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Title: The Beachy Head Murder
Author: Arthur Gask
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
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Language: English
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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Beachy Head Murder
Author: Arthur Gask


*


The Beachy Head Murder

by

Arthur Gask


What this story is about.

As a writer of thrillers Arthur Gask is preeminent. Foremost critics of
the great national and provincial press have unanimously praised his
many books: H. G. Wells confessed to reading him in the small hours. His
Gilbert Larose is outstanding amongst memorable characters in mystery
fiction as such novels as 'The Tragedy of the Silver Moon' and 'The
House on the Fens' clearly demonstrate.

'The Beachy Head Murder' is true to form. It tells the absorbing story
of a crime perpetrated and atoned for, and of the later sequel in which
the all but perfect murder was committed. Larose, however, was not
deceived. Gifted with a profound insight into human nature and possessed
of astonishing powers of observation, he identified the murderer and, in
the dramatic climax, dispensed his own brand of justice.

*

THE BEACHY HEAD MURDER

by

ARTHUR GASK

HERBERT JENKINS LIMITED

3 DUKE OF YORK STREET, ST. JAMES'S LONDON, S.W.I

First printing----------- 1941

Printed in Great Britain by Butler & Tanner Ltd., Frome and London

*

CONTENTS

CHAPTER.

I. THE NARRATIVE OF JASON BROWN

II. THE NARRATIVE CONTINUED

III. THE NARRATIVE CONCLUDED

IV. THE DEATH OF A SCOUNDREL

V. THE WHITE SLAVE

VI. THE GUTTERED CANDLE

VII. JUDGMENT

VIII. THE THREADS OF FATE



THE BEACHY HEAD MURDER




Chapter I.--THE NARRATIVE OF JASON BROWN.


If everything about me were known, I am quite aware the greater number
of people would insist that I must be by nature an evil man.

The thought of which amuses me, as in these latter years I appear to so
conform to all the generally accepted ideas of solid British
respectability.

At only thirty-five I am a well-to-do landowner, the squire of our
village and the youngest Justice of the Peace in my country. I open
Flower Shows, I give away prizes at the local sports and I am on the
Boards of Management of several public institutions. Also, coming of
good stock--my father was the grandson of an earl--I am held to be a
worthy example of that class which in Britain's glorious history has
done so much to win for her her world-wide greatness.

But I was not always so esteemed. I was a hunted man once. There was a
reward of five hundred pounds for my capture and, for ought I know, the
offer is still open. I was a thief, and worse than that, I killed the
man who had been sent to catch me.

I don't deny I did very wrong, but I do plead in extenuation that I did
my utmost to atone for my offences. Also, there was no premeditation
about my crimes.

It was through one single foolish action, not in itself criminal, that I
was drawn into the vortex of all that trouble. I always find
consolation, too, in the thought that when I took that man's life I was
sure I was only acting in self-defence. He gave me no chance, and I
believe he was intending to murder me to obtain that bank-wallet. I did
not dream he was a detective.

Of course, I know there are many who will always condemn irrevocably
directly one false step is taken, but I hold such people are nearly
always hypocrites. After all, wrong-doing is so often only a matter of
courage, and in all probability the majority of those who would now be
most bitter against me because of that theft, in similar circumstances
would be just as bad as I was--if they only dared.

Yes, Nature has shaped us all very much in the same mould.

I mean who among us would care to write down for everyone to read all
that his thoughts have been, all that he has longed for and all that he
would have done if he had dared?

So many things which are forbidden are natural to us, and I always hold
that every man, at heart, is more or less a criminal. In the lives of
all of us, at one time or another, there must be many so-called crimes
we would have liked to carry out, and we have only been prevented from
doing so by the restraining influences of education, convention and the
laws under which we live for our mutual protection.

And the more courage we have the greater must have been our temptations.
The more mastery we have obtained over the affairs of life and the more
successes we have had, the more we are inclined to exert that mastery
and continue those successes wherever our inclinations may lead us.
Remember, the timid man never digs deep into crime. He may rise to the
paltry heights of a petty pilferer and sneak-thief, or a cheater of
people where he is sure he will never be found out, but he never gives
the authorities much trouble in bigger ways.

We cannot get away from it, that all his life long, from his earliest
days, it has been the natural inclination of Man to take what is
appealing to him. The wish, however, of itself, does not make him an
evil person.

For example, I am devoted to Margaret and do not believe that any wife
could be more beloved by her husband than is she. Still, I often see
other women whom I would like to make a fuss about and whose lover I
should not mind being.

Only the other day a young girl came to me in great distress. She was of
my own class and very pretty. For the services I rendered her, it would
have been hard for her to be unresponsive to me, if only out of
gratitude, had I made any advances. She was about to be married to a man
for whom I fancied she did not much care. It was, however, from a money
point of view, going to be a splendid match for her, but her terror now
was that an old flame was threatening to spoil everything with some
letters of hers he was holding.

Feeling very sorry for her, I paid the man an unexpected visit, gave him
a well-deserved thrashing, and practically took the letters from him by
force. Then, for my reward I contented myself with the relief I saw in
the girl's eyes. I admit frankly it was hard for me, as she seized my
hand and kissed it fervently in her gratitude.

Then again, another thing I would like to do. There's a man I could
cheerfully murder, if I only let myself go. I hate him, not only for his
general mode of life, but also in particular for his treatment of his
young wife. There is always murder in my heart whenever I meet him, but
I have to repress all signs of my feelings and even be more than civil
to him, because I am continually meeting him in the course of my public
activities and, besides, because he is very wealthy and helps our
charities a lot.

Yes, I am for ever repressing my longings in one way or another, and I
have not the slightest doubt that all people go through repressions in
the same way. So no one must be judged by what he or she would like to
do.

To come, however, to the story I am going to tell.

Ten years ago I was working in a stock-broker's office in the city. My
salary was four guineas a week and of this I paid thirty-five shillings
to a boarding-house in West Kensington. My fares and lunches cost me
another fifteen shillings. So, when I had paid for cigarettes,
newspapers and clothes, there was not much left for amusements. Still, I
managed to get in an occasional Saturday afternoon at the races, and
from time to time to take a girl out to a cheap dinner in Soho and a
cinema afterwards. I thought I was seeing life when I ordered a
two-shilling bottle of claret with the meal, and later, kissed the girl
in the park.

One summer I had saved up nearly ten pounds for my holiday and resolved
to go for a walking tour along the South Coast. So, on the Sunday after
the August Bank Holiday, I took the evening train to Brighton, intending
the next day to tramp the twenty or more miles to Eastbourne.

I was travelling very light, my luggage consisting of only a brush and
comb, a tooth-brush and a mackintosh. I had also brought a book, Winwood
Reade's Martyrdom of Man, to read in the evenings.

The next morning, setting out early from Brighton, I happened to pass a
small bicycle-repairing shop and saw by the door a bicycle ticketed
'only four pound.' The idea came into my mind instantaneously what a
good investment it would be. I could use it for the greater part of my
holiday and then sell it again. At most, I thought, I should lose thirty
shillings by the transaction, as it could be easily resold anywhere for
two pounds ten.

So, having made sure the machine and tyres were in good condition, ten
minutes later I was blithely pedalling along the Newhaven Road. The day
was fine and hot, but there was the feeling of thunder in the air. I had
bought a pair of cheap dark glasses to keep out the glare of the sun. At
Seaford I bought some sandwiches and, a few miles farther on, turned off
the main Eastbourne Road, to reach the sea at Birling Gap and have a
bathe.

I had had my swim, redressed and had just finished my sandwiches, when I
heard a car pull up upon the low cliffs above and a couple of minutes or
so later two men came down on to the beach, with towels thrown over
their shoulders. The older of them was stout and red-faced, he was
carrying a big leather wallet about a foot square. I noticed,
subconsciously, that he had pushed the wallet carefully out of sight
under his clothes directly after he had started undressing.

Then he angered me intensely by throwing a stone at some seagulls near
him and laughing with great glee when they flew off, with one of them
dangling a broken leg.

"Damned good shot that," he exclaimed boisterously, "but then I'm always
pretty good at it. I got one last week, at home in just the same way. I
detest the squealing crows."

I was furious with him for his cruelty, and always inclined to be
hasty-tempered, for very little would have told him what I thought of
him. He looked such an arrogant and over-bearing brute.

Wheeling my bicycle back up the Gap, I started off leisurely upon the
winding road which runs by the cliffs towards Beachy Head. Not having
ridden a bicycle for some time, my legs were already beginning to feel
stiff and tired and I had to go slowly.

I had gone a little over a mile and was just under the old Belle Toute
lighthouse when I heard a car coming up behind me. I did not look round,
but the hooter was sounded in such fierce spasmodic jerks that, although
the road was both wide and clear in front of me, I instinctively veered
to its extreme side. Even then, the car, travelling at a great pace,
roared by so unpleasantly close to me that I could distinctly feel the
wind it made as it passed.

It was an open sports car and I swore angrily as I saw one of its two
occupants turn his head round and grin. He evidently thought it good fun
that I had been almost run off the road, and I was not at all surprised
when I recognised him as the red-faced man who had been stoning those
seagulls at the Gap.

Then, just when the grinning fool had got his back to me again and the
car could only have been about a hundred and fifty yards farther on, I
saw some object fly out over the back and bump on to the road. Arriving
to where it lay, I recognised it at once as the big wallet the red-faced
man had tucked under his clothes while he had been undressing.

Picking it up, I drew in a deep breath as I read upon the small brass
plate attached to it, "Southern and Sussex Bank, Brighton Branch."

"Whew, money!" I whistled. "Perhaps thousands of pounds in notes!"

The car had by this time roared away out of sight. I was in a deep dip
in the Downs and there was not a soul to be seen anywhere. About half a
mile inland there was a flock of sheep, and the sheep and some wheeling
seagulls were the only signs of life about.

Now I can never quite understand exactly what impulse urged me to make
such a quick decision, but, instantly, I looked round for somewhere to
hide the wallet. I really think my only idea then was to spite the
red-faced man. He had been wantonly cruel to that seagull, and it had
undoubtly been of sheer malicious purpose that the car had been driven
so close to me. He had approved of it by his grin.

On both sides of the road, all the way along, there were a large number
of big lumps of chalk, of varying sizes, scattered about upon the turf,
and laying down my bicycle, I ran over to a big flat one about twenty
yards away and pushed the wallet underneath.

Then I remounted my bicycle and started to ride up the road towards
Beachy Head, chuckling at what I had done. The red-faced man would be in
a great state when he discovered his loss and it would serve him right.
He deserved to be punished and I did not mind if he never found the
wallet at all. If he did find it, it would only be after a lot of
trouble and he would never learn how it came to be placed under the lump
of chalk.

Proceeding slowly along, I happened to glance round again at the flock
of sheep, and to my annoyance, and in some way to my consternation, saw
there was now a man moving among them. He must, I thought, have been
bending down when I had first looked that way and it gave me a certain
pang of uneasiness that perhaps he had seen my hurried run across the
turf to hide the wallet. But I dismissed the idea as improbable. If,
however, he had seen me, in all probability he would not have been
interested and perhaps only thought I had been running after some paper
which had fluttered away in the wind.

I pedalled on and then, when about half a mile farther upon my way heard
a roar in the distance and saw the sports car tearing back towards me.
Evidently the loss of the wallet had been discovered and they were
returning poste-haste to find it.

The car was jerked to a standstill when it reached me. "Hi, you there!"
shouted the red-faced man brusquely, as I dismounted from my machine
with some reluctance. "Have you seen a bag on the road?" and his
frowning eyes seemed to search me up and down, as if to make sure I had
not got it tucked up under my jacket.

"No, I have not," I replied surlily, not liking the curt maimer in which
he was addressing me, and without a word he threw in his clutch and
roared the car back towards Birling Gap.

I grinned in delight at his discomfiture and rode on, but then,
suddenly, a horrid fear gripped me. Suppose that man with the sheep had
noticed everything, had saw me pushing something under the lump of
chalk, after I had gone had run over to find out what it had been!
Suppose, too, that the men in the car were, even now, stopping to speak
to him, which they would certainly be doing if they encountered him
anywhere near the road! Of course he would tell them he had seen a man
on a bicycle hiding the wallet and then--good God, it would be a matter
for the police!

My blood ran cold. What a fool I had been! By that silly action, taken
thoughtlessly and upon the spur of the moment, I had put myself in a
dreadful position, for it could only look as if I had hidden the wallet
with the intention of coming back later to steal its contents.

And how could I hope to escape being caught? Things might happen very
quickly and any moment the car might be coming back! A solitary cyclist,
a young man all by himself, would be a conspicuous object, and even if I
got among the crowd, nearly always to be found at the top of Beachy
Head, I might easily be recognised and picked out.

I was always quick in my decisions, often too quick, and in less than a
minute had turned off the road and thrown myself and the bicycle down
behind a clump of blackberry bushes about twenty paces away.

Almost to the second as I flattened myself upon the turf, I heard a car
in the distance, and not half a minute later the two-seater sports
re-appeared. I had been only just in time.

It tore past me at an even more furious pace than ever, and I imagined
the red-faced man was looking viciously angry.

What had happened, I asked myself with my heart pumping hard? Had they
met the man with the sheep and, from what he told them he had seen, had
they recovered the wallet? Or, had they gone the whole way back to
Birling Gap and, encountering no one upon the road and yet not finding
the wallet, had suddenly come to realise that I must have had something
to do with its disappearance?

Either of these two things might have occurred, but they had been so
quick in returning that I was inclined to think they must have met the
man with the sheep. At any rate, their furious haste now could only mean
that they were after me. They wanted the man on the bicycle and I
expected they felt confident they would catch him.

For the moment I felt absolutely sick with consternation and then a
thought leapt into my mind. Unless they saw me with the bicycle, surely
they would not be able to recognise me again? If I got rid of my bicycle
they could only have a very incomplete idea of what I looked like. When
they had stood talking to me for those few seconds I had had the big
sunglasses on and the peak of my cap pulled well down over my eyes
because of the glare of the sun.

Then there was nothing either of the cycling tourist about my
appearance. I was wearing perfectly ordinary clothes, with long
trousers, the ends of which were tucked into the tops of my socks. So,
in a few seconds I could become a pedestrian again, and with my trousers
put straight, my sun-glasses back in my pocket, and my cap turned round,
the cyclist would have completely disappeared.

I was so certain that by hiding that wretched wallet I had put myself in
a most compromising position that I adopted no half measures. I
determined the bicycle should vanish altogether, or at any rate not be
found until it was too late to do me any harm.

The cliff three hundred and more feet high was only a few yards behind
me and in a few seconds my newly-acquired machine was toppling over on
to the rocks below. The tide was almost at its full and I knew there
would be no one underneath. The five-mile stretch of beach between
Beachy Head and Birling Gap is a dangerous place to be caught at all
high tides, as in many places the sea washes right up to the foot of the
cliffs.

