylum
may have recognised me when I was supposed to be that Mr. Watkins
yesterday. When making enquiries in Cambridge about Professor Panther I
was quite disconcerted that several people recognised me and addressed
me by my proper name. So if anyone happens to mention to Dr. Benmichael
that they knew who I was, then, remembering how suspicious he seemed
when you asked to speak to me alone, I'm half inclined to think he'll
put two and two together and come up here with a search warrant to go
through the place."

The baronet frowned. "I told you I was always afraid of the man."

"Yes, and there's another thing to be considered," went on Larose. "If
the very slightest rumour of your return becomes public, the newspapers
will, of course, jump at it as a most wonderful piece of news, and at
once broadcast anything about you they have on their files. Then, if
they reproduce one of your old photographs, with your face still fresh
in their minds, there is a good chance that several in the asylum may
recognise it as that of the Mr. Winter who has just escaped so
mysteriously."

"All right," sighed the baronet, "I leave myself in your hands, but
please don't keep me from meeting my poor wife a moment longer than can
be helped."

"Well, now," went on Larose, looking curiously at Sir Eric, "what
exactly did you mean when you said to me last night in the car that you
were sure you had been drugged and that your unconsciousness had not
been a trance at all?"

"I meant," replied Sir Eric impressively, "that at the time of my
illness there was a drug in one of my curio cabinets in Roding Hall that
would bring about just such a state of unconsciousness as I fell into
then and which would induce a seeming death that might last for days."

"In one of your curio cabinets!" exclaimed Larose incredulously. "Then
where did you get it from?"

"A fakir, a religious mendicant, gave it to me once in India," said Sir
Eric, "under very peculiar circumstances." He went on to relate a
happening that had occurred some five years previously when he had been
on the North-West Frontier of India.

He said that one night, when he had been on horseback a few miles out of
Peshawar, he had come upon an old beggar lying upon the roadside in
great suffering from a broken thigh, and at some little personal trouble
to himself he had procured an ambulance and seen him taken into
hospital. Then, interested in the old man, he had visited him several
times as he was getting better. The beggar had seemed quite grateful in
a stately and majestic way, and, when about to leave the hospital, as a
parting present had given him a jar containing a small quantity of some
green paste. This paste, he had averred, possessed some remarkable
properties for the curing of many diseases.

"But he told me," went on Sir Eric, "that it was dangerously strong, and
although, amongst other things, a sure remedy for dysentery, he warned
me to never take a piece bigger than half the size of a pea as one dose,
or I might become unconscious."

"And you believed him?" asked Larose.

Sir Eric hesitated. "I didn't, perhaps then, but I do now." His voice
shook. "An instinct tells me, I feel certain that when I was ill someone
gave me that paste and that is why it seemed to everyone that I was
dead."

"Who knew you had the stuff?" asked Larose.

The baronet shrugged his shoulders. "Oh, lots of people. It was kept
openly among my curios in a cabinet with glass doors in the drawing
room." His voice rose in his excitement. "Why, only two days before I
was taken ill that last time I remember I was showing it to the friends
who were staying with me then. I had a house-party at the Hall for the
Newmarket July Meeting and I remember the jar was handed round while the
maids were serving tea, so all the servants had probably heard about it
too."

Larose was thinking hard. "And if when you go home," he said slowly,
"you find the jar is missing or the paste has been taken out, you have
sufficient belief in what that old beggar told you to think it was his
stuff that laid you out."

"I have," said the baronet firmly. "You see, Mr. Larose," he went on
quickly, "you never know who or what those Indian fakirs are. They may
be clothed in the filthiest of rags and be verminous and most loathsome
to look at, but all the same they may be very high up in their
particular religious order and possessed of powers, too, that our most
distinguished scientific men would envy. Of this particular fakir who
gave me the paste, I heard later that he could stop the beatings of his
heart, and also that he had once allowed himself to be buried in a four
feet deep grave for a whole week, without coming to any harm."

"By taking this same drug?" asked Larose sharply.

"Ah, I didn't learn that," said Sir Eric, "but brooding over what's
happened now"--he lowered his voice almost to a whisper--"I think it
must have been so."

A long silence followed and then Larose woke from his reverie and said
briskly: "Well, I will come back to what you've just told me later. Now
for my story, and if yours has astonished me I am sure mine will
astonish you." He eyed him intently. "Do you know, my friend, you owe
your life to that Professor Panther who, at the time when you were
supposed to have died, was employing someone systematically to violate
the graves of the newly buried in order to obtain human brains as
specimens for his museum. Now don't be shocked, for you are well enough
to be told that you were not only sealed up in your coffin, but were
actually lying in it when it was carried down and left in the Roding
vaults."

"My God!" exclaimed Sir Eric, with his face as white as death, "but how
do you know?"

"Well, you listen to my story," smiled Larose, "and it is as strange and
fantastic a one as the mind of anyone could conceive." Briefly, but
leaving out no relevant details, he proceeded to relate everything that
had happened from the coming of the husband of Alma Carstairs to Carmel
Abbey, to his, Larose's, first visit to Dr. Benmichael's asylum.

Sir Eric listened in rapt attention, his horror at the gruesome nature
of the story being in part relieved by his interest in the wonderful way
in which Larose had managed to pick up the trail, and follow it until it
had led him to the professor.

"And so you see," went on Larose emphatically, "every scrap of evidence
I have got together goes to prove that your return to consciousness came
when the leaded coffin was opened in the vaults. You were supposed to
have died on Monday, the 15th of July last, then upon the following
Friday afternoon you were buried, and in the small hours of the same
night you were brought secretly to the professor's home, in a high fever
and a state of unconsciousness. You arrived in your pyjamas and with
bare feet, and not a scrap of outside clothing came with you. I have
spoken to one of the maids who was with Professor Panther at the time,
and also to one of the nurses who was hurriedly engaged for you the next
morning, and they both vouch for those facts. In the light of what I
know now everything suggests you had been lifted from a coffin and
brought to the professor's, just as you had been when you had been laid
out for dead."

"And you believe," said the baronet shakily, "that someone, opening my
coffin that night to decapitate me, found that I was alive and carried
me off at once to the professor?" He shook his head. "Why should he have
done that? Why should he not have left me where I was and have avoided
all the risks and anxieties that he knew must follow?"

"Ah!" exclaimed Larose sharply, "that's what I've got to find out." He
nodded. "My belief is that the violator that night had some very good
reason for believing that if it came out the coffin had been tampered
with, suspicion would at once fall upon him." He emphasised his point.
"You see, Sir Eric, if he had left you, you would inevitably have died,
and then, your body decomposing, there would soon have been most certain
evidence that everything was not all right down in the vaults. Your
coffin was not going to be bricked up until the following week, and by
then the smell would certainly have come up into the church, as the big
flagstone in the aisle there was only lifted up for the coffin to be
lowered down and is not cemented round its edges. I have been into the
church and particularly noticed that." He nodded again. "You must
remember that, before being placed in the wooden outer shell, your body
was hermetically sealed in that leaden coffin and that, therefore, to
get at your body----"

"Hermetically sealed!" gasped the baronet. His eyes opened very wide.
"Like that fakirs body was when it was buried under those four feet of
stamped-down earth!"

Larose drew in a deep breath and then whistled softly. "Jupiter! and you
may be right about that paste!" His voice was very solemn. "So it is a
murderer I shall now have to look for as well as a violator of the
dead!"

A short silence followed and then Larose said: "But you were fortunate
in one thing, anyhow. As I say, the masons weren't starting to brick in
the coffin straight away, and whoever was coming after your body must
have learnt that, for it is hardly likely he would have taken on the job
if it meant pulling down a brick wall and then having to build it all up
again afterwards."

"Anyhow, he'd have had no difficulty in getting into the vaults," began
Sir Eric. "There is a door----"

"Yes, yes, I know that," said Larose, "I went all over the church the
day before yesterday." He continued to speak in brisk and business-like
tones. "Now, our plan of campaign is this. You must not be seen out of
these rooms for a few days, but at the earliest possible moment I'll go
and tell Lady Roding and bring her to you, here."

"Oh, but what a dreadful shock it will be for her when she's told,"
sighed the baronet. "It'll be enough to drive her out of her mind when
she realises I've been buried alive."

"But I'll tell her everything very tactfully," said Larose, "and, once
she's united with you again, the horror will soon pass. Then you'll both
have to remain on here as our guests for some little time. If possible,
nothing must leak out until I've run down the party who raided the vault
and obtained from him a witnessed statement that when he opened the
coffin he found you alive. We shall want his testimony to lay before the
Home Office when we approach them for an exhumation order to open the
vault. So we'll say nothing to anybody until we get everything cut and
dried, and then we'll go up to your lawyers and set them to work."

He rose to leave the room and then stopped suddenly. "But harking back
to that jar with the green paste, was the cabinet that contained it
locked?"

"No, never. The key was in it, but it was never turned."

"And was the jar conspicuous? I mean if anyone had taken it, could you
notice without opening the cabinet that it had gone?"

"Oh, yes. It was of a striking peacock-blue colour, and because of its
size, always kept in front of the other things. It was about the size of
the bowl of a small wineglass, but there was only a very little paste in
it, hardly a teaspoon, I should say."

"Well, this is what I want you to do," said Larose, "and it will keep
your mind from worrying. Make a complete list of everybody who was in
Roding Hall upon that last day of your illness--guests, servants and
everyone. Write a little account about each one of them, who they are,
where they live, what are their occupations, and how long you have known
them. Give their ages as far as you can, as that is most important. Put
down everything you can think of, so that I can get some idea as to
their personalities."

So that evening Sir Eric gave Larose quite a bulky packet of papers.
"The dossiers of twenty-two people," he remarked grimly, "and a lot of
good it'll do you. There's not a soul there who would wish me
harm--servants who have been faithful to my house for years, and my
guests all warm and trusty friends."

"Well, we'll see," nodded Larose. "Remember, the most dangerous enemy
would always be the one we were taking to be our greatest friend."

The three of them sat down to dinner, for both Larose and his wife were
dining in the suite that had been allotted to Sir Eric. The meal over,
Larose strolled over to one of the windows and looked out upon the
quickly gathering dusk.

Suddenly he turned to the baronet and said carelessly: "Now what do you
say to coming with me for a little ride? It's going to be a lovely night
and I want a bit of fresh air."

Sir Eric at once expressed his delight, and in a few minutes they were
out upon the road and speeding quickly along.

"I like a bit of pace," remarked Larose, "and at this time of night the
roads are always pretty clear. I think we'll go through Thetford and on
to the London road."

It was a beautiful moonlight night and everything stood out as clear as
day, and at the speed they travelled they had very soon passed through
Bury St. Edmunds.

"I know every inch of these roads," remarked Sir Eric with a big sigh,
after one of the many long silences that had ensued. His voice trembled
a little. "Of course I've driven over them all with my wife."

Larose made no comment, apparently being too occupied in watching the
road. Then when they had passed through Stanningfield and he was
accelerating again, the baronet exclaimed suddenly: "But where are you
going?" His voice rose in his excitement. "We are getting neat my home!"

Instantly then Larose slowed down the car so that they could converse
the easier. "And that's where we're going," he said laughingly. "I'm
taking you to fetch your wife."

Sir Eric was almost breathless in his emotion.
"But--does---she--know--I'm coming?" he asked chokingly.

"No," replied Larose, "but she knows I am. I rang her up just before
dinner and asked if I could come over and see her soon after ten. I
apologised for the lateness of the hour, but I said I had a most
wonderful surprise for her, and when she learnt what it was I was sure
she would forgive me." He went on solemnly: "You see, Sir Eric, I
thought it best to spring a quick surprise upon you both, so that there
would be as few dreadful moments of suspense and waiting as possible."

"Yes, it was better," murmured Sir Eric shakily, "but the suddenness was
a great shock to me."

"And the suddenness may be a greater shock to her," snapped Larose, "as
she had no preparation at all." He spoke very sternly. "Now, Sir Eric,
the way you first meet her may decide at once whether we are going to
take back with us a dazed and broken woman, or one so radiant in her
happiness that the shock of knowing you were entombed alive has
altogether passed her by. Meet her as if what has happened to you was
nothing. Make light of everything and dwell only on the joys that lie
before. Don't show yourself a weakling in any way."

"Good!" exclaimed the baronet, and his voice was now steady as a rock.
"I needed to be braced up like that." He laughed brightly. "Now, my good
friend, what exactly are we going to do?"

"I'll pull up the car a little way from the front door," replied Larose,
"and then go in and tell her. I'll give her no time to think and in
about three minutes will rush her out to you. Then I'll leave you
together for ten minutes by my watch before coming out again. Then she
will go back into the house and get her clothes and we'll drive straight
home to Carmel Abbey. Fortunately, as she told me, she has no one at
present staying with her, and so there'll be no explanations to be given
to anyone."

"And of course I'm to say nothing about the asylum now?" queried Sir
Eric.

"No, she's not to learn that until later," said Larose. "I shall just
tell her that when some body-snatcher took you out of the coffin he
found you had completely lost your memory and had no idea about anything
or who you were. Then you became very ill, and, although you soon got
strong and well again, you still remembered nothing during all the
months that followed, until you recognised me in a nursing home two days
ago and then, suddenly, your memory came back. Now, pull yourself
together. Here we are. Oh, one thing more. Keep the blinds down, of
course, but leave all the lights up and start talking to her at once. No
silences at all until all the shock has passed."

He parked the car some twenty yards away to the side of the house and,
the butler answering the bell, was at once admitted to the presence of
Lady Roding, who was sitting reading in a small room leading out of the
lounge hall. She rose up smilingly to greet him.

"Of course I'm very curious to know what you've come for, Mr. Larose,"
she said. "It must be very important to bring you all the way from
Carmel Abbey at this time of night."

"It is very important," smiled back Larose. "So important that, if need
had been, I would have wakened you up in the middle of the night to tell
you. Now, please sit down in that chair and lean back and make yourself
comfortable." He took a good grip of himself and went on: "Now, in all
my life, and it's been a pretty adventurous one, I have never known any
thing so extraordinary as what I'm going to tell you. It'll give you
something of a shock, but a very pleasant shock, and you must keep your
mind on the main thing and not think of any of the details."

"Oh, how thrilling it all sounds," laughed Lady Roding. "Go on, I'm
quite ready. I've got myself well in hand."

Then Larose rapped out, and his words came like a stream of bullets from
a machine-gun: "Your husband is not dead, Lady Roding. He is alive and
perfectly well and longing to see you. He was only in a trance when he
was put in his coffin, and some thieves, looking for valuables, opened
the coffin and, finding him alive, hurried him a long way away. Then
when he recovered from the trance, it was found he had lost his memory
and he remained like that all the time until the day before yesterday
when I met him in a nursing home. The shock of recognising me brought
back all his memory, and to-night he is as strong and well as he has
ever been in his whole life. He is waiting to see you."

White as marble and as motionless as a graven image, Lady Roding lay
back in her chair. Her lips were parted and it almost seemed that she
had ceased to breathe. Save for her eyes, that were held widely open and
fixed intently upon Larose, she was as a thing of death.

Larose took out a cigarette and lighted it. "Yes," he went on
carelessly, puffing with apparent great enjoyment, "it seems a most
incredible thing, but there it is. It's true, and I've got him outside
in my car waiting to see you."

Lady Roding found her speech at last, and a fierce wave of colour surged
back into her face. "Outside!" she gasped. "You say he's close here?"

"Of course I do," laughed Larose. "I wouldn't let him come in until I'd
told you." He rose up quickly, and putting his arms under her shoulders,
lifted her to her feet. "Come on, now. Be brave and no tears, even when
you're in his arms. The car's a little way from the front door."
Chatting gaily all the time, he half led and half carried her outside.

Sir Eric was standing by the side of the car, and smoking a cigarette
when they appeared.

"Hullo, darling!" he exclaimed delightedly, making his voice sound as
natural as possible. "Here I am, as fit as a fiddle!" And dashing down
his cigarette, he sprang forward and lifted her into his arms.

"But you get inside," laughed Larose, pushing him towards the car door,
"and remember I'm only going to give you ten minutes. Good-bye until
then." And seeing them into the car and closing the door upon them, he
hurried back into the house.

"By Jove," he exclaimed, "that's an awkward business over!" His voice
shook a little. "But, oh, the heaven those poor things must be entering
into now!"

Somewhat overcome by his emotion, he plumped himself down upon a settee
in the lounge and blew his nose vigorously and swallowed hard many times
until he felt himself again.

Then he suddenly became aware that the butler was standing just before
him with a very curious expression upon his face. "Where's my mistress,
sir?" asked the man, quite respectfully but, as Larose sensed at once,
with a note of sharpness in his tones.

"She's outside, talking to someone in the car," replied Larose. "She'll
be back in a minute."

"Thank you, sir," replied the butler, and he walked at once to the front
door, with the evident intention of opening it.

"Here," called out Larose peremptorily, "she doesn't want you. She's
having a private conversation with a friend."

The butler spoke, quite respectfully as before, but at the same time
with a firmness as if he quite knew what he was doing. "But I want to
see if she's all right, sir."

Larose swore under his breath. Here was a complication he had not
reckoned with. But he smiled genially. "It's all right, my friend," he
said, "quite all right, and she wouldn't be pleased at your interrupting
her." But then, seeing the man was evidently still intending to go
outside, he added sternly: "You know all about me, don't you?"

"Yes, sir, you were at Scotland Yard once."

"Well, you can trust me, can't you?"

"Oh, yes, certainly, sir," said the butler readily, "but then where my
young mistress is concerned I have to put away my private feelings,
knowing as a servant who has served the family for more than thirty
years that it would have been my master's wish that I should look after
her." He hesitated, and then added most apologetically: "You see, sir,
except by reputation, you are a perfect stranger to me."

Larose always prided himself that he was not a bad judge of character,
and now intently regarding the man before him, he took an instant
resolution. The butler was evidently intending to go out to his mistress
and, even if he were forcibly prevented, would certainly remain on in
the hall and then, in a few minutes, seeing his mistress return in
obvious agitation, an explanation of some sort would have to be given
him. So it would be far better, Larose argued, to tell him straight away
and make an ally of him, rather than leave him antagonistic and
suspicious.

"Are you married?" he asked sharply.

"Yes, sir, my wife's the cook here."

"Oh, oh!" exclaimed Larose rather hesitatingly. "She's the cook here,
eh?"

"But she's not here now, sir," went on the man. "She went away yesterday
on a three weeks' holiday."

"Good!" nodded Larose, "then I'll tell you something. Pull yourself
together for a shock. It's your master Lady Roding is now talking to in
the car. He didn't die at all, but was buried in a trance." For the
second time within a few minutes, in quick staccato tones, he proceeded
to rattle off all that had happened to the master of Roding Hall.

But now, if he had been expecting another incredulous audience, he soon
found he was very much mistaken, for within half a minute the butler was
excitedly snapping his fingers together.

"I knew there was something wrong!" he exclaimed exultingly. "I always
said it wasn't in nature for the master to have died like that. His
heart was as strong as a bullock's and he wouldn't have cracked up like
an ailing child!"

Very quickly Larose told his tale to the end, and then warned the butler
most solemnly that on no account must the slightest inkling of anything
get out until they were all ready with the evidence to substantiate Sir
Eric's claim to be restored to the baronetcy.

His story finished, Larose looked at his watch and, preparing to go back
to the car, said sharply: "Now, no shaking and trembling when your
mistress comes in to get her things together. Take it as a matter of
course and as if you are not at all surprised."

"But I can speak to the master, sir," said the butler eagerly.

"Yes, of course," nodded Larose, "and with him, too, be very careful how
you appear. Tell him, as you've just told me, that you are not very much
surprised."

Approaching the car, Larose was relieved to hear the sounds of animated
voices inside.

"Come on, now," he called out as he opened the car door. "I'm only going
to give you another ten minutes, Lady Roding, and then we must be on the
road again." He spoke in matter-of-fact tones. "I've told your butler. I
had to, for he was most suspicious about what was going on and was
insisting on coming out to see if you were all right."

Lady Roding sprang lightly from the car and clasped one of Larose's
hands in both her own. "Oh, you dear man," she exclaimed, "how
splendidly you've managed everything! No, I didn't faint, and I hardly
even cried. I took it, exactly as Eric does, as a homecoming after an
illness." She squeezed his hand tightly. "Oh, how happy I am!"

"Well, you go and be quick now," laughed Larose. "We shan't get back
before midnight as it is." When she had tripped off, he said to the
baronet: "Magnificent, the way she has taken it."

Sir Eric's voice was husky. "Yes, magnificent, but I didn't give her a
chance to think."

The butler came out excitedly to meet his master, and Larose, slipping
into the house again, made his way quickly into the drawing-room.

Switching on the lights, one quick glance showed him where the
glass-doored cabinet was, and in a trice he was bending down and looking
at the little peacock-blue glass which, because of its small size, was
standing, as Sir Eric had told him it would be, in front of everything
else.

He opened the door and then for a few minutes hesitated, considering
whether he must use great care in touching the jar because of any
possible finger-marks upon it. But no, he told himself after a very
brief reflection, if anyone had gone to the cabinet to get at the paste
nearly a year before, it would be ridiculous to expect to find
finger-marks upon the jar now. From all appearances, the contents of the
cabinet were much too well looked after not to have been dusted a score
of times and more since then. So he picked up the jar with no ado and
wrapping it in his handkerchief, thrust it quickly into his pocket.

Well under the specified ten minutes, Lady Roding reappeared again,
carrying a small suit-case and a number of things thrown over her arm.

Then came another surprise--and one for the baronet this time.

"I'm tired," said Larose when Lady Roding had settled herself
comfortably down, "and so if you don't mind I'll get you to drive now."

"Me!" ejaculated Roding in great astonishment. "Why, you know I haven't
touched a car for nearly a year! Do you think I shall be all right?"

"Of course I do," retorted Larose sharply, "or I shouldn't be trusting
my neck with you," He laughed happily. "Besides, it's not only my neck
you'll have to take care of, but your wife's as well. Yes, you drive and
I'll sit back at my ease and have a little chat with Lady Roding."

Oh, wisdom of the serpent! Larose was intending that the baronet should
regain his self-confidence at once!

So, with a little moistening of his lips and with much quickening of the
beatings of his heart, Sir Eric took the wheel and proceeded to start
the car. At first he was obviously nervous and muffed the changing of
the gears, but he quickly recovered himself and soon the car began to
glide smoothly but slowly along. Then before they had gone a mile he was
pressing hard upon the accelerator. He gave a quick glance round at his
companions.

"Oh, it's grand to be driving again!" he exclaimed enthusiastically.
"It's like starting upon a great adventure."

"Of course it is," laughed Larose, "and everything now is going to be a
great adventure for you both." And then all the way he talked
continually, compelling Lady Roding to answer questions and giving her
no time to think.

It was a quarter past twelve when they arrived at Carmel Abbey, and all
the lights, except one single one in the big lounge hall, were
extinguished.

"Now, up you go at once," said Larose cheerily, as he helped Lady Roding
out of the car. "You'll find a nice little supper ready and a pint of my
best champagne. And you're not to get up to breakfast. We shan't expect
to see you before eleven o'clock."

Having garaged the car, Larose proceeded very quietly up to his own
room, hoping to find his wife asleep. But she had been reading and was
wide awake.

"All right, Gilbert?" she asked quickly, directly he came into the room.

"Quite all right, sweetheart," he replied, and he proceeded to tell her
all that had taken place.

"And that will surely be reckoned as one of your good deeds, Gilbert,"
she laughed, "to atone for the many bad ones of your wicked life. Yes,
you can kiss me if you like," she went on as he got into bed, "for with
all your faults I'm rather fond of you." She sighed. "They say a woman
always loves the bad man most."

It was a long while before Larose got off to sleep, for he was very
troubled. He had opened the little jar to find that there was only just
the merest trace of any green paste inside it. The jar had been scraped
almost clean.




CHAPTER VI.--THE SECRET CHAMBER


For nearly a fortnight, lest anyone should come enquiring after the
baronet, Larose did not leave the grounds of Carmel Abbey, and, as a
spectator of the radiant happiness of the two he had united, he felt
amply compensated for his enforced inactivity.

By tacit agreement there had been no further mention of the way in which
Sir Eric believed his apparent death had been brought about, the baronet
being, seemingly, quite content to revel in the perfect peace of his
surroundings and speculate no more upon who had been responsible for the
dreadful experiences he had been through.

Nothing had appeared in any of the newspapers about any patient having
disappeared from Barnwell Hall, and Larose was now strongly inclined to
think Dr. Benmichael must have some special reason for avoiding all
publicity.

On the twelfth day, however, after dinner Larose announced his intention
of going away the next morning to try to pick up the trail of the man
who had been the one actually to open Sir Eric's coffin.

"But how can you possibly expect to find him, Mr. Larose?" asked Lady
Roding, who had long since been told the whole story of how it happened
that Larose had come to meet her husband in Dr. Benmichael's asylum.

"Oh, I shall get him all right through his motor-bicycle," replied
Larose confidently. "Everything points to him living not very far from
Thaxted, and he must buy petrol somewhere. So I shall start enquiring at
all the garages for a man who is probably a gardener--remember those two
gardening papers that the Saffron Walden police told me were in the
suitcase?--who runs a motor-bicycle with, probably, a sidecar
attachment."

"Well, it'll be a long business," said Sir Eric. "Think of the number of
people who sell petrol nowadays, and, apart from that, they mayn't
remember him!"

"But someone certainly will," smiled Larose, "for it is an habitual
customer I shall be enquiring for. A customer who is a working man of
some sort, and tall and with long arms, from those shirts he bought.
Also, we think he lives by himself and has no gas or electricity laid
on." He nodded. "Yes, I've thought it all out and reckon I'll get on to
him within forty-eight hours."

And get upon the track of the grave-digger Larose did, the very next
day.

He had started from Carmel Abbey very early in the morning with the view
of making Thaxted his starting point of inquiry, and then, if he learnt
nothing there, of taking a wide cast round the surrounding towns. He was
quite certain that information about a working man with a motor-bicycle
would soon be forthcoming somewhere.

He intended to tell the story that, driving out the previous day upon a
road close to the place of his enquiry, he had met a man coming towards
him upon a motor-bicycle and then, not half a mile after he had passed
him, had picked up a leather coat which the man must have dropped. He
could give no description of the motor-cyclist, beyond that he had
looked like a working man and was fairly tall.

At Thaxted he drew a complete blank, and all the way down to Great
Dunmow and also in that town itself he could get no news he wanted. No
one seemed to have, as an habitual customer, a working man with a
motor-cycle, who occasionally travelled about with a suit-case on his
carrier. Plenty of chance customers might have answered to the
description, and especially young fellows at week-ends, but nobody could
think of any local person to whom the leather coat might belong.

After Great Dunmow, bearing in mind that the three places, Little
Easton, Ashleigh St. Mary and Monks Arden were all not very distant from
Thaxted, he turned eastward to Braintree, so that he should not be
circling too far round. At Braintree he met with no more success, but
continuing on to Halstead to enclose the circle, he was greatly
heartened when, at the very first garage he enquired, the proprietor
hazarded the guess that the owner of the coat might be a man called Joel
Daunt.

"He's got a leather coat," he said, "but I've not heard tell he's lost
it."

"And who is he and where does he live?" asked Larose, and he was
electrified when the garage man replied: "He looks after the churchyard
at Monks Arden, about eight miles from here, between Great Bardfield and
Wethersfield. He's the sore of caretaker of the church, too, and works
for the old clergyman there. His house is in the churchyard itself,
right against one of the walls."

Larose's heart gave a big bump, but he repressed all signs of
excitement. "Has he been here lately?" he asked.

The man shook his head. "No, I haven't seen him for some weeks now, but
he generally gets his petrol here, because I sold him his outfit a
couple of years back and keep it in repair for him."

"Well, I'll go and see him," said Larose. "He's a big, tall fellow,
isn't he?"

"Tall and slight," answered the man, "and very dark." He laughed. "A bit
queer-tempered, but a good chap to do business with, for he always pays
cash for anything he has." He nodded. "He does beautiful carvings, too,
and sells his work all over the neighbourhood."

Expressing his thanks for the information, Larose drove away in a very
exultant frame of mind.

"Monks Arden, where Esther Haverhill was buried!" he ejaculated
delightedly. "Of course, of course, I ought to have gone there first! So
often it is the correct solution of a puzzle, the very simplest one!" He
nodded grimly. "Well now, I'll just go and have a look at this Mr. Joel
Daunt, and make up my mind how best to deal with him."

Arriving at Monks Arden, he found it was only a very small village, with
one inn, one little general shop and barely a score of houses all told.
The vicarage, adjoining the churchyard, was the only building, save the
church, of any good size at all. The church itself stood upon a slight
elevation and was a conspicuous object for many miles round.

Parking his car near by, he walked into the churchyard and proceeded to
stroll round casually, as if he were interested in the inscriptions on
the gravestones, a number of which were very old, going back for
hundreds of years. There was no sign of any gardener about, the only
other person in the churchyard being a girl about nineteen or twenty, in
deep mourning, who was watering some flowers upon what was evidently a
very recent grave. He noted with interest a small stone house in a
corner at the junction of two high walls. The walls were high and of
great thickness and, like the house, looked very old.

He walked along the well-kept paths between the graves to find where
Esther Haverhill had been buried. Her grave was by some beautiful
sweet-smelling lilac shrubs and the headstone upon it was a broken
column of the whitest marble. Upon the base of the column was
inscribed:--



"Here lies the body of

Esther Haverhill

who passed away in the twenty-

third year of her life on the

eighteenth day of November one thousand nine hundred

and thirty-five.

'She doth not sleep. She hath awakened from

the dream of life'."



"Here lies the body of Esther Haverhill," he repeated whisperingly. He
shook his head. "No, not all of you, Esther, for part of you is in a
glass jar in an ugly whitewashed room in Cambridge, and Heaven comfort
the man who loved you, if he shall ever come to know!" He sighed deeply.
"Ay, what unhappiness it will bring to a number of good souls, if all
that has happened gets out."

He approached the girl who was still busy at the grave, and, to open a
conversation with her, raised his hat and asked who was the incumbent of
the church. She told him and then, to turn the conversation into the
channel he wanted, he remarked how beautiful were the flowers she was
attending to.

"But then," he added admiringly, "all the flowers are beautiful here.
This churchyard is very well looked after."

"Yes, we are fortunate in having a very good gardener here," she said.
"He takes great pride in all his work."

"And I suppose he gives all his time to the churchyard?" suggested
Larose.

"Oh, no," said the girl, "he looks after the church as well. He does all
the dusting and cleaning, and besides that"--she sighed as she glanced
down at her flowers--"he digs the graves!"

Larose nodded understandingly. "I saw that there is a new one being dug
the other side of the church, too," he said, and then he asked
curiously: "But surely you don't get many burials here now?"

The girl shook her head. "No, very few"--she sighed again--"but when
they do come, they always seem to come together." Her voice trembled.
"Last week there was this one, my mother's, and then tomorrow afternoon
a very old inhabitant of the village is being buried. That is his grave
there you saw being dug now."

They chatted on for a few minutes and then the girl said, "But if you'll
excuse me, I'll have to go and practise now. I play the organ here."
With a little bow and a sad smile she walked off into the church.

There being no one else in the churchyard now, Larose walked over and
had a look at the small house which he knew must be the grave-digger's.
It apparently consisted of only two rooms, and he tapped gently upon the
door, ready with some excuse if the grave-digger should open it. Then
getting no answer, he tried the handle. But it was locked and he had to
content himself with looking through the window of a room where the
blind was not drawn. He got, however, little for his pains, as the late
afternoon was dark and gloomy and he could not see clearly into the
room. "Well, the lock of the door wouldn't trouble me," he told himself,
"so I'll find out in the village at what time to-morrow the funeral will
be keeping our friend busy and then I'll chance it and get in and have a
look round."

Approaching the churchyard gates, one of which was half open, he met a
tall man in leggings and with a spade upon his shoulder about to come
in, and knew instantly, from the description given him in Halstead, that
it was the grave-digger. The man made no attempt to make way for him,
but pushed in first unceremoniously, not rudely or offensively, but as
if his thoughts were very far away.

Larose took a good look at him as they passed. "Hum!" he commented,
"nothing quite like what I expected! Darned ugly, but not really vicious
and certainly not weak. Quite intellectual in a way, and a dreamer
living in a world of his own, and none too happy about it either."

Not intending to return home that night, as he had told them at Carmel
Abbey to expect him back only when they saw him, he put up at an hotel
in Great Dunmow and the next morning called at Roding Hall.

He had very carefully gone through the list of the people who had been
under the roof of Roding Hall the last night of the baronet's illness,
and was thinking it would be just as well to ask a few questions about
some of the guests of the hall butler.

The butler answered the door to his ring and, recognising Larose, at
once asked eagerly, "And how are they, sir? Are they quite well?"

"Perfectly well," replied Larose, "and very happy. I expect they will be
home soon now, and then everything can be made public." He looked
sharply at the butler. "Anything happened here?"

"Nothing particular, sir," replied the man, "but, of course, everyone
has been curious about her ladyship having gone off so suddenly. There
have been a lot of calls over the telephone."

"But of course you've told them nothing," said Larose.

"Only what you told me to say, sir," replied the man, "that her ladyship
has gone off on a motoring tour with a friend and it is not certain when
she will return." His face lit up with animation. "Oh, one gentleman, a
Mr. Miles Hellingsby, who's been here, was very persistent and wanted to
know where I was forwarding her letters. I told him I wasn't forwarding
them at all, but I knew he didn't believe me and, the next morning, I
found out he had gone afterwards to the post office here in the village
and asked them if they knew where she was." He chuckled with amusement.
"So it was a good thing I had done as you told me and cycled every night
into Long Melford to post them."

"Oh! oh!" exclaimed Larose, "and this Mr. Hellingsby is one of the
gentlemen who was staying here when Sir Eric was supposed to have died?"

"Yes, sir, he and Mrs. Hellingsby were both here then."

"And she is much the elder of the two, isn't she?" went on Larose.

The butler looked very solemn. "She was, sir, but she is dead now. She
met with a terrible accident and was drowned just before last Easter."

"Drowned!" ejaculated Larose. "Where was she drowned?"

"At Eastbourne, sir. She went out for a sail along with a lot of others
in an excursion boat, and a big steamer cut their boat in two. I think
about twenty people were drowned."

Larose nodded. "I remember it. It was the sailing boat, Maid of
Sussex, and the passengers were only being taken out for a short
sail."

A short silence followed, and then Larose asked: "And since his wife
died has this gentleman come here, before he called the other day?"

"Oh, yes, sir," replied the butler. "Of course he's never stayed here
since Mrs. Hellingsby died, but he's come a few times to see her
ladyship."

"He was a great friend of Sir Eric, wasn't he?" asked Larose,

"Yes, sir," said the butler, "a very great friend. They went shooting a
lot together and to many race meetings as well." He hesitated a moment.
"But the friendship was not an old one, sir. Sir Eric had only known him
for about a year." He looked intently at Larose. "He is a very handsome
man, sir."

"And what do you mean by that?" asked Larose smilingly. "Why do you
mention he is very handsome?"

The butler looked most embarrassed. "W-e-ll, you see, sir," he stammered
after a long hesitation, "all the ladies notice how handsome he is and
we here were half afraid he might"--another long hesitation followed,
and then the butler blurted out--"take Sir Eric's place. Everyone has
seen he's a great admirer of her ladyship."

"Oh, that's it, is it?" commented Larose. His smile hid the grim purpose
of his next question. "And why should any of you have been what you call
'afraid' about it?"

"We don't particularly like him, sir. We in the servants' hall don't
think him genuine," said the butler decisively. As if suddenly realising
he ought not to be criticising any of his master's friends, he went on
quickly: "But he has always acted with us, sir, as a perfect gentleman,
and I really oughtn't to be saying anything about him to you now."

"But come," said Larose persuasively, "these are not ordinary times,
remember, and I have myself been asking your master about all his
friends." He spoke sharply: "Tell me what you mean by saying you don't
think him genuine."

"Well, it's about Mrs. Hellingsby," said the butler reluctantly. "He was
always very kind to her in front of people, but when they had been alone
in their bedroom, Emily, she's one of the housemaids, sir, has two or
three times heard him speaking a bit sharply to her"--his voice
hardened--"and more than once I have seen him give her a look that he
wouldn't have liked her ladyship to see."

"Hum!" remarked Larose again, "and Mrs. Hellingsby was very much older
than he was, wasn't she?"

"Yes, sir, and a very plain lady, too."

They talked on for quite a long time and then, enjoining upon the butler
complete secrecy on the subjects of their conversation, Larose bade him
good-bye, and drove thoughtfully away.

The funeral at Monks Arden was not to be until half-past three, and so
Larose put in some time in going over the Ashleigh St. Mary church
again, before calling at the village inn for bread and cheese.

He partook of his refreshment in the little sawdusted bar and found the
landlord a pleasant and chatty companion.

"Beautiful old church you've got here," said Larose. "I see a great
number of Rodings have been buried in it."

"All of them for the last three hundred years," nodded the landlord; he
looked very solemn. "But there'll be no more buried here any more. Sir
Eric, who died last year, was the last of them all and there are no
others to come. Bad luck it is, for the Rodings were very fine
gentlemen."

"But there's still Lady Roding," said Larose, "and I suppose she'll be
buried in their vaults, too."

The landlord shook his head. "Not she. She's a very pretty little lady
and as she's only twenty-two she is sure to marry again. She won't die a
Roding. She'll be Mrs. Somebody Else."

Then Larose spoke casually of the supposed leather coat he had picked
up, but now giving the description of Daunt as that of the man on the
motor-bicycle he had passed, asked the landlord if by chance he knew of
any such person.

"Certainly I do," said the landlord at once. "The man had got a sidecar
attached to the motor-bicycle, hadn't he? Well, he's a chap called Daunt
and works at the church in Monks Arden, a good way from here, near Great
Bardfield." He laughed. "'Daunt, the grave-digger' they call him,
because he looks as cold as a corpse himself, although it's precious few
graves he digs in that old churchyard. Yes, that's the man right
enough."

"Oh, you know him, then!" exclaimed Larose as if very astonished.

The landlord took a big swig at the pot of beer Larose had provided.
"Seen him nosing round the church several times just after Sir Eric
Roding died," he replied, "and wondered what the deuce there was to
bring him here." He spoke reminiscently: "He was in this village the day
before the funeral; he was in the church during the funeral service--I
sat next to him--and then that same night just after it had got dark, I
met him pushing his motor-bicycle and sidecar along not three hundred
yards from the door." He shook his head doubtfully. "I've often wondered
since what his little game was."

Larose caught his breath. At last the certain explanation of why, upon
the opening of the coffin and it being found Sir Eric was alive, he had
not been left to his fate! If it had become known the coffin had been
tampered with, then assuredly suspicion would at once have fallen upon
the grave-digger of Monks Arden, and so for his own preservation he had
had to take the semi-conscious man away.

Just before half-past three Larose, from the roadway outside, watched
the funeral cortege entering the churchyard. Then he saw the coffin
carried into the church with Daunt bringing up the rear of the
procession. He waited until the mourners and spectators had followed
after and then, himself proceeding into the now deserted churchyard, he
walked quickly over to the grave-digger's house in the corner and tried
the handle of the door.

As he had half expected, the door was unlocked, and so, after one quick
backward glance to make sure he was not observed, he darted into the
house and closed the door behind him.

The door had opened directly into what obviously was the main room of
the house, it being the kitchen, sleeping-room and sitting-room
combined. It was very sparsely furnished, and contained little more than
the bare necessities of life. Opposite the window was a one-burner
paraffin stove, in a corner was a low truckle bed, and in the middle of
the room were a table and one chair. The floor of the room was of stone,
but there was a wide strip of old carpet just by the table.

As Larose looked round with eager and expectant eyes, the first thing
that struck him was the tidiness and order that prevailed everywhere.
Everything had its proper place and everything, too, was absolutely
clean.

Upon a shelf were a row of books and a little pile of magazines and
papers. Instantly Larose pounced upon three motoring maps. They were
evidently comparatively recent purchases, looking quite fresh and new.
They were ones of Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk.

"Exactly!" he murmured, "he bought those to replace the ones he lost
when that suit-case dropped off his motor-bicycle. Oh, what a sure
thing!"

He scanned along the titles of the books. The Great Sculptors of the
World, Giants of the Renaissance, Gems of the Master Painters
he read, and then he frowned. "What a queer mixture! An appreciation of
beauty and a violator of the coffins of the dead!"

Finding nothing more to interest him, he passed into the second room,
and here, it was apparent, Daunt did all the carving for which he had
earned such a reputation. There was a stout and well-appointed bench,
rack upon rack of carving tools and quite a good store of hard and
well-seasoned wood. Upon the pavemented floor were stretched two broad
lengths of thick coconut matting.

