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Title: The Grave-digger of Monks Arden
Author: Arthur Gask
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
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Language: English
Date first posted: September 2012
Date most recently updated: September 2012

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THE GRAVE-DIGGER OF MONKS ARDEN

By

ARTHUR GASK


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.


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
CHAPTER II.—THE VAULTS OF THE RODINGS
CHAPTER III.—THE DEATH MASK
CHAPTER IV.—AN ASYLUM FOR THE INSANE
CHAPTER V.—THE ESCAPE FROM THE ASYLUM
CHAPTER VI.—THE SECRET CHAMBER
CHAPTER VII.—THE RESOURCE OF LAROSE
CHAPTER VIII.—LAROSE IN DANGER AGAIN
CHAPTER IX.—THE LIVING AND THE DEAD
CHAPTER X.—THE TRAIL OF MURDER
CHAPTER XI.—SETTING THE TRAP
CHAPTER XII.—A NARROW ESCAPE
CHAPTER XIII.—JUSTICE
CHAPTER 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 suddenly with an accusation of murder. Harassed by the unceasing police investigations the girls appeal to Gilbert Larose. Another thrilling chapter in the life of the famous detective.

7s. 6d. net

THE MASTER SPY

This exciting international spy story will keep the reader breathless from cover to cover.

East Anglian Times: "Will be relished by those who revel in thrills."

7s. 6d. net.

THE JEST OF LIFE

A pleasantly humorous novel. Mr. Gask's touch is light and sure, and his characterization shows a deep and sympathetic insight into the frailties of human nature.

Truth: "A rich feast of riotous humour with a moral to it."

3s. 6d. net.

THE HANGMAN'S KNOT

Gilbert Larose has met crime in a hundred guises but never has he been called upon to elucidate a mystery so completely baffling as in this first-class thriller.

Manchester Evening Chronicle: "An amazing amount of cleverness and ingenuity."

3s. 6d. net.

THE DARK HIGHWAY

The story of a double crime, perpetrated at midnight amongst the lonely sand-dunes of the Coorong.

Nottingham Journal: "A thrilling story."

2s. 6d. net.

THE POISONED GOBLET

Tells of the efforts of a gang of men to kidnap the child of Lady Ardane. Larose takes a hand and finds himself faced with one of the most puzzling cases of his career.

Manchester Evening Chronicle: "A pleasing piece of work."

2s. 6d. net.

THE HIDDEN DOOR

Gilbert Larose to the rescue once more—this time to the Suffolk coast, where, in the space of a few weeks, four residents of adjoining villages had mysteriously disappeared. An extremely clever detective story.

2s. 6d. net.

RED PASTE MURDERS

For the eighth time in a fortnight, and for the fourth day in succession, murder is committed in Adelaide! Who is the mysterious assassin? A novel of non-stop thrills and excitement.

2s. 6d. net.

GENTLEMEN OF CRIME

A millionaire was being forced to pay enormous sums of money by a blackmailer. So he hired the most celebrated detectives and crooks to help him. A magnificent story of plot and counterplot.

2s. 6d. net.

THE SHADOW OF LAROSE

Is murder, in exceptional cases, justifiable? It was with any thoughts but those of murder that Charles Edis began his holiday, yet before many hours had passed—he had committed murder.

Times Literary Supplement: "Moves quickly and excitingly."

2s. 6d. net.

THE JUDGMENT OF LAROSE

A distinguished house-party was assembled at Southdown Court when suddenly the peace of this country house was shattered by the discovery of a terrible crime. An extremely ingenious and forceful yarn.

2s. 6d. net,

THE SECRET OF THE SANDHILLS

Two little boys and a dog came upon a good pair of shoes on the beach. The dog sniffed so much at the sand close by, that the boys scraped away and came across a man's leg. An intriguing murder mystery.

2s. 6d. net.

THE SECRET OF THE GARDEN

Archibald Cups, a bank clerk, is sentenced to prison for an embezzlement which he did not commit. He escapes and hides in the house of the very judge who sentenced him.

Field: "Mr. Gask is a great hand at ingenious situations."

2s. 0d. net.

CLOUD THE SMITER

The story of a great criminal and his associates who for long defied the police of Australia. But in the end one word proved the undoing of the whole band.

The Times: "The Smiter is a capital creation."

2s. 0d. net.

THE LONELY HOUSE

Tells of a lonely house upon a lonely shore, and how a master-criminal was in hiding there; how chance led a great tracker of crime to the spot, and how his feet came first to be set upon the trail.

Titles Literary Supplement: "Thrilling from beginning to end."

2s. 0d. net.


"THRILLERS"

Each 7/6 net

THE MOON KILLER

By James Corbett, Author of "Rendezvous with Death."

The night was clear and warm. The moon, riding high in the heavens, bathed the silent countryside in its silvery radiance, casting shadows of jet beyond the trees and hedgerows which lay in its path. Along a stretch of road bordered on either side by trees a car was travelling. Suddenly, a long drawn-out scream broke the silence of the scene. A breathless thriller.

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 its appointed path, with the suave Lessinger more than once taxed to the limit of his skill and resourcefulness. He throws away a fortune in a beer bottle, and the subsequent adventures of that bottle are bizarre and startling enough to thrill even the most blase reader of thrillers.

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 mirror provide an essential clue in a murder case? How could the position in which it rested indicate the probable identity of the murderer?


THE END

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