At that very moment drops of rain began to fall, and it seemed to make
sure my salvation. I put on my mackintosh and, with it well buttoned up
to my chin, walked confidently along the edge of the cliff to the Head.
It was still raining when I reached there, but only a fine drizzle and
not enough to keep a goodly number of holiday makers from standing round
to gaze down at the waves breaking upon the rocks so many hundreds of
feet below.

I mingled with them, but the rain beginning to fall more heavily now,
most of us soon began to move off towards the hotel about a hundred
yards away. I saw no signs of the red-faced man or his companion. I had
a drink in the crowded bar, remaining there for about half an hour.

The rain was continuing, but now only in an unpleasant drizzle, as I
went outside again. I thought it best to be in no hurry to leave the
Head in case a watch should have been set all round. Then, seeing a
large empty char-a-banc parked by the side of the hotel, I approached
the driver and conductor who were having a smoke inside, and enquired if
they would have room to give me a lift when, later, they left to return
to the town.

They told me there was plenty of room but that they would not be leaving
for another hour. I said that would suit me nicely, and getting inside
out of the rain, sat smoking and talking with them.

Then I began to think I had been much too hasty in getting rid of my
bicycle in the way I had done. It looked very much to me now as if the
two men had got back their wallet and, while they would have liked to
have cursed me, they could not have done more. After all, they had no
proof that I had touched the wallet and it would have been the
shepherd's word against mine. Apart from that, too, as bank officers,
they would certainly not have wanted it to come out how careless they
had been. So, I began swearing at myself for having smashed up a
perfectly good bicycle and wasted four pounds, a loss that I could ill
afford. At any rate, I ought to have had the sense to have left it
behind the blackberry bushes and gone back to fetch it later on when the
coast would have been quite clear.

For a few minutes I felt furious at my stupidity, but then, suddenly,
and all in a matter of seconds, I came to realise I had done the right
thing.

I heard a car in the distance and, looking round, saw two coming from
the direction of Eastbourne. Even before the first was close enough for
me to be certain, my heart bumped, for an instinct told me it was that
of the red-faced man. Both cars pulled up within a few yards of us and
everyone jumped out. There were three men in the second car.

"'Tecs," whispered the driver of the char-a-banc excitedly to his mate.
"That tall one's Joe Whitburn, a smart chap. I know him. What's up?"

After a glance in our direction, the man he indicated, followed by the
others, came up. "Hullo, Henderson," he exclaimed addressing the driver.
"Now do you happen to have noticed a young fellow going by on a
push-bike towards the town? He's by himself, is wearing big sun-glasses
and has got his cap pulled down low upon his forehead."

The driver considered. "Not that I took any notice of, Joe." He jerked
his head in the direction of the cliffs. "But there are several cyclists
over there."

The red-faced man was looking very worried. To my delight he hadn't
given me a second glance. Evidently I was safe, I told myself, with a
sigh of great relief. As I thought, they would not be able to recognise
me unless I were with my bicycle.

The detective nodded his thanks and they all moved off towards the
cliffs. I saw them again presently, and they all looked very glum. They
had a short conversation by their cars and then drove off again in the
direction of the town. An hour or so later, when we left, we passed a
policeman at the cross-roads. He had obviously been stationed there to
keep a look-out.

It was not until a couple of weeks later that I learnt all that had
happened that eventful afternoon. Following upon the dreadful tragedy
which took place so soon afterwards, reporters came down in droves and
very quickly their newspapers put together a full story.

It appeared the red-faced man was the manager of the Brighton Bank and
his destination that afternoon had been their Eastbourne Branch. His
companion had been one of the bank clerks and they had turned off the
main road, as I had done, to have a dip in the sea at Birling Gap.

They had missed the wallet just before reaching Beachy Head, and
realising at once that it must have bumped out of the car, had turned
back without a second's delay to recover it. After having spoken to me,
they had been quite certain they would pick it up before they reached
the Gap. Then, having arrived there and not seeing it anywhere on the
road, and, moreover, meeting no one upon their return journey, they had
suddenly come to the conclusion that I must have picked it up, for they
now remembered seeing the wallet in the car just before they had come
upon me the first time.

So they had raced back to the Head, and seeing no signs of me, had
stopped at the hotel to put through a telephone call to the Eastbourne
police, informing them what had happened and asking that a cordon be
instantly drawn round the whole district, so that I should not escape.
They said the wallet contained upwards of seven thousand pounds in
treasury notes.

The call put through, they had continued on the road towards Eastbourne,
with very little hope, however, seeing they had lost so little time,
that they would find I had got in front of them there. Their surmise
proving correct, they had driven on to the police-station in Eastbourne
and returned to Beachy Head accompanied by the three detectives.

And that's where the story ended for that day, the police being,
however, quite certain no man on a bicycle had got away with the wallet.
Their cordon had been flung so quickly and so wide they were positive of
that. Their opinion was I had hidden the bicycle and got away on foot.
Moreover, they had no hope of catching me, as neither the bank manager
nor his clerk could give any useful description of me. All the two last
could say was that I was of medium height and build, was very sunburnt,
had my cap pulled well down over my forehead, and was wearing big
sun-glasses. They could not remember anything particular about my
clothes.

As I say, at the time I knew nothing about any of these things, but I
was feeling perfectly confident that I was safe from any recognition. I
had got out of what might have been a very ugly situation with only the
loss of my bicycle.

Arriving in Eastbourne, I put up at Benger's Hall, an old-fashioned
coffee tavern in the poorer part of the town. It looked clean, and was
certainly cheap. Anyhow, it was the best I could afford now, with my
finances so depleted by the loss of the bicycle. There was no trouble
about my having no luggage, as at the Coffee Hall you paid for your
night's lodging in advance and your meals as you had them.

Originally I had meant my walking tour should extend right round the
coast as far as Whitstable, and was not intending to stop longer than
one night in any town. The next morning, however, I altered my plans. I
found my bed at the coffee tavern very comfortable and the food good,
indeed, I doubted if I should find as good a place anywhere along the
route I had selected to follow.

So I resolved to remain on in Eastbourne for a few days, helped, too, to
form this decision by something which had nothing to do with the coffee
tavern. I had learnt that the local paper, the Eastbourne Chronicle,
came out on the Wednesday morning and I wanted to see if there was any
reference in it to the loss of the wallet. I wanted to know if the
wallet had been found.

Besides, like the murderer whom, tradition says, always returns to the
scene of his crime, I could not tear myself away so easily from Beachy
Head. If there were no mention of the wallet in the morning in the
Chronicle, I must go and see if it were still where I had hidden it. I
could safely walk along the cliffs as far as Belle Toute and cock my eye
round in passing. I remembered distinctly the flattish lump of chalk and
would be able to pick it out at once.

So I lounged about all that morning, watching the people and listening
to the band. In the afternoon, I spoke to two rather pretty girls who
were walking on the promenade by themselves. They proved smilingly
agreeable to my society and at first I was inclined to congratulate
myself upon my charm. But soon finding them very greedy in the
consumption of iced drinks, and, later, both of them informing me most
pointedly of their firm intention to keep together for the whole time of
their stay in the town, I came to the conclusion that the adventure
would not be profitable to pursue any farther and so bade them good-bye.
They had cost me four and sixpence.

The next morning, the moment the Chronicle appeared on the streets, I
bought a copy, and proceeded to scan down its columns, for some reason
with certain feelings of apprehension. A two-inch advertisement at once
caught my eye.



"100 Reward. The above sum will be paid to anyone providing information
leading to the recovery of a leather bank-wallet and contents, dropped
about two thirty-five p.m. on Monday last from car on the cliff road
between Birling Gap and Beachy Head. Apply Southern and Sussex Bank,
Eastbourne."



A shiver ran down my spine. So they had not recovered the wallet, and
from the wording of the advertisement, they did not consider it had been
'Lost.' They knew it had been stolen! Then without doubt the police were
working frenziedly to pick up my trail! There were eyes on the lookout
all around me and if my identity were uncovered it would mean penal
servitude for me!

My knees began to totter as I furtively wiped the perspiration from my
forehead. Then, all in a second, a fierce glow of relief and
thanksgiving surged through me. I was a fool, for what had the missing
wallet now to do with me? It was not in my possession and there was
nothing to link me up with its disappearance. Certainly, I had been in
danger once, but I had slipped through their cordon and was now quite
safe. Yes, I was quite safe! I need not be disturbed in the slightest.
Things were only amusing.

And I continued in the same frame of mind for all the remainder of the
day. I was hugging to myself a great secret in which no one had a share
and it was most gratifying. I chuckled, too, with glee, thinking how I
had repaid the red-faced man, both for his cruelty to the seagulls and
the caddish, low-down trick of his car having been driven so dangerously
close to me.

The next morning I went for a long walk over the Downs towards East
Dean, first making my way round to where I had seen the man with the
sheep. I sat on the edge of a big chalk-pit there, looking across the
little valley which lay between me and the old lighthouse on the farther
ridge of down and deliberating whether it would be safe to go and see if
the wallet were where I had left it.

Different from the last time I had been there, quite a number of people
were about, and, after a few minutes' rest, I strolled over towards
Belle Toute. I walked round the lighthouse and then started in the
direction of Beachy Head, proceeding quite leisurely and with my eyes
upon the ground.

I had no difficulty in picking out the big slab of chalk, but to my
annoyance saw at once that I could not be sure if the wallet were there
unless I lifted it up. The slab seemed to be resting quite evenly on the
turf.

I did not dare stop, for there was a picnic party not fifty yards away,
and if they saw me disturbing the stone, their curiosity might become
aroused and when I had left they might come over to see what had been
interesting me.

My conscience, but the fat would be in the fire with a vengeance then!

So I set off for Eastbourne again, resolved, however, I would return
again after dark. From complete indifference as to what would happen to
the wallet, I was now cudgelling my brains as to how I could capitalise
my knowledge of where, if no one had taken it away, it could be found. I
thought I ought to get the reward, if only because the red-faced man
would probably have to pay it.

Yes, I would come back that night and, all being well, carry the wallet
away to another hiding-place, one to which I could direct the bank
without any difficulty when I thought fit to let them regain their
property. Some hazy idea was forming in my mind of writing to them
anonymously, offering to return the wallet intact if the reward were
paid and no questions asked. I just mention that to show that up to then
I had no thought of interfering with the contents of the wallet.

I had intended to start off for Belle Toute about eight o'clock that
evening, but soon after six it started to rain heavily and I had to put
the expedition off. I did not fancy a ten-mile trip over the Downs upon
a stormy night. Besides, I must have the moonlight to enable me to find
the wallet.

So, instead of going out after tea, I sat on in the coffee tavern and
studied a sporting paper. I knew something about racing and looked to
see what horses were running at the Brighton fixture upon the following
Saturday. My interest quickened at once when I saw that Ashanti Gold was
down to run in the six-furlong sprint.

The horse was an old favourite of mine, but only after the silly way so
many little bettors have. I had never had any particular information
about him, but had often backed him because a grandfather of mine had
fought in the Ashanti War. Ashanti Gold, an aged gelding now, had won
only a few times in his rather undistinguished career, with very long
intervals in between. Still, when he had won it had been invariably at
good odds, twenty to one and over.

I wished sadly I were going to Brighton on Saturday, for with his many
failures he owed me quite a bit of money in a small way, and I thought
it about time the old boy popped up again.

The next day was bright and fine, and with the wallet more than ever in
my mind, I was eagerly awaiting the coming of evening. I bought a small
electric torch to equip myself for the adventure.

Then that morning I did a very silly thing which might easily have got
me into trouble. I knew where the police-station was, and walked round
to it to see if by any chance there was a bill posted up outside about
the wallet.

Sure enough there was, and like a big gaby, I was not content to read it
once but must have done so quite half a dozen times. It was worded
almost exactly the same as the advertisement in the paper, except that
on this notice people were now asked to come to the police if they had
any information.

The bill was more conspicuous than the other notices upon the board,
because it stood at one end all by itself. It quite fascinated me, and I
stood grinning to myself at the thought of what a surprise I could cause
if I went inside and told them what I knew.

Then, out of the tail of my eye, I saw a man come through the open door
of the police-station, about a dozen paces away, and proceed to walk
leisurely in my direction. I cursed under my breath at the reckless
folly which had allowed me to be seen anywhere near the station, for I
recognised him instantly as one of the detectives who had spoken to the
driver of the char-a-banc that eventful afternoon upon Beachy Head. He
was the 'tec whom the driver had said was Joe Whitburn, 'a smart chap.'

But if I am prone to silly mistakes, I am always like lightning in my
attempts to avoid their consequences, and now I composed my features
instantly to a wooden expression and continued to stare on at the
poster. Then, as if I had felt rather than seen the detective walking up
to me, I turned myself half round to regard him casually and with no
special interest. It happened I had got an unlighted cigarette in my
hand.

"Could you oblige me with a match, sir?" I asked, after a moment, as he,
too, stood looking at the poster.

He regarded me pleasantly. "Certainly!" he smiled, and he made to feel
in his pockets for a box. Then he smiled as if rather amused. "But I'm
afraid I can't. I don't appear to have got any. Oh, come inside, will
you? I'll give you one," and he jerked his head towards the doorway from
where he'd just come.

I frowned. "What, into the police-station?" I asked. I looked down at
his big boots. "Then you're a detective are you?" I forced a grin to my
face. "Do you want to take me up?"

He laughed. "No, no, why should I?" He seemed to think it a good joke.
"You've not done anything wrong, have you?"

"Plenty of things," I laughed back. I pretended to look very knowing.
"But I haven't been found out yet."

With great good humour he led the way into the station and I dared not
back out. My heart was thumping like a sledge-hammer, but I kept my wits
about me, and to give colour to my being without matches, while
following behind him made a lightning transference of a box of matches
from my trouser pocket to the top of my jacket. People never carried
matches there.

The detective led me into a big room, untenanted except for a stout
policeman seated behind a tall desk. "Got a match, Bob?" he asked and,
the policeman handing him a box, he passed it over to me to help myself.

Then when I had struck a match and was in the act of lighting my
cigarette, with quick movements and before I realised what he was going
to do, he had passed his hands in turn, over both my trouser pockets and
the side ones of my jacket.

"Hullo!" I called out angrily, and stepping back a pace or two. "What
are you up to? Are you giving me the once over?"

"Not at all," he laughed, "but I thought it funny that, as a smoker,
you'd got no matches on you."

"I'd forgotten them," I replied surlily. "I left them at home."

Then, suddenly, I saw the whole expression of his face alter, with the
pleasant, easy-going smile all in a few seconds changing into a hard
frown. "Here, I say," he asked sharply, "where have I seen you before?"