"But where's his lamp?" Larose asked himself. "He can't possibly do any
fine work here at night with that paraffin one in the other room.
Where's that petrol lamp for which he bought those two mantles he lost
with the suit-case? That's what I want to know."

His eyes roved round everywhere. "And how has he made those plaster
casts and not left any sign of the plaster about?" He looked puzzled.
"It's colder here, too, than in the other room and"--he sniffed
delicately--"there seems quite a different smell."

Then suddenly he began to sniff hard. "Petrol!" he exclaimed after a few
moments. "I'm sure of it." Bending down, he moved slowly round the room,
sniffing harder than ever. Sometimes the smell eluded him, but then,
straightening himself up, he could detect it again at once. Finally,
almost on his hands and knees, in turn he sniffed at every crack at the
junctions of the big stones that formed the floor of the room, lifting
up the thick matting as he passed along.

He came upon what he was looking for at last, for in one of the corners
farthest away from the door he could detect petrol, faintly but
nevertheless quite distinctly.

"It's coming up," he exclaimed excitedly, "and so there's another room
under this!" He pulled at a massive slab of stone, about three feet
square, in the extreme corner where the join between it and the next
slab seemed wider than the joins anywhere else, but although he could
feel it move slightly from side to side, he could not lift it up in any
way. He noted that the end of this loose stone, like the ends of all the
other stones in the same row, projected under the wall.

"Never mind," he told himself breathlessly. "I know that there's
something there and it will do later. I dare not wait any longer now.
I've been here a quarter of an hour already and the service may be over
any minute." Making sure that there was no one outside to observe him,
he glided from the house.

That evening the grave-digger had just finished his meal when he heard
quick footsteps outside, there was a sharp tap upon his door, and then,
as he rose to his feet, the door opened and a man stepped into the room.

"It's all right," said Larose briskly, for of course it was he, "I just
wanted to have a little talk with you." He closed the door behind him.
"No, sit down again." He smiled pleasantly. "I don't mean any violence
and I've not come to rob you."

But Daunt remained upon his feet. He was scowling, but for the moment
seemed altogether too astonished to speak.

"And it's a very serious talk I'm going to have with you," went on
Larose significantly, "for I know everything you've been doing for
Professor Panther." He came straight to the point at once. "You've been
robbing graveyards, my fine fellow, and taking the heads of corpses to
him."

The grave-digger's jaw dropped, his eyes opened very wide and his face
paled to an ugly grey colour. Then he clenched his hands together
tightly and, half bending forward, his attitude was a menacing one.

"No, no, don't you be a fool," said Larose sharply. "Violence won't do
you any good, and besides"--he took out a cigarette and lighted it--"in
a scrap I'm quite capable of taking good care of myself." He sat down
upon the edge of the bed. "Now what have you to say, Mr. Joel Daunt?"

The tense expression upon the grave-digger's face relaxed a little and
he straightened himself up. "Who are you?" he asked hoarsely.

"My name is Larose, Gilbert Larose," said Larose calmly, "and I used to
be attached to the Criminal Investigation Department of Scotland Yard.
Not heard of me, perhaps? Well, that doesn't matter." He spoke quite
pleasantly. "But I'm a private individual now and no doubt it will
relieve your mind that I've not come from the police." He nodded. "I'm
afraid they'll have to deal with you later. Now I've learnt everything
about you through Professor Panther and----"

"That's a lie," broke in Daunt quickly. "Professor Panther never told
you anything. He's been in a mad asylum for months and I heard only two
days ago that he'll die mad now. He's never going to get better." He
shook his head angrily. "No, Professor Panther never told you anything."

"I never said he did," retorted Larose quietly. "I said I had learnt
everything through him, and so I have." His voice was very stern. "I
repeat, Mr. Daunt, you have been a systematic violater of newly dug
graves and have been mutilating the bodies in them to provide the
professor with specimens for his museum."

"Prove it!" snapped Daunt. "You can prove nothing!"

"I can prove nothing?" queried Larose incredulously. "Well, you just
listen to me, my friend. On the fourth of last September you dug up the
grave of Mrs. Carstairs in Little Easton and three days afterwards
delivered her severed head to Professor Panther. On the eighteenth of
last November, here in this very churchyard, you cut off the head of
Mrs. Haverhill. On the night of the previous nineteenth of July you
broke into the Roding vaults in the church of Ashleigh St. Mary and
opening the leaden coffin of Sir Eric Roding"--his arm shot out
accusingly--"ah, a living witness here, who will testify to everything,
one who will relate ail he----"

"But he's dead!" broke in the grave-digger sharply, too astounded by the
extent and accuracy of Larose's knowledge to make any denials.
"Professor Panther told me so."

"Then the professor lied to you!" exclaimed Larose emphatically. "He's
alive and perfectly well, and it's on his behalf I've come to you
to-night."

Daunt scowled dubiously. "But Professor Panther said he never recovered
from the shock of that night, and died three months afterwards!"

"He did recover and he didn't die," snapped Larose testily, "and he is
the living witness of what your dreadful work has been."

A little colour had crept back into Daunt's ashen face. "But at any rate
he'd never be able to swear to me," he said vehemently. "It was only in
the dark that he saw me and then only for a few minutes. Besides, he was
nearly unconscious and his eyes were closed."

"But if he can't remember you distinctly," retorted Larose with a
threatening shake of his head, "the landlord of the inn in Ashleigh St.
Mary can." He punctuated his words with his hand. "Three times he saw
you, Mr. Daunt--the day before the funeral--at the funeral service
itself watching them lower the coffin into the vault, and towards
midnight that same night"--he spoke very slowly--"pushing your
motor-bicycle and sidecar, so that the noise of the engine should not be
heard, close to the churchyard wall." He snapped his fingers together.
"That landlord has been suspicious about you ever since."

The grave-digger sank back into his chair and, swallowing hard, wiped
the sweat from his forehead with the sleeve of his coat. Then after a
few moments' silence he said, holding himself in with an effort, "Then I
suppose it will mean prison for me now it is found out?"

Larose nodded. "Three or four years at least. It would certainly be
seven, except that the judge will probably take into account that you
saved Sir Eric's life."

Daunt stirred uneasily in his chair. "And what are you meddling in this
for," he asked scowlingly, "if you've nothing to do with the police?"

Larose eyed him intently. "I've come to suggest something to you," he
said slowly, "and it'll just give you the rat's chance of bolting back
to some hole when the terriers are after him." He spoke thoughtfully.
"You see, my friend, from a certain point of view you have not done
anybody any harm. You haven't robbed and you haven't murdered, and if
the whole matter could be hushed up no one would be any the worse. But,
unfortunately, it can't be hushed up altogether, and so much grief and
horror will come to a lot of poor souls who will be grieving over their
violated dead." He spoke sharply. "But tell me, how many graves have you
interfered with for this mad professor? Now, no lies. Let's have the
exact truth. Half a dozen or so either way won't make the matter any
better or any worse. Come now, how many heads have you taken to the
professor?"

"Twenty-seven," replied Daunt sullenly, after a long pause.

"Did you just get them anyhow, whenever you could?"

"No," more sullenly still. "He only wanted those of very special people
who were well known to everybody."

Larose whistled. "Whew! what a nice couple of beauties you've been!" He
pointed to that end of the shelf upon which were the three maps he had
seen. "And so you've been going all over the country to get them?"

The grave-digger followed the direction of his hand and then, when he
had in part recovered from this fresh surprise, mumbled, "No, not very
far, only to the graveyards about here."

Larose went on in matter-of-fact tones: "And before you delivered the
heads to him, you first made a plaster cast of the faces, did you
not"--he repressed a smile at the grave-digger's glare that was now
almost one of stark terror--"in that cellar you've got under the other
room, and which you go down to under that big stone you lift up in the
corner?"

The man's eyes bulged from his head and he snarled savagely, "How long
have you been watching me?"

Larose nodded. "Just long enough to find out what you've been after and
to make sure of everything. That's all."

A thought seemed suddenly to come into Daunt's mind and, his anger
calming down, he asked quickly, "But if you only come, as you say, from
Sir Eric Roding, why does he want to hound me down when I saved his
life?"

"He doesn't want to hound you down," replied Larose instantly, "and
he'll show his gratitude to you one day. You'll have a good friend in
him when everything is over, but he has to drag you into the limelight
now to reinstate himself as Sir Eric Roding. You see the position is
that, legally, he is dead and you are wanted to bear witness that when
you opened his coffin that night you found him alive." He shrugged his
shoulders. "And I'm afraid we shall have to bring in the robbery of some
of those other graves to explain what your object was in breaking into
the Roding vaults."

A short silence followed, and then Daunt asked hoarsely: "And what's
this chance you are going to give me to bolt off like a rat, as you call
it?"

Larose appeared to consider and then asked abruptly: "Have you any
money?"

"No," was the surly response.

"But Professor Panther must have paid you well! You're not married, you
don't drink, and you can't have many expenses here! Then what have you
spent it on?"

For a long moment the grave-digger was silent, and then he blurted out:
"I'm a sculptor and I've spent all I got on my tools and materials." His
voice shook a little. "My work is all I live for."

"Ah, a disciple of the great Rodin, are you?" smiled Larose. "Now I
understand how interested you must have been in that letter of the
professor in The Times." Ignoring the stare of amazed surprise that
once again had spread over the grave-digger's face, he went on sternly:
"Well, what you have to do is to write straight away a confession which
I will dictate to you, stating that you broke into the vaults that
night, opened Sir Eric's coffin and, finding him alive, carried him away
with you. You needn't say where you took him, as that will come out
later. Then you'll go round to the village constable here and he will
witness your signature. No, no, the constable shan't read what you have
written. Then I'll give you 20 and you shall have two days' clear start
to get away before we take your confession into Sir Eric's lawyers and
leave it to them to decide what to do."

"But how do I know you haven't already told the police about me?"
growled Daunt suddenly.

"You don't know," replied Larose calmly, "and you can only take my word
for it." He looked him straight in the face. "But I don't lie in such
things, my friend, and as a matter of fact, no one knows I have come
here to-night to see you."

The grave-digger eyed him curiously. "And no one knows you've come to
get this confession from me?" he asked slowly. "Well, when we've been to
see the policeman, can I come back here, quite free, to get some of my
things to take away?"

"Certainly," replied Larose, and then he smiled. "I suppose it is some
of your masterpieces of sculpture you are anxious about?"

Daunt glared angrily, stung now, so it seemed, to a greater feeling of
resentment than at any time during the interview. "And you think because
I dig graves and sweep out pews," he asked sneeringly, "I can't be
anything of a sculptor?" He sprang to his feet and snatching the lamp
off the table, jerked his head for Larose to precede him out of the
room. "Here, I'll show you something and then perhaps you'll not be so
ready with your grins." He nodded grimly. "You know so much already,
there's no harm in your knowing a bit more."

Larose rose to his feet, too. "Well, you go first, please," he said
pleasantly, "and mind, no tricks, as I'm not a soft man to handle."

Striding into the other room, the grave-digger placed the lamp upon the
floor, not very far from the loose stone in the corner. Then whipping
away the end of the length of matting, he knelt down and pressing the
palms of his hands firmly upon the stone Larose himself had tried to
move, he jerked his arms forward and the stone slid back under the wall.
A gaping aperture nearly three feet square was disclosed.

"Oh, then that's how you do it!" exclaimed Larose. "How did you find it
out?"

"I knew there must be some place underneath," grunted Daunt, "because
this floor here is always so cold. So I broke through the pavement. This
stone is another one I put in." He took a large electric torch off the
bench and flashed it down the opening, bringing into the light the top
rungs of a narrow ladder. "It's twelve feet down and the ladder will
shake a bit because it's not fastened to anything, but it's quite
strong. I'll light another lamp when we get down."

"You first," said Larose politely, "and I'll hold the torch, please."

Without a word the grave-digger handed him the torch and at once
disappeared into the opening.

"You light the lamp now," called out Larose, "and stand right away from
the ladder, too." He laughed. "I have no wish to be hit over the head
when I get down."

Daunt did as he requested, and in a minute or so Larose was descending
by the bright light of a large petrol lamp.

He found himself in a good-sized chamber, one end of which was lost in
the shadows. The pavemented floor was cracked and uneven and, as he saw,
from a quick glance round, the walls seemed full of cracks, too. The
place was many degrees colder than the room above.

But on the instant Larose had no further thoughts for the chamber
itself, when he turned his eyes to where Daunt was standing. Part of the
chamber had been screened off by two high wooden stands, to form a sort
of small cubicle. At the back of the cubicle, against the wall, was a
narrow wooden bench and above it were racks of tools and a broad shelf.
In front of the bench, upon a low stand, stood a block of white marble
about two feet in height and some twelve inches square. The block was
roughly hewn down all its sides, but rising abruptly from it were the
sculptured head and neck of a young girl.

Larose blinked hard and then stared and stared in incredulous amazement,
for the work was one of great beauty and, even to his untutored eyes,
executed by the hand of a master. The lines of the girl's face were
faultless in their execution, the tender sadness of her expression being
portrayed as sharply and as clearly as if the cold marble were a thing
of life itself.

"You did that!" he gasped. "That is all your work!"

The grave-digger himself could hardly drag his eyes away from the
marble. "Of course it is," he nodded with a scowl, "no one else has been
down here for three hundred years."

Larose gasped again. "But where's your model?" he asked.

Daunt pointed to the shelf above and, looking up, Larose saw, immersed
in some clear liquid in a big glass jar, a severed head.

"It's in absolute alcohol," explained the grave-digger tersely, "and she
was Bernadine Warnes, the film star. She was buried in Cromer."

"Good God!" ejaculated Larose. He gritted his teeth together. "Oh, what
a punishment you'll get."

"But I haven't hurt anyone," remonstrated Daunt sharply, his face
puckered in a frown. "You said yourself just now that I had not done any
great harm."

"But the outraged sentiment!" expostulated Larose. "Bernadine Warnes was
one of the idols of the world."

"And when I give this to them," said Daunt fiercely, laying his hand
upon the marble head, "she will be theirs for ever to look upon. This
stone will not rot and putrefy like human flesh." His voice broke
suddenly and he spoke almost with a sob: "Oh, don't you understand now
what torture it will be for me to leave my work? It is not finished yet
and it is dearer than life to me."

Larose nodded sympathetically. "I quite understand," he said very
gently, "but you see there's no help for it." He tried to soften down
the blow. "But one day you will be free again and then you will come
back to finish it." He spoke earnestly. "You are a great artist, Mr.
Daunt, and better judges than I might perhaps say you were a genius."

He looked back almost reverently to the marbled head, and then, to view
it from a slightly different angle, made to move a couple of paces or so
sideways. But a high stool he had not noticed was in his way and, before
he had time to realise what was happening, he had stumbled over it and
was falling heavily on to the hard stone floor.

On the instant the grave-digger sprang forward to help him up, but then,
in a sharp recoil, he drew back. A startled expression came into his
face and for a few seconds, with his cheeks blanched and holding in his
breath, he stood staring at the prostrate figure of Larose.

Then in a lightning movement he awoke to action. He darted back to the
block of marble and, lifting it in his arms, staggered to the foot of
the ladder. He hoisted the block upon his shoulder and, holding tightly
to the ladder with his disengaged hand, started shakily but with great
haste to climb up the rungs. Half a minute later he was feverishly
pulling up the ladder into the room above.

Larose had not been much hurt, but the pain of falling heavily upon so
hard a surface had made him feel sick and screw up his eyes, and for a
full minute he was oblivious to everything that was happening. Then
when, with the first anguish passing, he opened his eyes again, it was
to see that the grave-digger was no longer near him, and that the ladder
had been pulled up and was just disappearing through the opening in the
roof of the chamber.

He suppressed a useless cry of anger and consternation.

The face of Daunt appeared through the hole. "And there'll you stop," he
shouted down fiercely, "until you're dangerous to no one." His laugh was
almost hysterical. "I'll give you a week and then I'll take a death-mask
of you, and put your head in another jar." There was a slight rumbling
sound, Larose heard the big stone pulled into its place, and complete
silence reigned.




CHAPTER VII.--THE RESOURCE OF LAROSE


With the first shock of his discomfiture over, Larose automatically
brushed the dust of his fall from his clothes, and then, seating himself
upon the stool that had been the cause of his misfortune, took out a
cigarette and lighted it.

He was still feeling a little shaken from his fall and, quite content to
rest for a few minutes, proceeded to take in his surroundings in more
detail.

The chamber, as the grave-digger had stated, was certainly a good twelve
feet in height and its walls were formed of large and massive blocks of
rough-hewn stone. The roof, judging from the hole through which they had
descended, was very thick, the covering stone which had been pulled over
being at least a foot above the level of the ceiling. The floor, also of
stone, was rough and uneven, and upon it, all round and inside the
cubicle, was stretched a long, broad strip of the same kind of coconut
matting he had seen in the room above.

The place was cold, but not damp, and there was a smell as of crumbling
mortar of the centuries.

Very soon, feeling quite himself again except that his hip was bruised
and sore, Larose limped over to the bench and picked up the large
electric torch which fortunately the grave-digger had not taken away
with him.

"Plenty of light," Larose nodded--he smiled a grim smile--"at any rate
for the time being." He picked up the petrol lamp and shook it gently.
"Quite full and will probably burn for about eight hours. No doubt he
had been filling it this afternoon, and it was some spilt petrol that I
smelt." There was a two-gallon petrol tin upon the bench, but, upon
lifting it up, he found it was empty.

He turned out of the cubicle and, flashing the torch, started to explore
what lay beyond the wooden screen. Then he gave a low whistle of
astonishment.

A long narrow passage stretched away before him, terminating in a blank
wall some seventy or eighty yards away. There was a narrow shelf,
stretching down the passage along its whole length, and although there
were no coffins to be seen, Larose judged he must be in what had once
formed part of the crypt of the old monastery.

Proceeding to the end of the passage, he saw the enclosing wall there
had been built at a much later time than the walls of the passage itself
for, although its stone-work was of the same nature as elsewhere, the
mortar between the stones was much less crumbled. From its direction the
passage evidently ran parallel with the churchyard wall and, from its
length, he was inclined to think that its end, at least, must be
somewhere under the church.

Flashing his torch round and round in every direction, he saw no sign of
any door anywhere. From floor to ceiling, on every side, huge square
stones were piled in monotonous regularity and, with a dreadful pang,
the realisation came home to him that in this underground chamber he was
as effectively cut off from the outside world as if he were enclosed
only in a small and narrow tomb.

He switched off his torch to get the effect of the light of the petrol
lamp in the distance, and it seemed very far away. He took out another
cigarette, more for company than because he really wanted it, and then,
striking a match, became aware that the flame was faintly flickering.

"A draught!" he exclaimed instantly. "Then where does it come from?" And
at once forgetting all about the cigarette, he started to move round
close up against the walls, striking match after match to find out where
the air was coming in. But he got no reward for his pains. Between all
the stones, except in the wall at the far end, the cracks were deep
where the mortar had crumbled away, but in no one particular spot could
he say with any certainty that he felt a distinct draught. Still, it
must be coming in somewhere, he knew, or otherwise the air would not
have been as fresh as it was.

Then, suddenly remembering he must conserve his matches as he had only
one box with him, he used a last one for his cigarette, and now, with
the torch switched on again, stood quite still, intently regarding the
upward drift of the smoke. It went up sideways and always in the same
one particular direction.

"Then that is the outer wall of this darned hole," he told himself, "and
as air is continually coming in, so it must be continually going out."
He looked at his wrist-watch and shook his head. "Half-past nine and
nearly dark outside, so there is no hope of seeing a chink of light
anywhere. I must wait until the morning, and"--he made a grimace--"there
will not be one chance in a million of seeing it then."

Making his way back to the cubicle, he noticed for the first time a
length of canvas covering up some articles upon the broad stone shelf
just where it began beyond the wooden screen. He pulled the canvas off
and exposed to view a neatly arranged row of plaster-cast faces of the
same nature as that of the one of Alma Carstairs which had first brought
him upon the grave-diggers trail. He picked up the casts, one by one,
and scrutinised them interestedly. They were all beautifully executed
and each suggested it had been taken off by someone of unusual power and
intelligence. They were all numbered the numbers went up to
twenty-seven.

Then suddenly he started, as he stared hard at the face of a man. "Good
God!" he exclaimed, "but I'll swear that is Lord Barney. Yes, yes," he
went on, "without a shadow of doubt it is! And he was buried at
Sheringham not a year ago!" He nodded solemnly. "So that proud face
which in life has so often looked round in majesty upon the crowded
courts, in death has been handled roughly by a man he might soon have
been sending into penal servitude had he but been given a little longer
length of years, and I not been trapped down here like this!" He sighed.
"The impotence of the mightiest of us when death comes!"

He was about to replace the canvas when he thought better of it. It
would be a covering for him when he lay down to sleep.

Unmindful now of what happened to his clothes, he cleared the bench of
tools, and spreading across it the roll of matting, trebly folded,
prepared himself for sleep, with no very great expectation, however, of
getting any. He made no mistake about the probability of the slow and
lingering death with which he was now faced, and when he closed his eyes
the full realisation of the dreadful nature of his surroundings was
almost overwhelming in its horror.

Nature has her own great silences, the deeps of the sea, the world-old
taverns in the bowels of the earth, and the icy wastes about the poles
when the winds are hushed. But they do not terrify, because they are
natural and far removed, too, from the haunts of humankind. But the
silences wrought by the hand of man are often terrible, because in some
way they suggest to us the stillness of the grave and the tomb.

And now the prospect for Larose was so hopeless, as he could do
absolutely nothing to help himself, not knowing where to start at making
any effort to effect his escape. It was true the mortar between the
stones, except at the end wall, was old and crumbling, and that there
were a number of small chisels and a mallet at his disposal. But even if
he knew the best place to commence, the stones were of such a size that
the small chisels would reach only a very little way along their sides,
and be quite ineffective in loosening them. Added to that, he had to
remember the petrol lamp would last only a few hours, and if he attacked
the stones themselves, long before he made much impression upon them, he
would be in utter darkness, and forced to discontinue his labours.

He had, however, two slender hopes to buoy him up. The first was that
when his wife received no telephone call from him for two days she would
begin to become uneasy. Then she would most probably approach his great
friend, Chief Inspector Stone, of Scotland Yard, and lay everything
before him. Stone, he knew, was a quick thinker, and without doubt would
immediately broadcast a description of his, Larose's, car. Then, almost
certainly, the car would very soon be located in the yard of the Monks
Arden inn, and, with his inside knowledge of the nature of his,
Larose's, quest, the inspector would very quickly get upon the trail of
the grave-digger. After that the rest would be child's play for the
inspector, as, once in the presence of Daunt, he would read him like a
book and soon extract a confession from him.

The second hope was that Daunt himself might relent and stop short of
actual murder. The grave-digger, with all his callousness in dealing
with the dead, was obviously not naturally of the true criminal type and
there had been no premeditation upon his part in condemning him, Larose,
to a dreadful death. Indeed, had he been murderously disposed he could
easily have made an end of him when he had been lying at his mercy upon
the stones.

But Larose shook his head despondently when he considered this second
hope. Daunt was a fanatic where his art was concerned, and so often, so
very often, fanaticism sapped all moral sense.

In the night that followed, Larose's sleep was very broken and so often,
when from sheer mental exhaustion he had dozed off fitfully, he was
awakened almost at once by the cold. His teeth chattered, his body ached
because of its hard resting-place, his hip was stiff and sore from his
fall, and his thirst troubled him.

However, he forced himself to keep still, arguing that if he were not
getting sleep, he was at any rate resting, and it was not until his
watch told him it was nearly five and he knew it would now be getting
towards daylight that he aroused himself and slipped off the bench.

He lit the lamp and took out a cigarette. Then, carrying the lamp with
him this time, he proceeded once more down the whole length of the
passage, carefully scrutinising every stone, on the chance that the
previous night he might have missed a walled-up door somewhere.

But he saw no sign of any door and so extinguished the lamp, and now in
perfect darkness he searched for a chink of light somewhere between the
stones. But everything was of an inky blackness and nothing rewarded his
efforts. So returning at length to the other end of the chamber, he
stationed himself directly under the hole in the roof through which he
had come down, hoping he might hear some movement of the grave-digger in
the room above.

Not a sound, however, broke the death-like stillness, and, after a long
wait, he lay down upon the bench again.

"No hope, Gilbert, my lad," he told himself. "You're in one of the
tightest corners you have ever been in all your wicked life!"

He spent the morning staring into the darkness. Noon came, one o'clock,
two, three, four, and nothing had happened, except that he now was
tormented with a terrible thirst, and was also beginning to feel faint
for want of food.

Then suddenly the silence was broken, and for the moment he could not
believe his ears as he heard the feint rumblings of an organ in the
distance, the sounds immediately taking shape to the glorious melody of
Chopin's 'Marche Funebre.'

"A-ah!" he exclaimed excitedly, and snatching up the torch, he slipped
off the bench and darted like a greyhound up the passage. The organ
became louder as he raced along, and in a few seconds he was locating
where he could hear it loudest. The spot was not quite at the extreme
end, but about ten yards from the enclosing wall. He flashed his torch
upon the roof, as it was evidently through there the sound was
penetrating. There was no hole visible, though here the stonework, as
elsewhere, had deep cracks in pitted surfaces where time had played
havoc with the mortar.

"But I must be exactly underneath the organ," he told himself
breathlessly. He gave a quick glance at his watch. "Ten minutes to five,
and no doubt it is my sad little friend of the white roses doing her
practising."

For a long moment, as motionless as a graven image, he stood in deep
thought staring up at the roof above, with the soft and muffled notes of
the organ still continuing. Then, suddenly, he brought his eyes down
again, he jerked his head round sharply, and drew in a deep breath. Then
he snapped his fingers together excitedly and his subsequent movements
became like lightning.

He raced back and lit the petrol lamp. Then, snatching out his pocket
knife, he slashed the long length of coconut matting into four equal
pieces. Next, with a grimace of disgust, he knocked off the top of the
big jar that held the head of the film star and, dipping his hand in the
spirit, splashed it generously all over the matting.

Pausing not a moment in his excitement, he proceeded, with no little
exertion, to pull the heavy bench along the passage until he had brought
it to where he had deemed the organ sounds were loudest. Then, rolling
up a strip of matting to form a sort of torch, he set light to it and,
waiting until it was well ablaze, blew out the flames, until the matting
only smouldered. Jumping upon the bench, he waved his improvised torch
as near to the ceiling as he could reach, causing dense clouds of
acrid-smelling smoke to fly against the stones.

"And it is more than possible," he thought excitedly, "that some of
those cracks up there may lead into other cracks in the floor or the
walls of the church and"--he nodded--"well, something may happen."

He watched with delight the coils of smoke spreading mushroom-wise along
the roof, and then, his first torch having smouldered away, he lit a
second one. On consideration, however, he left this second one to
smoulder by itself upon the bench, and ran back along the passage.
There, lighting a third torch, he waved it round under the hole in the
roof up to the grave-digger's house.

"He shall have his share, at any rate," he said with a grim smile, "and
here I am quite certain it will escape from this cursed place. Then if
that girl sees any smoke coming up into the church and runs to tell him,
and finds he's not about, the first place she'll look for him will be in
his house. And there's a chance, too, that someone may see the smoke
coming out of his front door."

The chamber was now full of smoke along its entire length, but he lit
the fourth and last piece of matting and, as with the second one, left
it to smoulder upon the bench. Then he took up a position where the
ladder had been and waited in dire anxiety for the stopping of the
organ. He had now to crouch down low to breathe with any comfort.

Above, in the beautiful old church, so wrapped in peace and sanctity, a
young girl was pouring out her soul in the deathless melody of the great
master, and below, but a few feet away, in a chamber where the coffined
dead had rested, a man was crouching in anguish, with life or death
depending upon a few wisps of ascending smoke.

And so the minutes passed, and the young girl went on playing, while the
man's face grew greyer and his mouth more dry.

The last piece of matting had smouldered away when the organ stopped
abruptly in the middle of a bar. A few moments of torturing suspense
followed, and then a great hope sprang into the man's eyes.

There was no mistake about it. The organ had stopped--and stopped so
suddenly that something must have startled the player! She must have
seen the smoke!

Larose looked at his watch. It was now twenty minutes past five. He had
crowded years of alternate hope and despair in a bare half-hour.

And what was happening now, he asked himself tremblingly. If the girl
had really seen the smoke, as he was so confidently assuming she had,
then her first thought would undoubtedly have been to acquaint Daunt,
and, failing him, the vicar, as the vicarage was so close at hand. But
if she had got hold of Daunt, he, with his guilty knowledge, would at
once become aware of what was happening. And then--what would the
grave-digger do?

Larose thought on and on and then, all on the instant, his meditations
were abruptly interrupted by the harsh grating of the stone above being
violently thrust back. Instantly the smoke mounted in a dense column
through the opening.

"Quick! Put out that fire!" came Daunt's voice in a fierce entreaty.
"Put it out, and I'll do everything you want me to! Give me that chance
to get away! Put out that fire! Quick!"

Larose choked back the exultation that he felt. "Come and put it out
yourself," he shouted, "and push the ladder down! Be quick yourself."

"But you'll shoot me," cried Daunt, keeping well out of sight. "I
remember all about you now and you'll kill me like a dog."

"Don't be such a fool," retorted Larose sharply, "I want that confession
from you. Push down that ladder, I say, or I'll go on burning the
matting."

There was a few seconds' hesitation and then the end of the ladder
appeared and was lowered quickly down.

"It's all right," called out Larose, planting it squarely upon the
stones, "and you can breathe quite well here if you don't stand upright.
The fire's at the other end of the passage." Having armed himself with a
chisel and standing well away from the foot of the ladder, he watched
the hurried descent of the grave-digger.

Choking and spluttering, Daunt landed upon the floor, bending himself
half double, and rushed up the passage, whilst Larose lost no time in
climbing up the ladder. The house was full of smoke, but when he threw
open the door and the windows, the rooms soon began to clear.

Larose stepped outside into the sunlight and drew in deep breaths of the
delicious air.

"And to think I never expected to see that sun again," he murmured
brokenly. "Only an hour ago it seemed that I had but a few dreadful days
of thirst and starvation to live, and now"--he smiled whimsically--"just
because a girl played upon the organ and some wisps of smoke rose into
the air--hey presto! here I am with all the happiness of life before
me!"

He turned back into the house again and had just helped himself to a
long drink of water from the tap, when the grave-digger appeared in the
room.

"The fire was already out," he scowled, eyeing Larose angrily, "and you
had nothing more to burn."

"No," agreed Larose at once. He smiled. "I was at the end of my tether
and should not have known what to do next." He looked round into the
other room. "That's right. Keep the hole open and the smoke will have
soon disappeared." Then as Daunt was about to leave the house, he called
out sharply, "Here, but where are you going? Tell me, what happened?"

"A girl playing at the organ saw smoke coming up through the stones,"
replied Daunt sulkily. "She came and told me and now she's gone off to
the vicar for him to ring up the fire brigade." He glared resentfully.
"You were lucky, for the masons are coming next week to re-mortar all
the whole pavement in the church, and then there'd have been no smoke
getting up."

Then all at once some movements in the churchyard caught their eyes and
they saw a young woman and a clergyman running hastily up the path
towards the church.

"The vicar," grunted Daunt, and he strode quickly out of the door. "I'll
come back when I can." A thought, however, struck him and he reappeared
upon the threshold again. "But it'll be all right about that 20 you
promised me, won't it? You're not going back on your word, because----"

"Because you were going to murder me," laughed Larose as the
grave-digger stood hesitating. "No, certainly not. You shall have it
directly you have written out and signed what I'll dictate." He nodded
in the direction of a cupboard. "But look here. I want something to eat.
What have you got?"

"Bread and cheese," growled Daunt, "and you'll find it in there. I don't
live soft, and that's ail I've got," and off he ran.

Larose took off his coat and ruefully regarded its soiled and crumpled
condition. He shook it to get rid of as much dirt as possible, and,
seeing no clothes brush about, brushed his trousers as best he could
with his hands. Then, turning up his sleeves, he had a good wash under
the tap and dried himself with his pocket handkerchief.

Finding the bread and cheese where he had been told, he had no
repugnance in helping himself freely for, as everywhere else, the
cupboard was perfectly clean.

The grave-digger was not absent long and Larose had only just finished
his meal when he returned.

"Well, is the fire brigade coming?" asked Larose rather anxiously,
desirous of as little publicity as possible and hoping it was not.

Daunt shook his head. "No, the smoke isn't coming up now, and he didn't
believe the girl. He said the smoke must have blown in from the exhaust
of some passing car. He's very short-sighted and had forgotten his
spectacles and couldn't see the haze."

"But didn't he question you about seeing the smoke?" asked Larose,
surprised.

"Yes," frowned Daunt, "but I said I wasn't certain. I made out it might
have been the dust between the stones being blown up by the bellows of
the organ."

"And so that poor girl's story's been discredited," smiled Larose. "What
a shame to make her out such a simpleton." His face hardened. "But now,
my friend, to business, if you please, for I want to get quit of you as
soon as possible." He nodded grimly. "Do you realise that you are nearly
a murderer?" He shook his head. "I really don't believe you do."

The grave-digger stared sullenly, but made no comment.

Larose went on solemnly. "You were going to leave me to die down there
of hunger and thirst. You meant----"

"I never meant to do it," broke in Daunt quickly. "I never intended to
do you any harm at all until you fell down and the idea came to me of
shutting your mouth. Then this morning I was sorry, but I was afraid to
come near you because I thought you would shoot me the instant you got
the chance. I remembered you were the detective who always carried a
pistol and you've shot a lot of people in your time."

Larose repressed a smile. "Well, well, we won't discuss it any more." He
spoke briskly. "Now, here's a fountain pen and I see you've got a pad of
paper there. So sit down and write what I'm going to dictate to you."

"But you're going to give me that 20?" asked Daunt anxiously, "I've
only got a few shillings and I can't get away on them."

"Yes, yes," said Larose testily. "I won't cheat you. In fact I'll make
it 25 and it may be a whole week before the police are told." He nodded
grimly. "I want you to get away and not be caught, so that there'll be
no scandal about the desecration of all those graves. Now sit down."

The grave-digger did as he was told, and then Larose asked him if he
could spell.

"Pretty good," he scowled, "but I'm not a schoolmaster."

"Well, just spell as you think best," said Larose. "I'm not going to
help you at all. I don't want anyone to guess you've been prompted to
write this." He smiled pleasantly. "We'll let them all imagine it's a
repentance on your part and then there won't be such an incentive for
people to help the police to catch you. Now, write small so as to get it
all in on one page."

So, at Larose's dictation, the grave-digger commenced to write. He wrote
slowly as one unaccustomed to the use of the pen, but his writing was
quite legible.

The letter ran:



"To Lady Roding of Roding Hall. I am Joel Daunt, the grave-digger of the
church of Monks Arden, and I write now to tell you your husband was not
dead when he was put in his coffin last year. He was in a trance and I
took him out of the coffin the night he was buried and carried him away.
I think he is alive now but I do not know where. He does not know who he
is, for he has lost his memory.

"I broke into the vault to get his body for someone, who wanted to cut
it open for study. I will not say who this someone was, because he paid
me for getting it. We knew the coffin was not going to be bricked in for
some days, and I got into the vault through the little door in the
churchyard. I screwed back the lid of the coffin so that no one should
see I had been there. It is empty now. If he is told I have written this
letter to you, Bert Coles of the Sceptre Inn in Ashleigh St. Mary will
tell you it is all true, as he knows who I am and he saw me at the
burial service and, again, also by the churchyard, very late that night,
just before I got into the vault."



"Now, Mr. Daunt," said Larose briskly, "you'll just take that round at
once to your constable in the village here and get him to witness your
signature."

"The policeman!" ejaculated Daunt, looking very frightened. "Why, your
being so well known to all the police, he may recognise you, and
besides, if he learns----"

"But I'm not coming with you," broke in Larose quickly. He spoke very
sternly. "And above all things you are to make sure the policeman does
not read a line of what you've written here. Understand? Give him the
paper folded like this and if he's curious, say---well, say you've had a
few pounds left you by some relation and this is a letter to a lawyer.
Oh, and one thing more, have you got any envelopes here? Well, ask the
constable for one and, if he doesn't give it you, buy a stamped one at
the post office. Now then, don't be gone long, for I tell you I want to
get away."

Daunt departed reluctantly, obviously not too happy at having to
interview the constable, and uneasy at the thought of questions that
might be asked. But happily for him, he caught the constable just about
to go out and in a great hurry. So the signature was witnessed with no
conversation and, an envelope thrust into his hands, he returned home,
not having been gone much longer than five minutes.

"Splendid--you've been very quick," exclaimed Larose, "and now just
address this envelope to Lady Roding. Oh, and another thing, do they
know your handwriting at the post office here? Oh, they don't. You never
write any letters! Good! Then I can post it here as I go to get my car.
Well, now, here is the money."

Daunt took the 25 with no thanks and wrapped them frowningly in a piece
of newspaper. Then he looked up scowlingly at Larose. "And now I've got
to bolt off like a rat, as you put it," he said bitterly. His voice
choked. "I've got to drop everything I live for and leave all the things
I have been so long getting together."

"Great Scot!" exclaimed Larose, raising his eyebrows, in astonishment,
"you're getting off very lightly, if you ask me. Goodness knows what
would be your punishment if the police learnt all your crimes, and now
you've got a good chance of getting away altogether and, even if you're
caught, of only being charged with one." He nodded emphatically. "I tell
you I don't want them to get you and I shall delay their search for you
as long as possible."

"But my things," sighed Daunt heavily, "my tools, my carvings, my
benches and my unfinished piece of statuary! I can't carry them away
with me."

"No, but you can come back again and get them," said Larose, "either
when you've served your punishment, or, if you've not been caught, when
things have blown over." He nodded significantly. "It won't be my
business to say anything about that place you've got down below and you
can hide everything there."

"What, you won't tell about it!" exclaimed Daunt, looking very
astonished. "You won't say I shut you down there?"

Larose shook his head. "Not if I can help it, for, as I have told you
already, I don't want my part in this business to become known. It is
only if the truth of this statement of yours to Lady Roding is denied
point-blank that we may have to bring up anything about those other
desecrated graves. But if they do disbelieve your story"--he shrugged
his shoulders--"we shall have to have some of those headless bodies
exhumed to prove what you have written is true." He looked sharply at
him. "You understand, don't you?"

"Yes," nodded Daunt, "breaking into the Roding vault may be the only
thing I shall have to be punished for."

"But to be prepared," went on Larose quickly, a thought striking him, "I
must know which graves you have tampered with." He pointed to the
writing pad again. "So you please just write down the names and places
of them all. Come on, now, you are being let off very lightly and you
must help me all you can."

"Those casts down there are ail numbered," said the grave-digger with a
frown. "Didn't you see them under the canvas?"

"It's names I want and not numbers," snapped Larose.

"But there was a memorandum book with them," said Daunt, "with
everything written down."

"Well, I didn't notice it," frowned Larose. "So you just go and get it.
Be quick now, and I'll give you another couple of pounds."

The grave-digger moved off at once to comply with the request and was
just passing into the further room, when suddenly he turned back and,
striding over to the low truckle bed, knelt down and began to drag out
with great care a bulky object wrapped round with a blanket.

"My piece of statuary," he explained jerkily, as he rose up with it in
his arms. "I'll take it down there before the lamp goes out." His voice
choked. "I'd rather give myself up than have any harm come to this." He
staggered with his heavy burden from the room.

Larose remained seated where he was, and lighting a cigarette,
considered thoughtfully if there was any more information it was
desirable for him to extract from the grave-digger. At the same time he
was subconsciously following the latter's movements by the sounds from
the other room.

He heard the block of marble being laid carefully down upon the floor
and the grating of the big stone in the corner as it was being pushed
back. He heard the grave-digger's clumsy boots upon the ladder and the
sounds of his heavy breathing as he pulled the marble towards him and
lifted it upon his shoulder.

Next, for a few seconds, he heard nothing more and then--in a lightning
movement he had jerked his head round and his eyes were staring widely.

A cry of terror had come from the other room, and the top of the ladder
had clattered violently against the sides of the opening leading down
into the chamber below. Then he drew in a deep gasp as he heard a loud
and sickening thud, followed by a resounding crash as of one hard
substance falling upon another.

A deep silence ensued and then Larose, springing to his feet, darted
into the farther room and peered down into the opening in the floor. The
petrol lamp was still illuminating everything brightly, and he caught
his breath again at what he saw.

The grave-digger's body lay huddled upon the pavement close to the foot
of the ladder. His face was turned upwards but its features were quite
indistinguishable because of spouting blood. One arm was twisted under
him, and his head was set at a dreadful angle. Just for a few seconds
his limbs quivered, and then he lay quite still.

As quick as lightning Larose scrambled down the ladder and, bending over
the prostrate man, made to lift his head. But a touch was quite
sufficient. The grave-digger was quite dead. He had broken his neck.

Larose straightened himself up, and moistening his dry lips with his
tongue, let his eyes wander round. The block of marble had fallen upon
its sculptured end and the gloriously executed work of the girl's head
was smashed to atoms. The floor was strewn with the broken pieces.

"Fate, fate," he murmured, "it was Bernadine Warnes who killed him. He
violated her grave and, risen from the dead in the marbled image he had
made of her, she fell upon him and crushed him! His face is smashed to
pulp!"

Then, on the instant, there came to him a realisation of the awkward
situation in which he now was placed.

He had been so hoping that the circumstances in which he had got in
touch with the grave-digger would not become known, so that the dreadful
nature of the work the latter had been engaged upon would not have to be
dragged into the light. The grave-digger's confession had been
necessary, not indeed to prove Sir Eric's identity, for of course there
would be no difficulty about that, but to establish the fact that the
baronet had actually been coffined when he was alive and that no one in
Roding Hall had been a party to substituting anything in the coffin for
the body which had been supposed to be a dead one.

But now, if an enquiry came to be made as to how the grave-digger had
come to meet his death, everything would have to come out, for the
contents of the underground chamber would have to be accounted for, and
then he, Larose, would have to give chapter and verse as to what had
been his business with the dead man.

"And it's impossible to get rid of all this stuff he's got here," he
told himself ruefully as he regarded the ghastly head of Bernadine
Warnes, the twenty-seven plaster casts, the big black tent and the other
paraphernalia that the grave-digger had employed when engaged upon his
dreadful work.

"Yes, yes," he went on, "the return to life of Sir Eric will be
sensation enough for everyone, and if on top of it is piled the story of
the twenty-seven severed head, then there won't be a newspaper reader in
the kingdom who has not heard of it. Then in the discussion that will
follow what chance is there that it will not occur to someone in the
asylum that the disappearance of their Mr. Winter was the prelude to the
reappearance of Sir Eric Roding?" He answered his own question. "Why,
none!"

He went on, "And then the part I played in effecting Sir Eric's escape
will most certainly come out, too." He made a grimace. "A nice thing to
become known! I, the master of Carmel Abbey and a Justice of the Peace,
snatching a man who is certified as being of unsound mind from out of
the hands of the authorities!" He sighed. "I shall be turned off the
Bench, and then what a disgrace for my poor wife!"

Suddenly he snapped his fingers together. He would escape all the
complications which were threatening him by telling no one anything of
what had happened. He would just leave the body of the grave-digger
where it was, close the stone over the entrance to the chamber, and slip
away directly it became dark!

His mind made up, he searched for and found the little memorandum book
Daunt had spoken about and then lost not a moment in making for the
ladder, his great fear now being that by some unfortunate chance the
vicar or someone might be calling to speak to the grave-digger and,
entering the house, see the great gaping hole in the floor.

He was just about to step upon the ladder when a thought struck him. The
dead body was lying just under the opening; when it decomposed its
dreadful message would quickly ascend to the room above.

So he lifted the body and, carrying it farther along the chamber, placed
it upon the broad shelf upon which rested the jar with the head of
Bernadine Warnes. Then, extinguishing the lamp, he climbed quickly from
the chamber by the light of the electric torch.

But his work was by no means done yet, for he was intending that, when
it became known Daunt had disappeared, the condition of his house should
suggest to everyone that if he had left hurriedly he had done so of his
own accord.

So down into the chamber below he threw as many of Daunt's personal
belongings as would be consistent with the latter going upon a journey,
a shabby suit of dark clothes, two pairs of boots, a clean shirt, some
socks and a small suit-case. He could not see any cap lying about, so
presumed the grave-digger did not wear one.

His next action would have been puzzling to anyone who had been
watching, for after a few moments' thought, he took a half-consumed tin
of treacle he had noticed in the cupboard and carried it to the opening
over which he had not yet pulled the stone.

Then with a teaspoon he very carefully dropped a thick line of treacle
all along the bed upon which the stone would rest when it was pulled
into its place.

"And that will make an excellent join," he remarked complacently when
the stone was at last in position and he was sweeping dust into the
cracks. "It will seal it hermetically and last for years. Yes, no smell
may ever come up."

He returned into the living-room and was just helping himself to another
glass of water as a charabanc load of noisy excursionists passed upon
the high road in front of the churchyard, when, to his horror, he saw
through the open doorway the old vicar coming up the pathway and not
five paces from the house itself.

He had to make his decision instantly. There was no place which he could
reach to hide himself in time, but recalling in the hundredth fraction
of a second that Daunt had said the vicar was very short-sighted and,
seeing he was not now wearing any glasses, he decided to chance it and
so remained standing exactly where he was. All he did was to stiffen
himself up and lean one shoulder against the wall to keep perfectly
steady.

"Daunt," called out the vicar, "where are you? I want to speak to you."
From just beyond the threshold, he peered with puckered eyes into the
room.

"Daunt," he called out again, and it seemed to Larose that his eyes were
now directly upon him. "Daunt, I want you." But his eyes moved round
and then, after calling yet a fourth time, he turned and with some
mutterings of annoyance, strode back quickly up the path.

"Now did he see me?" Larose asked himself breathlessly. "His eyes were
right upon me, and if he saw me, was he suspicious because Daunt was not
here and there was a stranger in his place? If so, has he gone off for
someone to come back with him and find out what has happened?" He shook
his head vexatiously. "Gilbert, Gilbert, you're getting nervy! Of course
he didn't see you, for if he had done so and then had been possessed of
such instant presence of mind as to not let you see it, do you think he
would have gone off at such a sharp pace afterwards? No, certainly not.
He would have walked quite slowly away to keep up the deception." He
shook his head again. "No, he didn't see you. You need not worry."

Still, for all that, he did worry quite a good bit, and was greatly
relieved when darkness at last enabled him to leave the house and
churchyard unnoticed. Passing the post office, he slipped the letter for
Lady Roding in the box and then made for the yard of the village inn
where he had left his car the previous afternoon.

He met no one and was fortunate, too, in not having to go round to the
bar to pay for the garaging of his car, as there was a woman in the yard
who turned out to be the inn keeper wife. She was stout and elderly and
was plucking a fowl by the light of a hurricane lantern. She hardly
lifted her eyes from her work when he announced he had come for his car.

"My husband's not in," she said curtly, "but he left word it was to be
two shillings." Larose gave her the money and bade her good night.

"It isn't likely they will have taken any notice of my number," he
comforted himself as he drove away, "and neither the boy who told me
where to put the car yesterday, nor the woman to-night, seemed very
intelligent, so that if any questions are asked later about a stranger
with a car, they won't be able to tell much."

He slipped almost noiselessly through the village, looking up
interestedly at the church as he passed.

"So there Daunt sleeps his last sleep," he murmured, "a digger of graves
who has no grave himself! But he is not lonely, for Bernadine Warnes
sleeps beside him. Beauty and the beast! The film star and the lowly
hoer of the churchyard weeds!" He sighed. "How contemptuous of us all is
death!"




CHAPTER VIII.--LAROSE IN DANGER AGAIN


Arriving home after midnight, and there being no lights showing
anywhere, Larose let himself very quietly into the house, and after some
successful foraging in the larder, put himself to bed in one of the
spare bedrooms and was asleep in less than five minutes.

The next morning he surprised his wife by appearing in her room before
six o'clock, and Sir Eric and Lady Roding by announcing at breakfast
that he had succeeded in running down the violater of the Roding vaults
and had obtained a confession from him, which had been posted direct to
Roding Hall.

They listened in rapt attention as he told them how he had got upon the
grave-digger's trail and in what a state of bewilderment and
consternation the latter had been when he had learnt everything had been
found out. But there Larose's story ended, for he mentioned nothing of
the underground chamber and the dreadful experiences he had been through
there, nor of anything that had happened after.

"And now that we have obtained that witnessed statement," he went on to
Sir Eric, "which will be arriving at Roding Hall either to-night or
to-morrow, I think you ought to be there to receive it and not have it
posted on here." He smiled sympathetically. "I quite realise all the
worry and annoyance you must go through, but you'll have to take the
plunge some time, and there is no reason for delaying it any longer."

"Certainly not," agreed Sir Eric cheerfully, "I feel as fit as a fiddle
now and ready to face anything." He looked gratefully at his host and
hostess. "I have had a glorious rest here and I shall always remember it
as one of the happiest times in my life."

"Well, don't you ever forget," laughed Larose, "that, if it can possibly
be avoided, I don't want the part I have played in any of this business
ever to come out. I have broken the law in getting you away from Dr.
Benmichael and now I have compounded a felony by bribing that man to
write his confession and providing him with money to get away from the
authorities."

"Oh, I'll never breathe a word about you," said Sir Eric emphatically.
"I'll stick to the story that the shock of seeing the familiar face of
an old friend brought back all my memory, but that that friend does not
wish to be brought into the limelight by it being broadcast who he is."

Whilst Lady Roding was upstairs with Mrs. Larose, getting ready for a
speedy departure, Larose took Sir Eric into his study and closed the
door carefully behind him.

"Now, Sir Eric," he said very solemnly, "although we have neither of us
made any reference to it since the day after you arrived here, you have
not forgotten there is another unpleasant business before you, besides
that of facing the world again as your proper self."

"I know," replied Sir Eric, equally as solemnly, "and it has hardly ever
been out of my mind." His voice hardened. "You looked at the jar in the
cabinet, of course."

For answer Larose unlocked a drawer in his desk and, taking out the jar
of peacock blue, handed it to the baronet. "I brought it away," he said,
"and that is exactly how I found it." He eyed him very intently. "Now
you open it and tell me if any of the paste has gone."

Breathing a little quickly, but with perfectly steady fingers, the
baronet prised off the top of the jar. He gave one quick glance inside
and then with a sigh looked up at Larose again. "Practically all gone,"
he said very quietly. He nodded. "Just as I expected!"

"And you want to find out who took it?" snapped Larose. "You are not
going to let that wretch go unpunished?"

"Not I," burst out the baronet impetuously. "If I can learn who he is,
if there's no evidence in law to punish him, then I'll"--he clenched his
hands together--"I'll punish him myself." He looked eagerly at Larose.
"You're going to find him, aren't you? I'm not imposing too much on your
kindness?"

"Not at all," laughed Larose. He spoke with some enthusiasm. "Great
Scot! I tell you I'm looking forward with great pleasure to pitting my
wits against those of a consummate blackguard who probably masks the
disposition of a devil under a very pleasing exterior." He became grave
again. "I've gone again and again through that list you gave me, but I
can see no one among the twelve guests and eight servants who might have
been wishing you harm." He nodded. "Still, I expected that, for the
wretch who had the boldness and resource to try to murder you in that
way would undoubtedly be clever enough to keep all suspicion away from
himself."

"Well, what do you propose doing?" asked the baronet anxiously. "How are
you going to start?"

"Oh! I've thought it out," smiled Larose, "and you must get all that
house-party together again so that I can be brought into actual contact
with them on the spot. You can manage it, can't you?"

Sir Eric frowned. "I suppose so. Of course all except Mrs. Hellingsby,
who you know is now dead."

"Well, invite them as early as possible," urged Larose, "and tell them
jokingly you will take no refusal, as their visit now is to make up for
that one which was cut short when you were taken ill nearly a year ago."

"I don't exactly like it," commented the baronet. "It's a nasty sort of
trap!"

"Of course it is," said Larose grimly, "and I'll be there to spring it.
You'll invite me and my wife as well."

Two days after the departure of Sir Eric and Lady Roding, Larose, having
some business to transact in Colchester, made his journey a somewhat
longer one by going through Ashleigh St. Mary. He was driving a
different car this time, and had no fear of being recognised. He had no
intention of speaking to anyone, but was just curious to see if the
pavement in the church had been really re-cemented, as the grave-digger
had said it would be.

Arriving at the churchyard, he had just jumped out of his car when he
became aware of two men standing inside the gates. To his horror he
recognised one of them as his friend, Chief Inspector Stone of Scotland
Yard, under whom he had often worked when he himself was attached to the
Criminal Investigation Department there.

For a few seconds his tongue clove to the roof of his mouth, for to be
recognised by anyone connected with the police, when in the vicinity of
the church, was the last thing in the world that he wished to happen.
But he quickly recovered his composure and, it being too late now to
retreat, went through the gates and greeted his old friend warmly.

"Hullo, Charlie," he called out gaily, "but what a surprise! I was
nearly passing on and if it had not been for that old hat of yours I am
sure I should never have recognised you."

"Good for my old hat, then," laughed the inspector, "and it is lucky I
haven't been able to afford a new one." His eyes twinkled. "Times are
hard since you left the Yard, Gilbert, and we don't get our proper quota
of murderers now. Consequently no screws are being raised." He
introduced his companion. "Inspector Ransom of Colchester. Oh, you
remember him? But, of course, you would! I'd forgotten you'd done some
jobs together."

"And trade's not brisk, you say, Charlie?" asked Larose, after a few
minutes' conversation.

Stone frowned. "Oh, trade's brisk enough, but the devil is, since you
have left us, we don't seem to be clever enough to be always able to
deliver the goods." His face brightened suddenly. "But come now, young
fellow, you shall give us a bit of your advice! We're in a real puzzle
here and you couldn't have bobbed up at a more opportune moment." He
looked solemn. "Can you spare us a few minutes, Gilbert?"

Larose felt a sickening feeling at the pit of his stomach, Great
Jupiter! What on earth could have happened to bring Stone there? Of all
the people in the world, he would have rather have met anyone than this
burly inspector, within a mile of where the dead grave-digger lay
hidden!

But he dissembled his uncomfortable misgivings and replied quickly,
"Certainly, old man, what is it you want?" Then, to his dire
consternation, Stone linked his arm in his and began leading him across
the churchyard in the direction of the grave-digger's house.

The inspector went on talking. "You see, my son, it's only by chance
that I've been brought into this." He jerked his thumb over his
shoulder. "The old clergyman here is some connection of the Home
Secretary's cousin and strings were pulled to get me down. But I can
only give a couple of hours to the matter to-day, as I'm due up north
this afternoon, and shan't be able to get back until, probably, the end
of the week."

Reaching the small stone house, the Colchester inspector produced a key
and, opening the door, stood back for Larose and Stone to pass in. Then,
with the three men inside, the door was shut behind them.

"Now, Gilbert," said Stone very solemnly, "just cast your eyes round
and, when you've heard our story, you shall give us your ideas." He
dropped his voice almost to a whisper and spoke very solemnly. "We
believe this to be a house of death, my son. We think a murder has been
committed here!"

Larose felt a cold shiver run down his spine, He knew he was in the
presence of one of the shrewdest detectives in the kingdom, a man who
had grown old in the ways of crime and from whose eyes nothing ever
seemed to escape. He turned his own eyes away now to hide their
apprehension.

"A bit squeamish, eh?" queried Stone, sensing Larose's uneasiness. He
laughed. "Then the shedding of blood does not seem quite so commonplace
to you now as it used to be?"

Larose forced himself to look steadily at him, and then laughed lightly.
"I live in respectable surroundings now, Charlie, and am a bit out of
practice. But tell me what has happened here?"

"In a nut-shell," replied Stone, "the man who occupied this house up to
a week ago has vanished, just after the visit of a stranger who, among
other fingermarks, left a bloody one behind him."

"Oh, oh!" exclaimed Larose with a nasty catch in his breath.

"Yes, 'oh, oh'," mimicked Stone with a grim smile, "and that's not all."
He screwed up his face. "But we are puzzled and really do not know
whether we are investigating a case of murder or just a case of a man,
of a peculiar disposition at all times, who has done something he is
expecting to be found out soon and has taken himself off in a great
hurry to escape the consequences." He nodded towards the Colchester
inspector. "However, he thinks there has been foul play and I must say I
am inclined to agree with him."

He drew in a deep breath and then started to speak quickly. "Well, up to
a week ago, last Tuesday evening, a chap called Daunt lived here. He was
a sort of general factotum attached to the church and did all the
cleaning; also he was the gardener of the churchyard and dug the graves.
He was a moody, secretive sort of fellow, never speaking much to anyone,
and had no friends that we can find, except a half-crippled old soldier
in the village. Then last Tuesday, between half-past six and seven, he
vanished. Shortly after five the vicar here had been talking to him in
the church and the old clergyman says he seemed quite all right then.
But just after half-past six, this Daunt went round to the village
constable to get him to witness his signature to something written on a
piece of paper, which we have every reason to believe had been torn from
a pad here."

He raised one fat forefinger. "You are following me carefully, Gilbert?"
When Larose nodded, he went on, "He gave the constable no explanation as
to what was written upon the paper, and made his manner appear quite
casual and composed, but the constable noticed his hand was shaking as
he affixed his signature, and that his forehead, although the evening
was quite cool, had come out in little beads of sweat."

"And wasn't the constable curious?" asked Larose,

"Of course he was," snapped Stone, "but unfortunately he was also in a
great hurry and didn't try to pump the man. He had been telephoned for
by a farmer to come and shoot a horse that had broken its leg and so had
to go at once." He went on. "Well, the next thing was that the vicar
came here at five minutes to seven to speak to Daunt about sweeping the
kitchen chimney at the vicarage on the morrow, as it was smoking badly.
He found the door open and called out several times for Daunt, but got
no answer."

Stone screwed up his eyebrows. "Now here is something that strikes us as
being very suspicious. The vicar did not come into the house, but stood
just upon the threshold and he remembered afterwards that, as he was
calling Daunt's name, he distinctly smelt quite a strong smell of
tobacco smoke"--he nodded significantly--"which, in the light of the
fact that the grave-digger is a non-smoker, surely justifies us in
presuming that this unknown visitor of the bloody finger-marks was
actually in the further room at that very moment."

"What, hiding," queried Larose, "with the front door open as you say?"

"We think so," nodded Stone, "and as Daunt must have returned here long
before that time and did not answer when the vicar called out, we----"

"But how do you know the man had returned here?" broke in Larose
sharply.

"Because as the constable was riding off on his bicycle he passed him
coming this way within fifty yards of the churchyard gates. So we are of
opinion he could only have been returning to his home here."

"Go on," said Larose, because Stone had stopped speaking as if expecting
another question.

"Well, the vicar went out to dinner that night," said Stone, "and,
returning a few minutes after ten, came here again, finding, as before,
the door open. He called out again, and got no answer. It was quite dark
by this time, but there was a faint moon showing and, glancing in the
open shed adjoining the house here, he saw Daunt's motor-bicycle and
sidecar were inside. So he knew the man had not gone out on them and he
thought it peculiar as Daunt was not in the habit of taking walks at
night. His great hobby is wood-carving and he spends all his spare time
upon it."

"But where does he do it?" asked Larose, letting his eyes roam round the
room.

"In the other room," replied Stone. "He's got a proper bench and a lot
of tools there. You shall see them in a minute." He continued. "Well,
the next morning the old vicar came yet a third time and finding the
door, as before, unlatched and the house untenanted, he got anxious--I
understand he is always a fussy and nervous man--and went round to the
village constable to get him to phone up all round to find out if any
accident on the roads had been reported during the night. Then he heard
the constable's story about the document he had witnessed the previous
evening." He turned quickly to the other inspector. "But now, Ransom,
you take up the tale."

The inspector from Colchester was middle-aged and sharp-featured and had
very shrewd grey eyes, and he commenced to speak at once in crisp and
business-like tones.

"Hearing what the vicar had to say and learning no accident had been
reported anywhere, the constable thought it best to come and look over
the house. Then, at once, he formed the opinion that Daunt had gone away
in a very hurried manner and, a few minutes later, that his going had
been attended by very suspicious circumstances."

He looked intently at Larose. "You must understand, sir, that the man
had lived here for upwards of ten years, and in a small village like
this, to a great extent, everyone gets to learn everyone's belongings.
So everyone was aware that Daunt possessed only one cap, that, besides
his working clothes, he had only one suit, a shabby dark blue one, and
that he possessed a small suit-case that had been often noticed strapped
on to the carrier of his motor-bicycle, also that he had one spare pair
of boots, much lighter than those he wore when gardening or digging
graves."

He waved his arms round the room. "Well, when P.C. Harker came here he
found neither the blue suit, the second pair of boots, nor the
suit-case, but, strangely enough, he lighted upon the old cap under a
fold of the blanket upon the bed."

Larose could have kicked himself in his discomfiture. He had never for
one moment anticipated any official interest would be taken in the
grave-digger's disappearance, and in consequence had been most careless
and perfunctory in laying the false trail.

Inspector Ransom went on. "Then P.C. Harker, a man of some imagination,
made two discoveries that made him lock up the house at once and report
to headquarters." He spoke more slowly now. "The first of these
discoveries was the finding of 25 in treasury notes, wrapped up in a
piece of newspaper, under the bed, and the second was that bloody
finger-mark upon an electric torch found in the next room."

Larose swore under his breath. The notes were, of course, those he had
given the grave-digger and the latter must have dropped them out of his
pocket as he was pulling the block of marble from under the bed. As for
the finger-mark, he must have got blood on his hand when placing it
under the grave-digger's head, and he remembered now grabbing up the
electric torch as he turned out the petrol lamp before leaving the
underground chamber. He felt furious with himself.

The inspector continued unemotionally: "We were here on the spot before
noon and the circumstances of the man's disappearance striking us as
rather extraordinary, we began looking for finger-marks"--he
nodded--"and I can tell you we found plenty, those of the grave-digger
and those of a stranger. The former's were everywhere, upon the
crockery, the kitchen utensils, the table and the handles of the carving
tools in the next room; but the stranger's we found only upon the
blood-smeared torch, a tumbler, a teaspoon, the handle of a knife, a
treacle tin in the cupboard, and upon the side of a half of Dutch
cheese, also in the cupboard."

"So you see," remarked Stone, "this second man, besides smoking four
cigarettes--the butts were found in the fire-place--evidently had some
sort of a meal here."

"How did you know which were Daunts fingermarks?" asked Larose, the more
and more chagrined at the recital of their discoveries.

"Oh, there were plenty of his in the church," answered Inspector Ransom.
"We found them everywhere upon the brasses, the candlesticks and the
vases it was his job to clean."

He went on: "Another very suspicious thing was speedily brought to our
knowledge, for it becoming known that Daunt had disappeared, the old
crippled soldier hobbled up here in his slippers to know if we would
give him back a pair of his boots that Daunt had taken from him, only
the previous day, to mend." He paused dramatically. "And they were not
to be found anywhere."

"Of course, the significance there," remarked Stone, "is that the
grave-digger did not himself pack the things into the suit-case when it
was taken away, because, had he done so, he would never have included
the old soldier's boots, which were many times too small for him."

"Now we come to a last matter," said Inspector Ransom, "and in its way
it is quite as significant as any of the other happenings. We have told
you we have proof positive that Daunt had a visitor that night, and we
believe we know exactly when and how he came and went."

"Oh! oh!" exclaimed Larose, in great perturbation. "Then did anyone see
him?"

The inspector nodded. "He was a complete stranger to the village, and he
left his car in the yard of the village inn towards dusk on the evening
of the day before Daunt disappeared, and did not call for it until after
dark the following night." He nodded again. "We have canvassed the
district most thoroughly in all directions but can find no trace of any
family having entertained a visitor for those twenty-four hours."

Larose's heart was beating quickly. "Then what description did you get
of this mysterious motorist?" he asked with an effort, dreading what the
answer would be.

The inspector frowned. "We got no description, unhappily. A lad about
ten had showed him in which shed to garage his car, and all that he can
tell us is that the man smiled very nicely and had a wrist-watch. Then
when the man came to collect his car the next night, he paid the
landlord's wife, who happened to be in the yard, and she says she never
saw his face properly as the yard was too dark."

"But the car!" exclaimed Larose, beginning to be assured that he was not
in such danger as he had thought. "Surely someone can describe that?"

The inspector shook his head. "No one at the inn. They can't even give
us its colour, let alone its make. It was just driven into the shed that
evening and the door at once pushed to. Then no one appears to have gone
near the shed until the man himself took the car out the next night." He
raised his hand emphatically. "But one person did happen to see the car.
The vicar was just returning from his dinner-party and it came out of
the inn yard about fifty yards in front of him. He says it was a
single-seater, an expensive-looking car, and there was one person, a
man, in it. Unfortunately, he was not close enough up to be able to say
what the man was like."

Larose waved his hand round the room. "Do you mean to maintain," he
asked, "that the man with the expensive-looking car came and spent the
whole night here with Daunt, and that he gave himself a meal of bread
and cheese, and some treacle from that tin?"

"We have no fixed opinions about it," commented Stone testily, "and that
is why I have got you here to ask you what you think."

They talked on for a few minutes and then Larose was taken into the
other room and shown where the blood-marked torch had been found. He was
told, too, more of the grave-digger's habits, and a beautifully executed
carved panel upon the bench was pointed out to him.

"He sold his carvings all round the district, I am told," said Inspector
Ransom, "and the folks in the village often saw his light going until
long after midnight. He was very industrious."

Larose appeared to be interested in everything, and looking thoughtfully
round the room, was greatly relieved to see that the big stone on the
floor in the corner seemed to be quite all right and no different from
its fellows.

They returned into the room and a short silence followed before the big
Scotland Yard man said briskly:

"To sum up, Gilbert, we believe there is foul play about this man's
disappearance, firstly because he did not come back to look for that 25
he dropped--oh, yes, the notes were his, right enough, for the piece of
newspaper they were wrapped in was torn from a copy of the Chelmsford
Chronicle on that shelf there--and, secondly, because of that visitor
he had who left behind his bloody finger-mark."

He nodded smilingly at Larose. "So, you who always know everything, tell
us now if we are right or wrong in our suspicions."

Larose smiled back. "Well, to be honest, Charlie, with great respect to
both you and Inspector Ransom, I think you are making much too much of
this fingermark. Just think how often you and I and all of us have cut
our fingers when using a sharp pocket-knife! And there was that torch
right among all those razor-edged carving tools upon that bench!" He
waved his arm round again. "Why, if anyone were going to cut his finger
in this house, in what part of it would he be most likely to do it?
Where you found the torch, of course!" He shook his head. "No, that
blood on the torch leaves me quite cold."

Stone nodded smilingly. "A good point, my son. Go on."

"Of course, there is no doubt," continued Larose, "that the man's
disappearance is most mysterious, but there is really nothing to show it
was not a voluntary one. With you, I agree that his going off was
hurried and suggests guilt in some form or another, but I don't see the
very slightest connection between his visitor and the party who garaged
his car here, at the village inn. Goodness gracious, if he were the
visitor, then presumably he must have stayed here from the Monday night
about nine until the Tuesday night after ten! And yet you find his
finger-marks only upon the table, a tumbler, a teaspoon, a single plate,
a treacle tin and that lump of cheese, besides the torch, of course! But
if he had been here during all that time, surely you would have found as
many of them about as you found of Daunt's? And if he wasn't here, where
was he?" He looked at Inspector Ransom. "Did anyone notice a stranger
hanging about the village?"

The inspector shook his head. "No, and we have considered that and it
puzzles us. No one seems to have noticed him, even when he came out of
the inn yard after having garaged his car." He spoke sharply. "But why
should anyone not having business in the village or surrounding
districts have garaged here at all? That looks fishy, doesn't it?"

"Peculiar, but not necessarily fishy, as you call it," commented Larose.
He smiled. "He might have had a love affair six or seven miles away, or
some other kind of business that he didn't want broadcast." He shrugged
his shoulders. "At any rate, surely we can infer his business was not a
secret one to do with anyone here in the village, or it wouldn't have
come openly or just before dark, as you say. He didn't creep in after
nightfall; and it was not his fault that no one noticed and remembers
him. At any rate, he gave them every chance."

"Quite plausible, Gilbert," agreed Stone readily, "and it may after all
be only just a coincidence that we had the stranger at the inn and the
mysterious visitor here. I say mysterious, because Daunt had never been
known to have a visitor before."

"And how do you know it wasn't some local person who came here," asked
Larose, "some man or woman from the village? That seems the most natural
eventuality to me."

The Colchester inspector spoke very slowly, "We have enquired everywhere
in the village and we can learn of no one who came up here. No one
admits it."

"Of course not," commented Larose, "no one would if there was anything
they wanted to hide." He turned to Inspector Stone. "No, Charlie, I
can't for one moment see anything of foul play here, I repeat, the man's
disappearance is, of course, most mysterious, but I feel sure that it
will be accounted for later. He was probably mixed up in something shady
and his visitor that night perhaps came to warn him to clear out while
he could." He shook his head. "Your three points of suspicion don't
appeal to me at all. He may not have become aware of the loss of those
notes until the nest day, when he was miles and miles away, and then he
may not have had the remotest idea where he had lost them. I think they
fell out of his pocket when he was crawling about under the bed, and
that surely suggests that he was there looking for his cap which he was
expecting to find somewhere there. He evidently remembered throwing it
upon the bed."

Stone looked doubtful. "But his search was a most careless one and it
suggests fright and a desperate hurry."

"Admitted," nodded Larose, "but it gives us no suggestion that he was
murdered."

"But the taking away of that old soldier's boots," frowned Stone, "looks
very sinister to me, for in whatsoever haste he was he wouldn't have
pushed those into his suit-case. We know the case was quite a small one,
and it must have been filled to its utmost capacity to hold what it
undoubtedly did."

"But how do you know," asked Larose instantly, "that this unknown
visitor of his didn't dump a lot of his things for him in a waiting car?
You have told me you found the sidecar outfit in perfect running order
and with plenty of petrol; therefore, if Daunt took flight in a
desperate hurry, and did not make use of it, it could only have been
because he had a better conveyance at his disposal, and one probably
that would not be so easily traced if he came to be looked for."

"But our point is," was Stone's retort, "that he didn't take flight at
all." He scoffed contemptuously. "A waiting car, indeed, in this little
village where a strange cat crossing the road would have been noticed at
once!"

"But not in the dead of night!" argued Larose. "You don't know when the
man left! You don't know that he returned to his house immediately after
visiting the policeman! You don't know he wasn't still away when that
vicar came again after dark!" He snapped his fingers together. "You know
nothing of his movements that night, but to my thinking, I repeat there
is nothing about the disappearance which, with all its undoubted
mystery, suggests anything of foul play."

The two inspectors made no comment but both of them looked unconvinced.
Then Larose went on, with mischief now sparkling in his eyes: "And about
that paper with Daunt's signature which the policeman here witnessed
that night! The fact that he begged an envelope surely meant that he was
going to post it, didn't it? Well, have you asked at the post office if
any letter of his was put in the box that night? They are sure to take
notice of every letter in a little village like this."

Inspector Ransom frowned. "We haven't exactly asked, but, in enquiring
about his habits, we learnt that he had never been known to receive a
letter and they don't think he has ever written one. They don't even
know his handwriting."

"Then if a letter in an unknown handwriting was noticed that night,"
went on Larose, "it was probably the very one you might be interested
in." He smiled. "A long shot, but still it might lead to something, and
if you ask me, I should enquire quickly before they have had time to
forget."

The inspector smiled back. "I'll do it at once, Mr. Larose. It's not a
bad suggestion."

Larose moved towards the door. "Well, I must be going now, Charlie, but
here's a last thought for you in parting." He spoke very slowly. "When
this grave-digger disappeared, in what way it is impossible to
determine, something went with him and that, yet again, does not suggest
to me the furtive flight of a murderer." He paused a moment to enjoy the
puzzled look upon the other's face and then rapped out sharply: "Where's
that other lamp he did his carving at night with?" His arm shot out
towards the little paraffin lamp upon the shelf. "You are not going to
make out that when he was working until the small hours of the morning
that that was the only light he had! Impossible! How could he have done
delicate carving by that light? No, no, if you ask those who saw his
light at night they will most certainly say it was a bright one and not
from a trumpery little thing like that." He looked amused. "So would a
murderer carrying away a heavy body trouble to be bothered with a lamp
as well?"

Stone nodded thoughtfully. "Good, Gilbert. Then we'll find out about his
having another lamp." He looked round the room and made a pretence of
shuddering. "Still, my lad, I don't care what you say, I smell blood
here. An instinct tells me this poor fellow died some dreadful form of
death, and I shall come hack here again in a few days to find out what
it was."

Larose made a grimace of pretended horror, and appeared to shudder,
too--but his shudder was a real one.

The two inspectors accompanied him to his car and, after cordial
good-byes, watched him drive away. Then Stone turned with a dry smile to
his companion. "And what do you think of him, Ransom?" he asked.

Inspector Ransom considered. "Clever, very clever," he replied slowly,
"but"--he hesitated--"it almost seemed to me a bit of special pleading
to get us to drop the whole business."

"Hum!" remarked Stone thoughtfully, "but I wouldn't exactly say that. We
asked him for his opinion and he gave it, and he saw some things that we
didn't." He shook his head frowningly. "Still, I'm not satisfied, and,
as I say, I'll come here again with you next week. Good-bye." He in turn
drove away.

In the meantime Larose was in a very uneasy frame of mind. "Most
awkward!" he told himself ruefully. "I'm always afraid of Charlie! He's
as stubborn as a mule!" A look of some relief came into his face.
"Still, he may be put off the trail altogether when he learns what Daunt
wrote. In any case it would all have come out in a few days and if, at
the post office, they remember the letter addressed to Lady Roding,
which they are almost certain to do, for it must have aroused their
curiosity, then that Colchester fellow will be interviewing her ladyship
within a few hours." He chuckled in amusement. "Oh, what a surprise, and
won't he just think what a bull's-eye I made!"

And certainly Inspector Ransom did think Larose's reasoning most
remarkable. The letter posted to Lady Roding was remembered perfectly
well, and within five minutes the inspector was tearing off to Roding
Hall as fast as his car would take him.

Yes, Lady Roding was at home, he was told, and upon presenting his card
he was shown into a small room, whilst the butler went off to find out
if she would see him. She appeared almost immediately, and the
inspector, explaining the reason for his calling, asked her point-blank
if she had received a letter from a man called Daunt, living at Monks
Arden.

She hesitated just a moment, and then nodded an affirmative.

"And what was in it?" asked the inspector sharply. Then, as she
hesitated again, he added apologetically: "Of course, you're not
compelled to answer me, but you'll have to tell everything to someone
soon, and it would save a lot of trouble to us if you took me into your
confidence now."

"Oh, but I ought really to have no objection at all," smiled Lady
Roding, "for it will be all public property to-morrow." She sighed.
"Still, all that has happened is so extraordinary and incredible that I
feel quite nervous in saying anything about it to anybody," and then she
proceeded to tell him the very carefully thought-out story that Larose
had arranged should be given to the public.

She told how, to her amazement, but a few days previously, she had
received tidings that her husband, who was supposed to have died nearly
a year ago, was alive, and then before she had had time to doubt their
truth, he had been brought into her presence. He did not know what had
happened to him or where he had been during all those months, for his
memory was quite a blank all that time. His mind had only just cleared
up and then, all of a sudden, remembering who he was, he had come home
to her at once. Amazement upon amazement, two days ago she had received
this letter from the grave-digger of the churchyard at Monks Arden, and
he had written her that upon the night following her husband being laid
in the family vault, he had broken in and, opening the coffin, had found
him to be alive.

And all the time that she was speaking the inspector had sat listening,
open-mouthed, too astonished to interrupt and ask any questions.

"And only this morning," she concluded, "my husband has gone up to town
to arrange for the proceedings that will restore him, legally, to his
position."

"But the letter," gasped the inspector, "can I sec it?"

"Yes, of course you can," replied Lady Roding, "but he's taken it with
him this morning to show to his lawyers. I'll give you their address and
you must go to them."

"But can you tell me exactly what he said?" asked the inspector.

"Almost word for word," replied Lady Roding. "We have read it so often
that I know it off by heart," and then she proceeded to repeat to him
what Daunt had written.

"And have you communicated with the writer," asked the inspector sharply
when she had finished, "to find out if the letter is genuine?"

Lady Roding shook her head. "No, my husband thought it best to leave
everything to his lawyers." Then she asked quickly: "But how did you
come to know I had had a letter? We have told no one as yet."

"The man has disappeared," frowned the inspector, "and we have been
trying to find out what has become of him."

"A-ah! we were half afraid he would go away after that confession,"
exclaimed Lady Roding, "but I didn't get his letter until the evening
after the day it was posted; and then, yesterday, my husband had some
important business to attend to here and couldn't get up to town." She
looked pulled. "And you've been trying to find him already?"

"But not for that," grunted the inspector. "He went off so suddenly we
thought he had met with some accident." He nodded. "But now, if we find
out what he wrote you is true, we shall be after him quick and lively."
He whistled. "But what an extraordinary thing---Sir Eric being buried
alive! I've never heard anything like it in all my life!"

And the next day when Inspector Stone, busy upon a murder enquiry in
Carlisle, saw great startling headlines upon the front page of an
evening newspaper, just redhot from the press, he whistled too.

"Whew! but what a sensation it will cause!" He frowned. "Now, who the
deuce could have employed that grave-digger to go body-snatching? He'll
have to be trailed and punished, even if the other beggar goes free.
Goodness gracious, what a tit-bit for the public!"




CHAPTER IX.--THE LIVING AND THE DEAD


Once it had been determined that the secrecy of Sir Eric Roding's return
to life should be no longer maintained, Larose had insisted that the
publicity must be as full and immediate as possible. So, acting upon his
advice, the same morning upon which the baronet had interviewed his men
of law he had also approached an acquaintance of his, the editor of the
Daily Messenger, and laid everything before him, in order that with
no delay the public should learn in one telling all they were going to
be told.

Of course, as could only have been expected, the announcement caused a
tremendous sensation everywhere, but, happily for Sir Eric and Lady
Roding, within forty-eight hours the intense public interest was
suddenly switched off into quite a different direction by the news
coming through of the assassination of one of the world's foremost
dictators.

So, as in all time, one man's evil had been another's good, and the
inmates of Roding Hall were relegated to a comparative obscurity which
was as joyful as it was unexpected.

The processes of the law were slow and there appeared every prospect of
the steps for the legal restoration of Sir Eric to his title dragging on
for many weeks. With the opening of the Rodney vault and the finding of
the empty coffin, a warrant had been at once issued for the arrest of
the grave-digger, but no tidings as to his place of hiding had come to
hand and, from the very first, not the slightest clue had been picked up
as to how he had succeeded in making his escape.

In the meantime, not an hour had been lost in putting into execution
Larose's plan for getting the original house-party together again. Each
one of them had been written to and invited for a few days from the
Tuesday of the following week. The letters had been posted the same day
that Sir Eric had gone to town, so that they could reach their
destinations upon the same morning as the Daily Messenger was
proclaiming its amazing story of the baronet's return and, in
consequence, none of the recipients were taken by surprise.

Then the telephone at Roding Hall had had a busy time, and such was
their intense interest that every one of those invited had accepted the
invitation.

So upon the Monday afternoon Larose and his wife had arrived, and, under
the pretence of exhibiting her new electric cooker, Lady Roding had
taken them into the kitchen, in order that the former could give the
once-over to those of the maids he would not encounter when they were
upon their duties in the living part of the house.

But Larose very quickly came to the conclusion that the culprit would
not be found among the servants. All the girls save the cook were well
under thirty, and she was a pleasant-looking woman of middle age, whose
direst deed in life had probably been the wringing of a fowl's neck.

"No, nothing doing among the staff," Larose told Sir Eric that night
when the two of them were discussing things in the library. "They are
all much too ordinary to have attempted to commit a crime of that
nature, and not one of them suggests to me the necessary imagination and
cunning."

"But it could not have been one of my friends," sighed Sir Eric. "The
more I think of them, the more impossible it seems."

"Well, if it wasn't one of them, who was it?" asked Larose sharply. He
took a paper out of his pocket and scanned it with a frown. "The devil
of it is I can't conceive how any of them would have benefited by your
death." He went on musingly, with his eyes still upon the paper. "Still,
without having seen any of them I should be inclined to suspect either
this Carlton James, the artist, or else Miles Hellingsby. The first
because----"

"But Carlton James and I have been close friends since our boyhood,"
broke in Sir Eric indignantly. "We were six years together at Eton."