I shook my head sullenly. I intended him to think I was annoyed at his
touching my clothes. "I'm sure I don't know," I replied. I spoke
sarcastically. "You might have seen me anywhere in the town. I have not
been going about in disguise."

"You're a visitor to Eastbourne, of course?" he glared. "Well, how long
have you been here? Since Monday! Then where have you been staying?"

I glared back at him. "Mind your own business," I snapped. "What's that
to do with you?"

He spoke sternly. "You don't care to say? That's it, is it?"

"Don't be a fool," I swore rudely. "If you must know, I'm stopping at
Benger's Coffee Hall and my name's plain Brown." My anger rose. "But
what the hell do you want to know for?"

He took out his handkerchief and blew his nose violently.

"Steady, steady," he reproved, "no offence is intended and, of course,
no one has anything against you." He walked over to the window
overlooking the road. "But you just come over here and I'll explain." He
was smiling again as he pointed outside and went on. "You see, when any
of us here happen to notice anyone staring hard at that noticeboard, and
staring for a long time, one of us generally goes out to give him a
glance over and see what he's looking at so particularly." He shook one
fat forefinger playfully. "Now you might be one of those missing
husbands who's posted up for deserting his wife, mightn't you," and he
laughed heartily at his own joke.

"And what did you paw me over for," I asked as if still angered, "to see
if I'd got a gun on me?"

He made a wry face. "When you asked me for a match I thought it might
just have been a bit of a bluff on your part to make out you were quite
unconcerned, just an excuse to appear quite cool."

I was now really amused myself, not because of the trick he had played
on me, but because of the trick I had played on him. All the same, I was
still feeling a bit uncomfortable, for I saw the stout policeman had
left the room, and was wondering if his going had had anything to do
with me.

The detective, however, continued to be most amiable and, forcing upon
me one of his cigarettes, related quite a good story of how an
absconding bank cashier had once been caught in that way, having shown
too much interest in his description, as posted up on the noticeboard.
The policeman returned during the recital of the story, and I would have
sworn the detective instantly took his eyes off me to flash a quick
glance at his subordinate. We parted a minute or two later on very
friendly terms, Whitburn insisting upon my keeping the entire box of
matches.

When I got back to the Coffee Hall for the midday meal, one of the
waitresses told me someone had rung up for me during the morning, and
upon learning I was out, had stated it didn't matter and that he would
ring up again. He hadn't given his name and had left no message.

My heart went down into my boots. Of course, it was the police station
ringing up! Directly I had told that Whitburn, the detective, where I
was living, he had somehow 'given the office' to the stout policeman to
get on the 'phone and find out if there was a Brown staying at the
Coffee Hall.

Then why had Whitburn been suspicious about me? Ah, I had it! The bank
manager had probably described me as young and sun-scorched, and so
anyone young and looking at all sunburnt was liable to fall under
suspicion. Then should I be shadowed now I asked myself? Should I be
watched and followed so that it would be dangerous for me to make that
journey to Belle Toute I was intending?

A moment's thought and I realised how foolish my fears were. There must
be thousands of sunburnt young men in Eastbourne at that moment, in fact
everybody one met showed evidences of the hot sun. Besides, and I felt
very pleased with myself there, the very fact that I had given my
correct name and address would have cleared me at once. No, I had
nothing to be afraid of and they would never give me another thought.

I left the Coffee Hall that night about an hour before dark, knowing
that it would be quite all right, whatever time I returned. It was an
easy-going place and the side-door always was kept open, with a dim
light always burning in the passage until dawn.

I did not take the direct road, but went up on to the Downs through the
Old Town and made for the chalk-pit where I had rested two days
previously. It was a good hour and a half's quick walking by the way I
had come, and night had well fallen when I arrived there. Still, the
moon was up and, in its second quarter, gave plenty of light. I looked
round everywhere with an intent gaze, but as far as I could make out I
was the only person anywhere about, and so, taking my courage in my
hands, but with my heart beating rather quickly, I proceeded to make my
way to where I had left the wallet.

Now I will pass over, as quickly as possible, the happenings of the next
few minutes, as there are special reasons which make it most
uncomfortable for me to dwell upon them. I found the wallet, but with
more difficulty than I had expected, and, in my search for the
particular slab of chalk, had to flash my torch a great deal longer than
I liked. Apparently the wallet had not been touched and carrying it away
under my arm, it was too bulky to tuck up my jacket, I started to make
my way back in the direction of the chalk-pit. It was in my mind then to
hide the wallet under the stones of a ruined shepherd's hut that I
should pass, about two miles farther on my way home.

I reached the chalk-pit and was just skirting round the top when
something, I shall never know what it was, made me suddenly turn round
and look behind me. I never think, to this day, that I had heard
anything and always believe it was sheer instinct which made me look
round, the instinct of the hunted animal, which, although it had not
come home to me as yet, I had really become.

Anyhow, I looked round and saw, not twenty paces away, a man tearing
after me. The sound of his running had been deadened by the soft turf.
Panic-stricken and with my heart in my mouth, I dashed off like a hare,
but instantly there came the report of a pistol, and I heard the hiss of
a bullet close near. I knew I had not been hit, but the firing had
unnerved me and, tripping over in my frantic haste, I found myself
floundering on the ground.

I struggled to regain my feet, but my pursuer was upon me the fraction
of a second too soon, and grabbing the wallet from me with one hand,
with the other struck a fierce blow at me with a heavy stick. The blow
caught me on the arm and the pain of it infuriated me. I hurled myself
at his knees and threw him over backwards. Then, snatching up the stick
by it's end, I swung a fearful blow at his face and felt it crash home
upon his forehead with a sickening thud. He gave one deep groan, his
head lolled sideways, and then he lay quite still.

The whole happening from start to finish could not have taken a minute.

With glaring eyes and heaving chest, I stood over the prostrate man,
intending to strike again if he made the slightest movement. But I
realised all at once that the stick I was still holding, a big nobbed
walking one, had a loaded end and it came to me with a feeling of
dreadful horror that I had done more than stun him. I had crushed his
forehead in.

The ghastly wound I had made stood out clear in the moonlight, and
although so few seconds had passed, it was now ceasing to well with
blood.

Almost choking in the quickly succeeding terror, I let the stick fall
from my shaking hand and knelt down to bend over him. I moved his head
ever so slightly with my fingers, but it sagged back directly I took the
fingers away. His mouth had now dropped open and saliva dripped out of
one corner.

I realised he was dead.

Then, strangely enough, my nerve all suddenly came back. The horror of
what I had done was submerged all in an instant by the terror of the
consequences which might follow upon me for what I had done.

I was a murderer and should hang for it if I were found out! I must save
myself! I must keep my wits about me! But who was this man--a terrible
thought came to me--and was he alone?

Snatching up the loaded stick again, I crouched down and peered
furtively around. There was not a moving object in sight, and not a
sound to be heard anywhere, except for the moaning of the distant sea.

I looked down at the dead man again. He was middle-aged and burly. I
noted the greying hair over the temple on the unbloodied side of his
head. His clothes were good and he was wearing big, stout boots. His
jacket was buttoned up tightly to the chin. One of the side-pockets
bulged with a small bulky object. I passed my hand over it. It was a
pair of binoculars. A-ah, then he had been watching for me to come!

My breath came jerkily again. Of course, he was a detective! The police
had guessed the wallet had been hidden somewhere not far from the
Birling Gap road, and, failing to find it themselves but certain it
would be picked up later by the hider, had posted a detective to wait
for him to come.

For quite a long minute I considered breathlessly what I must do. Of
course, the dead man would soon be missed and a search-party at once
sent out to find him but--a thrill of hope surged through me--the search
upon the Downs would always be half-hearted because the idea would be
always uppermost in the minds of the searchers that he had fallen over
the cliffs. Those cliffs with their sheer drop of three hundred feet
were always very dangerous, and if any accident had happened, then the
body might so easily have been washed out to sea.

I quickly made up my mind what I would do. The longer it was before the
body was discovered, the safer I should feel, and so I must hide it as
effectively as I could. The chalk-pit was only a few feet away and,
overcoming my repugnance to handle the body, I seized it by the heels
and, dragging it to the pit-side, toppled it over. But that was not
enough, I told myself, as any passer-by, peering over the top, would see
it at once. I must cover it over with loose pieces of chalk.

But, running round to the entrance to the chalk-pit, I saw some thick
bramble bushes in a corner and dragged the body well behind them. It
would be quite out of sight there.

Then, for the first time since I had turned to see the man running after
me, I thought of the wallet, but now feeling so sick at heart because my
folly in first hiding it had brought upon me such dreadful consequences,
I would have liked to have left it where it was. I realised, however,
that that would be about the worst thing I could do, for the finding of
the wallet at the top of the chalk-pit would lead, naturally, to an
intensive search of the chalk-pit itself for the missing man, if, as I
thought, he were a detective concerned in its recovery.

So I ran back to where the wallet was, and picking it up, with one long
last look round to make sure that I was still unobserved, started off at
an ambling run in a direction away from the cliffs and towards the
ruined shepherd's hut.

My run, however, soon subsided to a brisk walk. I wanted to think, and
think hard. The shock of having taken the man's life, whoever he was,
was not oppressing me so much now, as I argued to myself that after all
I had been acting only in self-defence. I had not realised then that he
represented the Law--I was not even certain of that now--but he had shot
at me and then struck with that heavy stick. I had had to defend myself
and it had been by chance only that my one blow had killed him.

So my conscience was all at once much easier about his death. My terror,
too, was not nearly so great, as I felt I should be reasonably safe if I
got back to the Coffee Hall without having attracted the notice of
anyone. But, of course, I must leave Eastbourne the first thing in the
morning. The body might be found very quickly, a policeman might notice
me going to the Coffee Hall at nearly one o'clock in the morning, for
that would be about the time I should get home, and that detective,
Whitburn, might have his suspicions aroused again about that sunburnt
fellow, Brown.

Still, if all these things happened there would be nothing to connect me
with this man's death. I could not have left any finger-marks upon his
clothes. A-ah, and a horrible thought came to me! But what about his
boots when I had dragged him along and, worse still, what about that
loaded walking-stick which I had hidden behind the bramble bushes, too?

For a few moments I again felt sick with apprehension, but then I
reassured myself. The loose chalk would have scraped against the heels
as I had let go and any finger-marks upon the stick would hardly have
survived the dirt behind the bramble bushes. Still, I would leave as
little to chance as I could, and the Brown of the Coffee Hall would have
vanished to-morrow.

I reached the shepherd's hut and saw at once I couldn't have chosen a
better place. I could push the wallet between the stones of the wall,
and no one would find it, unless they had been told where to look for
it. I was just going to get rid of it when I saw by the light of my
torch that the small attached brass plate had gone, and the thought
flashed instantly into my mind that it might not be the same wallet I
had picked up on the road.

I whistled. Then had the real wallet been found after all and this dummy
one been put there to catch the returning thief red-handed when,
thinking all was safe, he would come to get it?

I snapped my teeth viciously together at the thought of the trick which
might have been played upon me. Well, I would soon see if I were right
or not, and my pocket knife was out in a trice. I did not attempt to
tamper with the lock, but cut round the leather and in a few seconds the
wallet was open.

Whew, it was chock full of bank-notes and treasury ones, all done up in
neat little bundles, held together with elastic bands!

My heart beat painfully. What a fortune! Why, a man might exist in
comfort for his whole life upon what the wallet contained!

My breath came hard and quick. Yes, it was a real fortune and the
miserly bank was offering only 100 for its recovery. Their meanness was
disgraceful!

I found myself swallowing hard. What should I do--my heart raced like a
piston--what dare I do? At any rate one hundred pounds belonged to me,
the amount of the reward! Well, I would take that and later on let the
bank know in an anonymous letter where the wallet with the rest of the
money was to be found. It would not be theft, just the taking for myself
the reward which I could not claim in an open way.

Of course, I know this was all rotten reasoning, but my mind was not
then in a state to reason correctly. I was just bluffing myself that I
was not acting dishonourably.

I took a bundle of one-pound treasury notes, which I judged rightly
would be a hundred, not new notes but ones which from their appearance
had been well in circulation. Then hiding the wallet between the stones,
I set off for Eastbourne.

My journey back was quite uneventful until I actually reached the Coffee
Hall and then, to my intense mortification, a man arrived, exactly at
the same time as I did, at the side door. He was one of several others
who were staying at the Hall. He was small and foxy-looking, and of dark
and foreign appearance. He had always looked so oily and greasy at
meal-times that I had made the mental comment that he might well be
working at a fried-fish shop. He had tried to become friendly with me,
as indeed he had tried with everyone who was there.

"We are naughty boys," he now leered familiarly, smelling horribly of
beer. "Our mums would spank us if they learnt we had been out so late,"
but I just muttered a curt good night and went up to my room.

I was surprised to find myself falling asleep almost at once. I slept
heavily and dreamlessly, not waking up until the half-past seven bell
was sounding. My first thoughts were very worried ones, but I was
relieved to see through the window that a drizzling rain was falling. It
would be good-bye to any of my finger-marks being found in the
chalk-pit.

I went into the bathroom to wash, taking good care to carry all my
clothes with me. Then, back in the bedroom and just before going down to
breakfast, I took the bundle of notes from my breast-pocket and started
to count them.

I was in the middle of the counting when I heard footsteps in the
passage outside and, before I could hide the notes away, the door was
flung open and the foxy-looking man had burst unceremoniously in. "Oh,
I'm sorry, old man," he apologised quickly. "I've made a mistake in the
room. I mistook this for mine," and he went out, but not nearly as
quickly as he had come in.

I had made no remark, but was furious in my dismay, for I had seen his
eyes boggle in amazement at the notes I had been holding in my hand.

It was with an intense feeling of relief that about an hour later I
found myself in the Brighton train, intending to try my fortune at the
races there that afternoon. I had taken a return ticket to throw any
enquirers after me off the scent. I had no idea whatsoever of returning
to Eastbourne.

I was smoking a sixpenny cigar and travelling first-class. I told myself
I was going to start a new life.




Chapter II.--THE NARRATIVE CONTINUED.


As I stepped out of the train at Brighton I felt like a man who had been
reprieved from death. The doors of the condemned cell had been opened
for me and the shadow of the scaffold was no longer near. Looking back
now, I realise how extraordinary it was that I should have imagined the
few short miles between Eastbourne and Brighton constituted an effective
barrier between me and all the threatened dangers.

Anyhow, I did imagine it, and for the time being, the events of the
previous night had been put well into the background of my mind. I had a
week or more holiday before me, I had plenty of money to spend, and I
was going to make a fortune by backing Ashanti Gold. To-day was going to
be the start of a new life.

Intending to frequent coffee taverns no longer, but to put up at quite a
decent hotel, I realised I must provide myself with some luggage. So I
bought a good quality second-hand suit-case at a pawnbroker's, and
proceeded to stock it with a pair of pyjamas, some new shoes, collars, a
couple of smart ties, and some odds and ends. I also treated myself to a
fashionably-shaped felt hat. I put the suit-case in the cloakroom of the
railway-station, intending to select my hotel after I had been to the
races. I had a good lunch at a first-class restaurant, and then took a
taxi up to the race-course upon the Downs.

Now I always regard that afternoon as the most thrilling one I ever
spent upon a race-course. It looms out as a scarlet patch upon all the
racing days I have had later in my life. In recent years, I have been
the guest of owners of world-wide known great thoroughbreds, I have
hob-nobbed with racing peers of the realm and I have even won a modest
hurdle race myself, but never have I experienced the thrills I did that
day.

It was all exactly like a scene out of an exciting melodrama. There was
I, a young fellow in a very ordinary ready-made suit operating with
stolen money and with my hands, metaphorically speaking, still red with
blood, conducting myself as if I had not a care in the world and were as
trouble-free as the lightest-hearted race-goer there.

Of course, moralists will say I ought to have been borne down with the
load of a guilty conscience, I ought to have been keeping furtively in
the background all the afternoon, and regarding every policeman as a
possible and even probable enemy. But no, my conscience was not
troubling me in the very least, I was not worrying at all about the
future and was supremely confident all would go well.

Patronising the one-pound enclosure, I at once fixed upon the bookmaker
with whom I would make a big bet. He was Lew Hanner and standing, as I
had read he did at all race-meetings, by the rails adjoining the
Members' Enclosure. He was well-known and very popular in the racing
world, and it was said you could have a fifty thousand pounds win with
him and be quite sure of getting your money. He betted, however, in a
small way as well as a big one.

Ashanti Gold was running in the second race, and I was delighted to see
he had drawn number three, close to the rails. I felt very hopeful about
his chances, as the last time he had won it had been at Epsom, and
Brighton, like Epsom, has a good down-hill finishing run.

I lost a pound on the first race and, really, was glad I had not won,
for I told myself I could hardly expect to start off right away with two
winners in succession.

The numbers for the next race having gone up in the frame, feeling
decidedly shaky in my excitement, I took my stand near Lew Hanner to
note how the betting was going. The runners, there were twenty-two of
them, went down to the starting-post, but I delayed making any bet until
the market had well settled down. I soon realised that Ashanti Gold was
not fancied as old Lew was not calling his name at all. Lew was doing a
good business and pencilling tickets as quickly as his clerk could put
down the bets. Fivers, tenners and even fifties were being invested, as
well as the humble one-pound note. Sun God, ridden by the crack jockey,
Dicky Jenkins, was the favourite.

"What price Ashanti Gold?" I asked at last, getting in my question
quickly.

"A hundred to three," he snapped and he jerked out a big fat hand in
anticipation of taking my bet.

I had got twenty one-pound notes ready, and stripping away five of them,
handed him the rest. "Five hundred to fifteen," I said boldly.

He grabbed the notes without comment and after counting them with the
expertness and rapidity of a bank cashier, called the bet out to his
clerk and handed me a ticket. I felt already a millionaire. I remained
on standing by Lew, noting with interest the bets he called out. Sun God
was being heavily supported, and his price soon shortened from twos to
six to four; Venom was five to one, and Sweetheart of Mine next to him,
at sevens. There seemed to be little demand for any of the others. An
aristocratic-looking man approached the rails from the Members'
Enclosure side and I heard Lew book him a bet of six hundred to four
hundred the favourite. Big fish and little fish were all the same to the
jovial-looking bookmaker.

Presently, a pretty dark-eyed girl with long sweeping eyelashes came up
to the little crowd round Lew, and waving the others aside, Lew
immediately proceeded to give all his attention to her. "And what can I
do for you, Missy?" he asked, his face all smiles.

"I want a bet on Royal Realm, please, Mr. Hanner," she said in a sweet
girlish voice. "What are the odds against him?"

"Eight to one, Missy, but ten to one to you," replied Lew. "How much do
you want on?"

"Five shillings, please," said the girl, and Lew made out a ticket with
extra care, and handed it to her with a gallant bow.

"Thank you, Mr. Hanner," nodded the girl, and Lew raised his hat with a
flourish as she turned away.

"Business after pleasure, gentlemen," announced Lew to his other
clients. "Who wants fifteen hundred to a thousand the favourite," and
one man immediately took six pounds to four.

Business slackened in a minute or two and then Lew looked round for more
clients. "Seven to one Sweetheart of Mine," he called out stentoriously,
"fives Venom, tens Lovely Day, twelves Jehu and fifteens----" His eyes
fell upon me and he held out his hand in my direction. "Want another
bet, sir. Twenty-fives Ashanti Gold!"

It was a challenge and I immediately took it up. "A hundred to four," I
said, and as I was peeling off the notes from a little wad, he called
out briskly, "Take it twice, sir?"

I nodded and, giving him the eight pounds, he handed me another ticket.

I drew in a deep breath. I should win seven hundred pounds if only
Ashanti Gold got his head in front at the right moment. In my opinion it
seemed quite a simple thing for him to do.

But it did not seem quite so simple when, worming my way up on to the
top of the grandstand, I saw the twenty-two horses lining up at the
barrier on the other side of the racecourse.

"Whew," I whispered, "what a mug I've been! Among all that crowd any
horse, however good he is, can easily get squeezed in." I sighed. "There
goes twenty-three pounds all in one go."

As a rule I was not much good at picking out colours, but now I could
easily pick out those of Ashanti Gold, as they were most appropriately
green and gold. The old horse was standing as quiet as a sheep in his
allotted place.

"They're off," roared the crowd and the horses seemed to avalanche
forward in an unbroken line. "It'll soon be all over," I thought. "The
six furlongs won't take them long and I shall be out of my misery, one
way or the other." A few tense moments of comparative silence followed
and then voices were raised everywhere and the names of particular
horses began to be called. Royal Realm was leading, Belinda and Venom
were in close attendance and--oh joy!--Ashanti Gold was running fourth.
The whole field was, however, bunched and running very close together.

The horses swept round to face us and I could see the green and gold
prominent as they commenced the descent down the hill. A blanket would
have covered the first five or six.

Then, as I had so fondly hoped he would do when approaching the end of
his journey, Ashanti Gold shot forward like an arrow out of a bow. To my
dismay, however, Sun God came with him too. It was a horrible moment!
They ran neck and neck together, and stride by stride, the coming of
them both was like the coming of one single horse. The crowd roared with
excitement and then when within fifty yards of the winning-post--the
anguish of the damned for me--something happened to Ashanti Gold! He
faltered and almost came down on to his knees, allowing Sun God to draw
right away from him and win easily by three or four lengths. Ashanti
Gold just managed to take second place by the very shortest of heads
from Royal Realm.

I stood stunned, and almost choked in my disappointment as I saw the
numbers ten, three and eighteen hoisted into the frame above the judge's
box. I had been so near to winning all that money and the cup had been
dashed from me when almost at my very lips. It was a dreadful blow.

I went down into the bar and had a double brandy. The place was crowded
and I had to fight my way in. Everyone seemed to be talking at once, but
for two or three minutes as far as I was concerned, their shouts and
laughter fell upon deaf ears. I was in a deep reverie, with my thoughts
now harking back unpleasantly to that chalk-pit near Beachy Head.

"What!" I heard an incredulous voice exclaim, "you say the all right's
not gone up! Jenkins can't draw the weight!"

"That's what I heard," replied a man who was making his way towards the
counter. "At any rate there's a big crowd by the weighing-room door and
they say Jenkins has weighed out short by three pounds."

With my heart in my mouth, I elbowed myself outside as quickly as I
could. So there was a chance even yet! I had still a hope of getting the
money!

I came in sight of the judge's box and saw the hoist with the numbers on
it had been taken down. Then, even as I stood stock-still with gaping
mouth, up went the frame again and number three was at the top!

Ashanti Gold had been given the race!

A buzz of excitement ran round and there were glum faces everywhere. Sun
God had been backed so heavily that his starting-price turned out to be
even money. The big bettors had plunged on him.

What had happened was that a three-pound weight had dropped out of the
favourite's saddlebags, but no one could explain how it had come about.
Certainly, he had weighed out correctly but, returning to scale, he was
nearly three pounds short. The stewards were investigating the matter.

I allowed myself a couple of minutes or so to calm down and then,
assuming a phlegmatic air, approached Lew Hanner to collect my winnings.
I expected him to look glum at having to part with so large a sum but,
instead, he greeted me with a smile.

"I'm glad you won, sir," he said heartily, "I was deep in on the
favourite, with very heavy money," and he proceeded to hand over to me
fourteen crisp new fifty-pound notes, all in a sequence, and two tenners
and a fiver.

I folded the notes carefully and put them in the breast-pocket of my
jacket, stuffing my handkerchief well down on top. Then, I did one of
the wisest things I could have done. I went to the top of the grandstand
and let the next three races go by without a bet. I had no particular
fancy running in any of them, and had I betted at all, should only have
been guided by popular opinion and backed the favourite.

And as it turned out it was a good thing I had kept my money. Everyone
of the three favourites went down like ninepins, with none of them being
even placed. Then, on the sixth and last race I thought it about time,
according to the law of averages, that a favourite should win.

So I came off the grand-stand and started backing Man of War at two to
one. I had intended having only five pounds on him, but, the idea coming
to me all at once that it would be a good thing to rid myself of the
incriminating one-pound notes I had taken from the wallet, I invested
ten of them with each of six different bookmakers, in each case getting
the same odds, two to one. So I stood to win another one hundred and
twenty pounds if Man of War won.

And win all right, he did, easily and never giving his backers a
moment's anxiety. In every instance except one, the bookmaker gave me
the fifteen due in the form of three five-pound notes. So I reckoned
that by the time I returned to London, I should have all clean money
upon me.

Recovering my suit-case from the railway-station cloakroom, I put up at
the Regent Hotel, a good-class old-fashioned hotel upon the front.

There I passed three peaceful, uneventful days, in the main considering
what use I should make of my newly acquired wealth. As much as possible
I tried to put altogether out of my mind all that had taken place in
Eastbourne, but of course, in spite of all my efforts it was often
recurring to me. I was not, however, particularly worried about it,
being more curious than worried. I wondered if the body had been
discovered. Somehow I hardly thought it had, although, of course, I
scanned the newspapers both morning and evening, for any news. Monday
and Tuesday having passed, I thought everything was quite safe,
confidently imagining it might be months or even years before it was
found out what had happened to the man I had killed.

On the Wednesday morning, however, I got a rude shock and could hardly
choke down a morsel of breakfast. Not only had the body been found, but
the London Daily Messenger had made a scoup and got hold of the whole
story, actually linking up the murder, not only with the missing
bank-wallet, but also, in a most positive manner, with the cyclist the
bank officers had passed upon the road.

It was woeful reading for me, and the farther I read down the newspaper
story the more uncomfortable I felt.

It appeared that at first the police had by no means been as sure as the
bank officials that the solitary cyclist had been responsible for the
missing wallet. They argued that an object leaving a rapidly travelling
car might easily have been flung much farther away than the road itself,
and therefore, that the wallet would probably be found somewhere in the
turf by the roadside or in one of the many little channels and
depressions lying on either side of the road.

So a party of them, in a police car and attended by the two bank
officials in their own car, had gone, as they thought most carefully
over the whole stretch of road as far as Birling Gap. Their mistake had
been that they had ridden in a car instead of walking, because they had
remained seated when passing the exposed parts of the Down, only getting
out to investigate more closely when they came to places where the
wallet might have found a resting-place in one of these channels or
depressions. They had never thought of looking under the lumps of chalk
scattered everywhere about in full view for anyone to see.

Not finding the wallet, however, and no cyclist having been caught with
it in his possession, they had yielded to the insistence of the
red-faced bank manager from Brighton that the cyclist had hidden it
somewhere and would return later to retrieve it from its hiding-place.

So on that Monday evening a number of plain-clothes men, provided with
powerful binoculars, had been placed in hiding, well away from the
Beachy Head-Birling Gap Road, on the look-out for anyone on foot, on
bicycle or in car, who appeared to be acting suspiciously. The watch had
been kept up night and day. Nothing, however, having happened by the
Thursday morning, the bank people had been notified that the watching
men had been withdrawn, it now being the police opinion that it was
waste of time to continue any longer.

Declining to take that view, the Bank Association in London had then,
themselves, moved in the matter and engaged two private detectives to
continue the watch. These men, who had many times carried out private
investigations in Bank circles in London, had taken lodgings in the
little village of East Dean about two miles inland from the place to be
watched. One had taken the day duty and the other, Matthew Brendon, the
night one.

Nothing had happened on the Thursday and the Friday but, upon the second
man, Henderson, going to relieve his colleague on the Saturday morning
at the rendezvous agreed upon, a small coppice of trees about a mile
from Belle Toute lighthouse, had been rather disturbed when Brendon did
not turn up.

An hour passed, two, and there being still no appearance of Brendon,
Henderson became extremely uneasy and rang up the Eastbourne police from
the Beachy Head coastguard station.

The Superintendent of the Eastbourne Police was not inclined to be much
interested and advised a longer wait, but Brendon not having turned up
by the evening, Henderson motored down into the town and insisted he
should be helped in his search for the missing man.

The Eastbourne Superintendent was now more willing to listen, as he had
just received a telephone message from the Beachy Head coastguard
station stating that two boys had reported seeing a smashed-up bicycle
upon the rocks at the foot of the cliffs, midway between the Head and
Birling Gap. The Superintendent was wondering if it had anything to do
with the disappearing cyclist of the previous week.

So once again a police search-party was sent up on the Downs, but it
being got together so late and the inevitable rain beginning to fall
heavily again, very little ground had been covered before the darkness
and the storm made further search most difficult.

Henderson had been very angry at the procrastination, as he called it,
of the local police and that night telephoned to his employers in London
that he was not being given the assistance that he should. He also added
the information about the smashed-up bicycle which had been found and
gave it as his opinion that the whole business had an ugly look. It
seemed more than probable, he said, that Matthew Brendon had met with
foul play.

The Bank people at once put pressure upon Scotland Yard and the
following morning, the Sunday morning, two men of the Criminal
Investigation Department had been motored down, accompanied by two
highly trained police dogs. The Downs had then been systematically gone
over, yard by yard, and the dogs sent into every place where it was
possible a body could have been hidden.

No success had rewarded the police efforts until the afternoon, and then
they had made a horrible discovery. In a disused chalk-pit about half a
mile from Belle Toute lighthouse, they had found the dead body of
Matthew Brendon, with his head terribly battered in. Close near him was
his own walking-stick and, from its bloodied state, there was no doubt
he had been bashed to death with its heavily loaded end.