"I don't care about that," commented Larose grimly. "All I know is that
his 'The Mortuary' in last year's Academy, which everyone called the
painting of the year, was as morbid a bit of work as anyone could
possibly imagine. He must have examined scores and scores of dead people
to have picked out those faces he put on the canvas, and I'm wondering
if he mayn't have been curious as to how you, with your unusual profile,
would look when stretched out." He raised one hand protestingly. "No,
no, the idea may not be as far-fetched as you imagine, for he's known to
revel in gruesome subjects, and artistic folk are often a mad crew." He
nodded emphatically. "Yes, many of the crankiest of them would sacrifice
everything for what they call 'Art,' and it's no secret both James'
father and one brother are at present in a lunatic asylum."

Sir Eric reddened in annoyance. "That's his misfortune," he said
quickly.

"Yes, and it may have been yours, too," added Larose. "The trouble may
run all through the family."

"And I suppose," went on the baronet sarcastically, "my friend
Hellingsby would have been curious, too, as to how I looked when dead."

Larose showed no resentment at Sir Eric's tone. "I can conceive no
motive there," he frowned, "except"--he hesitated and shot a quick
glance at his companion--"except that he's probably a great admirer of
your wife."

"And what of that?" asked Sir Eric coolly. "Why should it make him
evilly disposed towards me?"

Again Larose hesitated and then he rapped out quickly: "I'm sorry, as
it's a brutal thing to say, but have you ever considered that, if you
hadn't come back, Miles Hellingsby might have proposed marriage to Lady
Roding?"

Sir Eric turned away his eyes. "We won't discuss that," he said very
quietly, "as it can have no possible bearing on the idea that my friend
wished to murder me. As you know quite well, he was a married man until
three months ago, and so my decease nearly a whole year back could have
been of no interest to him in the way you refer to."

"Of course not, of course not!" exclaimed Larose, regretting now that he
had asked the question. He went on: "But tell me, do you really think
this man was fond of his wife?"

"Certainly, they were a most devoted couple." Sir Eric shrugged his
shoulders. "Of course, these things are often impossible for outsiders
to understand, and I admit my wife and I have often speculated upon
their marrying. He was a good-looking man of the world and she was a
plain country mouse, a good many years the elder." He nodded. "Still, we
always came to the conclusion that their marriage was a love match."

"She had the money!" commented Larose dryly.

"But there everyone was very wide of the mark," returned Sir Eric
sharply, "for my wife tells me she saw in the newspapers only a few
weeks back that Mrs. Hellingsby had left only just over 4,000."

A short silence followed and then Larose said brusquely: "Now look here,
Sir Eric, you'll have to get over being annoyed when I criticise any of
your friends. We've started to try to find out who deliberately poisoned
you, and if we don't get to know"--he looked very grim and stern--"you
just take it in that even your wife will be for ever among the
suspected."

"My wife!" gasped the baronet. "Good God!"

Larose spoke as if he were getting angry. "Yes, and I say that,
purposely, to bring home to you that there must be no weakening or
drawing back on your part. You must help me in every way." He raised his
hand emphatically. "You have told me you were attended in your illness
by Lady Roding, the butler and the head parlourmaid, Rose, and that all
your food was brought to you by one of them. But you add that your
guests kept coming in for little chats, on and off, all day. So
excluding your wife, because to bring her in is inconceivable, and the
servants, because my experience in crime assures me that, even if there
were any desire to injure you, they have none of them the courage or
resource to attempt to poison you--it leaves only the guests. Now, do
you follow me?"

"Yes," nodded the baronet resignedly. He heaved a big sigh. "So I'll be
as hard and suspicious as you are and play the spy on those I consider
my staunchest friends."

"Good!" said Larose smilingly, "and now for the plan of campaign. We'll
replace the jar right in front of everything as before, but I'll lock
the cabinet now and take away the key. Then you'll keep everyone away
from the drawing-room until after dinner to-morrow night, and even then,
don't let a soul go in until I've hidden myself behind the curtains in
front of one of those french windows. Then I'll watch everyone as they
enter the room and see who looks the quickest at the cabinet with the
blue jar." The joy of the hunter was in his eyes. "My theory is that the
would-be murderer will be wondering if you have associated your trance
with the green paste and have looked to see if any of it has gone. So
the first thing he will do will be to see if the jar has been moved and
there will be a careless intentness about him that will single him out
from all the others."

The baronet frowned. "But it will be no proof positive if someone's eyes
happen to stray in the direction of the cabinet," he commented very
doubtfully.

"Certainly not," agreed Larose. "That will be only the first try-out."
He nodded. "Still, it is not in human nature that the guilty person will
not look at the jar and I shall be inclined to rule out at once all who
do not give at least one glance towards the cabinet."

Early the following afternoon the guests began to arrive and by tea-time
Larose had been introduced to everyone.

Mrs. Larose was already acquainted with some of them, and to all of them
Larose knew that he himself must be an object of some interest, not only
on account of his reputation as a one-time officer of the Criminal
Investigation Department of Scotland Yard, but also because of the
romance attaching to the circumstances in which he had come to win his
wife. Added to that he was quite aware some of them would be mildly
wondering at now finding him there, because, as old friends of Sir Eric,
they would know he had not been a guest at Roding Hall before.

Presently, acting upon his suggestion, the baronet made a little speech
to his guests.

They would all, he said, be naturally very curious as to what had
happened to him, but he really could not tell them any more than they
had already read in the newspapers. He remembered absolutely nothing
from the moment he was falling asleep in his bedroom upstairs, and his
mind had been a perfect blank for nearly a whole year afterwards, until
he had happened to meet an old friend who recognised him and addressed
him by name. Then everything up to the moment of his becoming
unconscious had come back to him and, for the first time, he knew who he
was. Of that blank year, however, he still remembered nothing, and the
doctors had told him it would probably now remain a sealed book to him
for ever.

He could not say he had undergone any suffering, but the whole subject
was naturally a very painful one for him, and so it would be kind if
they none of them asked any questions. He just wanted them to pick up
the threads of their friendship with him as from the moment when he had
been taken ill.

There were not a few moist eyes while he was speaking, and, when he had
finished, old Colonel Bendex patted him upon the back.

"A sensible little speech, my boy," he exclaimed heartily, "and I'm sure
we will all respect your wishes." His eyes twinkled. "But there's just
one little personal matter I'd like to mention. You still owe me
eight-and-sixpence over that last night at bridge." The tension was at
once relaxed and everybody laughed.

That night at dinner, Larose looked round the beautiful old dining-room
and felt inclined to pinch himself hard and rub his eyes.

Here was he in the company of distinguished-looking men and lovely
women, trying to isolate among them an utterly callous and black-hearted
murderer. The surroundings, too, were delightful, and it made his task
the more difficult as there was nothing anywhere that gave the very
slightest idea of any evil-doing.

The room was panelled in beautiful old oak, there were priceless
pictures and tapestries upon the walls, upon the table was a wealth of
scintillating crystal and sparkling silverware, and the softly shaded
candle lights suggested only fairyland and the wonder of happy dreams.

Then there was the smell of the beautifully cooked food, the aroma of
the rare wines, and the subtle perfume of the women's hair.

Everything that wealth and good taste could bring together had been
provided, and there did not seem one man or woman present who was not of
a kindly disposition, and whose personality did not in some way
harmonise with the general happiness of things. And the guests should
have had every reason for being happy men and women, as all there were
those whom the struggles and poverty of life had passed by.

There was the Honourable Charles Mountraven, who had won two Waterloo
Cups and whose greyhounds were the swiftest in the world, a debonair,
happy-faced man in the early thirties, with a young wife, whose Irish
loveliness made it difficult for anyone to keep his eyes away from her
for very long.

There was Miles Hellingsby, suave and courteous, a well-educated man of
the world, and obviously, like everyone else, a great admirer of the
charming chatelaine of Roding Hall, but at the same time a warm and
staunch friend of Sir Eric, too.

There was Carlton James, the artist, with his monocle and pleasantly
drawling speech, looking out from lazy eyes upon the lionising world
which paid him fabulous sums for his paintings.

There was Blair Hutton, whom one could not pass by. His face was quiet
and plain, but it spoke of authority, as it well might, considering that
he employed more than two thousand hands in his mills in Lancashire.

There was Jasper Roke, the rising King's Counsel, who was so handsome
that, with any women upon the jury, the result of a case bade almost to
be a foregone conclusion.

Then last among the men was the hard-bitten but aristocratic old Colonel
Bendex. He had a joke and jest for everyone, but his old eyes were
shadowed with the horrors of a score and more battlefields and his mind
was scarred with the memory of a dearly loved wife who, only a few years
previously, had met with a dreadful death under most tragic
circumstances.

And then there were the ladies, not one of whom did not bear the stamp
of ease and refinement, and all of whom were young and attractive to
look upon.

Larose sipped his wine thoughtfully. Verily, he was the snake in the
grass in the beautiful garden of bright flowers.

The dinner was not protracted, and when everyone was in the lounge,
Larose slipped away and, as arranged, hid himself behind the thick
curtain in front of one of the long windows in the drawing-room. Lady
Roding, nervous and uneasy, had been drawn into the plot, and the whole
party were presently to be inveigled into the room to hear one of the
girls sing and accompany herself upon the piano.

Larose was in good view of the cabinet and, if necessary, could escape
at any moment, without being seen, through the window into the garden.

For a few minutes he sat in silence in his retreat and then the sound of
approaching voices warned him to get ready.

Lady Roding came in first, escorted by Colonel Bendex, and then, gaily
chatting and laughing, the others followed. But no one gave so much as a
glance in the direction of the cabinet until Miles Hellingsby appeared,
talking smilingly to Mrs. Mountraven. Then, the instant they were in the
room, the smile dropped from Hellingsby's face, he appeared to draw in a
deep breath and, hooding his eyes, he stared straight in the direction
Larose had been so sure someone would look. There was no doubt about it.
Hellingsby stared hard at the cabinet for quite four or five seconds.
Then his features had relaxed and, once again, he was all smiles.

Larose moistened his dry lips with his tongue and waited breathlessly to
see if he would look again. But no, he appeared to take no further
interest in the cabinet and, a few moments later, had turned his back to
the window.

"Good God," gasped Larose, "and when he looked like that he looked
capable of anything. So, perhaps, all along he's been consumed with
passion for Lady Roding and it must have been that he could not bear the
thought of anyone else possessing her!"

But then suddenly into Larose's confident assurance came a dreadful
doubt, for Carlton James, detaching himself from the girl he had been
talking to, walked over to the cabinet and deliberately planted himself
squarely in front of it. He screwed his monocle more firmly in his eye
and for a long minute stared through the glass door at the cabinet's
contents. Then he dropped his monocle and turned abruptly away.

"Whew!" whistled Larose softly, "the very two I picked out!" His jaw
dropped. "But they can't both have done it!" He nodded thoughtfully.
"Still, this chap's interest seemed altogether too open to suggest he is
the guilty party, unless he is one of those reckless brazen ones who
imagine they can get away with anything."

He let himself out into the garden and rejoined the company just as the
girl was beginning to sing. Out of the tail of his eye he saw that Miles
Hellingsby was regarding him thoughtfully, as if he were curious about
something.

When everyone had gone off to bed Sir Eric tip-toed into his room.
"Well," he asked eagerly, but with undoubted uneasiness in his tones,
"have you found out anything?"

"I can't say," replied Larose. "I'm not certain yet,"--he hesitated a
moment--"and if I do not form any opinion, I don't think I had better
tell you, at any rate until all your guests have gone. Your manner
might, perhaps, suggest that something was wrong."

"But from outward appearances," asked the baronet sharply, "can you for
one moment credit that there is a would-be murderer among us here?"

"But outward appearances amongst clever and educated people count for
very little," replied Larose, "for all their lives long they have been
consciously or unconsciously training themselves to wear a mask. Even
the most harmless of them have secrets they must hide. Why, if we were
honest about it, when we were talking so casually and light-heartedly
among ourselves at dinner to-night, we probably had, all of us, thoughts
that we should have been simply horrified at anyone else learning. For
instance, when I was looking round and"--he stopped suddenly and then
snapped his fingers together and laughed--"but there, there, I'm not
going to give myself away." He became solemn again and shook his head.
"No, from outward appearances, your guests are all charming and
inoffensive, perfectly guiltless men and women."

"Then you have come to the conclusion----" began Sir Eric frowningly.

"----that there is a murderer among them!" interrupted Larose.
"Certainly, I am more positive than ever about it!" He nodded. "Well,
keep them away from the drawing-room again until to-morrow night, and
then have that pretty Miss Montressor in to sing a couple more of her
songs. I won't be behind the curtain then, for my search is narrowing
down and I haven't so many to watch."

So the following night, after a long day of golf, the company again
trooped into the drawing-room, Larose taking good care to be among the
first, so that standing with his back to the windows he could watch the
faces of Mies Hellingsby and Carlton James as they came in.

This time he had prepared a little surprise if either of them continued
to be interested in the blue jar, for now it was well parked behind some
of the other curios and no longer visible unless one closely looked into
the cabinet.

He drew blood at once and in so startling a fashion that it made him
wish he had kept to his former place behind the curtains.

Directly Hellingsby entered the room he looked, as before, in the
direction of the cabinet, for the moment his glance being just casual
and careless, but then instantly it changed to one of intense interest.
He frowned, he stared hard and then with a jerk he turned his face round
and let his eyes roam upon the others in the room. Fortunately, Larose
thought, he did not see him first and so could not have been aware that
he had been watched. So Larose instantly began an animated conversation
with Colonel Bendex and felt, rather than saw, that Hellingsby was
looking at him.

"And, of course," he told himself, "if he comes to suspect for one
second that anyone is aware the paste has gone and is associating its
disappearance with Sir Eric's trance, he will jump instantly to the
conclusion that some little game is going on. Then he will speculate
feverishly as to whether I, as a one-time detective, come in anywhere."
He gritted his teeth together. "Still, he can be certain of nothing,
whereas I am. He is the guilty party, right enough, but how to bring it
home to him will be the very devil of a job."

Then the next day Larose sensed that Miles Hellingsby was doing
everything he could to ingratiate himself with him. He was always about
where Larose was, was always ready to talk affably to him, and in every
way was prepared to make himself as agreeable a companion as possible.

And Larose responded to his overtures, talking freely of the many
interesting cases he had been engaged upon and the many thrilling
adventures he had had. He made no further attempts, however, to get
behind Hellingsby's defence, having as yet formed no plan as to how he
could unmask him.

So things were up to the fourth day, the one before the party was to
break up; and then chance played into Larose's hands and caused his
lively imagination to speculate the more and more about the good-looking
widower.

It had been a pouring wet afternoon and everyone was in the
billiard-room, when about an hour before dinner the butler came into
announce that a gentleman, who would not give his name, wanted to see
Larose upon urgent business. Very puzzled, Larose went into the room
where the visitor had been ushered.

To his amazement, and somewhat to his discomfiture, as he had not
communicated with him since that afternoon at Carmel Abbey, he
recognised Wimpole Carstairs, the cast of whose wife's face had first
started him upon the trail he was now following.

"Oh, I'm so sorry to trouble you, Mr. Larose," began the spiritualist
most apologetically, "when you are upon a visit to friends, but the
matter is a most urgent one or I would not have intruded. I have just
come from Carmel Abbey and they told me I should find you here." He gave
Larose no chance to speak and went on hurriedly: "Now, are you prepared
to give me information as to how that cast of my poor wife's face came
to be made?"

"Well, no," replied Larose, hesitatingly, "I really am not. Later on,
perhaps, I may be----"

"No, don't take another step," broke in Mr. Carstairs quickly. "I don't
want any more enquiries made. Leave the matter just where it is. I'm
quite satisfied never to know." He lowered his voice darkly. "I've seen
my dear wife and she is at peace, perfect peace. She has told me so."

"You have seen your wife," gasped Larose, for the moment not taking in
what he meant.

"Yes, on the night of Wednesday of last week," replied Mr. Carstairs
solemnly, "and I should have come to you at once if I had not been laid
up with influenza. I didn't ring you up because it is too sacred a
matter to speak about over the telephone. We had a seance that Wednesday
night, and directly the lights were lowered Alma came to me and said she
could rest at last. Something had happened and she was no longer in
distress."

"On the night of Wednesday last week!" echoed Larose, remembering with a
shudder it was then that the grave-digger of Monks Arden had died.

"Yes," said Mr. Carstairs, "and I saw her so clearly and her words were
so plain. But only a smile from her and the few whispered words and she
was gone." His face lost its rapt expression and became sharp and
business-like. "But look here, Mr. Larose, I'm in some trouble with my
car, as the radiator is leaking terribly; in fact I don't think I dare
run it another hundred yards as it is. Now do you think I could ring up
from here to the nearest garage, and get them to come out and tow me
in?"

Like a flash it came to Larose under what deep obligation Sir Eric
Roding was to this man, for but for his having come to Carmel Abbey, the
baronet might still have been an inmate of Dr. Benmichael's asylum.

So he said briskly, "Oh, I can do better for you than that. Sir Eric has
got a first-class mechanic here and I'm sure he'll be able to put the
radiator right, at any rate to enable you to get home. Just wait a
minute and I'll bring Sir Eric to you."

The secretly thrilled baronet was introduced and not only arranged that
the radiator should be put right, but also insisted that, in the
meantime, Mr. Carstairs should dine with them. It was in vain the latter
pleaded he had no dinner things with him, for Sir Eric averred
laughingly that the presence of so eminent a man among them--of course
he had heard of Wimpole Carstairs--even in his pyjamas would be welcome.

So, after making himself tidy, Mr. Carstairs was introduced to all the
house-party in the lounge and it was his turn now to be thrilled when he
found that one young lady there had heard him lecture and several were
acquainted with his magazine, The New Spiritualism.

And at dinner, Mr. Carstairs showed himself a delightful
conversationalist. He could talk well and interestingly upon many
subjects, and of spiritualism he spoke with most persuasive eloquence
and, almost, as one inspired.

"And do you really mean to say," asked Carlton James, who, from scoffing
contempt was now inclined to pass to quite respectful inquiry, "that you
can actually assure us you have spoken to people who are dead?"

"Most certainly," replied Mr. Carstairs warmly. "Only last week, for
example, I had speech with a dear one who has gone before." He shook his
head. "But no long conversations, mind you, just a yes, or a no, and a
few whispered words." He spoke very solemnly. "You see, the strain for
us mortals, when we are brought in contact with the spirit world, is too
terrible to bear for very long. It is only after years and years of
meditation that we become more inured."

"But what do you see, Mr. Carstairs?" asked Roke, the good-looking
King's Counsel, repressing a smile. "I mean, do you see a form clothed
in all the trappings of this wicked world or"--he coughed
slightly--"just a nude figure?"

Mr. Carstairs appeared to sense no ridicule in the question. "Oh, we
never see any garments, sir," he replied, "just the face and a sort of
shadowy mist where the form should be."

"Then what are their faces like?" asked the K.C. "Do you see them as you
knew them when they were upon this earth and in good health, or do you
see them in their last sicknesses or exactly at the moment of their
deaths?"

"That depends," answered Mr. Carstairs instantly. "They appear to you in
the way best suited to convey the message they are bringing from the
spirit world. Generally, they appear to us happy and purged from all
earthly sorrows, but there are occasions when, from some wrong suffered,
their spirits are not at rest, and"--he sighed heavily--"then your heart
grieves for them."

"But when you have one of these meetings, or seances, as you call them,"
asked Mrs. Mountraven prettily, "does everyone see these faces of the
dead?"

"No, no," exclaimed Mr. Carstairs, "often only the medium sees them. You
must understand the medium is a very gifted individual, endowed,
naturally, with exceptional powers. In some manner he has become aware
that he possesses these powers and he has, in consequence, cultivated
them until he has become an adept. So upon many, many occasions he sees
when everyone else present is blind."

"But must you always have a medium," asked Mrs. Mountraven, "when you
have these sittings?"

"Most certainly," replied Mr. Carstairs, "and the more gifted and
experienced he is, the more likely are you to get manifestations." He
became animated. "You see, it is he who opens the doors of the spirit
world. Without him, the dead cannot leave their homes."

"And what happens then?" asked Colonel Bendex smilingly. "Does he--does
he himself bring these dead people into the room, like a sort of
conductor?"

"Oh, no, he has only prepared the way for them to come. It is the others
at the seance who, concentrating all their thoughts, summon whomsoever
they desire to appear."

"But you say it's only this medium who sees them when they come!" went
on the old Colonel.

Mr. Carstairs shook his head smilingly. "No, I don't say that. I say he
may see them when no one else does, because of his natural gifts and
developed power, but often they are seen by all assembled at the
seance."

A short silence followed and then Carlton James asked dryly: "Are you a
medium, sir?"

Mr. Carstairs nodded. "Yes, but not quite in the front rank. Still, I'm
generally successful and rarely have a blank seance."

The artist beamed. "Then what about giving us one after dinner? It would
be a great thrill for all of us, I am sure."

Mr. Carstairs looked horrified. "But I'm not out for giving people
thrills, sir. Spiritualism is my religion, and it is no drawing-room
entertainment, I assure you. It is a very solemn thing."

"Then I beg your pardon," said James most politely. He kicked the K.C.
under the table and continued very solemnly: "Well, we'll put it another
way. With it, as you say, your religion, you'll naturally be wanting to
make a few converts. So what better material could you have than is now
here?" He shrugged his shoulders. "I myself never go to any church, but
I admit I feel there is something wanting in my life"--he smiled a very
nice smile--"and so, maybe, your spiritualism may fill that want after
all."

Mr. Carstairs shook his head and then Colonel Bendex remarked jocularly:
"But I suppose you haven't got your apparatus with you?"

"What do you mean?" asked Mr. Carstairs sharply. "What apparatus do you
refer to?"

"Oh, your tambourine that plays up in the air," grimaced the old
Colonel, "and the bladder with the phosphorus on it that you wave
about."

Mr. Carstairs looked furious, but contenting himself with a gesture of
contempt, ignored the amusement among the company that he could not help
noticing, and made no comment. Then Mrs. Mountraven pleaded eagerly:
"But do let us have a seance, please, Mr. Carstairs. There's nothing
spiritual in my life as it is."

Desirous that his guests should enjoy themselves, Sir Eric backed up her
request and there was at once a general plea all round that the seance
should take place. But, before Mr. Carstairs had given his final
decision, a dreadful peal of thunder burst over the house and the rain
began to pour down in torrents.

"There, Mr. Carstairs," called out the baronet above the noise of the
storm, "you see, even the elements are on our side. You can't possibly
leave here to-night with that patched-up radiator. So we'll give you a
bed and, in return, you shall try and put a little reverence for things
spiritual in my pagan friends here."

Mr. Carstairs nodded solemnly. "It's an omen, that thunder," he
announced, "for spirit manifestations are invariably stronger when there
is electricity about." His face hardened and he looked scowlingly at the
still highly amused Colonel Bender. "Yes, I'll give you a seance, but,
remember, it is not to be taken as a joke, and there is to be no levity,
please."

So, with the meal over, they all assembled in the drawing-room, with the
spiritualist at once taking command and issuing his orders in the manner
of one accustomed to be obeyed.

"You will all sit round the table," he commanded sharply, "and, just
resting your wrists upon the edge, you will lock your hands together by
the crooking of your little fingers. The room will be in complete
darkness, and there must be perfect silence, except for one of you who
will play upon the piano. Now who is going to be the musician?"

The girl who had played and sung the two previous evenings at once
volunteered. "Well, the music must be very soft," said Mr. Carstairs,
"and of a very solemn nature. Start off with one of the funeral marches
and play it very slowly. Don't stop playing if you hear me speak, but
play then even more softly."

A thrill of great expectation ran through the ladies, but, for the most
part, the men were only looking amused and the old Colonel just stopped
himself in time from reminding the company generally that any kissing
would be heard quite plainly.

"Now," went on Mr. Carstairs, as he gave a final look round before
switching off the lights, "I am to be the only one to speak, please, and
I will announce the coming of any spirits as I shall sense them first.
All you have to do is to sit perfectly still and concentrate your
thoughts upon anyone you have known in life and who has now passed
beyond. Keep your eyes shut tightly. Then, when I have taken my seat and
completed the circle, no one is to unlock his fingers for one second, or
contact will be broken. Kindly abstain from coughing and do not let your
breathing be audible. Don't be impatient, for it may be half an hour or
longer before anything begins to happen. Now are you all ready? Good!
Then I am going to switch off and I shall strike a match to find my way
back to my chair. Then when I am seated, but not before, our young
friend at the piano will commence to play."

So, in less than a minute, the room was plunged in darkness and a dead
silence reigned. Then Larose shuddered as the girl at the piano started
playing the 'Marche Funebre.' He remembered when he had last heard it.

Believers or unbelievers, undoubtedly not a few of those seated at the
table had become nervous, and Larose could feel a distinct trembling
passing along the circle of hands. He was seated between Lady Roding and
Mrs. Mountraven and, before the light had been switched off, he had seen
that Colonel Bendex and Miles Hellingsby, with a lady between them, were
directly opposite to him, and would be upon Mr. Carstairs' left when he
had taken his seat. Hellingsby had been looking bored with the whole
proceeding.

Five minutes passed with nothing happening and then the thunder began to
peal again. It seemed as if the storm were returning. Larose shut his
eyes, and, with a faint grin of amusement, thought of the last murderer
he had been instrumental in getting hanged. He knew he would recognise
him at once, as, an interesting personality, he had been fat with red
hair, a most unusual combination in premeditated crimes of violence.

On went the minutes and it was obvious now that the first thrill among
some of those present was beginning to wear off, for there were distinct
sounds of fidgeting and every now and then a cough was with difficulty
suppressed. The 'Marche Funebre' had long since been finished, then had
come the 'Dead March in Saul' and now the girl was playing a dreamy
nocturne.

And still the silence went on, with the room in its dreadful darkness,
the men and women waiting, waiting, while perhaps through the awful
spaces of the infinite the spirits of the dead were rushing back to
earth.

Larose's thoughts had wandered and he was thinking hazily of his little
ones at home. His head fell forward and he had almost dropped asleep,
when, suddenly, he became conscious, as in a dream, that the
spiritualist was speaking. His voice was very low and solemn and he
spoke with the reverence of a priest at the extreme moment of the
elevation of the Host.

"I feel movements in the air," he droned. "There is a cold wind
approaching. I hear sounds that are not of this earth." His voice rose a
little. "Close your eyes tightly and concentrate lest the spirits pass
us by. They are approaching."

Delicious tremors thrilled through the ladies, and even the men breathed
a little harder. But a long silence followed before Mr. Carstairs' voice
came, suddenly, like the hiss of a snake. "Here they are! They are
here!" he cried speaking now so quickly that his words were telescoped
into one another and rose excitedly into crescendo tones. "I see a
pillar of vapour hovering above us! It moves! It moves! It is now upon
my left! The upper part is beginning to take shape! It is a head with
the hair of a woman! She is not young! She is middle-aged! Oh, oh, I see
her quite plainly now! She is in great distress! She struggles for
breath! Her eyes are protruding! Her face is blue-black! Her tongue----"

But he was interrupted by a fierce oath and the long table, heavy as it
was, was pushed roughly on its castors, and it could be felt that the
circle of entwining hands had been broken with a violent jerk. Then a
chair was heard to crash backwards upon the floor, a woman screamed, and
instantly a babel of sounds filled the room. Then in a blinding flash
the fights went up, and Colonel Bendex was seen standing, white-faced
and with his hair dishevelled, with his hand upon the switch.

"I won't stand any more of this damned nonsense," he shouted. "That fool
has been making everything up to terrify us and he's really seen
nothing."

The bright light shone on glistening faces. Some of the women were lying
back, half fainting in their chairs, and there was not one person that
did not show some signs of emotion. All who could had risen to their
feet.

"Steady, steady," called out the baronet, who had recovered himself at
once. "Steady, Colonel Bendex, you have no business to talk to anyone
like that!"

"But I mean it," shouted the old Colonel furiously.

"I tell you we have all been fooled. I, I----" but his voice broke down
and he quavered weakly. "No, no, I forgot myself! I ought not to have
spoken like that, but I--I had personal reasons for being so upset. I
apologise to Mr. Carstairs for what I said, and"--he bowed round to the
company--"and if you'll all excuse me, I'll just go out and recover
myself," and he tottered shakily from the room.

"Oh, I'm so sorry this has happened, Sir Eric," began Mr. Carstairs,
whose own face was as white as a sheet, "but everything I told you, I
saw, and I was only----" but then he darted forward to catch Miles
Hellingsby, who, like a thing of death, was slipping off his chair.

It was at least ten minutes before anyone smiled again. The windows and
doors had been thrown wide open, smelling salts and brandy had been
brought, and there had been much mopping of faces with handkerchiefs.
There was no doubt the company had all been very much upset, but,
seemingly, it was Miles Hellingsby who was most ashamed of himself. He
was still looking white and sickly.

"It was that shriek that knocked me out," he explained in great
vexation. "It carried me back to when I was on a boat that was torpedoed
in the war. I was only a lad at the time and it has always left me with
a weak spot." He made a wry face. "I am the fool of the whole party."

Wimpole Carstairs was regarded with mixed feelings. Some were inclined
to hold, as Colonel Bendex had shouted, that he was an impostor, but
others now really regarded him with awe. These latter, intimate friends
of the old Colonel, were aware that some years previously the old man's
wife had been trapped in a burning house and although the fire had been
put out before it had reached her, she had nevertheless been found to
have died of suffocation. They argued that it was not likely the
spiritualist could have known of the happening and that, therefore, the
spirit he had raised had been truly that of the dead woman.

To the great relief of Sir Eric and Lady Roding, late as the hour was,
Mr. Carstairs refused most resolutely to stay the night. He seemed as
upset as anybody at what had happened, but told them bluntly that they
had insisted upon a stance and so must not blame him for anything.

"He's quite genuine, Eric," sighed Lady Roding as they saw him drive
away, "and I feel very sorry that the dear old Colonel spoke about him
as he did." She shook her head. "No, I shall never laugh at spiritualism
any more."

But as it happened all sympathy for Mr. Carstairs was quite misplaced.
It was perfectly true, as he had said, that he did regard his
spiritualism as a real religion, but that night he had been so stung to
anger by Colonel Bendex's mention of the tambourine and his asking if he
had brought his apparatus with him that he had resorted to deceit. Once,
some years ago, during the summer holidays, when he had been stopping at
a seaside hotel, Colonel Bendex had been pointed out to him and the sad
story of his wife's death told. Mr. Carstairs had a good memory and,
being introduced to the Colonel that evening, he had remembered both his
name and the tragedy of his life. Then when the Colonel, as he
considered, had insulted both him and his faith, and he had seen the
grins and amusement of the others, upon the spur of the moment he had
resolved to inflict a suitable punishment, with the result that we
already know.

Afterwards he had felt furious with himself and rather than again face
the man he had made to suffer, had gone away with all possible haste.

The next day the house party broke up, and Larose and his wife were the
first to leave.

"No," said Larose to the baronet in parting, "I can't tell you anything
yet. Certainly, I am on a trail, but it will be a hard one to follow and
the truth may never become known. Say good-bye to your friends as if you
had never been suspicious of any of them, but if any questions are asked
about me, before they go, be sure and let me know. Phone me up
to-night."

But if Larose had said nothing to the baronet, to Lady Roding he had, in
confidence, opened up a little more of his mind. He had managed to get
her, for a few moments, alone in the garden, and he has asked her,
point-blank, if either Carlton James or Hellingsby had ever showed any
signs of wanting to make love to her in her supposed widowhood.

She had blushed furiously at the question and had seemed disinclined to
give any answer, but Larose had persisted firmly.

"Come, Lady Roding," he said gently, "you know I am your friend, and I
want to spare your husband's feelings as much as possible. So tell me
frankly if either of these two ever gave you the idea he would like to
become your lover."

Lady Roding's face was still scarlet and her voice trembled. "They have
neither of them ever spoken a word of love," she replied, "and indeed I
only saw Mr. James once after my husband was buried. As for Mr.
Hellingsby, he, he----"

"----saw you many times," broke in Larose. "Yes, I know that. But tell
me, did he ever look at you as if he had become very fond of you?" He
nodded frowningly. "Oh, yes, a woman always knows!"

Lady Roding hesitated. "Y-e-s," she stammered hotly, "he was very kind
to me. I could see he was very sorry for me."

"Has he stayed here often since your trouble?" asked Larose. "I mean, of
course, before his wife died."

She now became a little more composed. "Yes, he was here four or five
times," she said. "He helped me a lot in winding up the affairs of the
estate." She spoke a little defiantly. "He had a good reason for coming
here and he proved himself a real friend."

"And since his wife's death," persisted Larose, "he has come here----"

"----three times," said Lady Roding.

"Hum!" remarked Larose, "pretty good going when his wife has been dead
barely three months!" He thought for a moment. "Did you invite him, or
did he come without invitation?"

"He came quite unexpectedly," was the reply, "but the last time he said
he happened to be passing this way."

"Did you speak to him alone?" was Larose's next question.

Lady Roding was now frowning at the cross-examination. "No, my sister
had been making a long stay with me and was here nearly six weeks." Then
she added quickly: "I always kept her by me, all the time."

"Oh, oh," exclaimed Larose regarding her intently, "then you kept her by
you on purpose!" Then, as she made no reply, he went on: "You were
afraid he was going to start making love to you. That was it, wasn't
it?"

Lady Roding turned away her eyes. "I knew he liked me," she said softly,
"but I didn't want to give him any chance."

"But where would have been the harm?" asked Larose. "You thought you
were a widow and there would have been nothing wrong in it."

Lady Roding's eyes glinted. "Oh, Mr. Larose, how cruel and stupid you
can be! Can't you realise these questions are not nice ones?" Her voice
shook but she spoke with some spirit. "I had lost my husband barely
eight months and I wasn't ready for any man's attention, however much I
might have been esteeming him."

"I understand," said Larose quietly. He shook his head when he noticed
her look of distress. "No, don't worry. Your husband will never know I
have asked you these questions, and it was to save getting the
information from him that I approached you."

"But because Mr. Hellingsby has been up here to see me those three times
since his wife's death," said Lady Roding quickly, "you must not put
that down to his discredit." She hesitated and looked very embarrassed.
"I may--I may unconsciously have encouraged him."

"And quite natural, too," nodded Larose sympathetically. "You were
young, you were lonely, and no one would have expected you to go on for
ever grieving for the dead."

"But it has all passed now," she said quickly, "and every scrap of love
I have now is for my husband." She laid her hand upon Larose's arm. "You
understand that, don't you?"

"I understood it that night when I brought you to him," he laughed, "and
I have never doubted it since." He became grave again all at once. "But
whatever may happen in the future, please forget this conversation here.
It has been unpleasant for both of us." Talking lightly of other
matters, they walked back to the house.




CHAPTER X.--THE TRAIL OF MURDER


That night, as had been arranged, Sir Eric rang up Larose. He spoke very
guardedly and was obviously being most careful in his choice of words.

"Well, I hope you and Mrs. Larose got home all right, and you were not
too tired after the journey. Good! You must come and stay with us again
and we'll go to the races together, as you seem to have an almost
uncanny way of picking winners. We feel rather depressed now, of course
at your having all gone away. The house seems very quiet. Oh, by the by,
you certainly made a hit with our handsome widower, and he wondered how
it was he had not met you here before. But, as I told him, it was your
wife and mine who had been friends years ago, and this was the first
time they had renewed the friendship since our marriage."

"A very clever fellow," laughed Larose, "and I shall make a point of
seeing him again. I've not taken such a fancy to anyone for a long
time."

"Oh, yes, and here's something rather amusing," went on the baronet.
"You were laughing about Carlton James' gruesome paintings, and what do
you think? He's borrowed that long curved Malay knife I had in my curio
cabinet! He said he was painting a man being stabbed in the throat, and
that knife was the very one he'd been looking for to give the proper
effect. Miles happened to come in when I was just handing it over to
him, and seemed very amused and had a good laugh. But he got a bit
nettled and didn't seem to be quite so pleased when a little later James
asked him if he would like to pose as the murderer. But James only
grinned and said he'd always been of the opinion that Miles had the look
about him of making a rattling good assassin. Of course, it was only
said in fun, but it was darned bad taste with a highly strung chap like
Miles. Well, good-bye, old man. My wife sends her love to yours," and he
rang off.

"Interesting," commented Larose grimly, "very! But I didn't want any
confirmation of my ideas. I'm quite certain about them. Hellingsby is
the man we want, but how to bring it home to him Heaven only knows." He
nodded. "Still, I've had as bad cases as this before and they've come
out all right in the end."

Now Larose was always of opinion that once a man had carried one crime
to success he was always disposed to follow it up with another, more or
less of the same nature. Consciously, or subconsciously, he was ready,
and only waiting for the opportunity. He was like an animal who had
tasted blood and could not get the pleasurable flavour out of his mouth.

So, being quite certain that Miles Hellingsby had attempted to kill Sir
Eric Roding, Larose was now wanting to believe the ex-banker had also
murdered his own wife. There would have been the strongest motive for so
doing, in his passion for Lady Roding, a passion so obvious that the
servants of the Hall had remarked upon it. Hellingsby had begun to push
his courting, too, almost immediately after his wife's death, and, added
to that, from Lady Roding's blushing admissions, there could be no doubt
that he had had every reason for being quite sanguine of success.

But Larose frowned vexatiously as he gathered up the threads of his
thoughts. It was through an accident, which he could by no possibility
have brought about, that Hellingsby's wife had died, and he, Larose, was
up against a dead wall there. He sighed many times in annoyance.

However, if Hellingsby were, in reality, the would-be murderer of Sir
Eric Roding and actually aware that Larose had been set upon his trail,
then he might perhaps have been not a little disturbed could he but have
seen where the ex-detective was upon the following afternoon.

Larose was with the superintendent of the Tunbridge Wells police, who
had been a co-worker with him when they had both been at Scotland Yard,
and Larose had just been passing by, so he said, and had dropped in for
a little chat.

The superintendent was very pleased to see him, and for a few minutes
they talked animatedly of old times. Then Larose casually mentioned
Miles Hellingsby and asked the superintendent if he knew him.

"Certainly I do," he replied, "and he's a bit of a gay fellow. Used to
be manager of a bank here, but made a good marriage and now has a big
place near Southborough, about two miles out on the London road." He
looked curiously at Larose. "But why do you ask?"

"Oh, just because I've been staying in the same house with him and he
interested me," replied Larose. "He asked me, too, to look him up when I
was next in this neighbourhood, and I've got half a mind to do it."

"Well, if you want to," said the superintendent, "you'll probably find
him at home now, as I happened to see him in the town to-day." He
grinned. "They say he keeps a very good cellar."

"His wife was drowned a little while ago, wasn't she?" asked Larose.

The superintendent nodded. "Yes, at Easter time, along with about twenty
others in a sailing boat at Eastbourne." He cocked his eye shrewdly at
Larose. "But I don't suppose it'll be long before he marries again as
he's always been a rare one for the ladies."

"But with his wife only dead a few weeks," frowned Larose, "surely he
won't be thinking of that for a long time!"

The superintendent laughed. "His late wife, my boy, was about ten years
older than he was and as plain a little body as you could meet." He
snapped his fingers together. "Of course, he only married her for her
money. Everyone here knows that."

"But it may have been a love-match," reproved Larose. "Men often fall in
love with women much older than themselves."

"Not Miles Hellingsby," retorted the superintendent instantly. "He likes
them young and fresh, and nothing but a good wad would have induced him
to hang his hat up at Southborough Hall."

"And I suppose when his wife died, she left him everything?" asked
Larose innocently.

"Of course," replied the superintendent. He smiled. "One of the servants
up at Southborough Hall in particular was most devilish put out at not
getting a penny. She had been with the Levers--his wife was Miss Lever
before she married Hellingsby--for nearly forty years, and is kicking up
a devil of a row about things now. She says Mrs. Hellingsby told her she
had left her 500, but when the will was opened, it was 'everything to
my beloved husband.' This woman, a Selina Thompson, has just bought a
little sweet shop here in Hill Street out of her savings, and has been
spreading such unpleasant things round the town about Hellingsby that I
hear last week he sent his solicitors to her to make her shut up. He
threatened to bring an action for slander and that frightened her."

"What sort of things did she say?" asked Larose, very interested.

"Oh, that he bullied his wife and neglected her," said the
superintendent. "She didn't say outright that he'd been carrying on with
other women, but she hinted as much. Of course, a good lot of it may
have been quite true, but, probably, her disappointment made her
exaggerate." He shook his head. "Still, you can understand Hellingsby is
not quite a hero in the neighbourhood and I shouldn't wonder if he
didn't sell Southborough Hall one day and clear out altogether."

"A nice beauty," was Larose's comment to himself when he had said
good-bye to the superintendent, "and it just shows what mistakes one can
make when a chap's handsome and agreeable!" His face grew hot. "But what
an escape for that little Lady Roding! Wouldn't she have had a time
after he had got tired of her?" He smiled whimsically. "Well, here I go
on collecting information about him, but for what purpose Heaven only
knows!" He nodded. "I'll have a talk with this Thompson woman next."

He soon found Hill Street and Selina Thompson's shop. It was in the
poorer quarter of the town, and, from the nature of the stock in the
window, it did not appear that she could be doing a very lucrative
trade.

The shop was empty when he arrived, but, upon the loud whirring of a
bell as he pushed open the door and entered, a woman immediately made
her appearance from a room at the back. She was in the middle fifties
and, tall and thin, had by no means an unpleasant face. She looked
shrewd and intelligent.

"Good afternoon," said Larose smilingly. "You are Miss Thompson, aren't
you? Well, can you spare a few minutes for a little talk?"

"What about?" asked the woman instantly, regarding him with a most
suspicious look.

"Mr. Hellingsby," replied Larose, with no beating about the bush, "and
if you'll promise to hold your tongue about my coming to you, I'll make
you a little present, straight away." Taking a couple of notes out of
his pocket-book, he held them out to her.

But Selina Thompson drew back in a sharp movement. "No, you don't!" she
exclaimed scoffingly. "You're not going to catch me that way. I had one
lawyer here already and I expect you're another."

"Bless your heart," laughed Larose, "I'm not a lawyer and not a soul
knows I've come to see you! I want to make a few inquiries, entirely on
my own."

"Who are you?" asked the woman, "and what's your name?"

"But you wouldn't believe me if I told you," smiled Larose. "So you can
just imagine I'm a Mr. Smith. That's not my name, of course, but it'll
do for our conversation."

"We're not going to have any conversation," said the woman quietly. She
inclined her head. "Just leave my shop, please."

"Now don't you be foolish," said Larose, "I can't have come here to trap
you, as you say, for I've brought no witnesses and you'll always be able
to deny anything you've said." He lowered his voice. "I'm not a friend
of Mr. Hellingsby. I dislike the man and I dislike him more than ever
now I've heard of the way he's cheated you out of that five hundred
pounds."

"Who's been telling you?" she asked sharply.

"Never mind," replied Larose. "I've heard the whole story about you and
a lot more besides. I've heard how Mr. Hellingsby bullied his poor wife,
how he neglected her and how be went after other women." He fibbed
impressively. "He's now paying attention to a girl I know and I want to
put a stop to it. That's what I'm here for. Nothing else. I mean no harm
to you and I swear to you that unless you yourself tell, no one shall
ever know I have been to you."

The woman seemed impressed. "But who told you to come to me?" she asked
suspiciously.

"No one," replied Larose instantly. "But it's all over the town you've
been saying what you think about him and that he sent his solicitor to
you to give you a fright."

The woman considered, and Larose went on: "Come, all I want you to tell
me is what sort of life Mrs. Hellingsby had with her husband. I know you
were with her almost since she was a baby, and you'd surely like to
punish the man who's been so cruel to her."

He had certainly struck the right chord there, and a look of hatred came
into the woman's face. "Yes, I'll risk it," she said, "and, as you say,
there are no witnesses. No, I won't take your two pounds." She clenched
her teeth together. "I'd do anything to get even with the wretch."

And so in the little room behind the shop, in the intervals between
bustling out to sell 'ha'p'orths' and 'penn'orths' of sweets, the woman
told her story. She told it with no reservations and, obviously, so
embittered by hate that Larose did not wonder Miles Hellingsby had sent
his solicitor round to stop her mouth.

Mary Hellingsby, or Mary Lever as she had been then, was the only child
of wealthy parents and had lived all her life in the little village of
Southborough, midway between Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells. Her father
had died when she was fifteen and in the succeeding years she had been
bound hand and foot to a complaining and invalid mother.

Staffed with three maidservants and a gardener, the Hall had lacked
nothing in the way of comforts, but there had been absolutely no social
life, either for its mistress or her daughter. Living the lives of
recluses, they received no visitors except the old family doctor, and
they paid no visits to anyone themselves. Mrs. Lever was naturally of a
quarrelsome disposition, and after some heated argument with the village
clergyman, had never been near the church again.

The girl had no friends and her only interests were reading sickly
stories of romance and playing upon an old organ that had been in the
family for many years. She had been a very plain and unattractive girl,
and grew up shy and awkward, afraid of all strangers and entirely
wrapped up in herself and her mother. As the years passed she developed
into a highly nervous and very timid woman.

When she was forty-two her mother died, and then, suddenly, a great
change came into her life, for Miles Hellingsby appeared upon the scene.
He was the manager of the hank in Tunbridge Wells where the Levers had
their account and, in the settling of the affairs of the estate, made
many excuses to come up to the Hall to discuss business matters with
Mary Lever, to whom everything had been left.

Constantly bringing himself in contact with her, he had soon started to
make violent love to her and, a good-looking, well-dressed man of the
world, he had speedily swept her off her feet and become her affianced
husband. He was seven years younger than she was, and a widower with no
children.

"Yes," commented Selina Thompson sneeringly, "a widower, and his wife
had died suddenly when they were abroad on holiday, and staying in some
little mountain hotel in Switzerland! She was supposed to have died from
food-poisoning, but I should not be a bit astonished to learn he had
killed her!"

Larose's heart gave a big bump here. Was it then that Hellingsby's
attempt to murder Sir Eric was not his first crime?

Selina Thompson went on with her story. Then Mary Lever, defying all
public opinion, had become Mrs. Hellingsby just three months after her
mother's death, less than eighteen months ago, and her husband,
resigning his position at the bank, had been installed as master of the
Hall.

Then his wife had bought him into a firm of stockbrokers in the City,
and five days a week he had gone up to town in the most expensive car
that money could buy.

For about six or seven months only had he played the part of a devoted
husband, taking his wife with him everywhere and making out he could not
bear to be away from her an hour longer than was absolutely necessary.

"But I was always suspicious of him," sneered Miss Thompson again, "for
it wasn't natural a good-looking young man like him should be always
cozening and cuddling a plain, middle-aged woman like her."

"Was she fond of him?" asked Larose.

"Mad about him!" exclaimed the woman. "Completely off her head! Used to
wait in the hall for him when he was coming home at night, used to kiss
the sprays of flowers he always brought her, used to have her chair as
close as possible to his at meal times, and was always holding his hand
and looking up into his eyes!" She made a gesture of anger. "Oh, it made
me furious, for I could see his fondness for her was all put on, and I
used to wonder why." She nodded darkly. "Then one day I found out."

"Oh!" exclaimed Larose, "what was it?"

The woman spoke very slowly. "She was gradually making over to him every
penny she possessed, all her stocks and shares, her money in bonds and
even the very deeds of the Hall property. Everything except some money
in trust, left her by an uncle and which could not be touched until her
death." She gritted her teeth savagely. "Yes, he was cunning, this
Hellingsby, for he had got her to take away her account from the
Tunbridge Wells bank and give it to a London one, so that no one in the
neighbourhood should know what was going on." She nodded vigorously.
"But I found it out, for I got cunning too. I used to open the desk
drawers and look in his pockets whenever I got the chance, and one day I
was able to see into the safe when they had gone out and he had left the
keys behind. Then"--she lowered her voice to a whisper--"I saw what he
had got by his deceit."

"And when had he got all he could out of her?" asked Larose.

"When they had been married about seven months I should say, somewhere
in the middle of last summer. As far as I know, after then she signed no
more documents. Then he began to become irritable with her and I
remember he was never the same after they had come back from visiting
some friends of theirs in Suffolk, Sir Eric Roding and his wife.
Mistress saw I had noticed it, and told me he was upset because this Sir
Eric had died very suddenly, when they were on their visit. At any rate,
he stopped bringing home flowers, and started sleeping in a separate
room, saying she kept him awake as she was so restless. Also, he soon
began going off for week-ends without her, fishing and shooting, so he
made out."

"Where used he to go?" asked Larose.

"He told her to Sheppey Island," said Selina, "where some fishermen had
a bungalow on the marshes across the Swale river, opposite Whitstable.
He used to go away early on the Saturday morning and come home on the
Sunday night. He said it was much too rough a place for Mistress and
there was nothing but fishing or shooting to do." She sniffed
contemptuously. "He did sometimes bring back a wild duck or two, or a
few fish, but I'll never believe they were all he went for."

"And did your mistress turn against him," asked Larose, "because of this
neglect?"

"Not she," replied the woman vehemently. "The colder he became, the more
she wanted to cling to him. She was like a beaten and very faithful
dog." She nodded spitefully. "Then I got to know there was another woman
somewhere, for I came upon a bill for an expensive wrist-watch he had
bought, seventy-five pounds it cost, and he never gave it to her."

"Did you tell Mrs. Hellingsby about it?" asked Larose.

"No, I didn't," replied the woman instantly, "for it would have made her
still more unhappy and would have meant, too, that I should have been
sent away. Of course, he would have denied everything, and said I was
only just making mischief. He had never liked me because I had been so
long with Mistress, and would have only been too glad of an excuse to
get rid of me."

"Was he ever actually brutal to her?" asked Larose,

"He never struck her or did anything like that, but in those last months
I am sure it was in his mind to try to make her ill. He knew she had a
weak chest and yet he made her sit in draughts, to harden her so he
said, and on bitter cold days he used to make her drive out with him in
an open car. Then he would go somewhere, to some town on the coast
generally, and park the car out in the open and leave her sitting for
hours and hours by herself in the cold, whilst he went off and played
billiards or had games of cards with people he knew in the hotels. Yes,
I am quite certain he was trying to make her catch her death of cold. He
wanted her to die so that then he would be rid of her."

"And what was the exact day on which she was drowned?" asked Larose.

"The Thursday before last Good Friday, the eighteenth of April," replied
the woman. "They had left early to motor to Eastbourne for the day, and
I'm certain he only took her with him because the weather was so cold."
Tears filled her eyes. "But how he ever got my poor mistress to go out
in that boat I can't understand! She just hated the sea and would get
dreadfully sick, even on a big steamer crossing the Channel."

"And how did you first come to learn she had been drowned?" was Larose's
next question.

"He rang up that same afternoon about two o'clock. I was out and Cook
answered the telephone. He pretended to be terribly upset and Cook said
he could hardly speak. Then he didn't come home until past one in the
morning, and he made such a noise that we were sure he had been
drinking. He switched on all the lights in the hall and the passages,
and when we went down the next morning they were still on. He had drunk
a big bottle of champagne, too, before he went off to bed."

Larose thoughtfully absorbed this information and then asked: "Did he
take long to get over his wife's death?"

Selina Thompson scowled. "I wasn't at the Hall to see. He packed me off
the next day with a month's wages instead of notice. He said he should
be only keeping two maids."

They talked on for a long time, and when Larose left her, he came away
with the greatly deepened impression that Lady Roding was one of the
most fortunate young women in the whole world.

Determined to press his inquiries and find out all he could about Miles
Hellingsby, he went on to Eastbourne that same night, and the next
morning by nine o'clock was going through those files of the Eastbourne
Chronicle dealing with the tragic sinking of the sailing boat Maid of
Sussex.

In the first issue published after the disaster there was an entire page
devoted to the story.

It appeared that upon that day the wind had been fresh and the sea
rather choppy, and earlier in the morning it had been doubtful if the
Maid would ply for passengers at all. But about eleven o'clock, just
as the tide was beginning to ebb, the wind had dropped and the owners of
the boat, two brothers, having everything ready, had started to call for
passengers. The Maid was licensed to carry thirty, and soon a good
number had taken their seats and the greased timbers were set in
position for the boat to be slipped down over the shingle into the sea.

The launch had been accomplished without mishap, and, with her sails
hoisted, the Maid was soon cleaving a swift way through the breakers.
All had gone well until she was a little more than a mile beyond the
pierhead and then, when in close proximity to the big excursion steamer,
the Sir Francis Drake proceeding to Brighton, the rudder bar had
broken suddenly and in the twinkling of an eye an awful calamity had
eventuated.

The Maid of Sussex had swerved right across the bow of the steamer
and, to the accompaniment of heartrending shrieks, the big vessel had
crashed through the Maid as if she had been made of matchboard.

All the Maid's passengers, crushed to instantaneous death or still
living, had been flung violently into the sea; and then, horror of
horrors, right among the struggling men, women and children had swooped
a big motor-boat which had been cruising on the starboard side of the
Sir Francis Drake and had not seen the Maid of Sussex.

It had been an appalling catastrophe, for, adding to the general
confusion, a sudden burst of wind had arisen and, with the rising seas,
had made rescues most difficult.

The Sir Francis Drake had lowered her boats with all possible speed
and other boats had put out from the shore, but of the computed
twenty-six or twenty-seven passengers--the exact number was never
known--only five were rescued alive. The two brothers owning the Maid
had been killed outright.

Then Larose, reading through the later files of the newspaper, felt his
heart thumping violently as he saw among the names of the sailing boat's
passengers whose bodies had not been recovered that of Mrs. Miles
Hellingsby of Southborough Hall in the county of Kent.

"Great Scot!" he exclaimed excitedly, "and why didn't that fool of a
Selina Thompson tell me?" He snapped his fingers together. "Now this
opens a lot of possibilities! What exactly might it not mean?"

For a long five minutes he appeared to be thinking hard, then he nodded
to himself and his lips set firmly together as if he had come to some
important decision.

Leaving the building, he made his way to the police station, and,
presenting his card, asked that it might be given to the superintendent
there.

"I shall only keep him a few minutes," he added, "if he'll be good
enough to see me."

He was taken into the superintendent almost at once and the police
officer smilingly shook hands with him.

"Very pleased to meet you, sir," he said. "I was transferred from up
North to here, or no doubt we should have met when you were at the Yard.
Now, what can I have the pleasure of doing for you?"

"Well, for private reasons," said Larose, "I am interested in that
dreadful business of the Maid of Sussex and I want to know if all the
bodies were eventually recovered."

The superintendent shook his head. "No, and we shall never be certain
how many are missing. Unhappily, we have no means of ascertaining
definitely how many passengers went out in her, as both the boatmen in
charge were killed instantaneously. It is imagined she was carrying
twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight, but it is only conjecture.
There were five people rescued and sixteen bodies, in all, recovered,
the last one less than a month ago."

"Then there are from five to eight persons still to be accounted for,"
commented Larose, and then he asked, "Do you know who most of these
are?"

"We know of three, definitely three," was the reply, "but of the
others"--he shrugged his shoulders--"we know nothing!"

"But haven't there been inquiries made for missing friends and
relations?" was Larose's next question.

"Dozens of them," smiled the superintendent, "from all over the country.
I have a whole pile of letters in the cupboard here. Everyone who has
lost anybody lately seems to have written to me."

"Well, who are these three persons whom you know, as you say,
definitely, were passengers on the boat and whose bodies have not been
recovered? Do you remember off-hand who they are?"

"Certainly. One was a girl called Martha Jennings, who was a pantry-maid
at the Waverley Hotel, a second was a boy called Alec Bell, who lived in
East Ham, and the third was a Mrs. Hellingsby, who lived near Tunbridge
Wells."

Larose steadied his voice with an effort. "And how are you certain," he
asked, "that these three were actually passengers?"

The superintendent smiled. "Well, the girl's mother saw her get into the
boat, the boy's father was one of the five passengers saved, and the
husband of the woman, Mrs. Hellingsby, had seen his wife go on board and
was waiting upon the esplanade until the Maid of Sussex should have
finished her cruise and come in."

"Do you know if any of these three deaths have been presumed for either
insurance or probate purposes?" Larose asked carelessly.

"Two," replied the superintendent. "The boy was insured for fifty
pounds, and the petition to presume the death of this Mrs. Hellingsby
was made and granted about three weeks ago."

Larose got up from his chair as if he had now obtained all the
information he wanted. "Thank you very much," he said as he shook hands
in good-bye; and then he added as an after-thought, "Oh, by the by, as a
matter of curiosity, do you happen to know if they had to produce
outside witnesses to give evidence in support of their petition to the
Court for the order of presumption of death?"

"I know that Mr. Hellingsby did," nodded the superintendent. "One of my
men, Sergeant Davy, went up to the court in London to state that
Hellingsby had spoken to him upon the Esplanade when the bodies were
being brought in, and that he had taken his name and address, as the
husband of one of the missing passengers. Then, a boatman, Sid Hurley,
testified that he had helped the lady on board, and the manager of the
Majestic Hotel said he had seen Mr. and Mrs. Hellingsby together in
their car, not half an hour before the Maid of Sussex had put out to
sea."

Larose thanked him again, and made a real good-bye this time.

"Hum!" he muttered as he walked towards the parade, "I think I'll have a
bit of a talk with this Sid Hurley. I may get something out of him."

But upon inquiring Larose found Sid Hurley was not available. He was
directed by a policeman to where two boats, with Sid Hurley's name upon
them, were drawn up on the shingle, but was told by a boatman lounging
by that Sid had got a job with someone for a week upon a yacht.

"But I'm looking after his boats, sir," went on the boatman, "and you
can have one out if you want one. Like to do a bit of fishing?"

"Oh no? thank you," laughed Larose. "It's too messy a business for me."
He looked carelessly at the man. "Only I happened to meet Sid when he
was in London upon a law case a little while ago, and I said I'd look
him up when I came down this way again."

The man appeared to be interested at once.

"Oh, you are one of the lawyers Sid met, sir?" he asked, and then when
Larose had nodded smilingly, he went on enviously: "A-ah, but that was a
lucky bit of business for Sid, if ever there was one!" He clicked his
tongue to the roof of his mouth. "Ten quid and all expenses paid and
only away a couple of days! Gosh! I wish I'd spoken up first!"

At the man's words Larose experienced a dreadful feeling of dismay, and
the great idea that had been forming in his mind came crashing to the
ground. "Then you, too, saw the lady going on to the Maid of Sussex
that morning?" he asked, most disappointedly.

"As much as he did," nodded the boatman grinningly. He half closed one
eye and, spitting out a mouthful of tobacco juice, became quite
loquacious. "At any rate we had all seen the gent waiting here and
tearing his hair when they were bringing in the bodies that had been
recovered, and that was near enough. Then when he came back a couple of
days afterwards we remembered him at once. There were several of us
standing together. 'Any of you present when the passengers went on board
the Maid of Sussex?' asked the gent, and we all told him yes, we had
helped push the boat down. 'Then do you recollect a smallish lady,
rather thin, in a brown leather motoring coat? You can't have forgotten
her as she was wearing big dark sun-glasses. He put his hand in his
pocket as if he was going to bring something out."

The boatman spat out more tobacco juice. "Then Sid, who's always on the
look-out for tips, thought one was coming, and said, quickly, yes, he
remembered her. He remembered the motor-coat and the dark glasses quite
well. Then the gent got very excited and went on to promise anyone fifty
pounds who found her body and he gave six of us one pound, on the spot,
to go and search among the big rocks off Beachy Head at next low tide.
Then he told us who he was and where he lived and he took Sid's name and
address to find him when he came again."

"And he did come!" nodded Larose, whose hopes were now reviving, but
whose mind was in a turmoil of perplexing thoughts.

"Lots of times," nodded back the boatman, "and he made quite a fuss of
Sid, taking him out and giving him drinks and tobacco and other things.
The next we heard was that Sid was going up to London to give evidence
and off he did go. Yes, all expenses paid and ten quid in his pocket as
well! The easiest money a man ever earned, and if I'd been sharp enough
I'd have had it instead of him." He grunted angrily. "Yes, I was a fool.
We were all fools but Sid, and he was a blooming liar instead."

Larose was a quick worker and five minutes later found him with all
speed driving towards London.

He had quite made up his mind now about everything, and all was
perfectly clear to him. Mrs. Hellingsby had not been on the boat at all,
but for all that, she was dead now and Hellingsby had murdered her.

Without doubt, too, his consuming passion for Lady Roding had all along
been urging him upon his course of dreadful crimes. He had first,
thought Larose, disposed of Sir Eric and then, ever since the latter's
supposed death, had been looking for an opportunity of getting rid of
his own wife in order that he would be free to marry the baronet's
widow. In a moment of lightning inspiration the idea had come to him of
making the sinking of the Maid of Sussex account for his wife's
disappearance and then, afterwards, he had coolly taken her away
somewhere and undoubtedly encompassed her death.

"Yes, if we only knew it," muttered Larose, gritting his teeth together,
"when Hellingsby was waiting, as the distracted husband, upon the
esplanade that morning, and, as that boatman said, tearing his hair in
his agony of distress, that poor woman was parked in the car somewhere,
not very far away, all unconscious of the tragedy that was taking place
out at sea and all unknowing that it was presaging her own death within
a few short hours."

"And he's quite capable of it," went on Larose. "He's quick and alert
and a born schemer if ever there was one! He's probably always been
looking out for chances all his life, and snapping them up instantly
when they came his way, as witness his inducing poor Mary Lever to marry
him within three months of her mother's death. Clever, yes, he's
clever!" He made a grimace. "I shan't forget that eleven pounds he took
from me at poker, for a long time, and knowing what I do about him now,
I'm a bit inclined to be suspicious of all those flushes he got then."
He nodded. "Anyhow, he was the best card player among us all at Roding
Hall."

His next destination was Printing House Square and, from the files of
The Times, he was soon running through the report of Miles
Hellingsby's petition for an order presuming his wife's death. It was
not as full as he would have liked it, and so, applying in the editorial
department, he inquired if by any chance he could get speech with the
reporter who had taken down the proceedings in the court.

He was told that if he returned about half-past four, those reporters
doing the law cases would be back in the building by then and without
doubt the particular one he wanted would speak to him. So at the time
mentioned he was interviewing a very solemn-faced, middle-aged man,
whose looks belied his intelligence.

Yes, he remembered the Hellingsby petition for presumption of death
quite well. He generally spent his holidays at Eastbourne, and so
anything to do with the town was of added interest to him. The case had
only occupied a few minutes and had been perfectly straightforward.

There was no doubt the woman had been drowned.

The manager of the Majestic Hotel had seen her with her husband a very
short time before, a boatman testified to having assisted her to get on
board the Maid of Sussex, and a sergeant of police had borne witness
that he had taken the name and address of the petitioner as the latter
was waiting upon the esplanade for the recovered bodies to be brought
in.

As to the petitioner himself, it was very sad as he had been an actual
witness of everything. He had been in the smoking-room of the Majestic
Hotel where the windows faced the sea, and he had been watching the
progress of the Maid of Sussex upon her cruise. He had seen her
sudden swerve across the bow of the Sir Francis Drake; he had seen
her cut in two and he had seen the motor-boat complete the havoc that
the big steamer had wrought.

The court had expressed its sincere sympathy for him.

"And how difficult it must have been for the bereaved widower to
suppress his laughter!" commented Larose dryly when he was in the street
again. "He has a good sense of humour and the situation would have
appealed to him. He had murdered his wife and there was the judge
sympathising with him upon his loss." He nodded grimly. "Well, we'll see
if he laughs last!"

He partook of a somewhat hurried meal and then proceeded to motor down
to Tunbridge Wells again to have another talk in the little sweet-shop
in High Street. He never believed in wasting time when he was upon a
case.

Selina Thompson was serving a small girl with a highly coloured, sticky
concoction, known in the locality as 'Lover's Delight,' when she saw
Larose pushing open the shop door, and for the moment her jaw dropped
and she craned her head round to see if anyone were following him.

"Two-pennyworth of bull's-eyes, please," demanded Larose, as the little
girl was receiving a halfpenny change. He winked and nodded in the
direction of the back room. "And I'll suck them in there, if I may."

The little girl having taken her departure, Larose was ushered into the
back room and Miss Thompson at once asked with a little nervousness:
"Well, what is it now?"

Larose frowned and, wagging his finger, asked reprovingly: "And why
didn't you tell me, Miss Thompson, that Mrs. Hellingsby's body had never
been recovered?"

"Oh, I didn't think of it," stammered the woman. "In fact, I made sure
you would have known about it."

"But I didn't know," retorted Larose, "and it makes all the difference
to inquiries I have to set about."

"I'm very sorry," said Selina. "I want to help you in every way I can,
and I'm sure you must have realised that."

Larose nodded. He had made up his mind to trust her fully, and, indeed,
from the questions he was intending to ask her, he had very little
choice. But she looked a woman who could keep her own counsel, and she
had the greatest incentive to repeat nothing--her hatred of Miles
Hellingsby.

"Look here," he said sharply, "I'm going to be quite frank with you. I
don't believe your mistress was drowned at all." He lowered his voice to
a whisper. "I believe she was murdered!"

"O-oh!" gasped the woman, her face as white as a sheet. "Murdered!"

"Yes, murdered," snapped Larose. "She never went on that boat at all.
Hellingsby made out she did to account for her disappearance, and before
he returned home in the middle of that night--he had got rid of her." He
spoke very solemnly. "At least, that is the opinion I have formed from
what you told me and from what I have found out since."

Selina burst instantly into tears, and, with her face hidden in her
hands, her body rocked convulsively. Larose allowed a minute or two to
pass before speaking again and then asked sharply: "You want him
punished, don't you? You don't want him to get off scot-free?" Instantly
the woman took her hands down from her face and stopped crying. Her eyes
flashed and she sat up in her chair, as steady as a rock. "God, don't I
want him punished!" she exclaimed fiercely, "I'd give my life to get him
hanged."

"Good!" said Larose. "Then you'll pull yourself together and think hard
to give me the information I want, for upon what you're going to tell me
now depends whether we're going to get him or not." He smiled
pleasantly. "I know the ropes, for I used to be a detective once and was
attached to Scotland Yard. I've handled lots of murder cases and got
quite a number of people hanged."

The woman's face paled again. "Then you come from the police?" she asked
shakily.

"No, I've nothing to do with the police now," replied Larose, "but when
I've got something to put before them, I'll call them in quick enough.
At present I'm working, as I told you yesterday, entirely by myself."

"But how can I help you any further?" asked Selina. "I've told you
everything I can think of."

"Then you'll think some more," smiled Larose. His face became grave.
"From all you've told me of this man's ways, what happened, as I
imagine, is this. That morning, as was his custom, he had parked the car
somewhere and left your mistress in it to await his return. Then he went
to the Majestic Hotel to look up some of those friends you say he used
to meet for billiards or cards, and happened to see through the windows
of the smoking room the collision that sank that sailing boat.
Naturally, he would have been very interested and so he rushed out on to
the esplanade to get a closer view. Then, seeing some dead bodies being
brought in and probably hearing the people standing round say that all
the bodies might never be recovered, he jumped to the idea of appearing
to be terribly distressed and of making out to the policemen there that
Mrs. Hellingsby had been among the passengers on the sailing-boat." He
eyed her intently. "You are following me?"

The woman nodded. "Oh, the wretch!" she exclaimed. "I told you my
mistress would never go out on the sea!"

Larose went on: "When he had made them all think her body must be among
those that had not been picked up, he went back in a roundabout way to
the car and rushed it off, with your mistress in it"--he paused a long
moment--"to where?" He spoke quite confidently. "That's what we're going
to find out."

"But how?" almost wailed Selina.

Larose ignored her question. "Now you told me yesterday," he said, "that
about last autumn he took to going away for a lot of week-ends, and that
his explanation was that he stopped in some fisherman's bungalow on
Sheppey Island." He spoke very impressively. "Now did it ever enter your
head that he had some bungalow or place of his own where he could be
quite certain Mrs. Hellingsby would never be able to find out what he
was up to?"

The woman shook her head. "I never thought of it," she said slowly, "and
I don't think Mistress did either." Then she added quickly: "Oh, but he
always had his own bedding and sheets and brought them home every now
and then to be washed. He said he didn't fancy the fisherman's washing."

"Exactly!" nodded Larose grimly. "And what about his cutlery and spoons
and forks?"

"He took two of everything at the very beginning. He said he wanted two,
in case he went with a friend, as the fisherman's things were all common
and rough."

"Then the food," asked Larose, "what used he to take with him?"

"Everything," snapped the woman, as if now beginning to see everything
in its right perspective. "A cooked fowl or a pheasant, boiled beef,
ham, rashers of bacon, two loaves of bread, butter, and even salt and
pepper. Plenty of things to drink, too." She made a gesture of intense
anger. "Oh, what fools we were."

"Then, of course, he was renting a furnished house somewhere, and only
had to supply his own plate and linen," commented Larose. "Everything
fits in."

"But what's that to do with my poor mistress?" asked Selina after a
moment's silence. "He wouldn't have taken her there if he was going to
murder her?"

"Why not?" asked Larose sharply. "He's not likely to have murdered her
in broad daylight, is he? He's sure to have waited until night. That
house or bungalow, or whatever it is, is almost certainly lonely, as
suggested by his taking every scrap of food with him at week-ends, and,
also, because he sometimes brought home wild ducks. Those birds are very
shy and only to be shot in the loneliest places." He scoffed. "Why, this
bungalow might have been an ideal spot for a dreadful crime!"

Another silence followed and then Larose said a little testily: "Now
with these suspicions in your mind, just think of things for yourself.
Tell me all you can remember about those week-ends. Don't let me have to
drag everything out of you, I want to locate where that place is and go
and search it."

The woman shuddered. "One thing," she said shakily, "once he had killed
her it would take him a lot to go back to it again. He is a very
superstitious man and believes in ghosts and places being haunted. Once
when a poor tramp crept into one of our sheds and died there, he had the
place pulled down the next day directly the body had been taken away."
She was on the verge of tears again. "And if he killed her, he must have
strangled her, for he couldn't have stood the sight of blood. When
Henderson--he used to be the chauffeur-gardener at the Hall--cut his
hand once and it was bleeding dreadfully, the wretch ran off like a baby
and wouldn't help him bind it up. He was always like that, a real coward
in some ways."

But dreadful sounds were drumming in Larose's ears, and his heart was
beating hard, for in a lightning flash his mind was harking back to that
seance at Roding Hall and the way Hellingsby had been affected by it.

"Good God!" he murmured. "So she was strangled. A blue-black face, eyes
starting out of her head, and her tongue--Good God! no wonder he
fainted!"

But Selina was talking on. "Here are some things that I remember now,
although I don't see how they can help you. One Saturday when he was
supposed to be on that island, Cook's brother saw him in quite a
different place. He was buying cartridges in a gun shop at Hastings that
afternoon."

"Oh, oh," exclaimed Larose, on the alert at once again, "that's
interesting! And did Hellingsby see the cook's brother?"

"He wouldn't have known him if he had. Her brother lives at Ticehurst
and it just happened he had seen Mr. Hellingsby through the kitchen
window, when he had been visiting Cook only a week or two before. He was
quite certain it was the master he saw in Hastings, and we were rattier
astonished because Mr. Hellingsby had taken clean sheets with him that
same morning, and he didn't bring them back in the car the next
evening."

"But why were you astonished about that?" asked Larose, for the moment
not having taken in the significance of what she meant.

"Because Cook's brother said Hastings must be nearly fifty miles away
from Sheppey Island," replied Selina, "and the sheets were for his bed
in that fisherman's hut."

"Splendid!" exclaimed Larose. "That'll help me a bit. Now, what else?"

"Nothing much, only one Sunday just after Christmas Day, I think, he
came back with some kind of sporting dog he'd bought. I heard him
telling Henderson about it the next morning, and Mr. Hellingsby said
that it was quite by chance he had seen it nosing out some birds among
the reeds upon some marsh, and he had so admired it that he persuaded
the owner to sell it to him, after a lot of trouble. He said he had had
to pay thirty guineas for it, but it was really worth much more than
that, because it came from some wonderful breed and its mother had won
prizes at shows." Her face brightened. "It got run over the next week,
and Mr. Hellingsby was furious."

Larose frowningly considered this information for a few moments and then
asked: "Well, anything more?"

"Just one last thing. He came home another Sunday, some time in the
winter, very angry because his lights wouldn't go on and he had had to
drive the whole way back that night without them. He blamed Henderson
for it, and said he would never have got home at all if it hadn't been a
bright moonlight night."

And that was all Larose got out of Selina Thompson, but, as events
proved, the information she had given him was of inestimable value.




CHAPTER XI.--SETTING THE TRAP


A few mornings later Larose was ushered into Chief Inspector Stone's
private room at Scotland Yard and was greeted heartily by his stout
friend.

"A-ah, but I was just wanting to see you!" the latter exclaimed. "I was
thinking of you not five minutes ago! I have a problem for you."

"And I have one for you, too," smiled Larose. "Who's going to speak
first?"

"Why, I am, of course," replied Stone, "as the elder"--he grinned--"and
the better-looking. That's right, sit down and treat yourself to a
cigarette. I've only got cigars here and I know you don't smoke them."
He screwed up his eyes. "Now do you know, Gilbert, I think it one of the
most extraordinary things in life how a man comes to be attracted by one
particular woman."

"It isn't always one," commented Larose. He pretended to sigh. "I
don't mind admitting that, in the course of my life, I've been attracted
by a good many."

Stone ignored his comment and went on musingly: "Perhaps he goes right
through the twenties, and even later, without being caught and then"--he
made a gesture of resignation--"the flash of a bright eye, the saucy
tossing of a little head, or the peculiar contour of a shapely leg
and"--he sighed heavily--"he goes all to pieces."

"Oh, he does, does he?" smiled Larose. "And what generally happens
next?"

"For example, take an experience I myself am now going through,"
continued Stone, too much occupied with his own speculations to answer
Larose's query. He frowned heavily and made a grimace. "Yes, I, a portly
middle-aged man with a stomach and----"

"----six children and a jolly decent wife who cooks well," broke in
Larose, who was beginning to get impatient. "Come on, Charlie, what's
bitten you?"

Stone made as if to wipe away a tear with one very fat, broad finger. "A
little slip of a girl with brown eyes," he whispered, "whom I pass at
the end of my street every morning at seven minutes to nine. She sees me
coming and I look at her and she looks at me and it sets my pulses
racing as if I were about to release the safety catch of my automatic.
We've never spoken and we never shall, for it's a guilty love on my
part, and glances are all I shall allow myself to give her." He sat up
stiffly and glared at Larose. "Besides, as you have just reminded me,
with my good missis and numerous offspring, I should long ago have
remembered how soon the red, red flowers of passion fade and"--but he
burst into a hearty laugh and then blew his nose vigorously.

Larose regarded him admiringly. "What an actor you are, Charlie," he
exclaimed. "I quite thought you were serious!"

"Not at all, not at all, my boy," frowned Stone majestically, "I was
only just speculating upon the follies of other people." His face broke
into a smile and his eyes twinkled. "Still, I do see a little girl with
brown eyes, every morning at 8.53, and we do smile at one another." He
looked very pleased with himself. "It does me good and helps on my work
here, for I realise then that personality can triumph, even over the
drawback of gross and distended externals!" He swept his blotting-pad
clear of papers and asked briskly: "Now, Gilbert, my boy, what is it?"

Larose regarded him very solemnly. "Charlie," he said, "a man I know has
committed a murder!"

"Pooh! pooh!" commented Stone airily, "that's nothing! You've known
plenty of people like that in your time." He smiled pleasantly. "Still,
if you've got anybody fresh, let's hear about him. Shedders of blood are
generally interesting."

"But first, of course, you've followed all about the return to life of
Sir Eric Roding?" asked Larose.

"Certainly, I've followed it all very carefully! It's unusual even in a
world of queer goings on."

"Well, when everyone was imagining Sir Eric dead," said Larose, "this
man murdered his own wife to marry Sir Eric's widow."

"I can quite understand that," nodded Stone, "for, from her photographs
in the magazines, she must be very beautiful. Who's the man?"

"He used to be a manager of a bank, but now he's a partner in a firm of
stockbrokers in the city."

"Good!" exclaimed Stone, "then we shall be hanging a man in Society
circles, and that's what the public want. They are saying the Yard has
been very slack lately and they are always yapping about one law for the
rich and another for the poor. Yes, excellent! It couldn't be better! Go
on and tell me your story."

So beginning only at his visit to Roding Hall, and saying nothing about
the theft of the green paste and its relation to Sir Eric's being buried
alive, Larose proceeded to tell all that had been happening to him
during the preceding few days.

He told how he became interested in the attractive but rather sinister
personality of Miles Hellingsby, of the rumours he had heard of
Hellingsby's undoubted intentions of paying immediate and violent court
to the young mistress of Roding Hall, even though not three months
previously his own wife had been drowned before his very eyes, and how,
happening to be in Tunbridge Wells and mentioning Hellingsby to the
superintendent of police there, the latter had fully opened Larose's
eyes to the ex-banker's character.

"Yes, Charlie," he went on, "I gathered that this chap was a real bad
egg, and it was in my mind to acquaint Sir Eric with that fact and
advise him to drop the friendship between them at once, as Hellingsby
should be marked dangerous. Then, hearing that a woman of nearly forty
years' service with Mrs. Hellingsby had been bringing upon herself
Hellingsby's dire displeasure, and a threat of action for slander, too,
because of the stories she had been telling about Hellingsby's treatment
of his dead wife, I was so interested that, on the quiet, I went to see
her."

And he went on with his story how, according to Selina Thompson,
Hellingsby had all along been trying to make his wife contract some
fatal illness, how the man had bullied and neglected Mrs. Hellingsby, of
his continual week-end visits to a supposed mysterious fisherman upon
Sheppey Island, and how, after his wife's death, upon the very next day,
he had bundled off her devoted maid at a moment's notice.

"And I am sure it was pure instinct, Charlie," nodded Larose, "that,
after listening to this woman, made me go on to Eastbourne. I am sure of
it, as up to then there was nothing to suggest to me she had been
murdered. Everyone believed her to have been drowned and, on the face of
it, the manner of her death looked perfectly unassailable and left
Hellingsby, at worst, a callous and uncaring husband." He shook his
head. "But at the back of my mind there was always the thought that this
drowning was most opportune for Hellingsby. It had occurred just at the
very moment when an ordinary decent woman, such as Lady Roding, who had
lost her husband and was imbued with all the conventionalities of
good-class social life, would begin to allow a man to show his
preference for her." He nodded again. "Lady Roding had been widowed then
for just nine months."

"But what about Hellingsby?" growled Stone. "You have just told me his
wife had not been dead three months."

"That is so," agreed Larose, "but public opinion is not so strict with a
man and, apart from that, Hellingsby had got the opportunity of letting
Lady Roding know exactly what his ultimate intentions would be. To put
it plainly, he was getting in first so that Lady Roding would not allow
her affections to stray in any other direction."

"But about this drowning," asked Stone a little impatiently, "how was it
faked?"

Then Larose went on with the rest of the story and the burly inspector's
eyes bulged and he tut-tutted many times as he heard how the body of
Mrs. Hellingsby had never been recovered and how Sid Hurley, the
boatman, had become the willing dupe of Hellingsby and been hypnotised
into giving the testimony that he had. The story was told to the end and
then a short silence followed. Stone leant across his desk and patted
Larose upon the shoulder.

"The Larose touch, my boy," he smiled, "that little spot of genius which
so often helped us when you were with us here at the Yard. You had
really nothing to go on and yet you seem to have worked out a complete
case against this man." He shook his head slowly. "But speaking
officially, I don't see that we can ever bring it home to him. We
haven't a hope in the world!"

"Oh, haven't we?" scoffed Larose. "But I mean to get him, right enough."

"And how, my son?" asked Stone, wrinkling up his forehead.

"Through the thirty guineas he paid for that sporting dog he bought,"
replied Larose instantly. "I want to look at his bank pass-book or the
butts of the particular cheque-book he was using just about that New
Year's day. Then, when I once get hold of the name of the man to whom he
paid the cheque, I shall learn in what exact locality Hellingsby was
that day, and it's any odds I shall find his bungalow close near." His
voice vibrated. "Yes, that bungalow which will link us up with the place
where he's hidden the body of that poor woman he killed."

"Wait a moment, Gilbert!" laughed Stone. "Wait a moment! You are going
round too fast! How do you know he didn't pay the thirty guineas, cash
down, for that dog?"

"I don't know," snapped Larose, "but I'm going no trumps on the
improbability of his carrying a large sum like thirty guineas about him.
He wasn't that kind of man."

"Still, there are men who always carry a good wad," commented Stone
doubtfully, "wherever they go."

"But he didn't," insisted Larose, "for Selina Thompson told me he paid
everything by cheque. She says she remembers his having his pocket
picked once in a crowd and his wallet taken, and he only laughed and
said he'd not lost much as he wasn't one of those mugs who carried about
with them everything they'd got."

"Well, then, supposing you do get the name of the man the cheque was
drawn to," argued Stone, "how will that help you? His address mayn't be
on the butt of the cheque and it certainly won't be in the bank
pass-book."