But that had not been all the police had found. Scouting about upon the
Downs round the chalk-pit they had come across, first, the dead man's
automatic pistol, with one cartridge discharged, and then the small
brass plate inscribed 'Southern and Sussex Bank, Brighton Branch' which
had been affixed to the missing wallet.

Such was the story the Daily Messenger dished up for its readers, and
then it proceeded to elaborate the story and speculate as to all that
had happened to lead up to the finding of Matthew Brendon's body.

My blood ran cold at the accuracy of its deductions.



"A young man," it began, "was bicycling along the Beachy Head road upon
that fateful Monday morning. He was undoubtedly a holiday-maker,
because, at the particular hour of that day when things began to happen
about two o'clock, anyone in business would not have been free. Besides,
his face was sun-scorched, which suggests he was not as a general rule
accustomed to much sunshine and fresh air. So we can take it for granted
he was upon holiday, and be almost certain again--because he was
carrying no luggage upon his machine--that he was staying in the
neighbourhood. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to presume he was
making his headquarters in Eastbourne.

"So we now have a young man cycling along, but unhappily, because he was
wearing big sun-glasses and had his cap pulled low down over his
forehead, we can give no description of him except to say that he was of
medium height, was not of stout build, and had this very sun-scorched
face.

"Well, this young man is passed by a motor-car going at a good speed
and, when it has gone by, he suddenly sees a biggish object flung out
from it at the back, without the occupants of the car noticing it has
gone. Picking it up, he sees it has a bank's name on it, on a small
brass plate, and he guesses at once it contains money. He decides, and
he decides quickly, for Mr. Stormer, the Brighton Manager, is sure not
more than five minutes elapsed between his being first overtaken and
later his being asked if he'd seen anything of the wallet. He hides it
and, most probably, if we only knew, in some very simple place, a place
so simple that no one thought of looking for it there. Most likely under
a stone--a big chalk stone--for there are plenty lying about all over
the Downs very close to the road. He tells himself he will return and
get it another day.

"He cycles on and presently the car comes rushing back. He is questioned
and replies surlily in a monosyllable. The car goes on. Then he probably
realises that things are not going to be as easy for him as he expected.
The men in the car will not find the wallet and they will be back in a
minute to question him again. They may become suspicious of him as he is
the only person they have encountered upon the road. They may want his
name and address, and put the police on him to find out all they can
about him. Perhaps he already has a bad record, perhaps where he lives
he is a known bad egg.

"At any rate, he gets uneasy and anticipates their quick return, darts
off the roadway and hides himself behind a big clump of blackberry
bushes near the cliff. We are not guessing wildly there, as will be seen
in a moment. The car comes tearing by, and he gets more than uneasy. He
gets frightened. He is playing for big stakes and is afraid now he will
lose them. Everyone will be looking for a man with a bicycle. Then what
does he do? He cuts himself away from the bicycle by toppling it over
the cliff, over the cliff, mind you, exactly behind that big clump of
blackberry bushes we have just mentioned. That's how we came to state so
definitely he had been hiding there.

"What happens next? He gets back to Eastbourne unchallenged, and he sits
tight and waits. Oh, he has patience, this young fellow! We are getting
to know something of his character by now. Well, he waits all Tuesday,
Wednesday and Thursday, and then he thinks it will be quite safe for him
to go and get the wallet. He knows it had not been found, at all events
up to the Wednesday morning, because there is a reward advertised in the
local Eastbourne paper that morning. Yes, he will go and get it, but
whether he is intending to keep its contents or just claim the 100
reward, we do not know. From his subsequent actions we should say he was
going to adopt the former course.

"To continue. That night after darkness had well set in, he makes his
way to where he had hidden the wallet and retrieves it, but he is seen
by Matthew Brendon and pursued. He attempts to escape by running away.
We know that because Matthew Brendon fired one shot at him, which the
detective would certainly not have done had he been at close quarters,
as he was armed with that heavy loaded stick.

"What took place then we may, perhaps, never learn, but there was
undoubtedly a fierce struggle, ending in Brendon being battered to death
with his own weapon. It is certain the struggle took place at the top of
the chalk-pit, because the detective's pocket knife and a shilling and
two pennies were found lying upon the turf there. Also, from the marks
upon the body when found, and the condition, too, of the clothes, there
is no doubt the dead man was pushed over the pit side before being
dragged behind those bushes in the corner. Another thing, the brass
plate from the wallet was picked up close to where the coins lay."

The Daily Messenger went on:

"That is where our story ends, and what has happened since only one
person, the thief-murderer of Beachy Head, knows. What has he done now?
Has he secreted his bloodily-acquired plunder in another hiding-place,
prepared to bide his time once again until he can return to it in
seeming safety? Where is he himself? His holiday over, has he faded back
into his usual routine work, perhaps even in this great city of ours? Is
he an unassuming clerk in some office, or an obsequious assistant in
some shop? Who knows? Shall we ever know? Indeed, this tragedy of Beachy
Head may turn out to be yet another mystery never to be solved. To
conclude, there are still, however, certain points worth remembering
which, with the intelligent co-operation of the community may help the
authorities to yet bring this thief and assassin within the meshes of
the Law.

"The police are looking for a young man who, as we have said, was most
probably upon his annual holiday last Monday week, who was in possession
of a bicycle then, but who has not one now, or has one different from
that he formerly had. Also, they want people to keep a look out for a
young fellow who, returning from his holiday, is noticed to be flush
with money. Unhappily, and the fact seems to be no secret, the numbers
of none of the missing notes are known, as they were none of them of a
greater value than 10 and all had been in circulation before. So no
help can be expected there. As for the disposition of the wanted man, he
must be shrewd and with plenty of courage and determination. We can be
quite sure of that. Therefore, knowing even this little that we do about
the wanted man, let us all think hard and see what we can do to assist
the authorities. It is not a pleasant thought that such a dreadful crime
as murder can be committed and the miscreant escape scot-free."



I put down the paper with a sickening feeling in my stomach. This
wretched newspaper had put, literally, millions of private investigators
upon my track and I realised to the full how wary I must be not to
excite suspicion in anyone.

To begin with, I must leave Brighton at once. With that bicycle now in
the possession of the police, there were decidedly dangerous
possibilities as to where it might lead them. They would notice it had
been recently repainted and had new tyres and new rubbers to the pedals,
and they would see it could have covered only a very small mileage since
it had been done up. So, they might start enquiring at bicycle shops in
all directions, and at the one where I had bought it, obtain a good
description of me. To my horror I suddenly recollected I had bought my
cheap sun-glasses there, at the same time.

I left Brighton that morning by the eleven-o'clock train and went
straight back to West Kensington, having resolved to spend the last
remaining days of my holiday at home. My boarding-house was kept by two
hard-working middle-aged sisters who were of a most incurious
disposition and who, as long as their boarders paid up punctually never
seemed to take the slightest interest in what they did. So they showed
no surprise at my unexpected return.

I was glad to be home again, and in the peace and quietness of my own
room considered over and over again what I should do with the money,
which to me seemed a huge sum, now in my possession. I had come back
with more than nine hundred pounds and was keeping it always on me, in a
money belt I had bought at Brighton. Eight hundred pounds was all my
own, but the remaining one hundred pounds I was intending to return to
the bank. I still argued to myself that I was entitled to it, but
believed now its retention would bring me bad luck. Amusing as it may be
to anyone reading this I wanted, too, my conscience to be clear.

With the eight hundred pounds I intended to speculate and, working in a
broker's office, I considered I stood the best of chances of increasing
my capital. I must, however, be very wary in what I did. Tips, which it
was confidently assumed would bring great and speedy wealth, were
continually being passed round. Some, of course, were quite worthless,
but several times I had heard of others which if they had been followed
up would have turned out to be splendid investments, and we in the
office never forgot the small fortune one of our number had made, only a
couple of years back, by a lucky plunge in some cheap, and at the time,
very despised gold shares.

With a capital of less than one hundred pounds, he had plunged and
plunged confidently, in the six weeks of a small boom, making more than
twelve thousand pounds. We always sighed with envy when we thought of
him.

Thursday, the day following upon my return, was very wet, and I stayed
at home all day, finishing my book. The Martyrdom of Man, with the
intention of changing it that evening at the Fulham Public Library.

The newspapers had still a lot to say about 'The Beachy Head Murder,'
but there was really no fresh news and, apparently, the police had
picked up no clues. I fervently hoped they hadn't, and was in quite a
happy frame of mind when I went out about seven o'clock to change my
book.

Then, my complacency received a nasty jar when, upon entering the
Library, I passed a man whom I recognised at once as the dark
oily-looking fellow who had been staying at the Coffee Hall in
Eastbourne when I had been there. It was he who had burst so
unceremoniously into my room and had seen me counting those notes.

He gave no sign of recognition, which made me most uneasy, for I knew he
must have seen me and was, of all kinds of people, the last one who
would not want to renew the acquaintanceship unless he had some very
particular reason for keeping away.

I felt my mouth grow dry in apprehension. It was a most calamitous
encounter and my imagination instantly went soaring in conjecture as to
how it happened he was there and, worse still, why he had pretended not
to see me.

I took a long time selecting the book I wanted, to let myself calm down
and, also, in the hope that I should not run up against him again when I
went out. In this last respect I was a little bit relieved, for I saw no
signs of him. Still, I walked home by a roundabout way and many times
stopped to look in shop windows, giving a furtive look back to see if I
was being followed. But I never saw anyone like him in sight, and
arrived at the boarding-house much easier in my mind.

It was just a coincidence, I told myself. Of course, the man had to live
somewhere and no doubt his home was in Fulham. Happily Fulham was a big
place and the chances were I should never see him again. No, I had
nothing to fear.

My confident state of mind lasted until I got into bed and picked up the
new book I had just got from the library, intending to have a
comfortable read until I felt ready to go to sleep. Then the big staring
label on the cover suddenly caught my eye. 'Fulham Public Library' in
large blue lettering on a white background! Good God, and I had sat
opposite to him at meals reading The Martyrdom of Man in an exactly
similar cover!

I could feel the cold shiver run down my back and my teeth almost
chattered in my dismay. To my guilty conscience everything was now as
plain as day, and my mind leapt from stepping-stone to stepping-stone
over a dark stream, the farther shore of which held arrest and the
scaffold for me.

The man had seen me come home late upon the very night of the murder and
the next morning he had seen me counting a fat wad of notes! He had gone
to the police and told them, and he had added the information that I had
been reading a book taken out from the Fulham Public Library!

Oh, how plain it was! He had been posted at the Library to watch for my
coming! Detectives had been there with him and he had pointed me out to
them and it was they, not he, who had followed me home to see where I
lived! The house was being watched now and in the morning I should be
arrested!

I was panic-stricken in my terror and if the police had only arrived
then, I am sure I should not have had the strength of mind to deny
anything, but should have broken down and weakly confessed to all that
had taken place.

But the police did not arrive, the house was as quiet as a church, and
gradually everything fell into its proper perspective. What had I to
fear if the police did come? They had nothing against me, no proof of
anything, and if I stuck to my story, they could not get behind it.

So I became thankful for my good fortune in having time to prepare what
I would say, and point by point, I went over what my story would be. It
was a good story, because so much of it I could prove, both with chapter
and verse. As far as I could see my one and only danger was that they
might trace the bicycle back to the shop where I had bought it and the
man who had sold it be able to give an accurate description of me.
Certainly the bicycle itself was a nondescript sort of machine for
anyone to recognise and remember, but those new rubbers to the pedals
plus the two new tyres would be most damning aids to both recognition
and remembrance of everything relating to its sale.

As events proved I was quite right it was a danger, and months
afterwards I was to learn how narrowly I had escaped. Some years later,
too, a well-known detective wrote his memoirs and a copy of the
published book happened to fall into my hands. Speaking of 'The Beachy
Head Murder' he wrote that the police had been most unlucky in
everything relating to the bicycle the murderer had ridden.

As I had thought they would, they had seen at once that the bicycle
could only have been ridden a few miles since the new pedal rubbers had
been put on, and accordingly, an S.O.S. call had been sent out to every
police-station in the Southern Counties to find out from the bicycle
shops in their particular districts if anything were known about a
machine which had been fitted with them.

Then, the little bicycle shop in Brighton had been located within
twenty-four hours, with the wife of the proprietor certain the bicycle
had been recently sold from them for four pounds. She could not,
however, give the exact day as she had been upon a visit to London when
it was sold, only returning on the previous Thursday to help nurse her
husband who had been taken ill with pneumonia, and who had passed away
the very morning of the day the police called to make enquiries.

Of course, at the time I knew nothing of all this but it continued to
worry me, more or less, for a long time.

As can be well imagined, I got very little sleep that night after seeing
the oily-looking man in the Public Library, but the next morning I felt
quite fresh and perfectly resolute in my determination to play my cards
well, if what I was so confidently expecting really happened. If it were
going to happen I hoped it could come soon, while I was buoyed up to
concert pitch.

I had not long to wait. I had had my breakfast and was back in my
bed-sitting-room, when writing a letter to a married sister in Scotland,
the only relation I have, when I heard footsteps on the stairs, and the
slatternly little maid rapped on the door and opened it.

"Two gentlemen to see you, Mr. Brown," she called out, and without
ceremony she ushered them in, and shuffling back into the passage,
closed the door behind them.

I regarded my visitors with a frown. One, apparently, in the late
thirties, was big and inclined to be stout, while the other, about the
same age, was tall and lean. They both returned my frown with interest.
They looked men of authority, as indeed they were, and destined to
become in a very few years time two of the most important men at
Scotland Yard.

The stout man spoke first, quite quietly, but with a stern, hard note in
his voice. "We are from the Criminal Investigation Department," he said,
producing a card. "I am Inspector Stone and this gentleman is Inspector
Carter. We want a word with you."

I affected to gasp in astonishment. "You're from the police!" I
exclaimed. My voice shook without any need of pretence. "But haven't you
made a mistake? My name is Brown."

"Quite so," he commented grimly, "and you're the man we want." His eyes
bored at me like gimlets. "You've recently been staying at Eastbourne,
haven't you?"

"Yes, certainly," I faltered, "up to last Saturday!"

He nodded. "Exactly, and we believe you can tell us something about that
bank-wallet which was lost on Beachy Head."

"I--tell you about the bank-wallet?" I stuttered. My very astonishment
steadied my voice. "But I don't know anything about it!"

He nodded again. "No, of course not! But for all that you're coming with
us to headquarters to answer a lot of questions we're going to put." He
produced a paper from his pocket. "Now I've got a search-warrant here
and we're going through this room. I understand it's the only room you
occupy in this house." He spoke sharply. "Got any fire-arms?"

My confidence was beginning to come back and I laughed derisively. "No,
not even a sub-machine gun. Then, do you think I'm a gangster?"

He ignored my question. "Any poison on you?" he asked.

I held my hands above my head. "Search me if you want to. No, of course,
I've got no poison."

He pointed to a chair. "Well, you sit there and don't you move whilst we
look round." He eyed me intently. "Is there any money here?"

I grinned. "Yes, plenty."

He spoke sarcastically. "A few shillings and some coppers I suppose
you'll tell us!"

I grinned again. "No, hundreds of pounds. As a matter of fact I've got
more money in my belt than either of you'll earn, perhaps, in three or
four years."

His eyebrows straightened in a heavy frown. He didn't know whether to
believe me or not. So frank an admission was evidently not what he'd
been expecting. "Then where did you get it from?" he asked.

"Betting," I replied laconically.

He grunted contemptuously. "Of course! It's always got in that way." He
lifted one hand warningly. "Well, you sit on exactly where you are and
don't move an inch. Keep your hands out of your pockets."

Then for perhaps twenty minutes and longer, I sat watching those two
clumsy-looking men search the room and go through everything in it. But
there was nothing clumsy about their movements and they did everything
quickly and with method. First, they went through the contents of the
wardrobe, holding every garment up to the light and scrutinising it most
carefully.

"Looking for blood-stains?" I asked mockingly.

For a long moment, with one of my jackets upraised in his arms, the
stout inspector stood motionless as a graven image, with his eyes, as
hard as flint, searching mine. "So, so," he exclaimed at last, "then you
know what it is possible we may find?"

I laughed lightly. "I know what it is certain you would like to find," I
retorted. "Blood-hounds want blood, don't they? And that's what, as
detectives, you are after." I spoke brusquely. "Goodness gracious, do
you think I don't read the newspapers and haven't seen that the thief
who stole the wallet is supposed to have killed that man in the
chalk-pit too? Why, that's been the only thing of interest in the papers
lately and imagine how interesting it's been to me, considering I was in
Eastbourne when it all happened."

The inspector withdrew his eyes very slowly from my face and went on
with his search. He stopped to ask me only one more question and, that
one, when he was examining the soles of a pair of my shoes. "Where do
you keep your bicycle?" he asked casually and, as if with some certain
evidence under his eyes, I should not dare to deny I had recently been
cycling.

But I did deny it, with contemptuous amusement. "I haven't got one," I
replied. "So I don't keep it anywhere. I haven't cycled for years."

He made no comment and went on with the search. Chest of drawers,
cupboard, writing-desk and the mattress of the bed all came in for his
attention. Then the mats and linoleum were lifted and the floor-boards
most carefully examined.

"You're wasting all your time," I warned them, "and after I've been
questioned you'll realise what ninnies you've been," but they took not
the slightest notice of me and went on poking about everywhere.

At last, however, they had finished and then Inspector Stone--he had
taken command of everything, with the other inspector not saying a
word--motioned me to get up. "You're not going to give us trouble?" he
asked. "You'll come quietly?"

"Of course I will," I replied. I smiled. "I'm looking forward to going
with you. It will be an adventure. How are we going?"

"We've a car outside," he said, "just round the corner."

"And how'll I get home again?" I asked. "You'll surely not make me bus
it or train it back?"

He smiled for the first time. "We'll see about that, later on, my son.
Now I'm going to lock your door and take away the key."

I really quite enjoyed that ride. I had always lived a very humdrum life
and I was now dipping deep into high adventure. I was still not a bit
afraid I should be found out. I had only to keep a bold front, I told
myself, and they had absolutely no proof of anything against me. The
Daily Messenger had stated most distinctly that the two bank men in the
car could give no proper description of me, and as for the man in the
shop where I had bought the bicycle, well, even if they did succeed in
getting in touch with him it was hardly likely he would remember what I
had looked like. It was getting on for a fortnight ago now, and he had
only seen me for about five minutes.

Arriving at Scotland Yard, Inspector Stone disappeared, leaving me in
charge of his brother inspector, but he was only gone a few minutes, and
then, returning, we all three went into a spacious and well-furnished
room where a soldierly, good-looking man of just beyond middle age was
seated behind a large desk. I wondered, instantly, where I had seen him
before.

"Good morning," he said politely, "I am Sir Hubert Brabazon, the
Commissioner of Police." He motioned me towards a chair standing in
front of the desk. "I have sent for you because I want to ask you some
questions." He smiled pleasantly. "I understand you have said you are
prepared to answer them, and have come here quite willingly."

I smiled back. "Well, sir, I was told I had to come and so I made the
best of a bad job and said I should be very pleased to. Yes, I am quite
willing to answer anything you want me to."

He nodded his approval. "That's the proper way to take it and you're not
being under arrest and no charge having been made against you, there is
no need for me to give you the usual cautionary warning about what you
say." He shrugged his shoulders. "Of course, if you decline to answer
any of the questions I am going to put to you, then I shall have to----"

"But I tell you, sir, I do want to answer," I broke in quickly. "There
is a great mistake somewhere and I want to clear everything up. I have
done nothing to be ashamed of."

"Good!" he commented. "Then if you have nothing to hide you can answer
freely and without any reserve. Now first, you are Mr. Jason Brown and
you work in an office in the city! Which office and what's your work?"

"Messrs. Flavell and Hunt, Ariel Street, Lothbury," I replied. "They are
stockbrokers and I am one of their junior clerks. I have worked there
for four years."

He bent forward slightly towards me. "Now Inspector Stone has told you
we have reason to believe you are mixed up with the disappearance of
that bank-wallet. Certain information which has reached us leads us to
suspect you. Inspector Stone informs me, however, that you declare your
complete innocence."

"Yes, sir," I replied, "I know nothing about it."

He frowned. "But, of course, you have read all about it being lost in
the newspapers?"

"Oh, yes," I exclaimed, "every line about it that I could get hold of. I
mean that I know nothing more about it than everyone knows. I have no
inside information." I smiled. "I have not got it myself."

He looked very grave. "When did you go to Eastbourne?"

"On the Sunday, the day before it was lost," I replied.

"And you put up straightaway at this Coffee Hall." He looked down at a
paper upon his desk. "Benger's Coffee Hall I see it is called."

I plunged resolutely into deep water. "No, I didn't put up there until
the next day. It was hot and sultry and I slept out on the beach that
night," I explained quickly. "You see I caught the seven-thirty train
from Victoria for Eastbourne that Sunday evening, and it didn't get in
until a quarter to eleven. I went straightaway for a walk along the
sea-front to get some fresh air. At midnight I found myself right at the
far end of the promenade, towards Beachy Head, and seeing several lots
of people sleeping about under the cliffs, I thought I'd do the same." I
nodded. "I'm an old Territorial and a night under the stars is nothing
to me."

"And you went to the Coffee Hall the next morning?" asked the Assistant
Commissioner.

"No, the next evening, after tea."

He eyed me intently. "You had no luggage with you when you arrived. What
had you done with it?"

"All I had was in the pockets of my mackintosh; a comb and small brush,
a safety razor and tooth-brush, another collar, a pair of bathing trunks
and a spare pair of socks. I was travelling very light because I had
intended to go upon a walking tour over the South Downs, finishing up at
Brighton on the Saturday."

"And what made you alter your decision and stay the whole week in
Eastbourne."

"The weather became very uncertain, and the Coffee Hall was cheap and
clean and the food good. I made up my mind to stay on there until the
weather became more settled."

The Assistant Commissioner spoke carelessly. "And how much money had you
on you when you put up at the Coffee Hall?"

"Twenty-seven pounds ten," I replied promptly, "besides some loose
change."

"And you left Eastbourne on the following Saturday morning?"

"Yes, I took the train to Brighton and put up there at the Regent Hotel.
I left there the day before yesterday and came straight home."

The next question was asked very slowly, and deliberately, and the
Commissioner's eyes were steely cold as he put it, "And with how much
money did you return home?"

I looked at him smilingly and replied equally as slowly, "Nine hundred
and thirty-two pounds and some odd shillings." I tapped my body-belt. "I
have it all upon me here."

A dead silence followed, a long deep silence, with the Commissioner's
face the picture of an amazement he made no attempt to hide. His lips
were parted, his eyes were staring and he was frowning hard. I looked
round at the two inspectors, and, although I had told them when in my
room at the boarding-house that I had a large sum of money upon me, they
looked equally as astonished. I made my amusement quite plain. I went on
conversationally. "Yes, it's quite an interesting story. I had been
saving up months to have a plunge one day upon a great favourite of
mine, an aged gelding called Ashanti Gold. He is not a very good horse,
and all I know about him is what I have read in the newspapers. But my
grandfather, General Sir Jason Brown, won his V.C. in the Ashanti War
and that is what has made me back him whenever he has run. I have lost
quite a lot of money on him, but when I saw he was entered in a sprint
race at Brighton, last Saturday, I thought my chance had come to get it
all back. He has only won twice before in the past two years, but both
times upon a downhill course, once at Epsom and the second time at
Brighton last Spring. So I had fifteen pounds on him on Saturday and won
seven hundred pounds in one hit, on him alone. My luck held good, and in
the next races I made another two hundred and twenty pounds."

I stopped speaking on purpose to make the Chief Commissioner say
something and after a few moments he said very quietly, "Show me this
money, please."

Briskly pulling up my waistcoat and shirt, I dragged out the money-belt
and passed it over the desk. The belt was of stout canvas with three
long pockets. Without a word, he beckoned to the two inspectors to
approach close and proceeded to unbutton the pockets.

"Fourteen fifty-pound notes, all in a sequence," I said in business-like
tones. "Seventeen ten-pound notes, eight fivers, eighteen ones and eight
halves. Nine hundred and twenty pounds represents my winnings and the
other twelve pounds what I brought back of the twenty-seven pounds ten I
arrived at Eastbourne with." I spoke with enthusiasm. "Quite a nice
little fortune for a clerk who earns only four guineas a week!"

Another silence followed and then the Commissioner, looking up from the
heap of notes upon his desk asked sharply, "And, of course, you can give
us the name of the bookmaker from whom you won this money."

"The bet on Ashanti Gold I had with Lew Hanner," I replied, "and he'll
remember it quite well, as when I went to collect he told me it was the
only good bet he had made on the horse. Lew Hanner is well-known
everywhere and he's on the 'phone in the Strand as well as at his
private house in Earl's Court. About the other bets, I had them with
several other bookmakers, Hunkin, Billy White, Anderson, and a couple
more whose names I don't remember."

The Commissioner spoke dryly. "But your explanation of how you come to
be holding all this money here is no help to us in finding out how you
came to be in possession of your original capital, the money you started
betting with."

"Oh, I know that," I exclaimed instantly, "but if you come to learn I am
spending money freely, it does not mean that you need necessarily think
I have stolen it." I spoke warmly. "You will have no cause to imagine it
is money I took from that lost wallet."

The Commissioner went on another tack. "Did you go up to Beachy Head any
time during your stay in Eastbourne?"

"Every day except the Thursday," I nodded, "and I didn't go then because
it was raining."

"Did you go as far as the old Belle Toute lighthouse upon any of these
occasions?"

"Only on the Wednesday and then because I had seen a notice in the
Eastbourne Chronicle offering a hundred pounds reward for the recovery
of the bank-wallet which had been lost on the Beachy Head-Birling Gap
road. I thought I would try out my luck."

"And find what a score of experienced searchers had already failed to
do?" suggested the Commissioner sarcastically.

"Why not?" I asked sharply. "Everyone of that score would not have gone
over every place. Only one man would have gone over the one particular
part which had been given him to search and I was reckoning one single
pair of eyes might easily have missed something. As for the searchers
having been, as you put it, 'experienced,' would they have been any more
experienced than I?" I pressed home my point. "Surely only once in a
man's lifetime does he go tramping over the Downs to look for something
which has been lost, no one seemed to quite know where."

Again the Commissioner altered his line of questioning. "When you were
at that Coffee Hall," he asked, "did you keep early hours?"

"As a rule," I nodded. "I was generally in bed by eleven or
thereabouts."

"And that last night you were in Eastbourne, did you go to bed early?"
he asked.

I shook my head. "No, it was the only night I was really very late. I
went to the fishing part of the town and sat on the beach watching the
boats leave for the fishing grounds. It was nearly one in the morning
when I got home."

"Were you by yourself?" was the next question.

"Yes, as I was always by myself when in Eastbourne," I replied. "That
night I didn't speak to a soul."

For a few moments the Commissioner regarded me very thoughtfully. Then,
all suddenly, his whole expression changed, the lines of his face
hardened and he snapped his teeth together as if, at last, he had come
to some decision. He glared at me with the utmost sternness.

"I am not satisfied with your story," he snapped. "It is plausible and
no doubt has been carefully thought out. But it is not convincing and
has not cleared the suspicions from my mind. On the contrary it has
strengthened them." He raised his forefinger menacingly. "You tell us
you left upon a holiday with nearly twenty-eight pounds in your pocket,
and yet you went to lodge at a poor-class Coffee Hall where the charge
is only two shillings a night. With all that money at your disposal, you
yet started so ill-equipped for a walking tour that you had not even
provided yourself with a knapsack. Then you give a most unsatisfactory
account of how and where you passed that Sunday night. You know we can't
check up on it, and----"

"I can't help your not being able to check up on it," I broke in hotly.
"If you can't show I was anywhere else, then you must accept what I
state--as truth. As for----"

"Wait!" ordered the Commissioner. "I'll return to that in a minute." He
went on, even more sternly than before. "Then that last night you spent
in Eastbourne----" He paused a long moment and almost hissed out his
words. "Has it not struck you that you are most unfortunate in being
unable to produce any corroboration as to where you were at a most vital
moment of that week?"

I kept a bold face. "Of course, it has! But it didn't strike me until
Inspector Stone here told me I was suspected of stealing that wallet.
Then I knew he thought I was a murderer as well. I haven't been reading
the newspapers for nothing." I spoke with some irritation. "It isn't for
me to prove I was not somewhere on some particular night. It's for you
to prove that I was." I shook my head. "You have absolutely nothing
against me."

The Commissioner glanced significantly at the watch upon his wrist in
the manner of a man who has another appointment, or at any rate was
waiting for something or somebody. Then he looked back at me and spoke
very quietly. "And so you think, Mr. Brown," he said slowly and
emphasising every word distinctly, "that the man in that bicycle shop in
Tower Street, Brighton, will not recognise you as, the purchaser of that
second-hand bicycle for four pounds." His voice was silky in its
softness. "Remember," he smiled grimly, "it was only the morning of last
Monday week."

I am sure I have never been so astounded in my life as I was then. I was
so astounded that my first reaction was only one of intense curiosity.
How had they managed to trace the bicycle so soon? How, indeed, had they
really managed to trace it at all? Surely it could have only been that
the address of the bicycle shop had been stamped upon the tyre-repair
outfit I had bought as an extra and put in the tool-bag?