Larose clicked his tongue to the roof of his mouth. "Oh, Charlie, how
innocent you are for a great detective!" He pretended to look bored.
"When I get the name and, supposing it's the same as yours, Stone,
Charles Stone, I shall just ring up the secretary of the Kennel Club and
say, 'Hi, will you please tell me where a man called Charles Stone
lives, a chap who breeds thirty-guinea spotting dogs?'" He snapped his
fingers together. "Don't forget Hellingsby told his chauffeur that the
dog came from parents who had taken prizes in a show, so, of course, its
owner will be known in the dog world."

Stone smiled. "Good for you again, Gilbert!" he said, and then he added.
"But the next point is--can we be certain that, if he killed his wife,
he killed her in that bungalow?"

Larose heaved a big sigh. "Look here, Charlie," he said, "just put
yourself in that man's place, and think what you would have done in
exactly similar circumstances. Remember a dreadful passion for another
woman is consuming you, and you know you cannot gratify it until your
wife is dead. So murder has been in your heart for many months, as you
intend to have no pity whatsoever. You have all along been intending to
get rid of your wife somehow, and now that, by a most extraordinary
accident, everyone is believing her dead, you are determined to make
that death a reality. You know the actual killing of her will present no
difficulties as she is a weak ailing woman and will snuff out like a
candle."

He paused a moment as if to gather his thoughts together and then went
on.

"Well, where are you going to commit the murder? Where will be the best
place?" He lowered his voice impressively. "You have a bungalow
somewhere, which you are, perhaps, renting under an assumed name, and
you have taken care that no one about your home should know where it is.
If ever you have had companions with you there, they have probably never
learnt who you really were, for you are a man who has many secrets to
hide! The bungalow is empty now and you have the key to its door in your
pocket! It is lonely, for the wild duck fly around it and at night it is
all darkness on every side! You say to yourself----" but he broke off
suddenly, and, snapping his fingers together again, his voice rose to
its usual pitch. "Why, Charlie, this man had the very place ready to his
hand! What more could he have wanted?"

Stone nodded smilingly. "I have great faith in you, Gilbert, and there
is a lot in what you say. Yes, for the sake of our professional pride
now, we must find out where the bungalow is. But how the deuce you are
going to get at his pass-book or the butts of his cheque-book, I can't
see." His smile broadened. "Going to do a bit of burglary, my son, and
break into his house one night?"

Larose shook his head. "I've thought of it," he said, "but it's not
practicable. He's two big Alsatians and they're always let loose in the
grounds at nights. Then there are burglar alarms everywhere. Hellingsby
had them put in soon after he was married, because of the valuable
silver his wife possessed. No, that's not my idea at all. I intend----"

"But how do you know all this about the house?" interrupted Stone. "Have
you been inside?"

"No, but that Thompson woman has told me. I've got it out of her
tactfully, and she's even drawn me a plan of the house, to show what a
beautiful place Hellingsby came into."

"But does she know who you are?" asked Stone, bringing his eyes together
in an uneasy frown.

"No, and she's quite content not to know. I've seen her several times
and all she wants is to get Hellingsby jailed. I'm quite of opinion
she's trustworthy and can be relied upon to any extent. She's done some
spying out for me in Southborough and tells me Hellingsby has got all
new servants, including a new gardener-chauffeur."

"Then what's your plan of campaign?" asked Stone briskly. "Let's hear
it."

"Well, when I was staying in Roding Hall," said Larose, "everyone could
see that Hellingsby was very keen on cards and a great gambler, and
Selina tells me it's all over the village now that since his wife's
death he's thrown four or five hot card parties at the Hall. So I am
sure there'll be no difficulty in getting an invitation to go down and
then I shall want you to go with me."

"But I'm not what you call a hot card player," grunted Stone, "and I've
no money to lose in high stakes."

"Certainly not," agreed Larose, "and I'll take care we both come out on
the right side." He nodded. "I've got a strong suspicion Hellingsby's a
sharper, and if it comes to that"--he smiled--"as you know, I can
manipulate the cards a bit myself. So when we're partners together and
it's my deal, I'll take care we have some good hands."

"Good!" exclaimed Stone with a grin, "but you're a nice companion for a
man in my position to be associated with!" He nodded complacently.
"Still, it is sometimes necessary to meet evil with evil and I certainly
don't want to part with any cash."

"Well, Hellingsby is dining with me at the 'Rialto' to-morrow night,"
went on Larose, "and, of course, there'll be cards afterwards. So, I
want you to come and meet him."

"But he'll smell a rat at once," said Stone, "directly he learns I come
from the Yard!"

"But he won't learn it, you old fat-head," laughed Larose. "You'll be a
rich Australian sheep-man and you'll come all togged up and wearing a
big diamond ring. You'll be smoking half-crown cigars, too, from a most
expensive case. Ah, I thought that would get you! I'll supply the cigars
and the ring you'll borrow from old Rubinstein. The old rascal will lend
you anything to keep in your good books."

Stone frowned. "But I don't quite like it. I know nothing about sheep
and he may trip me up, too, about Australia."

"Nonsense, you have been to Australia and I know he hasn't. What does it
matter if you only went a voyage in a windjammer and you were not twenty
at the time? You've seen Sydney Harbour, and as for sheep, well, just
keep mum and say you've got Merinos which you only breed for wool. But
you can drop incidentally that you've got thirty thousand of them and
that your station runs to hundreds of square miles. Understand?"

"Yes," grinned Stone, "and as you say he's so fond of the women I'll
throw in a few little touches about the beautiful black gins."

"No, you old reprobate," exclaimed the horrified Larose. "Don't you
mention black gins. He may have seen pictures of them and they're as
ugly as the devil. Oh, one thing more. Bring a smart young fellow from
here to make up a fourth, someone who's used to flash life. Let him call
you Uncle, and he's to say he's going abroad the next day so that
Hellingsby won't invite him to Southborough, too. I shall say you only
play bridge, for we don't want more than one table when we go down."

"But he mayn't ask at all," said Stone doubtfully. "You can't be certain
of that."

"Oh, can't I?" scoffed Larose. "Why, he'll fall for your silly old face
like a cat jumping after a sparrow. No, don't you worry. He'll ask us
right enough. I lost eleven pounds to him at poker last week, and he'll
think we're both soft stuff as far as cards are concerned. He'll
probably, too, have a sharper pal with him at Southborough and they'll
guess they're going to strip us clean."

"But isn't he a very well-to-do man?" asked Stone. "You say he got all
that money out of his wife."

"Certainly he did," said Larose, "but no one knows how much of it he's
got left now. I have been asking about him in the city and they say he's
lost a fortune in rubber lately." He shook his head. "Besides, as you
know, Charlie, there are men who would always rather get things through
cheating than in an honest way." He spoke emphatically. "And this chap
is one of that kind."

It was quite a nice little dinner Larose gave at the 'Rialto,' with the
most expensive of food and the best of wines. The company were speedily
on good terms with one another and, without his in the least degree
overdoing it, it was soon apparent that the polished and courtly Miles
Hellingsby had taken quite a fancy to the bluff but genial Andy K.
Loxton, who came from down under where the kangaroos are.

He admired the way the old chap missed nothing on the menu and his keen
appreciation of the good wine. He admired, too, the modesty in which he
referred to his thirty thousand sheep and his hundreds of square miles;
but without doubt he admired most of all the magnificent diamond ring
which the sheep-farmer sported upon one short and podgy finger. He knew
a lot about diamonds but found it difficult to appraise the exact value
of the stone.

"Yes, Rubinstein has certainly come up to scratch there," murmured
Larose, following the direction of Hellingsby's eyes, "and the old devil
must be deep in the Yard's suspicions to have fitted Charlie up like
that. Why, the stone must be worth six or seven hundred pounds."

Bert Berry, too, the old man's nephew, interested Hellingsby not a
little and several times during the meal he regretted to himself that
the young fellow was leaving for abroad so soon. With that stupid
expression of his, Bert should have easily dropped a hundred or two of
his uncle's money and have been afraid to squeal to his rich relation
about it afterwards.

The meal passed off most pleasantly and towards the end of it,
notwithstanding the great reputation that he knew Larose had once
possessed, Hellingsby somehow began to sense that it was he himself who
was now 'top dog' and taking command of the little party. His opinion
was asked about a lot of matters and received almost respectfully. He
enlightened Larose considerably about stocks and shares, and the old
Australian's eyes opened very wide when he related the elaborate
precaution taken by the banks to protect themselves from being robbed.

At first he had to admit to himself he had been mildly astonished that
everything he said should be accepted so readily, but then he suddenly
realised that, after all, Larose, although with plenty of money now, was
only a common policeman at heart, and the Australian only an ignorant
old farmer. As for the nephew, it was plain he was nothing but a
nonentity.

Certainly at the beginning of the meal Hellingsby had been inclined to
be a little bit uneasy about Larose, for at Roding Hall he had thought
the ex-detective had a nasty inquisitive look about his eyes; but he
didn't notice that look now, and again, too, he was now seeing a side of
Larose's nature which he had never suspected before.

Larose took plenty of wine and it had its effect upon him. By no means,
however, did it make him raise his voice and his manners were as
irreproachable as ever, but he let himself go a little and gave
Hellingsby the impression that as a police officer he would not have
been altogether too squeamish and would always have been responsive to a
good tip.

But Hellingsby had no time for further ruminations, for after the meal
they adjourned to Larose's private room and settled down to a few hands
of bridge.

Then, again, Hellingsby's approval of the old sheep-farmer deepened, for
the latter brought out cigars that must have run into several five-pound
notes for the hundred. And he was most generous about them, too, for
finding Hellingsby liked them, he insisted upon his taking half a dozen
to smoke another time at his leisure.

Yes, when the party broke up soon after midnight, and Larose and his
friend had agreed to come down two days later for a night of bridge at
Southborough Hall, Hellingsby was of the opinion that he had had a very
pleasant evening, with the prospect, too, of a much more pleasant one to
follow later on.

He had certainly not acquired much wealth, indeed less than a couple of
pounds, but then both the Australian and his nephew had played a rotten
game, and, when Larose had partnered him, they had had, most
consistently, terribly bad hands.

"Still," he nodded complacently as a taxi was taking him to his own
hotel; "I'll have better luck on Thursday. With de Vome and me together
we'll touch the policeman for a tidy whack of his wife's money, and the
old kangaroo josser for the price of a big field of fat sheep."

But he would not have been quite so sanguine of good money coming his
way could he but have heard what his host and the other two were saying
at that very moment.

Stone had gone back to his usual set of artificial teeth, and,
straightening up his back, looked many years younger, whilst his
supposed nephew had now an alert expression and appeared to be very much
all there.

"The blighter's finger-marks are upon that one at the end," said the
young detective, pointing to some glasses upon the sideboard, "and mind
no one touches it. I'll get my bag and put it in at once." He nodded. "I
don't suppose they are recorded already, but they may be useful later
on."

But neither of his companions appeared to be paying much attention. They
were laughing merrily and enjoying their jokes too wholeheartedly. Then
Stone dug Larose delightedly in the ribs.

"Gee, but didn't he notice my big jewel!" he chuckled. "He couldn't take
his eyes off it the whole evening!" He chuckled again. "And what a good
sheep-farmer I made! I could almost feel the darned wool growing on my
whiskers."

"But you shouldn't have boasted about the number of rabbits you'd got,"
reproved Larose. "You ought to have known they poison them off on
stations in Australia." He grinned. "Still, he never heard you or took
it in, as he was much too preoccupied dealing himself those four aces."
He regarded Stone significantly. "Yes, he is a card-sharper right enough
and I'll bet any money that the aristocratic Monsieur de Vome we are
going to meet on Thursday is another one, too."

The two detectives took their departure very soon afterwards. Larose was
just about to switch off the lights in the sitting-room, when his eye
happened to fail upon the glasses on the sideboard and he frowned a
rather perplexed frown.

Then he suddenly walked sharply over to the sideboard and looked into
the glasses. "Yes, he's taken the wrong one!" he exclaimed in annoyance.
"I thought he had! Hellingsby finished up with a neat brandy and he
didn't drink it all! This is his glass with what's left of the neat
brandy still in it!" He sniffed at the other two glasses. "Yes, it is
my glass the careless beggar has taken! My last two drinks were plain
water and there's no glass here which has had plain water in it." He
smiled to himself. "Won't I just have the joke on that young fellow
to-morrow!"

But he thought no more about the matter until the next morning when,
very late for him, he was breakfasting at half-past nine in the
dining-room of the hotel, and then suddenly in the middle of his meal a
terribly disconcerting thought leaped into his mind.

The previous night Stone and the young fellow with him had taken away
his finger-marks, under the mistaken idea that they were
Hellingsby's. Then, when they had obtained the prints of them and came
to search if they were recorded already--oh, heavens, they would
discover them as identical with the finger-marks left by the mysterious
visitor to Daunt's house upon the night of the disappearance of the
grave-digger!

Larose felt a cold shiver running down his spine, for he knew that if
ever Hellingsby came to be arrested and his finger-marks taken again, as
they most certainly would be, then it would be discovered instantly that
those already in the possession of the Yard and supposed to be his were
in reality someone else's. Then it would be realised that if not
Hellingsby's, the prints must certainly be those of one of the other
three who had been drinking with him that night at the Rialto
Hotel--either Stone's, the young detective's, or his, Larose's!

Then would follow a quick investigation and--oh, hell, this time,
without doubt and with no uncertainty, it would be shown that Larose was
linked up with the grave-digger.

Yes, verily he was between the devil and the deep sea, for with the
unmasking of Hellingsby would come his own discomfiture. They two would
leap into the limelight together.

Then suddenly he took heart and snapped his fingers triumphantly. And
what did it matter if it were brought to light that he had been with the
grave-digger that night, and, in the peculiar circumstances, had not
wished his visit to become known? Why, nothing, of course! It was his
own private concern and nobody else's business and he could not be
compelled to say anything.

Then he shivered again. No, nothing would matter--unless that secret
chamber under the floor was discovered and the rotting body of the
grave-digger brought up into the light of day!

Then, and then only, would fall the avalanche!

       *       *       *       *       *

Larose was just about to sit down to lunch, when what he had been
expecting all the morning happened. He was called to the telephone and
Stone's excited voice greeted him. Hellingsby's finger-marks had been
found to be identical with those of the mysterious visitor to the
grave-digger, when the latter had disappeared upon the eventful night!

The inspector thought the coincidence to be almost a miraculous one,
but, of course, had not the remotest idea what to make of it. They must
discuss it together, he said, on the morrow as they were driving down to
Southborough. Larose hung up the receiver with the very unpleasant
feeling that things were threatening to become most awkward.




CHAPTER XII.--A NARROW ESCAPE


The following afternoon Larose and the happy-looking Andy Loxton, in the
former's beautifully appointed car, drove through the big gates into the
grounds of Southborough Hall, and at once their adventures began.

Through his study window Miles Hellingsby had seen them coming up the
drive, and he was at the front door as the car came to a standstill. He
greeted them cordially and then, as they stood chatting together for a
minute or two, the hall chauffeur appeared to drive the car into the
garage.

The man touched his forehead respectfully to his master and the two
arrivals and then his eyes lingered in a puzzled sort of way upon old
Loxton. Larose, who was very much upon the alert and, as had been his
life's habit when upon a case, never missed anything, became instantly
uneasy. Not only did the man's gaze linger upon Loxton's face, but at
the same time he looked, Larose thought, most unduly interested and
curious.

"Take the car round to the garage, Mawson," ordered Hellingsby, and with
a start the man withdrew his eyes from the sheep-farmer's face.

"Come on, you chaps," went on Hellingsby smilingly. "You must have a
spot, first, and then I'll take you to your room. No, leave the
suit-cases there. The maid will see to them." He ushered the two friends
into the big lounge and asked them what they would have to drink.

They both chose whisky and soda, and then, when they had all seated
themselves down in comfortable armchairs and raised their glasses to one
another's health, Larose rose suddenly to his feet.

"Oh, excuse me one minute," he exclaimed, "but I've left my cigarette
case in the car! I saw where the garage was and I'll go and get it."

"No, no," remonstrated Hellingsby instantly, "don't you go. I'll send on
one of the maids."

"But she wouldn't find it," smiled Larose. "Please, I'll get it," and he
was off before his host could raise any further objections.

Entering the garage, Larose found the car had just been backed into its
destined place. The chauffeur was a pleasant-looking man about two or
three and twenty, with a frank and open face.

Larose pretended to fumble in one of the pockets of the car and then
produced the cigarette case which he had all the time been holding in
his hand.

"Beautiful car, sir," said the chauffeur, almost reverently, "but I
expect it's hot on petrol."

"No, not very," returned Larose, "you'd be surprised. I get nearly
twenty miles to the gallon," and he took out a cigarette and lighted it.
"Oh, by the by," he went on, "I think I must have got a dirty plug
somewhere. The engine was missing quite a lot when we started. So you
might give all the plugs a run over, if you will." With a pleasant smile
he took out and gave a ten-shilling note to the surprised and very
delighted young fellow.

"Yes, the missing quite worried my friend," went on Larose, "and he was
afraid, every moment, that something terrible was going to happen." He
kept his eyes intently upon the chauffeur as he added: "But then, Mr.
Loxton does not know much about the insides of cars."

"Mr. Loxton!" exclaimed the chauffeur instantly, and looking very
puzzled, "but he is----" and then he stopped speaking and looked rather
embarrassed.

"But he is----what?" asked Larose with a smiling face, but a most
unpleasant feeling in his chest.

"He is Chief-Inspector Stone of Scotland Yard," stammered the young man.
He spoke most apologetically. "I know him quite well, by sight, sir, I
have often seen him!" Larose was in a dreadful quandary and, for the
life of him, did not know what to say. Here was a terrible misfortune,
threatening to ruin all their plans!

"You see, sir," went on the chauffeur quickly, "my dad's in the Force as
well. He's one of the constables stationed outside the Yard and when
I've been passing or taking a message to him from Mum, he's often
pointed out to me some of the heads. That's how I come to recognise
Inspector Stone."

Larose picked up his cue at last. "Oh, your dad's a policeman, is he?"
He spoke very sternly. "Then you ought to know how to keep a still
tongue."

"Oh, I do, sir," said the chauffeur instantly, "and I won't mention it
to anyone if I ought not to." He smiled. "I was very puzzled for the
moment, for the inspector looked so much older just now and his mouth
and teeth were quite different." He lowered his voice to a whisper. "Has
he come here on duty, sir?"

"Yes, he darned well has," said Larose with the utmost sharpness, "and
if it gets out through you he's here," he nodded menacingly, "then it
won't he too good for your father."

"Oh, you can trust me, sir," exclaimed the young man warmly, "I'll not
tell a soul." He nodded in his turn. "I've only been here a month and
I'm not going to be here much longer. The place doesn't suit me at all.
Sometimes I don't get home until two or three in the morning, and then I
have to be up again at six o'clock to work in the garden." He shook his
head. "Besides, I don't like the master."

"And why don't you like him?" asked Larose, snapping out his words
quickly as he realised he could only stop in the garage a minute or two
longer.

"He's very bad-tempered, sir, and he's not got a good name here,"
replied the chauffeur. "Besides, we all think"--but he broke off
suddenly and asked as if very uncomfortable at daring to question
Larose: "Have you come down to play cards, sit?

"Yes, certainly," replied Larose, "that's one of our reasons for being
here."

The young man shook his head. "Then be careful, sir," he said,
anxiously. "Be very careful. Visitors here have been losing a lot of
money lately. Cook overheard one of them say, last week, that he'd
dropped over three hundred pounds and several parties haven't been
looking too happy as they've driven away the next morning."

"But I mustn't stop a moment longer," scowled Larose. He raised his hand
warningly. "And mind--not a word of this conversation either now or at
any time after we have gone. You understand?"

"That'll be quite all right, sir," replied the chauffeur, "and you
needn't give it another thought. No one will get a word out of me." Then
just as Larose was turning out of the garage, he called out sharply:
"But here's something else, sir, I think you ought to know." He advanced
close up to Larose and whispered mysteriously: "Yesterday, there was an
electrician from town working all day in the room you are both going to
have and the master himself took up his dinner, so that none of us in
the kitchen should speak to him. I don't know what he did, but I'm very
interested in radio and happened to come round to the front door just as
he was taking something out of his car that looked to me very like a
microphone." He nodded. "So I shouldn't talk too loud when you and
Inspector Stone are together in your room. The master may be a bit
suspicious of you, as you were once at Scotland Yard!" He smiled. "He is
sure to know that."

"Many thanks to you," said Larose warmly, "and you and I must manage
another talk somehow to-night." And off he went up the drive.

"Great Jupiter," he murmured, "but what an escape! If I hadn't got my
eyes skinned, everything would have been ruined before we'd even
started! Whew, won't old Charlie perspire when I tell him!"

He found his host and old Loxton in the lounge where he had left them
and, to account for his long absence, was just explaining how his
cigarette case had slipped down behind the cushion of the seat, when the
sounds of a car were heard outside. A minute later they were being
introduced to Monsieur Jules de Vome.

The Frenchman was a dapper little man, very elegant and well-dressed,
and looking exactly as if he had just stepped out of the proverbial
band-box. He was somewhere in the middle thirties, with a refined
intellectual face and big dark eyes. His appearance was that of a
professional man. He spoke English very well, although he could not
manage the th's and the w's.

"I am from Paris," he explained to the two friends with a courtly bow,
"and I have not long been in zis beautiful country of yours. I love
England, and English gentlemen have ze stamp of pure gold. Ah, but you
are from Australia! Vell, it is ze same zing!"

"And what do you think of our gals?" laughed old Loxton. "They're pretty
good, too, ain't they?"

Monsieur de Vome raised his eyes ecstatically, "Pearls above prices,
peaches and most lovely flowers!" He smiled slily. "If I did marry here,
I should vant to have more vives zan your law allows." He pretended to
sigh. "Zat is vy I am single man."

Presently Hellingsby took the two friends upstairs and showed them into
a large and very comfortably furnished room. "I do hope you won't mind
sharing this together," he apologised, "but as a matter of fact, I am
just having the decorators in, and although there are any amount of
bedrooms here, they are all topsy-turvy at present, being got ready for
the mess the workmen will make. Besides, this is almost my favourite
room in the whole house. The view here is so lovely."

Both Larose and Mr. Loxton expressed their delight with their
surroundings and a minute or two later Hellingsby retired and left them
to themselves.

Then when Stone was grinning like a big school-boy and just about to
make some remark, Larose shook his head frowningly and, with one finger
upon his lips, pointed in stabbing jerks several times to the chimney
and then to the two big ventilators, one of the latter on either side of
the room.

"Lovely old place this, Andy," he said loudly. "I wonder you, with all
your money, don't live in England. You get the best value in the world
in the country." He took a pencil and little memorandum book out of his
pocket and scribbled quickly upon one of the pages of the latter the one
word "Microphone!"

Stone's eyebrows went up with a jerk and he looked most uneasy. But
Larose scribbled on, "Still everything quite serene--my informant, the
chauffeur--he recognised you--his dad, Police Constable Mawson, outside
the Yard---don't worry!"

And then proceeded what would have been, for anyone watching, a most
amusing little comedy, with the two friends loudly and enthusiastically
discussing the beautiful stretch of country they could see from the
window and, at the same time, feverishly communicating their thoughts to
each other upon a sheet of notepaper that Larose had taken from out of
his suit-case.

"Lucky I saw chauffeur ogling you!" wrote Larose.

"But no danger, if he's like his father. Mawson very good officer,"
wrote back Stone.

"We're in a den of thieves, Charlie."

"Sure! But if it comes to a scrap, there are only two of them!"

"What do you think of de Vome?"

"Beautiful hands, Gilbert. Just the ones for a card-sharper!"

"And to stick a knife into you, too, Charlie!"

"Sure! He looks an elegant little devil. I hope to blazes they don't
dope the drinks."

"Not they. They'd gain nothing by that. But I must have another talk
with that young Mawson. We'll get H. to show us over the grounds and
then you keep them talking whilst I slip over to the garage."

"O.K. I'll tell them that yarn about the girl and the sailor and I'll
spin it out. You nudge me when you want to get away, and then I'll start
the story."

"Good luck to us, Charlie."

"The Lord help us, Gilbert. We don't quite know what we're in for."

"Well, Andy, you just be quick and have your wash," said Larose loudly.
"I'll get Hellingsby to show us over these grounds. They look lovely to
me."

And so, a few minutes later, the master of Southborough Hall, along with
the bowing and ever smiling Monsieur de Vome, was conducting the two
friends through his beautiful grounds.

He took them at first, however, to the kennels and showed them with
great pride his two big Alsatians. They were magnificent-looking
creatures, but regarded their master's companions with anything but
friendly eyes.

"No, don't go near them," Hellingsby ordered Larose sharply, as the
latter was advancing close up. "They're not too friendly with strangers
and I don't want them to be. I only keep them as watch-dogs and they're
never off the chain, except at night when they roam about the grounds."
He smiled a grim smile. "Then Heaven help anyone they find prowling
here!" He regarded them frowningly. "Still, I'm not too pleased with
them lately. They've taken to parking themselves right over there by the
gates, a good way from the house they ought to be protecting, and,
besides that, they growl at everyone going by on the high road. The
damned policeman came up to me about it last week and said they
frightened people in the village, coming home on foot."

Passing along through the garden, they came upon Mawson tying up some
rose trees, and both Larose and Stone were greatly heartened by the
stolid look the chauffeur had now put on. In enthusiastic admiration of
the blooms, Larose lagged behind to inspect them more fully and then,
with his back turned to the others, hissed out sharply to Mawson: "Look
here, I want another word with you. How can we manage it? Where do you
sleep?"

"In the house, sir," replied Mawson. "I'm the only one on the ground
floor. I have a room behind the pantry."

"And the pantry opens into the kitchen," said Larose, swiftly calling up
to his mind's eye the plan Selina Thompson had drawn for him. "Then your
room is at the far end of the passage?"

"Yes, sir, on the other side of the house. The window is the last one
facing north."

"All right," said Larose, "then I'll come and speak to you soon after
we've all gone upstairs to go to bed. But it won't be, at any rate,
until after two in the morning. Leave your door unlatched and drop a
piece of newspaper just outside in the passage. I don't want to go into
the wrong room." As if now satisfied with his inspection of the roses,
he followed after the others.

The dinner was a good one. Plenty of wine was drunk and the conversation
was bright and animated. Monsieur de Vome told them of the noble family
from which he had sprung and of his big estate upon the Biscay coast.
Also, he related anecdotes of many illustrious personages in foreign
countries, with whom, apparently, he was upon most intimate terms.

"And you, Monsieur Larose," he asked presently, with his gracious smile,
"no doubt you, too, have been brought in contact viz many famous people
in your time?"

"Certainly," smiled back Larose, "lots of them; Brunswick, who poisoned
three wives; Maloney, who's habit it was to decoy victims to his house
and bury them under his cellar; Robjohn, whose little weakness was
cutting throats on lonely roads, and many, many others." He chuckled
lightheartedly. "Oh, yes, I've known plenty of famous people, but
unhappily the mortality among them has been pretty high and there is
only the memory of them to console me now," and Monsieur de Vome seemed
most delighted at his new friend's wit.

But if the dinner was a noisy one, it could hardly have been said that
the bridge that followed after was also of so joyous a nature, for all
but the stolid Andy Loxton seemed to take the game too seriously. They
were much too preoccupied. Of course, that was only natural with
Monsieur de Vome, for he admitted quite frankly he was no card-player
and was obliged to concentrate all his attention upon the game to keep
himself from making some dreadfully foolish mistake.

"Well," had smiled Hellingsby to the two friends as they all entered his
cosy study where the play was to take place, "shall we cut for partners,
or shall de Vome and I take you chaps on?" He laughed. "I want to give
you some sort of revenge for that hiding you got from me when at the
Rodings."

"Oh, we'll take you two on," replied Larose instantly. "In a way, I'm
sorry it's not poker we're going to play, but Mr. Loxton is no good
there, although"--he nodded emphatically--"as you know he plays a
rattling good hand at bridge."

"Then what points shall we play?" asked Hellingsby. "Shall we say ten
pounds a hundred?"

Larose considered for a moment. He was quite aware they were up against
two sharpers, but he and Stone had come quite prepared, and if there was
going to be any cheating then they would have to have their share in it.
They had most carefully arranged for a code of secret signals, so that
each other's hands would be like an open book, even as undoubtedly de
Vome's and Hellingsby's would be to them.

"But that's rather high," he said doubtfully, and de Vome nodded at once
in pretended agreement.

But Stone, whom the good burgundy had warmed up and who was delighted at
the thought of being a real rogue for once, sided with Hellingsby.

"No, a tenner let it be!" he exclaimed, "I've a nice fat wool cheque
coming in and I'm ripe for a good gamble."

So ten pounds a hundred was decided upon and they sat down to play. They
were all good players and, in the ordinary way, the play would have been
thoroughly interesting to watch, but, with the peculiar circumstances
prevailing, it was now doubly so.

Hellingsby and de Vome won the first game and lost the second, but then
they ran out with next two and won the rubber.

Hellingsby smiled down his nose and tapped de Vome's foot ever so
lightly, the latter returning his tap and telling himself the world was
a very nice place to live in. Things were going on all right and they
both envisioned a fat cheque about two a.m., when it had been agreed
they should stop playing.

But Hellingsby did not smile when in the next rubber Larose and Andy
Loxton ran out with three games straight off the reel, and Monsieur de
Vome was no longer quite so sure that the world was such a pleasant
habitation as he had thought--when the score came to be added up.

Their opponents had played most uncannily, with each of them seeming to
know exactly what cards the other held. Certainly they themselves had
not been behind-hand in that matter, but the cards had been dead against
them and the advantage accruing from their secret signalling had not
been sufficient to turn the scales in their favour.

And then for nearly six hours the play went on, ding-dong, ding-dong,
with neither side having much over the other. De Vome nearly always
managed to deal himself an ace, but then so did Larose, and the elegant
Frenchman had difficulty in preventing a dark scowl becoming a fixture
upon his handsome face.

Hellingsby drank many brandies and Andy Loxton absorbed the good whisky
of his host like a sponge, but without it, apparently, having the
slightest effect upon him. Larose and De Vome were most abstemious, the
former because he knew he had his night's work before him, and the
latter because he was quite aware shaking fingers could not palm aces to
the bottom of the pack.

Larose and Stone made no attempt to find out how the other two were
communicating with one another, just taking it for granted they were
doing so, but Hellingsby and de Vome never took their eyes off their
opponents, watching their every movement and puzzled to the highest
degree. Quite early in the evening they began to feel they were not
quite sure they were not being paid back in their own coin, and yet, for
the life of them, they could detect nothing wrong. This ex-policeman and
this stupid old farmer kept them guessing the whole time.

How could they tell when old Andy wanted a spade call, he did not lift
his eyes from his cards, or when he wanted no trumps, he no longer
smiled? Or that when Larose had an expression like that of the Sphinx he
had a good heart hand, or that when he was no longer smoking his eternal
cigarette he was strong in diamonds? And so on, and so on, with every
signal between them of a negative nature. When they gave no sign they
were signalling violently.

Hellingsby cursed under his breath and de Vome murmured dreadful oaths
that were unbecoming a scion of the French nobility. He had never been
more furious, even when as a waiter in a fifth-rate cafe in Marseilles a
customer had gone off without giving him a tip.

With the finish of the seventh rubber, when they had crashed heavily,
Hellingsby gave his partner a savage kick and it hurt so much that de
Vome could have struck him with the knuckle-duster he had got in a
suit-case upstairs with the greatest of pleasure.

At twenty minutes to two Larose announced he would play no longer, as
his eyes, he said, were so blurred he could not see the cards without a
great effort. So they proceeded to settle up.

On the whole play Hellingsby and de Vome had just lost, and considering
the high stakes the loss was amazingly trifling. Hellingsby threw back
the roll-top of his desk and wrote out a cheque for seven pounds twelve
shillings, covering his own loss and that of de Vome. Larose was filled
with a great hope when he noticed Hellingsby did not immediately close
the desk.

"But I'm not satisfied," he laughed, as he folded up the cheque and
placed it in his pocket-book. "It's at poker I must have my revenge on
you. Mr. Loxton is following that nephew of his to Brussels the day
after to-morrow, so leaving him out won't worry him. Phone me at Carmel
Abbey any day after next week, and I'll come up and have a night with
you fellows and win something substantial." A little satisfaction came
into Hellingsby's eyes as he thought of the skinning that would take
place then.

Bidding them good-night, Larose and Stone went up to their room and
then, half a minute later, Hellingsby, closely followed by de Vome,
darted up to his.

"And now we'll know!" he exclaimed breathlessly as he unlocked a big
cupboard and the two of them bent close to a large receiver. His face
was not pleasant to look upon. "And, by Hell, we ought to murder them if
we find we've been the suckers to-night."

The voices of Larose and Stone, three rooms away, were heard with the
utmost clearness.

"Yes, Andy," Larose was saying, with many delighted winks which
fortunately the eavesdroppers could not see, "you played very well
to-night, and I think, the whole time, you only lost two tricks."

"Two tricks be damned, Gilbert," growled old Loxton. "I don't agree I
lost one." He made gleeful sounds with his tongue. "Yes, I was a corker
to-night, but it was that burgundy which bucked me up. I felt half tight
all the time. Gee, but won't I have a headache to-morrow!"

"Hellingsby makes a very decent host," went on Larose, "but what do you
make of the Frenchy?"

"A damned fine player, Gilbert," answered Andy, "and I don't believe for
a second he's not used to cards, as he says. He looks a smart and clever
little devil to me, and although he may have pots of money, I'll bet
he's as greedy for getting a bit more as anyone could be."

"An aristocrat, right enough," commented Larose. "You can tell that by
his hands." De Vome, listening in, notwithstanding his intense venation,
smiled in much amusement, being quite aware that his mother, a lady who
had earned her livelihood in a profession it is never good taste to
refer to in polite conversation, had had no certain knowledge who the
father of her son was.

Then to the listeners-in came sounds of the two undressing, with shoes
being bumped on to the floor. Then followed the voice of the old
sheep-farmer.

"But look here, Gilbert, I don't like these old houses," he said. "There
are always ghosts in them, and I'll bet there's a haunted room somewhere
here. So I'm going to bolt or lock the door. Oh, gosh! there's no key or
bolt, so I'll have to tilt a chair under the handle."

"Don't be so silly, Andy," reproved Larose. "It'll look so funny if the
maid brings in our tea in the morning."

"But I'll take it away first thing," said Andy, and then followed sounds
indicating that he had accomplished his purpose.

The click of the light was heard next and then the two listeners in the
other room moved away from the cupboard.

"Fools, just fools!" commented de Vome sourly. "Zat policeman can never
have had intelligence except ven he vas on his beat."

"I don't know so much about that," scowled Hellingsby. "I'm puzzled even
now." He dismissed his companion with a jerk of his head. "Well,
goodnight. I want my bed now. I'm sick of everything that's happened."

Ten minutes later all under its roof should have been asleep in
Southborough Hall, but, had it been only known, five of its occupants
were very much awake.

The chauffeur was pinching himself hard to keep from dozing; Larose and
Stone, both in pyjamas, were seated close together upon one bed and
discussing in delighted whisperings the happenings of the night;
Hellingsby was tossing restlessly, with his furious disappointment
allowing him no peace, and Monsieur de Vome was lying wide-eyed and
staring into the darkness, very angry with himself because it had only
just come home to him that anyone who could deal cards in the lightning
fashion in which that policeman-fellow had done would be the very person
able to stack an ace at the bottom of the pack every time he wanted to
when he was dealing the cards.

Yes, Jean Moraine was a very angry man, giving no thought to his
nobility and his ancestral home upon the shores of Biscay Bay.

An hour longer passed, and then Larose, after grinning "Booh," in
Stone's ear, got up from the bed and prepared himself for his adventure.
Over his pyjamas he put a dark jacket and a dark pair of trousers. Then
he donned a dark cap, which he pulled low down over his forehead, and
put on a pair of black rubber-soled canvas shoes. Then he donned rubber
gloves and, making sure he had got certain articles in his pocket, after
final whispered instructions to Stone not to stir from the room, but be
waiting with the door just ajar for his return, he glided from the
darkness of the room into the darkness of the passage.

For a long time he stood perfectly still--listening. But he could hear
only the ticking of the big clock in the hall below and the faint sounds
of his own breathing. Then, far away, came the deep barking of a dog.

"Ugh!" he shuddered, "it would not be too good for me out there." With
his hand just brushing the wall, and taking each step forward with
extreme care, he glided along the passage. He was intending not to pass
Hellingsby's door, but to gain the hall by means of the back staircase.

It was a faint starlight night and, his eyes accustomed more to the
darkness, he had no difficulty in finding his way. The stairs creaked a
little, but he planted his feet every time close to the wall and a cat
could hardly have made less noise. He flashed his torch as few times as
possible and always directed it so that its range would fall only a few
feet ahead.

Reaching the ground floor, and with Selina's plan of the house in his
mind, he soon found where the chauffeur slept and stepped softly into
the room. He flashed his torch upon the young fellow, who was sitting up
in bed.

"It's all right, my friend," he whispered, "and now you've got to help
me. Now listen. I'm going to look for something in your master's study
and you're to keep watch and listen for the slightest sound of any
movements upstairs. I shall be depending entirely upon you to warn me,
and if everything goes off well Inspector Stone says he won't forget
your dad. You understand?"

"Yes, sir," whispered back the chauffeur, thrilled to the very marrow at
the thought that he was to work, as it were, under the eyes of the great
Gilbert Larose and Inspector Stone. "But how am I going to warn you?"

"I'll show you," said Larose. "Come on." Flashing his torch more
confidently now, he led the way into the hall.

"Now this is what you've got to do," he whispered, stopping before the
big clock and opening the glass cover over the dial. "See, it's ten
minutes past three now. Well, if you hear any door opening anywhere or
any suspicious sounds at all, move the minute hand forward so that the
clock will strike the half-hour. I shall know then that there is danger
somewhere. I oughtn't to be five minutes over my job in the study and
shall be back here to you long before the half-hour will strike in the
ordinary way. Now, have you taken that in?"

"Yes, sir," nodded the chauffeur. "I quite understand."

"And one thing more," went on Larose. "I saw that the electric meter is
just back there under the well of the stairs. Well, if you see any light
go up anywhere upstairs or in the hall, instantly dash over to the meter
and cut off everything at the main. Then I shall be able to get back to
my room in the darkness. Oh, and if that happens, which I hope to
goodness it doesn't, when you've given what you think is sufficient time
for me to have got back to my room, turn on the meter again so that no
one will know it has been interfered with. They'll think then it was
only a temporary failure of the light. One last thing: don't touch the
meter switch with your bare hand. Pull the sleeve of your pyjamas down
over your fingers."

Reaching the study door, Larose pushed it wide open and then, switching
on his torch, tiptoed into the room and prepared to tackle the lock of
the big roll-top desk. Then, a little to his astonishment, and greatly
to his delight, for he judged Hellingsby to be a most methodical man, he
found the desk wide open, just as Hellingsby had left it after having
written his cheque for the losses at cards that night.

"But I'll bet," grinned Larose, "that this comes from his being in such
a darned hurry to rush up to his room and listen to what we were
saying!"

Suddenly a calamitous thing happened. Larose lay down his switched-on
torch upon the edge of the desk, in order that he might have both hands
free to search for the pass-book; and it rolled off and fell with a thud
upon the carpet, plunging the room instantly into darkness.

He clenched his teeth and made a grimace as if he were suffering actual
pain, for he knew Hellingsby's bedroom was just over the study. For
minute after minute he stood listening, straining his ears to catch the
slightest movement above. But he heard nothing save the loud ticking of
the clock in the hall and the barking of the dogs that was still going
on.

Then he swore deeply when, upon retrieving the torch from the floor, he
found it was now useless, the bulb having evidently been broken by the
fall.

There was no help for it and he had to feel for the switch and bring
into use the light over the desk. Then he looked uneasily towards the
curtains before the long french window. They did not reach quite up to
the top and he knew a bar of light would be now showing outside.

"But I'll have to risk it," he muttered, "and at this time of the night
it should be pretty safe. No one is likely to be in the grounds with
those dogs about. Yes, it will be quite safe."

But at that very moment Hellingsby was getting out of bed. Half dozing,
he had heard the noise the torch had made, but after a moment's hard
listening, and hearing nothing more, he had thought he must have been
mistaken. He was now wanting a drink of water.

With lightning movements Larose began to go through the contents of the
desk, but his search was very short, for, right at the top of everything
in the very first drawer he opened, he came upon the pass-book, and his
eyes glinted as he rapidly turned the pages.

Now during all his years of work as a detective, so many of Larose's
signal successes had been accomplished by his ability of being able to
place every matter in its right perspective at once. He never allowed
himself to be bound by any hard-and-fast rules and always gave his
imagination free play.