For the moment, I say, I was only astonished and I have been sure ever
since that it was that expression of astonishment upon my face,
unmingled with any trace of fear, which was my salvation. I had not been
knocked out by the stunning blow.

I stared back at the Commissioner and then, suddenly, a clap of thunder
seemed to burst upon my ears as I realised what his statement meant. If
the man in the bicycle shop could identify me, then I should surely
hang. His testimony would be damning, and would show me to be a liar as
to where I stated I had spent that first Sunday night, then all my
carefully built up story of what had subsequently taken place would be
contemptuously rejected. Then was it worth while my continuing to keep
up any longer the pretence of perfect innocence? I set my face hard as a
flint to think.

Then I heard the sound of a door opening somewhere and turned my head
sharply to see if anyone else had entered the room. But no, the door was
still shut. Then, bringing my head back, my eyes happened to fall upon
Inspector Stone and I saw that he was regarding me, not as I expected
with the triumphant look of one who had just scored a great success, but
with the very anxious one of a man who was in grave doubt about
something. His face was the picture of uncertainty, and worried
uncertainty, too. Very puzzled, I looked at Inspector Carter. He was
undoubtedly uneasy, too.

What was happening? I looked frowningly at the Commissioner and saw that
there was no confidence there, either.

"Come, come, Mr. Brown," said the latter, "it will make it easier for
yourself if you tell us the truth," and I sensed there was cajolement
and entreaty in his voice rather than command.

Instantly it flashed into my mind that an attempt was being made to
trick me somehow. They wanted to bluff me into admitting what they could
not prove. Certainly, they had found out where the bicycle had been
bought but--had the man then said he was prepared to identify me? At the
time, he had not struck me as possessing much intelligence, and,
besides, he had been so obviously short-sighted. He had been wearing
very strongly magnified glasses, and they had made his eyes look like
those of an owl.

I took heart again all at once.

"Come, come, Brown," went on the Commissioner speaking now quite
sharply, "let's have no more nonsense. It can't benefit you in any way.
Tell us the honest truth now."

"Sir," I replied coldly, "it does not seem honest truth which you want.
You are trying to fasten that robbery and murder upon me and don't like
what I have told you because it doesn't fit in." I scoffed
contemptuously. "All the men in all the shops in Brighton will not be
able to identify me as having bought a bicycle from them, however much
you may hope they will."

I saw his face had fallen, but he said grimly, "Well, we shall have to
see about that."

"Yes, and see about it at once," I retorted hotly. "If you are
dissatisfied as you say with my answers, I tell you straight I am
dissatisfied with your questions." My voice rose in anger. "Do something
straightaway. Either arrest me here and now, or else confess honestly
that you realise you have absolutely nothing to justify your suspicions
of me." I assumed a very puzzled air. "How you came to suspect me at all
and follow me all the way to West Kensington, for the life of me, I
can't understand."

He appeared now to want to justify himself. "But can we think them only
coincidences, Mr. Brown," he asked very solemnly, "that upon the
particular nights we want so specifically to know where you were--you
cannot tell us?"

"But I have told you," I retorted instantly.

He nodded grimly. "Yes, you've told us, but what we want is proof that
what you have said is true. And that is what you won't or can't give us.
Think! Upon the only two occasions when it is vital for you to produce
proof--you cannot do it." He spoke sarcastically. "Does not the same
thing happening twice seem more than a coincidence?"

"No, it doesn't," I replied sharply. "The most extraordinary
coincidences are often cropping up in the lives of every one of us." I
nodded triumphantly. "And I'll give you an example of a coincidence
which will startle you and prove what I say." I spoke with the utmost
emphasis I could. "When I came into this room half an hour ago, I had no
idea I'd ever seen you before. But after a few minutes I began to think
your face familiar, although I couldn't understand how it could be. Now,
however, I remember everything. On Wednesday afternoon when I'd just
come off the Brighton Express at twelve-thirty and was outside looking
for a taxi, you drove up in one with a young lady who had grey eyes and
was wearing a grey dress and a small grey hat. A porter took her
suit-case and hat box, and I heard you tell him you wanted the twelve
forty-five Portsmouth train. I got in that same taxi where the seat was
still warm from where you had been sitting." I grinned. "Now what do you
say to that for a coincidence?"

He made no reply and I rubbed it in. "Think of it! Of all the millions
of inhabitants of London, I ran up against you, you, who were to put all
these gruelling questions to me in less than thirty-six hours! Why, it's
almost incredible."

A long silence followed. The Commissioner was in a quandary and he
looked it. "Well," he announced curtly at last, "we shall detain you for
the present."

"But if it's going to be for long," I said boldly, "I know I have the
right to get legal help, so I'll want to telephone to my employers to
send me a lawyer."

He nodded. "That'll be all right."

"But what about my money?" I asked. "You're not going to keep that!"

"For the present we are," he said, and Inspector Stone, beckoning me to
come with him, I was led from the room.

Somehow, I wasn't feeling at all depressed. That there was some hitch
somewhere I was quite certain, for they wouldn't all three of them have
looked so depressed when I had called their bluff.

One day I was to learn exactly what had happened that morning when I was
being so sharply questioned. They had believed they had a good case
against me--in parts, but only in parts. However, they had been quite
confident they would be able to make me fill in the missing portions
myself. They had thought that when I saw how much they had against me I
should give in and admit the rest. But they were quite aware that if I
refused to confess there were some very nasty snags for them to get
over.

To begin with, the red-faced manager of the bank was more hopeless than
ever as to what my appearance was like, and it was the same with his
companion. They now admitted frankly that they would not be able to
identify me, even if brought face to face. All they were really certain
of were my scorched face, my dark glasses and my low-down pulled cap.

The second snag was, of course, as I have already mentioned, that the
man who had sold me the bicycle had died suddenly, and they couldn't
have been more at a dead end there. Added to those difficulties, they
had only the statement of the oily-looking man that when he had burst
into my room at the Coffee Hall that morning I had been handling so
thick a wad of notes that there must have been at least a hundred of
them there.

Well, I was detained at Scotland Yard, alone in a small waiting-room,
until about four o'clock that afternoon, expecting every moment to be
called out and lined up among a row of other men, with the bank manager
or the shop keeper or both of them, trying to see if they could pick me
out.

But nothing happened, and I was left monotonously by myself. I was not,
however, treated badly. I was given some magazines to read, I was
allowed to smoke and a good dinner brought in.

At last Inspector Stone appeared, bringing my money with him, and to my
great surprise, handing it to me with a smile. He told me I was free to
go away now, as they were quite satisfied and did not want me any
longer. He sat down and chatted pleasantly while I put the belt on. He
said, of course, it was all a mistake but then Scotland Yard had always
to act on information received. When I asked him how it was they had
come to know anything about my having been in Eastbourne, he patted my
shoulder and replied, still with his pleasant smile, that that was one
of the things he was not allowed to tell. He said the Yard never gave
away anyone who had tried to help them.

Then he went on to say that he was afraid they would never now get the
man they wanted. He had had too much start and would probably never be
caught. Instead, he would be enjoying his ill-gotten gains in peace and
security and, perhaps, never do another day's work in his life.

Yes, the inspector was very nice to me, indeed, so nice, that when he
had put me in a car to be driven back to West Kensington and was waving
me a smiling good-bye, I suddenly became suspicious.

Was all this friendliness put on, were they still suspecting me, and
only just trying to lull me into an over-confidence so that they could
trip me up and catch me later on?

I felt amused and, at the same time, uneasy. They were shrewd, clever
men at Scotland Yard and knew what they were about. I must be very
careful.




Chapter III.--THE NARRATIVE CONCLUDED.

During the course of the next three months many things happened to me. I
went in for high adventure, and taking dreadful risks with the eight
hundred pounds I had won at the races, came out of everything well on
the way to fortune.

There were hectic days upon the Stock Exchange then. One of the
periodical booms in rubber had set in, and those who threw caution aside
and plunged boldly made big money. I got in early and was well into my
stride before the public generally, realised what was happening.

When I had finally made up my mind in what shares I would invest I
thought I would deal with our own firm, and shall never forget the
amazement upon the face of our senior partner, old Flavell, when one
morning I walked into his office, put down my fourteen fifty-pound
bank-notes and asked him to buy me seven hundred pounds worth of Kuala
Lumpur Consolidated on a two-shilling cover. I told him I had had money
left me.

"But you're mad," he exclaimed angrily. "You, getting only four guineas
a week, risking all that money. Why, it's criminal."

"I've more to fall back upon if I lose that," I laughed, "and I'm
determined to have a good gamble."

"Then I won't help you," he said firmly. "We'll have nothing to do with
one of our employees losing so much money."

"But I shan't lose it, sir," I protested. "There is every indication
that the market is going up and up. Please do what I ask you, sir. If
not, it will only mean my going to another firm and I shan't feel so
confident, whoever they are."

He called in the other partner, Mr. Hunt, and for a few moments his
colleague stared at me open-mouthed. But Mr. Hunt was more business-like
than old Flavell and at once took a sensible view of the matter. "Then
we'll treat you as an ordinary client, Mr. Brown," he said--I was
greatly amused at the 'Mr.,' as hitherto I had always been plain
'Brown,' and that, often not too politely, either--"and not lose our
commission because we are naturally disinclined to see a young fellow in
our employ playing ducks and drakes with his money."

"But it isn't playing ducks and drakes, sir," I remonstrated. "The
financial editor of The Times says this morning that shares in all sound
rubber companies should be a good investment."

"Well, we shall see," nodded Mr. Hunt. "Now, at the present prices of
Kuala Lumpur Consolidated, round about fifteen shillings, your seven
hundred pounds should buy somewhere near nine thousand shares, operating
upon a two-shilling cover. I'll see what I can do at once," and he
smiled as if he were very amused at the whole transaction.

Upon the ensuing settling day he smiled again, but no longer in
amusement when he had to hand me a cheque for more than two thousand
three hundred pounds. Kuala Lumpur had made a spectacular jump to
eighteen shillings and sixpence.

Then in the course of the next two months, I plunged again, replunged
and plunged for the fourth time, with each settling day adding to my
capital. In the end I possessed no less than thirty-seven thousand
pounds. I was minded to go on still longer, and should probably have
doubled the thirty-seven thousand pounds if I had done, as I left off
well before the boom was at the crest of the wave.

There were days of frenzied speculation and huger fortunes than mine
were made by many, with a start of much less capital even than I had
had. Still, I never regretted giving up when I did. The excitement and
anxiety had been getting too much for me.

Funnily enough, while I had been speculating so heavily I had been
remaining on where I was as the clerk at four guineas a week. When,
however, I received my last cheque running into more than ten thousand
pounds, I told the partners that, of course, I should now be leaving
them. Whereupon they suggested that if I cared to buy in with them and
become a junior partner, they were quite agreeable. It appeared Mr.
Flavell was intending to take less active part in the business very
shortly, and not only had my enterprise in playing up my gains so
boldly, taken their fancy, but also they had been greatly impressed by
my strength of character (as they called it) in ceasing from further
speculating when I thought I had made enough.

I considered their offer for a few days and then accepted it. So, three
months almost to the day, from when I made my first venture, the firm
became 'Flavell, Hunt and Brown.' And all the time I had heard nothing
more from Scotland Yard, but although that was so and the so-called
'Beachy Head Murder' was now never mentioned in the newspapers, I was
not, somehow, satisfied that a watch was not being kept upon my
movements. I had never forgotten that sudden friendliness on the part of
Inspector Stone and how he had seemed to want to impress upon me that
the police had now very little hope of discovering the thief-murderer,
and that consequently the latter would be able to enjoy all the money he
had obtained by his crime.

I was arguing they were still holding a trap ready for me. They thought
that, in the first instance, I had only taken one packet of notes to go
on with and then hidden the wallet in some secure place to where I
should return when I wanted more money. They reckoned they would catch
me in the end, if only they had patience and bided their time.

So I believed that no doubt I was being watched, particularly on
Saturdays and Sundays, because they would be sure I had not dared to
bring the wallet back with me to London, but had hidden it somewhere
near Eastbourne. Then it would be only at week-ends that I should be
free to go back for it. That they were still upon my track was such an
obsession with me, that for the time being I resolved to do absolutely
nothing in relation to the wallet. I would not write to tell the bank
where it was to be found and I would not even return the one hundred
pounds until some months had passed by.

It came to me many times that I was acting very stupidly in worrying
myself so much, but one day I was to learn I had not been very wide of
the mark in my imaginings.

Directly I had become a partner in the firm, I began altering my whole
mode of life, and started to get some real enjoyment out of my money.

I left the West Kensington boarding-house, and put up at a private
residential hotel in Fitzroy Square. Also, I bought a motor-car and took
to going away every fine week-end either into the country or to some
sea-side place. I knew I could not now be followed so easily, and so one
Saturday morning went down to Brighton.

I felt quite sure that no one would be likely to recognise me after all
these months and, accordingly, made a detour in entering the town and
went up the street where I had bought that four pounds bicycle. Then, to
my astonishment, I saw there was no longer any bicycle shop there. I
knew I could not be mistaken, for it had been right at the corner and
now a grocery and provision shop occupied the place where it had been.
The outside of the grocery shop, painted a bright scarlet colour, was so
fresh and clean-looking too, that it had obviously been only recently
established.

Very curious as to what had happened, during the afternoon I strolled
round the neighbourhood and went into a small public-house in the same
street. Presently the one bar-man and I were alone in the bar, and I
enquired casually if he happened to know what had become of the bicycle
shop that used to be at the corner.

"Oh, old Bloxon died," he replied, "and no one took it on. Died rather
suddenly, inflammation of the lungs, I heard. Working in his shop one
week and dead as a door-nail the next."

I steadied my voice with an effort. "I knew the old chap slightly," I
said. "When did he die?"

He considered. "Let me see, last August, I think. Yes, not long after
the Bank Holiday, a couple of weeks at most." He lowered his voice
significantly. "They say he'd done something he shouldn't, although no
one knew what it was. At any rate the police were pretty busy at his
shop the day after he died and bothered his missus a lot."

I felt quite shaky as I walked back to my hotel. Whew, what a narrow
escape I'd had, and what a mighty part Chance plays in all our lives!
Strangely enough, I was to realise that more than ever the following
day.

The next morning, emboldened by the knowledge that now, whatever
happened, I could never be identified as the missing cyclist, I thought
I would just go and make sure the wallet was still where I had left it.
It was now getting on for four months since I had hidden it and there
was no possibility, I knew, that I had been shadowed to Brighton by the
police. There had not been a taxi or another motor-car to be seen
anywhere in Fitzroy Square when I had driven away the previous day and
so I could not have been followed.

I proceeded along the so-well remembered road, but having passed
Seaford, did not turn off this time at East Dean, towards Birling Gap.
Instead, I drove straight on, intending, when I had gone a mile or so
farther, to park my car by the roadside and saunter across to the
shepherd's hut, less than half a mile across the Down, as if I were bent
only upon enjoying the view.