So now, finding no entry in the pass-book of any payment of the sum of
thirty guineas about the beginning of the year, he was not thrown off
the trail, but seeing one of twenty guineas, drawn to R. T. Hedges, and
debited against the account on January 3rd, he knew instinctively that
he had found what he was looking for. Hellingsby had been boasting when
he had said the dog had cost thirty guineas. He had only paid twenty for
it and, quite satisfied, Larose shut up the pass-book and put it back in
the drawer.

Then for one brief moment he was letting his eye rove round the contents
of the pigeon-holes in the desk, when suddenly he gave a deep gasp and
his very blood froze in his veins.

The clock in the hall had struck the half-hour.

Then things happened with incredible rapidity.

A sharp click and a cluster of lights went up in the hall. Then for the
fraction of a second Hellingsby stood framed in the doorway of the
study, his head bent forward and his upraised hand clenching an
automatic. Larose could even see his gleaming but blinking eyes and his
bared teeth under the tightly-drawn back lips.

Then Larose's arm shot out and the study was plunged into darkness.

"Come out, you, there," shouted Hellingsby hoarsely. "I saw you and I'm
going to shoot if you don't." There was no response from the blackness
of the study and a dead silence reigned. Larose was crouching down
behind the desk.

"Very well, then," went on Hellingsby furiously, "you'll be sorry for it
in a minute." He began walking quickly backwards towards the hall door,
with his eyes still staring straight before him and his pistol hand
upraised.

Larose was moistening his dry lips with his tongue. He had not yet lost
all hope and was waiting for the lights to go out.

"He couldn't have recognised me," he murmured. "His eyes were blinded by
the light and if I can get back upstairs, he'll never be certain what
he's seen. But what the devil is he up to now?"

But Larose was soon to learn that, for reaching the hall door,
Hellingsby felt for the catch of the lock and in a second had it open.
Then he shouted loudly. "Diana, Pluto, here, here!"

"Hell," murmured Larose, "I'll be torn to pieces if that chauffeur's not
quick!" Then at last the lights went out.

It was fortunate for Larose that he had his eyes glued upon Hellingsby
through the widely opened study door, for with the coming of the
darkness he was able to dart like lightning out of the room without
knocking up against the doorway. Then with the polished wood flooring of
the hall under his feet, he continued to run forward until he felt he
was upon the long stretch of carpet, which he knew ran from the hall
door right up to the foot of the staircase.

Then instantly he bent almost double and, with the edge of the carpet
running through his fingers and acting as a guide, he soon reached the
stairs and was racing up them with his hand upon the banisters.

Once upon the first floor, the rest was easy and he barged into the much
worried and perspiring Stone, who was crouching down outside their door.

"Quick, inside," panted Larose, "whilst I take off these things. Then
we'll come out again with a lot of noise." He could not keep the elation
out of his voice. "Yes, I got it, but only just in time."

In the meantime Hellingsby had been shouting hoarsely, one moment to the
Alsatians and the next to Mawson and the others. "Hi, hi! Where are you,
Mawson? Come here, quick. Bring a light, Larose, de Vome. There's a
burglar in the house! Pluto, Diana, come here, you brutes."

Then suddenly the lights went up again and the chauffeur appeared in the
hall, belting up his trousers, and blinking painfully as if he had just
been roused from sleep.

"What is it, sir?" he asked, looking very white and scared.

"There's a man in my study," cried Hellingsby in a frenzy of excitement.
"There are two of them in the house and the other one put out the
lights. Look----" but at that moment the two big dogs lurched into the
hall. "In there, Pluto," he shouted, running to the doorway of the
study. "Sool him, Diana. Sool him," and the animals plunged into the
darkness.

But no dreadful shrieks for help followed and no dreadful snarls from
the Alsatians. Then Mawson, covered by his masters pistol, ventured to
go into the room and switched on the two lights; it was found that it
was empty and the two dogs were only sniffing about.

"Well, he got out in the darkness," insisted Hellingsby. By this time
Larose, Stone, de Vome and the two frightened maidservants had arrived
into the hall from various parts of the house, and a vigorous search was
at once instituted.

But no signs of any burglars could be found anywhere. The windows were
all shut and the back door was found locked; the dogs, too, soon became
apathetic, with their only interest, apparently, what they could smell
in the larder.

"But they must be here," reiterated Hellingsby angrily. "First, I heard
a thump in my study about five minutes ago, but like a fool I didn't
take any notice of it, thinking I must have been mistaken. Then, a few
minutes later, getting up to have a drink of water, I saw a shaft of
light from above the study window extending right across a lawn. Then I
rushed down with my pistol; a light was on in my study and I saw a man,
most distinctly, bending over the desk."

"But what was he like?" asked Larose, his heart beating a little
painfully.

"Rather short, I think, and wearing a cap," said Hellingsby, "but I only
saw him for a second and them he switched out the light. Then when I
opened the front door and yelled to the dogs, all the lights I had
switched on in the hall suddenly went out."

"Well, has anything been taken?" asked Loxton, who looked an odd
spectacle in some highly coloured pyjamas which showed off the curves of
his fat body in a most grotesque fashion.

"I don't know," replied Hellingsby irritably, "I haven't looked yet."
Investigations proved that nothing was missing.

"They may have slipped by you, sir, in the darkness," ventured the
chauffeur timidly, "and got out of the front door."

"How could they, you fool?" retorted Hellingsby. "They would have run
straight into the dogs!"

A silence followed and then de Vome said crossly: "Perhaps you did
dream. Zat pheasant ve had at dinner vas giving me pain in ze stomach
and I had a nightmare before your shouting voke me up."

"How could I dream that all the lights went out?" scoffed Hellingsby in
biting contempt. He turned to his chauffeur for corroboration. "They
went out, didn't they, Mawson? They were quite dead at first?"

The chauffeur looked most embarrassed. "We-ll, sir," he stammered, "mine
went up directly I switched it on." He eyed his master nervously. "You
see, sir, I'm a very heavy sleeper and I mayn't have woken up when you
first called."

Hellingsby could see now that no one believed him, and, indeed, they all
seemed so incredulous about his story that he began wondering if by any
possibility he could have dreamt everything. But no, he told himself
scornfully, he had seen that man by the desk, if ever he had seen
anybody in his life, and nothing would shake his belief.

At length they all went back to their rooms and Stone and Larose had to
stuff their bedclothes in their mouths to stifle their laughter.

The next morning Hellingsby appeared to have quite recovered his
equanimity, and when he bade the two friends good-bye, expressed the
smiling hope that Larose would try for his revenge at poker very soon.
"And be sure and bring your cheque book, then," he laughed, "for you
won't get off with a miserable eleven pounds." Larose and old Loxton
laughed, too, but for a very different reason.

A few minutes after Larose's car had gone, Monsieur de Vome, who was
breakfasting upon two brandies and soda and a very thin piece of toast,
plentifully sprinkled with salt and red pepper, remarked thoughtfully to
his host, "Do you know, Hellingsby, I feel sure ve have had tricks
played upon us somehow! Zat policeman and ze old farmer vere very polite
zis morning, but zey both looked as happy as if zey vere holding
re-doubled no trump hands." Hellingsby, although he could not say why,
was inclined to agree with him.

"And anozer zing," went on de Vome. "I happened to be passing ze garage
just now, as I vas taking a little walk to clear my head, and seeing no
one inside, I vent in and felt in the pocket of your chauffeur's jacket
zat vas hanging up. I vas just curious to see vot money he had got." His
eyes opened very wide. "And vot do you zink I found?"

"How am I to know?" grunted Hellingsby crossly, "I'm not a magician."

"A five-pound note!" nodded de Vome solemnly. "And vere did it come
from, I vant to know!"

For a moment Hellingsby scowled, and frowned uneasily. Then his features
relaxed a little. "He drove me to Wye races last Saturday," he grunted,
"and he probably backed some winners. I noticed he came back with a big
bag of oranges and some coconuts."

"Of course, I did not take ze note," remarked de Vome virtuously. He
sighed. "I knew ze man vas somewhere near and might see me coming out."
For the first time that morning Hellingsby's smile was not forced.




CHAPTER XIII.--JUSTICE


For quite ten minutes after leaving Southborough Hall no conversation
was exchanged between Larose and Stone, and then it was the latter who
spoke first.

"Look here, Gilbert," he said thoughtfully, "I told you the other day
you had made out a good case against this man but, upon second thoughts,
I realise you have really nothing definite against him."

"Oh, I haven't?" queried Larose, as if rather nettled. "Then how do you
make that out?"

"Well, from first to last," went on Stone, "you have only had
suspicions, and, all the time, you have been drawing upon that lively
imagination of yours such a lot. You don't know for certain that he
ill-treated his wife. It may have been all tittle-tattle, and the spite
of a discharged servant--you don't know she wasn't actually drowned; you
don't know that he has what you call a secret bungalow somewhere--it may
have been the truth when he stated it was over to Sheppey Island he went
on those week-ends--and coming down to last night, you don't know there
was a microphone in our bedroom, and lastly you don't even know, beyond
argument, that he was actually cheating at the cards."

Larose frowned uncomfortably, but made no comment, continuing to
concentrate ail his attention upon the driving of the car.

Stone continued, "No, Gilbert, to sum up, it has been all along just the
piling of suspicion upon suspicion, with not a shred of evidence that we
can produce in a court of law."

"But suspicion always precedes proof, doesn't it, Charlie?" said Larose
very quietly. "You don't trail any man, do you, unless you are
suspicious about him first?" He smiled. "Well, I'm at the suspicious
stage, and darned suspicious, too!" His voice hardened abruptly and he
asked sharply: "And upon what am I basing my whole case against
Hellingsby? What is the foundation-stone upon which rests every
suspicion that I have?" He answered his own questions. "Why, upon the
fact that Hellingsby had no affection for his elderly wife, but was
really hating her!"

"But you can't prove that," commented Stone.

"Oh, but I can," retorted Larose instantly. He took his eyes off the
road for a few seconds and regarded Stone intently. "Look here, Charlie,
if your wife had died a sudden and shocking death upon Thursday, April
18th, and you had made all signs of a dreadful and even exaggerated
grief--remember that boatman watching the bodies being brought in
described Hellingsby as having been almost tearing his hair, he was in
such a state--would you four days afterwards have gone to the Easter
Monday race meeting at Sandown Park as he did? He let that out when he
told us he had seen Black Arrow win there at 33 to 1. Then, another
thing, have you not taken in that he, almost immediately, dismissed
every single one of the servants who had served his wife faithfully for
so many years, in that way showing he had not the slightest respect for
her memory? And yet again, did you not notice that in all those rooms we
went into there was nothing whatsoever left to remind him of his wife,
no photographs, no woman's knick-knacks, nothing that would suggest a
woman had ever lived there?"

"It was certainly a real bachelor's home," admitted Stone, "I noticed
that."

"Yes, and Selina Thompson told me," went on Larose, "she heard in the
village that the organ, upon which Mrs. Hellingsby had played almost
daily during the past thirty years, was sold and taken away within a
fortnight of her disappearance." He nodded emphatically. "Yes, Charlie,
I am upon sure grounds there. The man had grown to hate his wife."

"And even granting that," argued Stone, "and also that he got rid of her
so that he might be free to marry Lady Roding, you will never have the
proof until you have found the dead body."

"Of course I shan't," agreed Larose instantly, "and isn't that what I'm
after now--trying to find out where he took her?" He turned his head
sideways and for a few seconds looked again at the stout inspector. "But
what's bitten you, Charlie? Why are you now throwing all the cold water
upon my little plan to put friend Hellingsby into the dock upon a charge
of murder?"

Stone frowned. "Because I think you are being a bit too sanguine, my
boy, and also because you must understand you've a long way to go before
you can rope in the Yard to interfere."

Larose laughed merrily. "Bless your heart, Charlie, I don't want to rope
in the Yard at all. It'll be you who will do that when I have presented
a cut-and-dried case to you, and then--damn it all, man--you'll get all
the credit, because, of course, I shan't appear."

"Credit, Gilbert!" exclaimed Stone, and then he laughed scoffingly.
"Why, it seems it's discredit when I come out with you!" His eyes
twinkled. "What about those two poor innocents last night? They may have
been playing quite a straight game! As I say, we have no proof to the
contrary."

Larose drew in a deep breath. "Oh, you big ninny," he sighed, "how could
they possibly have stood up to us as they did if they hadn't been
cheating the same as we were." A long argument ensued until it seemed
Larose had at last won over the inspector to his way of thinking, at any
rate, in the matter of the bridge the previous night.

Arriving in town and having parted with Stone, Larose, with no delay,
proceeded to get in touch with the secretary of the Kennel Club
Association and asked him if he had any knowledge of one R. T. Hedges,
who bred or showed sporting dogs, probably spaniels.

"Certainly," replied the secretary, "he both breeds and shows cocker
spaniels. What can I tell you about him?"

"Oh, I only want to know where he lives," replied Larose, and his heart
went down into his boots when the voice over the 'phone came: "At
Canterbury. He's a butcher there!"

"Canterbury!" murmured Larose brokenly, as he hung up the receiver. "Not
seven miles from Whitstable, opposite to Sheppey Island! Then he did
really go there upon those week-ends, as he said, and is everything
above-board?" He smiled a rueful smile. "Won't Charlie laugh when he
hears about it?"

But with the pertinacity he always exhibited, even in his most baffled
moments, he resolved to follow the trail to its bitter end and so, a
quarter of an hour after he had dropped Stone, he was heading for the
ancient city of Canterbury, fifty-five miles distant from the
metropolis.

Larose found the butcher in his shop and at once stated his business.

"Forgive my bothering you," he said, "but I was speaking to someone this
morning and he happened to mention you had sold a cocker spaniel to an
old friend of mine, Mr. Hellingsby, some time about last New Year's Day.
That is so, isn't it?"

"Hellingsby, Hellingsby!" repeated the butcher, wrinkling up his
forehead. "Oh, yes, that's quite right, I sold him a nice little doggie
by Yanker out of Black Bess--Nigger I called him."

"Well, I've lost sight of Mr. Hellingsby lately," fibbed Larose, "and
wondered if you could tell me where he lives."

"Somewhere near Tunbridge Wells," replied the butcher. "I can't remember
off-hand, but I've got it in my book. I'll go and see."

"No, no," said Larose quickly, "I don't want that address. He left there
a little while ago." His heart began to pump quicker as he asked the
fateful question; "Hasn't he got a bungalow or some little shooting
place near here?"

"Not near here," said the man, and then a great triumph flashed as a
blinding light across Larose's eyes when he added, "it's on Denge Marsh,
about a mile from Dungeness. He's got a little bungalow there."

"Oh, oh," exclaimed Larose, as if rather put out, "I thought it was
close here."

"About thirty miles away," smiled the butcher, "but you'll do it easy in
an hour, although the last bit of the road isn't too good."

"Can you give me the exact address, then?" asked Larose.

The butcher scratched his head. "No, that I can't," he said. He smiled.
"In fact I don't think it's got an address. It's in such an outlandish
place." He pointed to a room behind the shop. "But step in there, sir.
I'll show you whereabouts it is on the map."

A map of Kent was then produced and he pointed out with a pencil about
where he thought the bungalow would be. "It stands right on that road
and there's every yard of three-quarters of a mile of shingle in front
of it before you get to the sea." He laughed. "And behind it there's
seven or eight miles of marshland until you come to the Military Canal.
So you see it's a devilish lonely place and, except for the sport, no
one would have dreamed of building a place there."

"Have you been inside?" asked Larose,

"Yes, and there's quite an interesting little story about that," smiled
the butcher. "I was down on the marsh with Nigger that Sunday morning,
looking out to see if I could get a quiet bird or two, when the gent
came along and took such a fancy to the dog that he wanted to buy him
straight away. I told him twenty guineas was the price, and after making
a grimace or two--he thought the price was stiff--he said all right."
The butcher grinned. "But when it came to paying, he took out his
cheque-book and wanted to give me a cheque. But I didn't know him and
said it wasn't business and couldn't be done. Then to convince me he was
quite O.K., he took me across to this bungalow and showed me his driving
licence in one of the pockets of the car. It had got his signature on it
and then, when he wrote out the cheque, I could tell by the handwriting
that he was the man he said he was, and so I let him have the dog."

"Well, just describe the bungalow to me, will you, please?" asked
Larose.

"It's quite a little show and I should say has four rooms. It's built on
the very edge of the marshland and the narrow road runs right in front
of the garden gate. You can't miss it if you get on that road. No, I
don't remember what colour it's painted, but it has got quite a
good-sized garage at the side, and there are a row of old railway
sleepers laid down for a car to get across when things are muddy. Oh,
you'll find it easy enough."

And find it easily Larose did, a shabby long-unpainted bungalow in most
desolate surroundings. It stood quite by itself, with the next
habitation a good mile away. In front, as far as the eye could reach,
stretched a wide and gradually rising belt of shingle with crests and
hollows in it like the waves of a sea. And the nearer these myriad of
millions of round stones were to the sea, the higher they had been flung
by the storms, to form at last a great bank shutting off from anyone
passing along the road all view of the sea itself.

And immediately behind the bungalow began the marshlands, stretching for
miles and miles away, with their high reeds, their rank, coarse grasses
and their suggestion of a loneliness so profound that one might easily
have imagined no human being had ever set foot there.

"Yes, a good place for the wild duck," murmured Larose. He nodded
grimly. "And a deuced good place for a murder too!"

It was now mid-afternoon and a fine drilling rain was beginning to fall;
even as Larose sat in his car, brought to a standstill in front of the
bungalow, a mist began to roll over from the marshes and shut out the
landscape from view.

For quite ten minutes he sat on, considering what he should do next, and
then, the mist sweeping on until it had reached the road and enveloped
everything, so that objects fifty yards away had become invisible, he
made up his mind to look over the bungalow straight away.

It could not, however, have been said that he was now in a very cheerful
frame of mind, for the first feeling of triumph that he had been right
about the bungalow had all died down as he took in the lonely
surroundings upon every side.

"And the trail may well end here," he frowned disconsolately. "He has
everything in his favour. There are a thousand, thousand places where he
could have hidden the body, and how I am to find the particular one I
have no idea."

However, he hopped briskly out of the car and, taking with him a few
things from the tool-box, walked up the little garden path towards the
front door.

"One thing," he told himself as he surveyed the weed-strewn path,
"apparently no one has been here for a long time, and, with Hellingsby
having so suddenly given up coming here for week-ends, it certainly
suggests he has some very particular reason for shunning the place."

The front door was stout and substantial and fitted with a Yale lock
and, proceeding round to the back, he found the door there would be a
difficult proposition too, being bolted and locked. But, after he had
done some manoeuvring with a fine strip of steel, the catch of one of
the windows yielded under his attentions. Lifting up the sash, he pulled
aside the drawn blind and stepped gingerly into the room. He had put on
a pair of dark suede gloves.

His heart beat fast and, from the tense expression on his face, it might
almost have been thought he had been expecting to stumble at once upon a
dead body lying upon the floor.

He found himself in one of the two bedrooms of the bungalow and, with
the drawn blind and the gloomy overcast sky outside, it was in
semi-darkness. There was a close, oppressive smell as of a house long
shut up, and the stillness was as profound as if he were at the bottom
of a well. Everywhere, he noted, was covered over with dust.

He gave only a quick glance round the bedroom and then moved up the
passage towards the two front rooms, the doors of both of which were
standing open.

For quite a long while complete silence reigned once again in the
bungalow, and it would almost have seemed to any listener that it was
still unoccupied. Larose was standing in the doorway of the little
kitchen and only his head and his eyes were moving.

The sounds that followed were very faint ones, as if Larose were anxious
not to awaken someone sleeping there, or as if he were tiptoeing in a
chamber of death. Then there was the creak of a chair as he sat down and
everything was quiet again.

This last stillness continued for about a quarter of an hour and then
Larose, still treading softly, appeared in the passage again. After a
quick inspection of the second bedroom, he left the bungalow in the same
way as he had entered and, returning to his car, drove off in the
direction of Rye.

He stopped twice upon his way to the little town, the first time at a
coastguard station, and the second at a small house where a woman was
working in the garden. At neither place did he stay long.

At Rye he stayed for half an hour and then drove off with all haste
towards London. It was nearly seven when he reached town, and he drove
straight to Scotland Yard, in the faint hope that Inspector Stone might
he still on duty. But to his disgust he learnt his friend was out of
town and would not be home until the following afternoon.

It was not, however, until the next evening at eight o'clock that he was
finally able to run the inspector down, and then it was at the latter's
private house in West Kensington and just when he was finishing his tea.

"Very sorry to disturb you, Charlie," said Larose apologetically, "but
the matter's important. Now are you on duty at the Yard to-morrow? No!
Splendid! Then I want you for the day."

"But it's Sunday," grimaced Stone, "and I was going to take the missus
and the kids to the Zoo!" His face assumed a stern expression, and he
went on sharply: "Well, you've found out something, I suppose, and that
means that you are going to deliver the goods!"

Larose smiled. "I think that together we are going to deliver them, but
I shall soon now be needing official aid." He nodded. "Yes, Charlie,
I've found out he's got that secret bungalow right enough. It's in a
very lonely place upon the marshes behind Dungeness, and he's renting
it, furnished, under the name of James Hearn. He paid a year's rent in
advance, and so they didn't ask for references. He gave them an address
in Battersea, which I have just learnt is false. There's no such street
there."

"And have you been inside this bungalow?" asked Stone, his face puckered
into a deep frown.

Larose looked very grave. "I've been inside, Charlie, and from what I
saw I am convinced without the shadow of a doubt that Hellingsby was
there with his wife upon the afternoon of that fatal Thursday, April the
eighteenth."

"Oh," exclaimed Stone with a grim smile, "then the date was written
down, was it, all ready for yon to read?"

"And they were intending to stop the night, too, as they had brought a
pair of pyjamas and a night-dress," went on Larose, ignoring the stout
inspector's irony. "But that the visit was entirely an unpremeditated
one is proved by these night things being new and just purchased. They
had also brought food for two meals, and one of them had at once started
to lay a fire." He spoke very solemnly. "But that parcel containing
those night things was never opened, Charlie, and not a mouthful of that
food was eaten, and that fire was never kindled, for something happened
suddenly, and then the window blind of one room was jerked down with
such violence that the spring was over-wound and the blind cannot be
pulled up."

Stone's face was now as solemn as that of Larose. "Tell us your story,"
he said in sharp and businesslike tones.

"I got in through the window of one of the bedrooms," said Larose, "and
found everything covered in dust, no one having been in the place for a
long time. None of the beds had been slept in and, to take the kitchen
first, upon the table there were six paper bags containing various
articles of food, a large box of expensive chocolates and a big bunch of
violets. In the paper bags were a small cooked chicken, a small Viennese
loaf, half a pound of butter, about a pound of new potatoes, two
lettuces, four eggs and six rashers of bacon."

"Ah, just enough for two persons!" nodded Stone.

"For two meals," added Larose, "the evening one and breakfast." He
nodded in his turn. "So we may confidently assume that two persons had
arrived some time during the afternoon."

He went on. "Then I went into the sitting-room, just across the passage,
and there I saw someone had started to lay a fire"--he paused
dramatically and now looked very intently at Stone--"and the newspaper
they had been using was a copy of the Daily Messenger of Thursday,
April the eighteenth!"

"A-ah!" exclaimed Stone, "the very date you want!" He frowned. "Still,
that does not prove the fire was being laid the same day as the paper
was bought. It might have been bought a week before."

Larose shook his head. "Not a chance, Charlie. Only the two outside
advertisement pages had been put in the grate and the rest of the paper
was on the kitchen table among the bags. It had evidently been kept to
read later in the evening."

"But why has he left all this incriminating evidence behind him for all
tills time?" asked Stone.

"It would be just like him to be afraid to go back to where he committed
his dreadful crime," replied Larose. "From what we can learn of his
temperament from his sudden collapse that night when Wimpole Carstairs
made out he had brought back the spirit of a strangled woman from the
dead, we can confidently argue that only the very strongest incentive
would get him to the bungalow again." He snapped his fingers scoffingly
together. "Besides, all those things upon that table and that newspaper
in the grate are only incriminating to us because we suspect him of the
crime. To others they would have no significance at all." He rose up
from his chair. "Well, that's enough to tell you now, and I'll call for
you at nine sharp to-morrow morning."

"But here--you wait a moment," said Stone, "for there's another point to
be considered. Now, what if Hellingsby should suddenly take it into his
head to go down there to-morrow himself? It's all very well for you to
try to make out that if he's murdered his wife in that bungalow he'll be
far too frightened of her spook to go near the place any more, but
remember there'll have to come a time when he must go back, when his
year's tenancy is up, for instance."

"But he'll probably take it on then for another year," retorted Larose,
"and perhaps even indefinitely, until time has dimmed the memory of his
crime. At any rate, I am quite sure he's not going there to-morrow. He
was speaking on the phone to me this morning. He was going to Kempton
Park this afternoon and to-morrow he's taking a party of girls up the
river."

"All right, then," nodded Stone. "I'll be ready at nine to-morrow, but
not a minute earlier"--he grinned--"as we're a respectable Christian
family and don't get up until late on Sundays."

So the following day, just before noon, the two friends drove up before
the small bungalow in its sinister and lonely surroundings upon Denge
Marsh.

"Gosh!" exclaimed Stone, as he stared out over the enormous wastes of
shingle that stretched out to right and left before the bungalow, "but
if there's any murder been done--ye gods, what a burial ground!"

"Yes," agreed Larose with a deep sigh, "and look at the marshland at the
back. It's the disheartening part of the whole situation to me." He
looked up and down the road. "But come on, let's get inside. We'll have
to chance it and leave the car here."

"All right," said Stone. He grinned. "You do the dirty work at the
window and I'll come in by the front door."

"But put on your gloves, Charlie," said Larose as he prepared to go
round the house, "and then we shall be certain that any finger-marks are
not ours."

So in a few moments they were both inside the bungalow and Larose was
pointing out everything to the inspector. They both walked on tiptoe and
spoke in whispers.

"Now all those things on the table there," said Larose, "are exactly as
I found them. You see, they can only suggest exactly what I told
you--Hellingsby and his wife arriving here and the poor woman imagining
she was going to spend the night and have two meals with her suddenly
kind and loving husband. No doubt that morning he had made out to her
that he had unexpectedly met a friend who had lent the bungalow to him
for the week-end and, in that way, he had induced her to come here."

"Yes, yes," agreed Stone sadly, "and the violets were a present to her."
He looked most uncomfortable. "Then she didn't put them into water at
once because she had something much more important to do to please her
husband." He heaved a big sigh. "And that duty was----"

"----to light the fire," whispered Larose. "Remember, they were driving
in an open touring car that day and it was very cold all the time, last
Easter. So having come from Folkestone, as the addresses of the
tradesmen upon those paper bags tell us they had, they would have been
chilled to the bone by the drive, and their first thought would have
been to warm up the place." He touched Stone lightly upon the arm. "And
which one of the two of them, Charlie, would have been most likely to
lay the fire?"

"The woman every time," nodded Stone. "He would have gone back to shut
up the garage and get in the rugs and anything else they hadn't brought
in at first, and she would have started to make the place home-like and
comfortable."

"Then you come here," said Larose, and gripping Stone tightly by the
arm, he led him out of the kitchen to the threshold of the sitting-room
across the narrow passage.

"Now just take in everything," he went on in an awed whisper as they
stood together side by side, "and, first, see how the table has been
pushed back all askew, as if in some sudden and violent movement, and
then no notice taken of it afterwards to put it back. Then guess what
happened as the fire was being laid! See the paper put there in the
grate and those few pieces of wood placed evenly on top! Then see the
other pieces of the little bundle scattered all over the hearth and
three of them even flung over the fender on to the rug. See----"

"I get you," interrupted Stone with a scowl. "You mean that when she was
upon her knees, in the act of laying that fire, she was violently
interrupted by someone who jerked her backwards and who, in so doing,
stepped back himself and flung that table to one side. Then, as there
are no signs of any blood about and we know Hellingsby has a horror of
blood, you would infer that he had flung something round her neck and
then went on to strangle her."

"Exactly," said Larose, "and from the way he was affected when the
spiritualist spoke of a blue face and protruding tongue, I am sure that
was what happened." He pointed to the window. "And see that blind, drawn
down suddenly with a fierce jerk as far as it will go, when all the
other blinds in the place have been drawn down carefully in the proper
manner." His eyes opened wide. "Why, what can it mean but that it was
drawn down in a moment of panic when he had accomplished his dreadful
deed and, even in this desolate spot, was afraid someone might pass by
and look through the window?"

Stone nodded a silent acquiescence and then, after some long further
discussion, they went outside the bungalow through the back door. There,
the only thing of the slightest interest to either of them appeared to
be a big iron saucepan, lying almost obscured among the weeds. Part of
it was badly rusted.

"And what the devil did they want with a saucepan of that size?" frowned
Larose. "It looks out of place in a small bungalow like this."

"Ah, then you evidently haven't taken in everything, Gilbert," said
Stone. He smiled in an assumed superior manner, and went on: "You saw
that big shrimping net in the passage? Well, our friend probably boiled
the shrimps in this saucepan when he'd made a good catch," he nodded,
"which would most likely be pretty often as the shrimping all round this
coast is very good."

"But it's not like Hellingsby to have left a good saucepan to rust like
this," frowned Larose, shaking his head. "There's nothing the matter
with it and he's always tidy and methodical in his ways."

Then for a long minute they stood in silence looking round at the
marshlands, the belt of shingle and then at the marshlands again. The
same thoughts were in both their minds and Stone voiced them when at
last he exclaimed: "Hopeless! absolutely hopeless! If he did kill her
there's not one chance in a million of discovering where he hid the
body!"

Larose made no comment and Stone went on: "No, Gilbert, I'm very sorry I
can't help you, but this is still a case the Yard cannot take up.
Granted even that he killed her, of which, however, we still have not a
shred of proof, the search for her body would be too superhuman an
undertaking for any authorities to start taking up."

He waved his arm round. "Where, here, could we start looking for a body
that has been buried nearly three months?" He shook his head vigorously.
"And how do we know she lies within a score of miles? He had the car
ready to his hand and, destroying all marks by which she might be
identified if ever she were found, he may have whisked her off anywhere.
He may have thrown her down some disused well, he may have sunk her,
weighted, in a lonely pond and he may even have waded out to sea with
her--you say it was low tide all round this coast about ten o'clock that
night--and given her, weighted again, to the dog-fish and the conger
eels."

He glanced at his watch and then looked smilingly at Larose. "No, my
lad, you're beaten this time, so just you go and shut up the bungalow
and we'll drive away somewhere and get a spot of lunch. All your
theories have put a nasty taste in my mouth. Come on, be quick. I'm sick
of the whole business, for I see we shall never get anywhere."

Upon the evening of the next day Larose, who had not as yet been able to
tear himself away from town and who every waking minute had been
cudgelling his brains as to where he would have hidden his wife's body
had he been Hellingsby, started suddenly, just as he was leaving his
room at the 'Rialto' to go down to dinner.

"Great Jupiter!" he exclaimed breathlessly. "I have it! I have it! He
buried her under the shingle and he used that big saucepan to scrape a
hole in the stones! That's why it is only rusted on one side--where the
black became scraped off as he pulled the stones towards him in making
the hole!" He snapped his fingers together excitedly. "Yes, yes, that's
it! And, when he'd buried the body and come back to fetch his car, he
was afraid to go into the bungalow to put back the saucepan, for the
same reason that he had left all those parcels untouched. So, to get rid
of it, he threw it over into the little garden."


Very late that same night the elegant Monsieur de Vome, of aristocratic
ancestry, at last succeeded in running Hellingsby to earth at the
latter's hotel, where he had just returned after a long protracted
dinner party.

De Vome had startling news and it lost nothing in the telling. "You see
here," he burst out excitedly. "Zat Andy Loxton is no Loxton at all. He
is a big detective in ze Scotland Yard and he is a chief inspector zere
and his name is Charlie Stone."

Hellingsby's face went an ashen grey and the wine he had drunk turned to
vinegar in his stomach.

De Vome went on with his tale. He said he had happened to be passing
down Whitehall that afternoon when just outside New Scotland Yard he had
suddenly seen someone who at first sight he took to be Loxton, talking
there to another man. But then he thought it couldn't be the old
sheep-farmer, because he looked so much younger and was dressed so
differently. Anyhow, de Vome had been curious, and so had stopped behind
a stationary taxi to watch him. Then he had heard the man laugh and
instantly, without the slightest doubt, knew it was the sheep-farmer
they had played cards with only two nights previously.

Then he had seen the man pass into the Yard and a policeman there salute
him. So, waiting a few moments, he had asked the policeman who the man
was and had at once become aware of his true identity.

"And you look out, Hellingsby," he said warningly, "for I have been
making enquiries at my club in Vardour Street and he is a great
detective and his great friend is zat Gilbert Larose. Zey alvays vorked
togezor on big cases." He nodded excitedly. "So zey are after you for
somesing. You see!"

Hellingsby went up to his bedroom but, making no attempt to undress, for
a long while sat upon the edge of his bed doing some hard, unpleasant
thinking. His face was still a nasty colour and he moistened his dry
lips many times with his tongue. His forehead was pricked out in little
beads of sweat.

Then with a curse he left his room and, proceeding down the silent
staircase to the silent hall, gave orders to the night porter there to
call him at five sharp in the morning.

But as it turned out there had really been no need for him to have given
the order, for he never succeeded in getting to sleep. It was evident he
was very much disturbed about something.

The next evening Larose, too, was greatly disturbed for, as once before,
at an important moment, he was unable to get in touch with his friend,
Inspector Stone.

Stone had gone to Birmingham, but had been expected back at the Yard by
seven o'clock that evening, and so for three hours Larose had sat
waiting for him. All the time he had been holding to what looked like a
drawing, or a mounted photograph, about fifteen inches square, wrapped
up in brown paper. It seemed very precious to him, as he had hardly once
let it out of his hands.

But Stone did not appear and, no message coming through from him, at ten
o'clock Larose went off, leaving strict injunctions, however, that the
inspector was to phone him directly he turned up. Larose then went to
bed. He was most annoyed when, upon awakening at seven o'clock the next
morning, there was still no word from the inspector.

He at once got in touch again with the Yard and learnt that Stone would
not be returning now until late in the afternoon. So the day dragged on
and, at last, just before six, Stone's voice came over the phone to the
Rialto Hotel announcing that he was back and would see Larose at once if
he came over.

In less than ten minutes Larose almost jumped into his room. "Look here,
Charlie," he said sharply, "there must be no shilly-shallying now. I've
located where that body was buried and you must go down at once and dig
it up."

"Oh!" exclaimed Stone with his eyes opened very wide. "You can't have
found it, my son!"

"But I have," said Larose, "and you just look at this." Unfolding his
brown-paper packet, he produced a large photograph. "See, this was taken
yesterday, more than half a mile from the bungalow, and it's of one of
the hollows in the shingle, just before you come to where the shingle
rises to form that big bank right above the seashore." He could hardly
control the exultation in his tones. "See that shadow where the stones
have sunk down, and you tell me, if you dare, it isn't the shape of a
human body. The sand beetles under the stones have eaten away the flesh
and that's why there's a subsidence."

He laughed happily. "You see, Charlie, as you yourself have often rubbed
into me, the simplest solution to any puzzle is generally the correct
one, and so directly I tumbled to the fact that he'd been using that big
iron saucepan we saw in the back garden for scooping away the stones to
make a grave, I----"

"How do you make that out?" interrupted Stone, whose frowning face was a
mass of wrinkled lines.

"Why, the saucepan was only rusted on the part right opposite to the
handle," replied Larose, "and that was because all the black had been
worn off there and the iron exposed by the friction"--he made a pulling
movement with his arms--"of Hellingsby dragging the stones towards him.
Then he'd thrown this good saucepan over into the garden, because he was
afraid to go and replace it in the house where he'd just murdered his
wife."

"Go on," said Stone, because Larose had stopped speaking as if to invite
further questioning.

"Yesterday I went down again to Dungeness," said Larose, "and quite
certain he had buried her somewhere under the shingle, but realising
that no human eye would be able to pick out where the stones had been
disturbed, this time I took a photographer with me. I reckoned
Hellingsby would have wanted to bury the body as far away as possible
from the bungalow and the road, so we went over towards the sea,
keeping, however, a good bit to the left because of that coastguard
station in the dip upon the right. Then, always standing the camera on
the highest wave of shingle we could find, we made eighteen
exposures"--he tapped the photograph before them--"but it is only this
one that is going to hang him." He spoke eagerly. "Now, Charlie, what do
you think of it?"

Stone stared and stared for a long while. "The shadow is certainly
suspicious," he admitted slowly. He took a magnifying glass from his
desk and held it over the photograph. "Yes, it's not unlike the trunk
and lower part of a human body. It's broad at one end and tapers away."

"And in three months," went on Larose, "you would expect just such a
subsidence in the stones, as the soft parts of the body were all eaten
away. Under a covering, say at the most, of only two feet of loose
stones, the flesh would, of course, disappear much more quickly than if
buried under solid earth."

"And are you sure you can pick out this particular little shaded spot,"
asked Stone dubiously, "among all that waste of shingle?"

"Certain," replied Larose. He turned the photograph over. "See, it's
numbered fifteen, and against that number we've got down on a memorandum
that there were the remains of a dead sheep close near us when we
exposed the plate."

Stone sat up straight in his chair. "All right, Gilbert," he said,
"we'll take it on. We'll go down to-morrow." He smiled a whimsical
smile. "I'm not certain it's not all bunk, but I can't have you for ever
worrying me like this, so we'll settle it once and for all."

The following morning, soon after ten, two cars, with six passengers
between them, could have been seen driving along the road over Denge
Marsh and approaching close to the bungalow of Miles Hellingsby. They
carried spades and two rolled lengths of tarpaulin. They were within a
few hundred yards of their destination when the leading car had a
puncture and the car behind it pulled up to wait until the wheel had
been changed.

A roadmender who had been working near came up and asked for a march.

"But you don't see many people about here," remarked Larose carelessly,
when in reply to a question, the man had stated he had been working in
the neighbourhood for nearly a week.

"Oh, I see a bit of life sometimes," smiled the man. "For instance there
were two chaps over on that shingle for a long time the day before
yesterday taking photograph after photograph, but what for goodness only
knows. Then on that same morning another chap came to that bungalow
there and----"

"What!" interrupted Larose sharply, "a man came to that bungalow the day
before yesterday?"

"Yes," nodded the roadmender, "he arrived before the photographers came
and he stayed until after they had gone."

Larose could hardly get his breath. "What sort of man was he," he
gasped, "and how did he come?"

"Oh, I didn't get near enough to see what he was like, but he came in a
car and put it in that shed." The roadmender seemed quite pleased with
the interest he was creating and went on: "There was another fellow,
too, here very early yesterday, and I can't make out what he was up to,
either. He came about eight o'clock and drove his car over those stones
until it was almost out of sight in the hollow and I thought he was
going to camp there. But he didn't stop the whole day and was off again
early in the afternoon."

"Where did he go?" choked Larose. "Tell me exactly, quick!"

The man pointed with his arm. "Over that rise until I could only just
see the top of his car." He grinned. "If you're curious, you can follow
his wheel marks and you'll come upon a dead sheep upon the rise of the
stones just before he stopped." He shook his head. "But I should walk if
I were you, as he had to let all the wind out of his tyres to get up the
shingle and then he could only just manage it. He had a devil of a job,
too, in backing out."

"Did you see him close?" asked Larose, and his voice was very hoarse.

"No, he came from the opposite direction, on the Rye Road, and I only
saw him in the distance."

The whole time the others standing round had been listening with grim
faces, but with the wheel now changed, upon a sign from Larose they
quickly resumed their seats and the cars drove on. But it was only for a
couple of hundred yards or so, and then everyone jumped out, and Larose
starting off at a run, they panted after him over the shingle.

The place where the stranger had been was found easily enough, for a
wide disturbance of the stones was apparent and then, in one spot, there
was all evidence where a deeper excavation had been made. But there were
no bones or shreds of clothing to be seen anywhere, and nothing to show
what the man had come for.

The face of Larose was white and set. "We're beaten, Charlie," he said
grimly. "By some evil chance that devil came to his bungalow on Tuesday
and, seeing us with the camera, must have guessed what we were up to.
Then he acted like lightning."

"Well, it's bunged everything up for us, right enough," commented Stone
gloomily, "we haven't a leg to stand on now and everything is just the
same as before."

"We'll go into the bungalow anyhow," said Larose, "and then I'll have a
little talk with you." His face brightened. "Things are not quite as bad
as you make out." They started to walk back over the shingle.

"Shall you want me, sir?" asked one of the men of the inspector, as
Larose, wrapped in his own thoughts, had hurried on in front.

Stone hesitated a few moments. "Yes, you may as well come," he said. "I
suppose we'd better look for some finger-marks in the usual routine
way."

Larose effected an entrance into the bungalow in the same manner as he
had done on the two previous occasions and then opened the front door
for the inspector to come in. He frowned when he saw one of the other
men was with Stone and carrying a good-sized handbag.

"Everything gone," he announced bitterly. "Not a thing left on the table
and both rooms have been tidied up! The table has even been put
straight!"

"Well, well do the thing properly and look for any finger-marks," said
Stone, and the man with the bag began to make his preparations.

Larose frowned again. He had good reasons for not wanting any
finger-marks to be photographed, as, of course, they would not
correspond with those Stone was imagining they already possessed of
Hellingsby, but he could do nothing. He beckoned to the inspector and
they both walked out into the little back garden.

"Look here, Charlie," said Larose sharply, "there's only one thing for
you to do now. You must go to Hellingsby straight away and put up a big
bluff. You must tell him he's been under observation for a long time and
you must ask him what account he is prepared to give of his movements
yesterday. Make him realise it's no good his denying anything, as both
he and his car were recognised here."

The inspector regarded Larose very thoughtfully, and the latter went on
quickly, "Then with his highly strung temperament he won't be able to
call your bluff and he'll almost certainly break down and admit
everything."

"And if he doesn't," asked Stone quietly, "what will be my position
then?" He shook his head. "I haven't the very slightest excuse now for
detaining him upon any charge."

"But chance it, Charlie," urged Larose warmly. "It'll be the scoop of
your life if it comes off."

Stone looked grim and cold. "It's too big a gamble, my son, and I'm not
game enough," he said. He raised one fat finger and shook it warningly.
"Now be reasonable, Gilbert, and take your defeat like a man. Think! If
Hellingsby has done all you say he has, just realise he has now slipped
out of our clutches for good, most probably. We are still certain of
nothing about him. We don't know it was he who was here yesterday and,
if we could prove that, we couldn't prove what he came for! We don't
even know it was he who came here on April 18th, and in fact, as all
along, we are still in the same position of not having one single shred
of direct evidence against him."

"But if you act boldly," began Larose, "and----"

"No, Gilbert," interrupted Stone firmly, "I tell you I'm not in a
position to do anything. It's all very well for you to urge me to be
bold and all that, but if the try-on doesn't come off it will be I who
will have to bear all the punishment." He smiled. "You can just go home
and forget all about it, but I should have to bear the brunt of
everything and might even get the sack."

And no persuasion from Larose could induce him to depart from this
attitude.

They returned to town a very disconsolate party, and Larose was more
disgusted than ever when that evening the inspector rang him up to say
that none of the fingermarks they had found in the bungalow were those
of Hellingsby.

"We got plenty of them," he added with a badly concealed note of triumph
in his voice, "but not one single one anywhere was of our lively friend.
So it is as well I did not take your advice." Larose cut short the
conversation as quickly as possible.

That same afternoon Police Constable Higgins of the pretty little
village of Southborough paid a clandestine visit to the local inn for a
couple of quiet pints, and was introduced to three affable and friendly
strangers who were likewise unlawfully refreshing themselves in the inn
parlour.

The landlord had at first been somewhat disinclined to serve these three
travellers out of proper hours, thinking they looked not unlike
detectives. They had arrived in a serviceable but unobtrusive car and
were all tall and alert-looking men, dressed very much the same, in dark
overcoats and low bowler hats. But they had assured him they had nothing
whatever to do with the police and, in fact, were Customs officials from
the Docks, enjoying themselves upon a day's outing in the country, and
so in the end the landlord had given way and served them with what they
asked for.

In the course of conversation with the village constable the subject of
flowers happened to crop up and it was then found that all present were
keenly interested in roses. Whereupon P.C. Higgins remarked that in the
garden of Southborough Hall were some roses of so dark a colour that
they appeared almost black. Then realising that his statement was being
received with polite incredulity, he offered then and there to take the
three travellers to inspect the blooms.

"The Hall is not a couple of hundred yards from here," he said, "and the
owner won't mind a bit my taking you into the garden to see them. He's
not likely to be home from the city for a couple of hours yet, but if he
is it won't matter, as I am very friendly with him."

So the four men sallied forth straight away, but upon entering the Hall
grounds, the strangers became all suddenly a little doubtful of the
propriety of their coming there on the invitation of the constable,
alone, and the expressions upon their faces became, in consequence,
frowning and uneasy.

At that precise moment Miles Hellingsby was seated at the desk before
his study window and, seeing the four men approaching the house, with
one of them the village policeman and the others looking
uncompromisingly stern, with an oath of dismay he snatched an automatic
pistol out of one of the drawers of the desk and, putting the muzzle to
his forehead, pulled the trigger and blew his brains out.




CHAPTER XIV.--GUILE


Two days later the inquest upon Miles Hellingsby was held in the
Southborough Parish Hall, and although Inspector Stone had been half
expecting it, he was not altogether too pleased to see that Larose was
already occupying a seat there when he arrived.

The previous day the inspector had had a long conversation over the
phone with the superintendent of the Tunbridge Wells police, and from
certain statements the latter had made to him, he had thought it
advisable to attend the inquest in the interests of Scotland Yard. He
was wondering now if Larose were also in possession of the same
information the superintendent had passed on and was rather hoping he
was not.

Apparently only a purely local interest was being taken in the inquest
and the Hall was only half full.

The inspector sat himself down next to Larose and after remarking how
astonished he had been to read in the newspapers that Hellingsby had
committed suicide, whispered smilingly, "And did he leave any confession
behind, do you know, Gilbert?"

Larose sensed the amusement in his tones and regarded him very coldly.
"If I were you, Charlie," he said solemnly, "I should keep very quiet
and not ask any questions of anybody." He nodded significantly. "Just
you say nothing and don't let a soul here know you have ever met the
man."

He nodded again. "That's my advice and it's pretty good, I can tell
you."

"Oh," exclaimed Stone, rather taken aback, "and what the devil do you
mean?"

"Only that if you start being inquisitive," replied Larose, "the Yard
won't come too well out of this, and that you, in particular, will
certainly get no Order of Merit or Iron Cross."

Stone got very red. "Come on, my son," he said sharply, "let's know
what's worrying you!"

But at that moment the coroner entered the Hall and they all stood up as
he walked to his seat. Then, as they were sitting down again, Larose got
in a quick reply to the inspector's question. "He shot himself," he
whispered, "because he thought he was about to be arrested. He mistook
three inoffensive clerks for plain-clothes men and believed it was all
up," and the burly Stone subsided into his seat with a sickening feeling
at the pit of his stomach.

The coroner opened the proceedings without any delay and the first
witness, Police Constable Higgins, was soon giving his evidence.

He had been within fifty yards of the front door of the Hall, he said,
when he had actually heard the report of the shot with which the
deceased killed himself. The front door had been standing open and Rosa
Martin, the parlourmaid, had come rushing out, shrieking out to him that
her master had killed himself in his study. He found deceased lying upon
the floor in a pool of blood, with the pistol about a foot away from his
outstretched arm. He was quite dead. Seeing he could do nothing he left
everything exactly as it was and, locking the study door, at once rang
up Tunbridge Wells.

The next witnesses were the police surgeon, who described the injuries
the deceased had received, and the finger-print expert from Tunbridge
Wells, who handed up two photographs showing that the finger-marks upon
the butt of the automatic pistol coincided exactly with those obtained
from the fingers of the dead man.

Then the parlourmaid was called and interest quickened at once, as it
was known she had been an actual eyewitness of the tragedy.

She said she had been passing through the hall on her way to answer the
study bell exactly as the clock there was chiming five o'clock. Her
master, who was writing at his desk, had then asked her for another
siphon of soda-water, and she had just returned from obtaining it from
the refrigerator and was putting it upon his table, when she heard him
make a sharp exclamation as if he were very startled about something.
Then she had seen he was looking out through the window at four persons
who were coming up the drive; one of these persons she recognised as Mr.
Higgins, the village policeman. Before she could take in what her master
was doing, he had snatched up a pistol from somewhere in his desk and
put it to his forehead and shot himself. She was terrified and had run
out shrieking to call Mr. Higgins.

The coroner looked down at his papers. "But I understand, Miss Martin,"
he said, "that you told Police Constable Higgins your master said
something before he shot himself!"

"Yes, sir, but I'm not certain what it was," replied the girl. "It
sounded like, 'No, you don't,' and then he swore."

"And I suppose you've tried many times," asked the coroner, "to remember
the exact words he did say?"

"Yes, sir, but I've never been quite sure. The bang of the pistol came
so quickly afterwards and it drove everything out of my head."

"Was the deceased quite sober when he shot himself, do you think?" was
the coroner's next question.

The girl nodded quickly. "Oh, yes, sir, quite! I've been at the Hall ten
weeks now and never seen Master the worse for drink."

"But he'd been taking a lot lately, hadn't he?"

"Yes, sir, quite a lot since he'd come home on Tuesday."

"What do you call a lot?" asked the coroner.

"Well, sir," replied the girl, "he'd had more than three bottles of
brandy in the last two days, besides champagne at his meals, when he ate
hardly anything."

The coroner consulted his papers again. "And I see," he said after a few
moments, "that you told Superintendent Roberts that he'd been very queer
lately. Now tell us in your own words exactly what you mean. Tell us
fully."

"Well, he's only been queer since Tuesday, sir, and then he came home in
the afternoon in a very bad temper. He started swearing at once at Mr.
Mawson, who was the chauffeur and did the gardening. He said he was
lazy, which everyone knows Mr. Mawson never was. Then he discharged him
at once and never let him out of his sight until he had got him off the
place. Then be locked up the garage, and came in and drank a lot of
brandy. And when it was dark we heard him go out into the garden, and he
was in the gardener's shed and the garage for a long time."

"What was he doing?" asked the coroner. "Do you know?"

"No, sir, but we found out afterwards that he had emptied all the
poultry meal and the wheat out of their sacks and taken the sacks away.
He had locked the shed door, too, and so the next morning we could only
feed the fowls on scraps. Then that night I heard him walking up and
down the bedroom--his bedroom is just under mine--until nearly one
o'clock. I could hear him talking to himself. We don't think he took off
his clothes at all. At any rate, he had not put on his pyjamas and he
had only lain down upon the bed."

"And what was he like the next morning?" asked the coroner.

The girl shook her head. "We didn't see him, sir. Just after six I heard
him jump suddenly off the bed and move about his room as if he had
overslept himself and was in a great hurry. Then ten minutes after I
heard him drive away in the car."

"Without having had anything to eat?" queried the coroner.

"Yes, sir. Then he came home again about five o'clock and seemed very
anxious to know if anyone had been to see him. I told him no, and then
he swore at Mr. Mawson again and said the sheds had been left horribly
untidy and he was going to straighten them up. He said they were
harbouring a lot of rats."

"Had you seen any rats?"

"Yes, sir, but only a few. It seemed as if the master wanted to find
excuses for having discharged Mr. Mawson."

"And what did deceased next proceed to do?" asked the coroner.

"He made a bonfire at the bottom of the vegetable garden with some
rubbish and a lot of old boxes that he took out of the sheds. But the
fire had not been started long before it came on to rain, and we guessed
from the rattle of tins he had put paraffin on it, because although the
rain became much heavier the fire went on. Then he was digging until
long after dark."

"And did he do anything in the garden the next day?" asked the coroner.

"No, sir, he had got tired of it. He had had to put plaster over some
blisters on his hands."

The coroner looked puzzled. "And what do you make of all this altered
behaviour of deceased? Do any of you think it had anything to do with
his taking his own life?"

"Oh, no, sir!" replied the girl. "We only think he was very upset about
something and was doing anything to distract his mind. I heard him tell
someone over the telephone last week that he had lost a lot of money in
some shares, and we are sure that was worrying him. The night before he
died he could hardly have slept at all, for he didn't come up to his
bedroom until nearly three o'clock--he woke me up by banging his
door--and the next morning he was downstairs before seven, waiting for
the morning papers to come."

That finished the parlourmaid's evidence. The two other maids followed,
and they corroborated all she had said with regard to Hellingsby's heavy
drinking upon the two days previous to his decease.

The last witness was a Tunbridge Wells inspector of police, who produced
several letters which he had found among the deceased's papers in the
latter's desk, from which it was evident the dead man was heavily in
debt and being pressed for money from many directions. Among other
threatening communications were those from a firm of tailors to whom he
owed nearly 200, a Bond Street jeweller who claimed 412 and a
bookmaker who was demanding more than 3,000. Also, it was quite clear
from other memoranda that the deceased had recently been losing large
sums in transactions upon the Stock Exchange.

The Coroner summed up quickly. He told the jury it was not an unusual
case they were having to consider, although there were certainly some
peculiar features about it. But they must take the case as a whole and
not deal with it in parts.

Here was a man who had undoubtedly been living most extravagantly and
whose regard for money had become of a most casual and careless nature.
Among Other things the bet of so large a sum as 1,500 upon one horse
was indicative of a man who had no fear of the hazards of life. But,
sooner or later, a day of reckoning had to come, and so often, so very
often, this type of man was unable to stand up to the consequences of
his folly. Then, at a crisis, his mind gave way and the easiest avenue
of escape from all difficulties was taken. In the present case he could
suggest to the jury no other verdict than one of suicide when in a state
of temporary insanity.

And the jury at once brought in the verdict the coroner had advised them
to.

Larose and Inspector Stone walked out of the hall together, and the
former asked dryly: "And would you like, Charlie, to have that ground at
the bottom of the vegetable garden dug over? There's evidently something
buried there that the fire had not time to burn up. We are sure to find
the skull and most of the bones, and perhaps even the wedding ring.
Selina Thompson tells me the ring is engraved inside 'M.H. to M.L.'"

Whatever feelings of chagrin were his, the inspector's expression was a
smiling one. "No, thank you, my son," he laughed, "it's no good flogging
a dead horse, and I think we had better leave the matter as it stands."
His face sobered down. "At any rate the man was punished and justice is
satisfied."

"But not the law," retorted Larose grimly, "and you are always such a
stickler that the law must have its pound of flesh."

"Don't rub it in, Gilbert," pleaded Stone with a grimace. "I admit it
looks as if you were right for once, and, maybe, next time I'll be more
ready to take your advice." He looked puzzled. "But what a nerve to
bring the remains here!"

"I wouldn't call it exactly nerve, Charlie," commented Larose, now
regarding Stone quite friendlily. "He'd lost his nerve and couldn't
think out things any more. Then when the fire failed him, he became
absolutely reckless. It was like the last throw of the gambler."

"Ay, he was a gambler right enough!" exclaimed Stone. He sighed heavily.
"And if I had not been tied by the responsibilities of office and had
had a little more of the gambler in me, I might have become----"

"The Commissioner of Police, or Sir Charles Stone," added Larose,
finishing the sentence for him. He laughed. "Who knows?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Six weeks went by and the matter of the suicide of Miles Hellingsby had
quite passed out of the minds of everybody except those intimately
concerned, when one morning Larose at Carmel Abbey picked up his morning
newspaper and frowned heavily.

"Good God!" he exclaimed with a painful catch in his breath, "but what
an awful calamity!"

The half column that had caught his eye was headed: "Smart Work by the
Police, Scotland Yard Never Sleeps," and then in sub-headlines it went
on: "Mystery of Daunt the grave-digger solved. Body found in underground
chamber."

Larose read on breathlessly that Chief Inspector Stone, who had been in
charge of the case, had all along never been satisfied that the
grave-digger had gone away, but had always been suspicious of foul play.

So, weeks after the interest in the man's disappearance had all,
apparently, died down, the inspector had returned to the little house in
the churchyard and there, after a most painstaking search, had
discovered that one of the stones in the floor of one of the rooms
opened into a deep cellar many feet below.

He had descended by a ladder that was already in position there, and in
a long underground chamber had come upon the body of the missing man, in
an advanced stage of decomposition, laid out carefully upon a shelf.

The authorities were reticent regarding the manner the grave-digger had
come to meet his death, but there was full evidence that the death had
been a violent one. Also, the man who had killed him had exhibited great
cunning to prevent what had occurred from becoming known, as all the
clothes which it had been supposed Daunt had taken with him were found
strewn about upon the stone below. The killer had, of course, flung them
there to convey the impression to everyone that the grave-digger had
actually taken flight.

The body had been taken to London to be examined by experts and the
inquest would probably he held directly the result of the autopsy was
made known.

Larose looked up from the newspaper with a white face, and drew in a
deep breath. "Now what the devil is going to happen?" he asked himself.
"If Stone makes any use of the finger-prints that he imagines he's got
of Hellingsby, then he'll only do it to bring in Sir Eric. He'll be
thinking that Hellingsby, as Sir Eric's friend, was sent by Sir Eric to
get that confession out of Daunt and, for some reason that he'll have to
work out, that Hellingsby did Daunt in. Then he'll be quite certain Sir
Eric knows everything that happened that night and, with Hellingsby
dead, he'll have the third degree put on Sir Eric in the witness-box to
make him admit it." He whistled. "Whew, what a mix-up! I'll have to get
busy at once! I have to tell everything to the wife now and then go
straight on to the Rodings!" He tapped the newspaper and made a grimace.
"Directly they read this, they'll think I murdered the man!"

Telling his wife was easy. She looked very scared and white when he told
her of his dreadful experiences in the underground chamber, but had no
fear that he was in any danger now.

"You'll manage to get out of it all right, Gilbert," she laughed. "I've
got quite used now to being married to a bad man and am sure you'll
escape your deserts somehow." She kissed him affectionately. "I'm
certain it's quite a thrill to you to know you're in such a bad hole."

Telling Sir Eric and Lady Roding was, however, by no means a pleasant
task, for up to then, to spare their feelings, Larose had told them
nothing of Hellingsby's murder of his wife and of all that underlay
their one-time friend's dramatic suicide. But now everything had to be
told in detail, in order that the baronet should realise the awkward
position in which he himself might possibly be placed by Stone's
imagining the finger-marks found in the dead grave-digger's house were
those of Hellingsby.

Lady Roding was terribly shocked, almost to the point of collapse, when
the story of Hellingsby's dreadful crime was unfolded, but Sir Eric took
everything quite calmly, and, indeed, expressed himself as being very
grateful to Larose for having tried to shield them from the horror of
learning what kind of man Hellingsby had really been.

"And if I do have to go into the witness-box," he said, "I can only deny
Hellingsby was acting for me and they certainly won't be able to prove
to the contrary."

"But I don't think it'll come to that," said Larose confidently, "and I
only want to warn you, in case Inspector Stone should send somebody down
to question you." He nodded. "If he does, just say you had never heard
of Daunt until that letter from him came to your wife and that you have
never given Hellingsby any commission to do anything for you."

"But what about yourself?" frowned Sir Eric. "I'm afraid your helping me
will have got you into a lot of trouble."

Larose laughed. "I'm not worrying," he said. "I've got one or two good
cards to play yet. I know the Yard and its ways quite well and the
knowledge will come in pretty handy now."

So the morning of the day before that upon which the inquest was going
to be held, Larose was ushered into Inspector Stone's room in Scotland
Yard.

"Good morning, Gilbert," said the inspector, smiling his nice fatherly
smile, "and I suppose you've come to congratulate me upon my little
success." He shook his head. "But I'm sorry the press got hold of so
much. It means people have been talking when they shouldn't."

"Well, I've come to talk a bit," laughed Larose, "and to give you a bit
of my advice." And then he added carelessly, "I was dining with a man
connected with the Home Office last night and got a lot of inside
information from him." He regarded the inspector intently. "Now, if I
were you, I shouldn't suggest to the court to-morrow that it was a case
of murder. Nothing points to that."

"Oh, nothing does, does it?" smiled Stone most politely. "How do you
make that out?"

"Well, firstly," said Larose, "the extent of the bloodstain upon the
floor at the foot of the ladder and the terrible injuries the man
received can only mean that he slipped off the ladder while he was
carrying the block of marble, and that the marble fell on him and
crushed him."

"But he may have been deliberately pushed of," smiled Stone. "Have you
thought of that?"

"Of course," returned Larose. "But why should anyone have wanted to push
him off? What motive could there have been?"

"Well, for some reason Hellingsby may have wanted to shut his mouth,"
said Stone, "after he had bribed him to write that confession for Sir
Eric Roding. There may be something very hanky-panky there that we
haven't found out yet. We have got to get to the bottom of everything
and then----"

"But that twenty-five pounds you picked up was no bribe," interrupted
Larose scoffingly. "It was much too small an amount for Daunt to
receive, remembering that the confession would have got him five years'
penal servitude." He shook his head. "No, those notes look to me like an
act of kindness to enable Daunt to make a bolt. If he had committed a
criminal act in breaking into the vaults, he had also saved Sir Eric's
life and that would be worth something."

"Go on," said Stone coldly. "Anything more?"

"Yes, quite a lot," smiled Larose. He shook his head again. "No,
Charlie, you look on the fourth or fifth rung of that ladder, somewhere
about four feet down, and I'm sure you'll find the mark of the
grave-digger's hobnailed boots where he slipped off. Then----" but he
broke off abruptly and asked: "But how did you come to find that
underground chamber below the other rooms?"

Stone was all smiles again. "Ah, that was just observation and
intelligence, my boy," he said. He nodded. "I saw a lot of ants at work
in the crevices round one of the big stones in the corner of his
workroom, and it attracted my attention. Then I began pushing the stone
about and suddenly it went under the wall and there was the opening
before me!"

"And those ants," commented Larose meditatively, "of course had come
after that treacle he had used to make a join so that the smell should
not come up as the body below decomposed."

Stone's eyes opened very wide in surprise, but Larose went on softly:
"And for that same reason the body had been taken away from the foot of
the ladder and placed upon that shelf. The odour, then, would not ascend
straight up into the room above." He suddenly spoke up sharply: "But how
are you going to explain ail the contents of the chamber to the court
to-morrow?"

"I shall leave them to others to explain," said Stone stiffly. He nodded
significantly. "You know, of course, that I have subpoenaed Sir Eric
Roding? I sent Inspector Ransom down to see him, but Sir Eric denied all
knowledge of everything and said he was not even aware Hellingsby had
been to see the grave-digger." He nodded again. "But we shall see what
they are able to get out of him when he's in the witness-box to-morrow.
We've briefed Tresidder-Jarvis, the K.C., to appear for us and he can
make even a dead man speak."

But Larose appeared not to have heard him and went on thoughtfully: "Did
it not strike you, Charlie, that Daunt was an habitual body-snatcher by
trade? His use of that secret chamber to do his sculpture work in surely
rather suggests it! Then that decomposing head in the glass jar from
which all the spirit had evaporated--from where did you think he had got
that? Wasn't he using it, too, as the model for that piece of sculpture
he was doing--a girl's head?"

"Good God!" exclaimed Stone, his face all clammy in his excitement.
"What do you know?"

"Then there are those twenty-seven plaster casts," continued Larose,
quite unperturbed, "and I am wondering if they were not all obtained
from the death-masks of severed heads!" His voice rose a little. "And
the black tent down there--what did you make of that? Wouldn't it have
been just the thing to put up over graves when he was working in strange
churchyards in the dead of night?"

"Gilbert, Gilbert," exclaimed Stone, breathing very hand, "what a wizard
you are! It is exactly as if that grave-digger had told you everything
himself!"

"But I learnt a lot last night from that man at the Home Office," said
Larose softly, "and then I tried to think it all out." He seemed
suddenly to remember something more. "Oh, and how are you going to
explain that blackened bench at the end of the passage? That's another
thing they'll be expecting you to have found out."

"I don't explain it," said Stone tersely. He nodded significantly again.
"I shall leave others to do that."

"But I've thought it out," said Larose, "and it seems quite simple to
me." He smiled. "Now did you hear of anything unusual happening in the
church upon that afternoon when Daunt disappeared? You didn't? You
haven't made any enquiries? Dear me, dear me! Well, I'll tell you what
happened then and what I think it means, too."

He bent over towards the inspector. "That afternoon at a quarter to five
a young girl was in the church playing upon the organ, when she suddenly
saw, as she thought, smoke coming up in the cracks between the big
stones in the pavement. She ran and told Daunt first, and then the
vicar. But by the time she had got hold of the vicar the smoke was no
longer coming up, and Daunt made out he didn't really think he had seen
any." He spoke very solemnly. "But he had seen it and knew it was a
signal from a man whom he'd shut down in that underground chamber. Then
he had to let him out, fearing the fire brigade would be called and he'd
have to explain everything!"

Stone looked frowningly at his watch. "Of course, this is a story you're
making up?" he said dryly.

"Not at all," retorted Larose, "it is exactly what happened, and"--his
voice dropped to a whisper--"that is why you could not find out where
that stranger, who had arrived at the inn the previous evening, had
spent the night." He nodded. "He had spent it in the underground
chamber."

The face of the inspector was a study. He looked stupefied and he was
breathing so hard that it almost looked as if he were upon the verge of
a fit. But Larose's next words acted as a cold douche.

"But come on, Charlie," he said sharply, "enough of this play-acting.
I've come to save you from one of the greatest blunders of your
career"--he nodded--"even at the price of some unpleasantness for
myself." He pointed to the bell upon the desk. "Now please send a
message to the finger-print department for three lots of finger-prints,
those of that mysterious visitor to Daunt, those you got of Hellingsby
that night at the 'Rialto,' and those which you obtained from
Hellingsby's bungalow that morning we all went down."

As if mesmerised by the confident way in which Larose was speaking to
him, and very curious as to what it could all mean, without a word Stone
wrote a few lines upon a piece of paper and gave it to the constable who
appeared in answer to his ring.

"Now, Charlie," said Larose, when the man had gone, "please don't ask
any questions. I'll explain everything when the finger-prints come." The
two smoked on in silence until an official from the finger-print
department appeared presently with the photographs which had been asked
for.

Then Larose surprised Stone by himself producing two photographs from
his pocket.

"Do you know Detective Rice of the Tunbridge Wells police?" he asked of
the official from the finger-print department. "Oh, you do! Then would
you consider his finger-print work reliable?"

"Certainly, sir," smiled the man, "all the prints he sends up to us are
fine pieces of work."

"And he's not likely to make any mistakes?" asked Larose, and the reply
was, "No, sir, certainly not."

"Now then," said Larose, handing his two photographs across to Stone,
"see what's written on those. Of course, they are only copies, but I
obtained them yesterday from Detective Rice. One is that of Miles
Hellingsby's finger-marks taken directly after he had shot himself, and
the other is that of the finger-marks found upon the butt of the
automatic he had used." He turned to the finger-print official. "You
look at them, too, please, and compare them with the finger-prints you
have just brought in."

In the long silence that followed, Stone first looked puzzled. Then he
frowned and his frown deepened and deepened every moment that he looked
from one set of finger-prints to another. Then he turned to the
finger-print official and asked: "What does it amount to?"

"Those we've got of Miles Hellingsby taken at the Rialto Hotel," said
the official very thoughtfully, "do not appear to be his, neither do
those taken from the house of this Joel Daunt. But those coming from the
bungalow of Miles Hellingsby at Dungeness and marked unknown are
certainly his."

"And, of course, ours here are more likely to be wrong?" scowled Stone.

"Most certainly," nodded the man. "These taken directly off the dead man
must, of course, be absolutely beyond dispute."

"Now Gilbert," said Stone very sternly, when the finger-print official
had left the room, "I want a showdown from you at once. You've been
talking darned queer ever since you've been in here, and in this matter
of these finger-prints I admit you've sprung upon me a deuced funny
surprise." He glared angrily at him. "Now if those finger-marks we'd got
on that glass at the 'Rialto' that night were not Hellingsby's--who the
devil's were they?"

Larose looked intently at him. He thought he had now worked up the
inspector's nerves to a sufficient condition of perplexity and worry to
make him the more amenable to any suggestions he, Larose, might propose.
So he rapped out quickly:

"Mine--and they were mine also that you found in Daunts house. I was his
visitor that evening, and the previous night and up to five o'clock that
very afternoon I had been shut down in that cursed cellar. I should have
been slowly done to death if that smoke hadn't terrified Daunt, and, of
the lesser of two evils, he let me out."

And then, giving Stone no opportunity to make any comment, Larose began
his story. After one incredulous gasp of amazement, the inspector sat
perfectly still, watching Larose with never the flicker of an eyelid or
the slightest movement of the muscles of his face. He looked very grim.

When Larose had finished, a long silence followed and then Stone
announced brusquely: "I shall put you in the witness-box to-morrow," and
he set his teeth together with a snap.

"Yes," said Larose sadly, "I was afraid it would have to come to that."
His face brightened. "But I shall be a good witness and everyone will be
interested when they hear of you and Inspector Ransom taking me into
Daunt's house and asking my advice. It will seem quite humorous."

"But it won't seem quite so humorous," commented Stone savagely, "when
it is learnt that a Justice of the Peace has been conniving at the
frustration of the law, if he hasn't actually been a malefactor
himself."

"Just so!" exclaimed Larose, now appearing to be very frightened. He
nodded violently. "But still, you and the Yard won't be coming out too
well, will you, Charlie? My counsel will have to say I came forward
voluntarily, to save you from making that dreadful blunder about
Hellingsby's finger-marks, and then everybody will learn how careless
you were that night at the 'Rialto'." He coughed embarrassedly. "They
may even think----"

"What?" scowled Stone, because Larose had stopped speaking.

"Th-at you perhaps had had too much to drink," said Larose timidly,
"and----"

"You'll go into the witness-box," interrupted Stone sharply. He shook
his head angrily. "You'll not frighten me, you dandy with your
twenty-one shilling tie."

"My wife gave it to me, Charlie," said Larose reproachfully, "and you
wouldn't have me throw it away, would you?" He resumed the argument that
the inspector had interrupted. "And then, of course, all about that
little card party at the 'Rialto' will have to come out and the court
will certainly want to know what you were doing there disguised as an
old farmer, and trying to wangle an invitation to get down to
Southborough Hall so that I could break into Hellingsby's desk and
examine his private papers." He seemed very amused. "It may even come
out about that big diamond ring Rubenstein lent you and the court may
wonder if you had borrowed your dress-suit as well from him. Then----"

"Be serious," scowled Stone. "This may turn out to be a bad business for
you."

"Then my counsel will, of course, have to explain," went on Larose very
solemnly, "why we were tracking Hellingsby, and all about his bungalow
and how you went there early one morning with four officers from the
Yard. Then Hellingsby's suicide will come in and you'll be asked why you
went to the inquest and why afterwards you didn't want to dig----"

The stout inspector held up his hand protestingly. "Please, please,
Gilbert," he said wearily, "stop talking for a little while, will you?
You give me no chance to ask you any questions." He made a great
appearance of sternness. "Now I want to know why you did not at once
report this accident of Daunt's, instead of making all this melodrama
out of it, as if you were a criminal yourself?"

Larose now appeared to be all meekness again. "For two reasons,
Charlie," he said. "The first, I wanted to prevent the unhappiness that
would come to so many people if it were known Daunt had violated those
graves. Then----"

"I understand that," nodded Stone. "It would"--he hesitated--"or will,
occasion a dreadful scandal." He frowned. "And the second reason?"

"I didn't want it to be broadcast I was in any way mixed up in this
matter of Daunt's confession," replied Larose, "for then, of course, I
should have been asked how, in the first instance, I had come to know it
was Daunt who had broken into the Roding vaults. Then it would have been
so easily traced back that I found Sir Eric in an asylum for the insane
and taken him out of the hands of the authorities."

"Oh! he was in a lunatic asylum, was he!" exclaimed Stone, now showing
distinct interest. "Then how did you get him de-certified?"

Larose winked. "A bit of rope and a car waiting over the wall!" he
smiled. "Risky, but it came off!"

For a few moments Stone preserved the grimness of his features with an
effort and then the corners of his mouth twitched, his eyes twinkled and
finally he burst out laughing. "Oh, Gilbert, Gilbert," he exclaimed,
"what a reckoning there is going to be for you"--he hesitated--"some
day!" He looked puzzled. "But how did you come to know Sir Eric was in an
asylum?"

"I was in there visiting another patient," replied Larose. He hesitated
a moment. "Oh, but you may as well know, as I heard last week he is
dying." He went on. "It was Professor Panther, a one-time world-famous
brain surgeon, who had been employing Daunt to get all those heads.
That's the man I went into the asylum to see."

"And do you mean to tell me," asked Stone, "that Daunt admitted to you
he had cut up and decapitated twenty-seven corpses?"

"Yes, and taken a death-mask of every one of them too!"

"Do you know who any of them were?" asked Stone.

"Yes, every one of them," replied Larose. He tapped his breast pocket.
"I've got the memorandum book here."

"Give it to me, then," said Stone, stretching out his hand.

But Larose drew back. "No, no, Charlie," he said, "if you're going to
put me in the witness-box to-morrow my possession of this little book
may be my salvation, for it will, in part, justify my trying to hush
everything up." He shook his head. "No, I can't give it you or even let
you see it, as it contains the names of some very highly placed
people"--he nodded--"and, among them, that of a Lord Chief Justice."

Then for a long minute a deep silence followed. Larose was looking out
of the window and idly watching the flow of traffic below, while Stone,
with his arms folded, was regarding his old friend very thoughtfully.

What was this stout inspector thinking? Were his thoughts of the veiled
threats which he knew so well Larose would never carry out, was he
considering that in the public interest it was sometimes best things
should be hidden from them, was he wondering how he could reconcile his
duty with his inclination, or was he just thinking of his many years of
friendship with the man who now sat before him? Who knows?

"Give me the book, Gilbert," he said very quietly. "I'll take care of
it." Larose handed it over with a great feeling of relief in his heart.

They talked on for a long while and then at last Larose got up to go.

"Good-bye, Charlie!" he said. "Good luck to you always!"

"Good-bye, my boy," smiled Stone, and then he added: "Oh, shall you come
to the inquest to-morrow?" Larose shook his head. "No, I'm going to have
a pot with Sir Eric at his partridges."

Stone sighed. "Lucky beggar!" he exclaimed. "The world's giving you
everything!" Then just as Larose was going out of the door he added:
"Oh, send me a couple of birds, will you? Two will just do for my tea."
He made a grimace and then shook his head very solemnly. "The wages of
sin, Gilbert, the wages of sin!"

Larose looked back over his shoulder. "No, a present for a good boy," he
laughed. "Yes, I'll be sure and send them."

       *       *       *       *       *

The following day, at the inquest on the body of Joel Daunt, the jury
brought in a verdict of accidental death, adding, however, a rider that
they regretted deceased's companion upon the day of the accident had not
come forward in the public interest to explain exactly how the accident
had occurred.

Not a little interest was taken in the proceedings and unstinted praise
was accorded to Chief Inspector Stone for his clear and masterly
elucidation of all that had happened. In his summing-up the coroner
expressed his warm appreciation of the assistance the inspector had
rendered to the court and the hope that it would be noted in the proper
quarter.

Chief Inspector Stone left the court with a smiling face and was no
doubt a very happy man.

A little less than a year later, at a soiree given by the Criminologist
Society, Larose was introduced to a Dr. Joseph Benmichael of Barnwell
Hall, near Cambridge. For a few minutes they talked casually of everyday
matters and then, their mutual acquaintance having moved away and left
them to themselves, the doctor asked smilingly:

"And how's our good friend Mr. Winter, Mr. Watkins? I see there's an
heir to the baronetcy now."

Larose was quite aware the doctor had recognised him, and, although
feeling decidedly uncomfortable, nevertheless made no pretence of not
understanding. He smiled back. "Quite well, thank you, Doctor," he said,
"and I'm sure when I see him next he will tell me I should have given
you his kind regards."

"A man of most charming manners," commented the doctor, "and I am glad
he has now so completely recovered." He tapped Larose lightly upon the
arm. "But one thing, Mr. Larose, I've always been wanting to put right
with you."

"Oh, what is that?" asked Larose, a little bit uneasy as to what would
be coming next.

"It is this," said the doctor. "I should not like you to have the idea
that the organisation of my institution is so poor that a perfect
stranger to the place, like yourself, can abduct one of the patients
unbeknown to everybody." He smiled genially. "You understand what I
mean. I don't want you to imagine we are so careless of the welfare of
those entrusted to us."

Larose felt himself getting very red. "Th-en you know everything that
happened?" he asked haltingly.

"Most certainly I do," laughed the doctor, "and I even assisted you.
Your rope got caught in the summer-house that night, and it was I who
freed it for you. You remember you couldn't get it up at first?"

Larose made a wry face. "Then you let him go on purpose?" he asked, very
puzzled.

"Of course I did," said the doctor, "and very glad I was to see him
leave with so little ceremony." He lowered his voice. "You see, Mr.
Larose, I had found out afterwards that his admission into my place was
accomplished in a very irregular manner and I was always fearing that at
any moment he would become the focus of a very bad scandal." He shook
his head frowningly. "But I suppose Sir Eric Roding is always wondering
how he came to be brought to my place. Of course he'll never have any
memory of those days."

"No, he remembers nothing of what happened at first," said Larose, "but
I have told him everything." He smiled. "I know a great deal more of
that poor mad professor than you think."

"And I, perhaps, know more about you than you think," laughed the
doctor. "One thing, Miss Plum remembered who you were the moment she set
eyes on you, and was quite annoyed you didn't remember her. She had
partnered you in a mixed doubles at Lady Harding's tennis party, barely
a fortnight before you called to see her father as Mr. Watkins."

"By jove!" exclaimed Larose, "but I must be getting old, if I forgot a
pretty face like hers so quickly."

"Yes," laughed the doctor, "and it happened she passed on the
information the same night as you stole our Mr. Winter. So you see, if I
had wanted him I could have got him with no trouble."

Larose was too flabbergasted to make any comment for the moment, and Dr.
Benmichael went on in a whisper: "One last thing and this will take your
breath away." He fixed Larose's eyes with his own. "Who do you think
bought Professor Panther's house when the poor fellow died? Who do you
think bought it lock, stock and barrel, with his laboratory and museum
just as they were, thrown in? All those brain specimens, remember--oh
yes, I guess you know all about them--all those casts made from death
masks"--he grinned--"and all those wandering spirits of the dead? Now,
guess, who?"

"I can't think of anybody," laughed Larose, "unless it was that pretty
Ida Plum."

"Nonsense!" exclaimed the doctor, "think of someone else."

"I can't," said Larose. "Tell me who it was?"

Dr. Benmichael paused dramatically and then rapped out: "Our mutual
acquaintance, Mr. Wimpole Carstairs. He bought everything for his son,
who is just qualifying as a doctor."

"My God!" exclaimed Larose, and then unconsciously voicing his own
thoughts, he added, "but he's sitting on a bomb!"

"No, he isn't," smiled the doctor. "I found the key-book with all the
names among the professor's papers and destroyed it. I was one of the
executors." He nodded. "So friend Carstairs will never learn he's got
his wife's pickled brain under his own roof." He held out his hand.
"Good night, Mr. Larose. Very pleased to have met you, but I must be off
now. I want to get to bed early to-night, as I've an important
appointment with a lady at eleven o'clock to-morrow and must keep it."
He laughed slyly as he turned away. "I'm marrying that Miss Plum."



THE END



THRILLERS BY ARTHUR GASK

THE NIGHT OF THE STORM

The three young mistresses of a beautiful old Priory in Essex are faced
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3s. 6d. net.


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Gilbert Larose has met crime in a hundred guises but never has he been
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The story of a double crime, perpetrated at midnight amongst the lonely
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2s. 6d. net.



THE POISONED GOBLET

Tells of the efforts of a gang of men to kidnap the child of Lady
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2s. 6d. net.


THE HIDDEN DOOR

Gilbert Larose to the rescue once more--this time to the Suffolk coast,
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THE SHADOW OF LAROSE

Is murder, in exceptional cases, justifiable? It was with any thoughts
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THE SECRET OF THE SANDHILLS

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THE SECRET OF THE GARDEN

Archibald Cups, a bank clerk, is sentenced to prison for an embezzlement
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THRILLERS!

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THE MOON KILLER

By James Corbett, Author of "Rendezvous with Death."

The night was clear and warm. The moon, riding high in the heavens,
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LESSINGER LAUGHS LAST

By Richard Essex

Author of "Marinova of the Secret Service."

Lessinger Laughs Last is a novel that moves smoothly and rapidly along
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THE RED MIRROR MYSTERY

By Gret Lane, Author of "Three Died that Night."

Inspector Hook, hastily summoned to a lonely country house near the sea,
arrived to find a woman lying dead in a luxurious bedroom. Many small
details about the crime puzzled him. The chief clue, unnoticed at first,
was the position of a red enamelled hand mirror. How could a lady's hand
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murderer?



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