I was not very far from the point where I intended to pull up when I saw
a man come out of a small farm-house on the same side of the road as the
shepherd's hut, holding two dogs in leash. They were not above a hundred
and fifty yards away and close enough for me to see that the dogs were
Alsatians and big ones at that. They were straining hard at the leash
and I made a mental note that they were not particularly nice animals to
be about upon the Downs among so many flocks of sheep. Also, I was
disgusted that the man with the dogs had appeared, as I had certainly no
intention of approaching the hut when there was anyone about to see me
go in.

So, waiting until the man was hidden by a fold in the Downs, I turned my
car and went back to East Dean, determining to leave my car there and
walk to the hut on foot.

I parked my car in the yard of the village inn and in order to give the
man with the dogs time to get well out of the way, went into the bar to
have a drink. I was served by a stout woman, who had been busy knitting
when I came in.

She was inclined to be chatty, and for a minute or two we discussed the
weather and what little rain we had been having lately. Then, just for
something to talk about, I brought up the two fine-looking Alsatians I
had just passed upon the road.

"They may be fine animals," she commented sharply, "but they are not the
kind we want up here, and the farmers are very angry about it."

"But doesn't the man who owns them live at that farm?" I asked. "Isn't
he a farmer?"

"A farmer!" she scoffed. "Not he or the man who lives with him, either."
She nodded significantly. "They look like policemen to me."

My heart beat unpleasantly. "But what are they doing there?" I asked.

She nodded again. "That's what a lot of us would like to know," she
said. "It's all a mystery. One week old Jevons was farming there with a
couple of hundred or so of sheep, and the next he had gone--lock, stock
and barrel--and no one knew to where. He never said good-bye to a single
soul."

"Do you think he'd been arrested?" I asked, and in spite of myself I
could hear my voice falter.

"Certainly not. The day before he went he came in here to buy a bottle
of whisky, and he was looking very pleased with himself. No, everyone is
sure he was handed a good sum to give up his lease."

"But what did these men want the farm for?" I asked. "Are they running
sheep?"

"Not a single one. They don't want the land for anything. All they're
using is the house, and the first thing they did was to put a telephone
up there. A nice expense, that. Yes, everything is very mysterious, for
it was done so suddenly. Only a few days before he left, Jevons started
to rebuild that stone hut on the hill. He took his cart and a lot of
cement and stuff there and was going to repair the walls. Then, as I
tell you, he dropped everything as if he'd been taken with a fit."

My heart was beating like a sledge-hammer. I wanted to close my eyes and
think. Surely I could guess what had happened. This old sheep-man,
Jevons, had found the wallet and given it up to the police. Then they,
certain that the thief was also the murderer, had made all plans to
catch him. They were sure he would one day return for the rest of the
money, even if it were a matter of months. So, taking a long view of the
matter, they had bundled the sheep-man off with the greatest possible
secrecy and installed two watchers in his house. They had brought the
police dogs with them, in case they should be needed to run their man
down.

"And when did this all happen?" I asked huskily. "When did the farmer go
away?"

"Oh, months ago," the woman replied; "three or four, I should say. Yes,
I remember it was only a few days after that detective was murdered in
the chalk-pit." She nodded disgustedly. "And a nice mess the police made
of that business. My niece married a policeman in Hammersmith and I've
heard he's said they know who the murderer is. They've actually had him
in their hands but he was too clever for them, and they couldn't get the
evidence against him they wanted. So he's walking about free, with all
that money he stole to spend."

I could not get away from East Dean too quickly. Oh, what an escape I'd
had! But for that man happening to come out with dogs, just when I was
passing, I might by now have had the handcuffs on. I had no doubt my
description was well known to these men upon the farm.

Back in town again I breathed a quiet sigh of relief. Once I had
returned the hundred pounds to the bank I could put the whole matter out
of my mind and never allow myself to think about it. Indeed, I was so
anxious to finish with it and have no more planning to do, that the
following week I mailed the needed number of notes to the Brighton Bank.

With gloved hands, so that by no mistake should I leave any
finger-marks, I did them up in a little brown-paper packet, addressing
it with single letters cut from a newspaper and gummed on. It amused me
to gum on at the back of the packet 'From a Friend.'

When I had dropped it into a pillar-box I was sure that at last all my
worries were over and I had made what restitution I could. Almost at
once, however, I found I was very much mistaken, for I suddenly began to
think of the man I had killed.

I had not given him very much thought before, but now it came to me
uneasily that I owed some restitution there. Certainly, it had been
partly his own fault that he had come to such a dreadful end, but there
was no hiding the fact from myself that, but for my stupidity, in first
meddling with that wallet he would almost certainly have been still
alive.

Had he left any wife or children, I asked myself, and if so, were they
in need? If they were--I thought of my own prosperity--how easily I
could help them without any deprivation at all.

I remembered his name, Matthew Brendon--should I ever forget it?--and
looking it up in the previous year's Telephone Directory saw he had been
living at number thirteen, Trevor Road, Finsbury Park. So, that evening
I went to look at the house, wondering if anyone to do with him were
still living there.

I found the house was one of about twenty in a row, not of poor class
but of the apartment kind, and I was not at all surprised to see a card
in one of the ground-floor windows, announcing there were rooms to let.
I went into a newspaper and tobacconist shop round the corner, and
buying some cigarettes, enquired of the man who sold them to me if he
could recommend any apartments close near. I mentioned I had seen a card
up in number thirteen Trevor Road, and asked him if it happened he knew
anything of the people there.

He was quite enthusiastic at once. Yes, he could certainly recommend a
Mrs. Brendon, at number thirteen. She was a widow with one daughter, and
a very nice lady. Poor creature, she had recently met with a great
misfortune, her husband having been killed in an accident. Being left
badly off, she had been trying to let part of her house. Hitherto,
however, she had not been very fortunate with her tenants, as the few
who had come to her had only remained a few days. Still, he was sure
that anybody who went there would be made most comfortable. Both she and
her daughter were very superior people.

With no definite plan in my mind, I pressed upon the bell of number
thirteen, and my heart began to bump as I heard footsteps approaching
inside. I was about to stand face to face with the woman whose husband's
death lay at my door. I had killed the bread-winner of the family and
here was I approaching them now as one, whom no doubt, they would be
glad to shelter in their home.

A pleasant-faced woman, approaching middle-age, opened the door. She
seemed quite flustered when she learnt what I had called about. Yes, she
had some very nice furnished rooms to let, in fact the first floor was
almost a self-contained flat.

Proceeding to show me over, her voice shook as she explained things to
me. It seemed to me at once that she was desperately anxious to obtain a
let, indeed, I was to learn later that they had been then almost at the
end of their resources, not knowing which way to turn for ready money.

"I am asking three guineas a week," she said nervously, she hesitated,
"but, of course, if you think that too much, perhaps I might reduce it a
little."

"Oh, no," I commented, "if I take them, they are well worth that money
and I shan't mind paying it."

"I am a good cook," she went on, "and I am sure you would be comfortable
here. There would only be my daughter and myself and you would find it
very quiet."

I really did not know what to do. I had come there without the slightest
intention of taking any rooms, being quite satisfied where I was at the
residential hotel, and now found myself in a most uncomfortable
position. I hated disappointing the woman. She looked so intensely eager
and was watching me with such anxious eyes. How could I possibly say the
rooms were not quite what I wanted? How could I put her off without
disappointing her?

Then it came to me suddenly that the rooms were certainly very nice and
comfortable-looking. It might not be altogether a bad thing for me to
live here. I was alone in London and I might like it to have someone
taking an interest in me. Besides, by coming to the rooms I should be
helping the woman and her daughter in a practical way, and getting to
know them would enable me to see how I could extend that help further,
if necessary. Poor women, what distress I had unwittingly brought upon
them. I made up my mind instantly.

I nodded smilingly to her. "All right, I'll take them," I said. "I'll
come for three months and see how we get on. Three guineas a week and
I'll move in on Saturday."

Oh, the thankfulness upon her face. It was so apparent that I couldn't
help seeing it. She got hot and flushed, and stammered once again that
she was sure I should be comfortable.

I took out my pocket-book. "Now, my name is Brown, Jason Brown," I said,
"and I'm connected with the Stock Exchange--Flavell, Hunt and Brown, of
Lothbury is our firm--and, of course, I try to be business-like." I
smiled. "So to settle the matter, here's ten pounds on account," and I
handed her two five-pound notes.

She got redder than ever, and her thanks, which she tried to make
formal, were quite embarrassing. We chatted for a few minutes and I came
away with the impression that she was quite an educated woman, and
moreover, one of great refinement. I did not see her daughter, but from
the sound of movements in the direction where I guessed the kitchen
would be, the slight rattle of crockery, I thought she must be in the
house.

I arrived with my belongings on the Saturday afternoon, but still saw
nothing of the daughter. From what I remembered, moreover, of the
photograph of her father, which had appeared in the newspaper after the
discovery of his body, and from the appearance of her mother, I was
thinking she would probably be rather a pretty girl.

In the evening I saw her, and I got something of a shock.

She came to tell me that my dinner was served, and on the instant I got
hot with annoyance and shame that I had, perhaps, showed a little of my
astonishment.

Imagine a girl, slightly on the small side, with a perfect little
figure, an oval face with a good profile and long-lashed deep grey eyes.
Add to these a beautifully shaped mouth with a provoking dimple at the
corner and you would say she must have been pretty. So she was, a lovely
girl in all the pride of her young womanhood, except that covering
almost the entire forehead and extending a little way down the nose was
a large disfiguring port-wine stain of a horribly deep colour.

"Good evening, Mr. Brown," she said in a calm, melodious voice, "your
dinner is ready;" and I gulped down my astonishment and thanked her with
a smile.

She made way for me to precede her into my dining-room, and then waited
until I had sat down before she removed the cover of a soup-tureen.
"When you want me," she said, pointing to a small bell upon the table,
"will you please ring that?" and she left the room.

"Good God!" I exclaimed when the door was shut, "what an awful
infliction for her. It makes her look almost repulsive."

I shall never forget those first feelings of repugnance, and, as I
sipped my soup, I should have been literally aghast if anyone had told
me I had just seen the woman destined to be the mother of my children.
It must be understood the blemish was not an ordinary one, but of such a
hideous colour and stood out so pronouncedly upon an otherwise
attractive face, that the first effect of seeing it was most unpleasant.
No wonder, I thought, if Mrs. Brendon's other tenants had been at all of
a sensitive nature, they had not wanted to stay long.

The dinner was excellent and beautifully served, and, recovering a
little from the shock of the girl's appearance, I enjoyed it.

Late in the evening Mrs. Brendon came in to ask if she could do anything
more for me, and then went on to mention, as I had been rather expecting
she would do, her daughter's affliction. She told me what a terrible
trial it was to the girl and how it had ruined all her life. She,
Margaret, never went out except at night and then heavily veiled. She
had become the more and more sensitive about her appearance as she had
grown older, and would not be brought to understand that people who saw
her often soon became accustomed to how she looked and thought no more
about it.

Of course, I knew that last remark was intended for me, and, although I
did not believe her, I agreed at once with what she had said. However,
soon settling down comfortably in my new home, I came to realise that
what she had said turned out to be perfectly true. I did get accustomed
to Margaret's appearance and could soon greet her with a pleasure which
was not in any way put on.

Undoubtedly a very nice girl, she was very shy with me at first, and did
not want to have any conversation at all, but I made myself chatty and
very gradually drew her out. Her great passion, she told me, was
music--I thought it would have been better if she had called it
consolation. She said that the piano was her favourite instrument. I
told her that it was mine, too, and I could play a little. When I asked
her why it was I had not heard her playing, she at once turned away her
eyes and said their piano was away, being repaired; but I guessed she
was fibbing and that they had had to sell it.

By then I had got a good idea as to how they were circumstanced, mainly
from little chats with the friendly newsagent around the corner. He told
me how pushed for money they had been and how grateful Mrs. Brendon was
for his having, as they all imagined, sent me to them. He said my coming
had been their financial salvation.

I learnt a lot of their family history, too, from him. Mrs. Brendon had
known much better days, her husband at one time having been quite well
off. He had been a mining engineer by profession and had had large
interests in a mining company in Russia, which had been left to him by
his father.

Everything, however, had been lost in the revolution which had broken
out there in the World War.

He had fought in the war himself and attained the rank of Major. The war
over, and with only his gratuity to fall back upon, he had been most
unfortunate in everything he undertook. He had been unable to get work
in his own profession and had gone into partnership with another man in
a small manufacturing business. The latter had absconded with all the
available assets and he had become penniless again.

Finally, he had taken up private inquiry work and had been doing
reasonably well until he had met with sudden death--in an accident. Mrs.
Brendon was the daughter of a country doctor and Margaret was the only
child she had had.

I felt a great compassion for these two poor bereaved women, and, my
conscience troubling me more than ever, in many ways tried to make
things easier for them. I ordered much larger portions of meat and fish
than I could eat myself, and made it a standing rule that nothing was
ever to appear twice at the table. In the matter of chickens and game,
too, I followed the same course, in that way ensuring there would always
be plenty for them to eat. I was pretty well sure that the three guineas
a week I paid was all they had to live upon.

I could well afford any extravagance, for the firm was doing remarkably
well, and already, I was drawing a good steady income from my junior
partnership. About three months too after I had come to Trevor Road I
made a very lucky investment which, later, was destined to enable me to
retire from the City and live the life of an independent gentleman in
the country.

For a thousand pounds I bought a half share in a new form of carburettor
which a small inventor had patented. He had hawked his invention round
half London without receiving any encouragement, until a young
automobile engineer in whom I had great faith had persuaded me that it
possessed enormous possibilities. I took an option on it and then paid a
good fee to have it reported upon. The report was most favourable,
indeed, it was enthusiastic, and in consequence I invested my thousand
pounds.

As the weeks passed on I became the more and more pleased with my new
home and the more friendly with both Margaret and Mrs. Brendon.
Ostensibly for my own convenience, I got in a refrigerator, and had an
electric heater installed in the bathroom.

Then I announced I was buying a small grand piano, and it gave me a
great thrill of pleasure to see the delight in Margaret's face when I
told her that, of course, she was to use it whenever she liked. The
piano was one of the best which money could buy, and I smiled to myself
that anyone, who could play only as well as I was able to, should have
bought such an expensive instrument. Still, although I was nothing of a
player myself, I could appreciate others who played well, and I was most
curious to find out what Margaret's playing was like. I was certain she
would play well, for she had most beautiful hands. I had often regarded
them covertly as she was waiting upon me at meals. They were certainly,
I was sure, the hands of an artist or a musician.

Several times I asked her to let me hear her play, but she always
declined smilingly and with heightened colour, saying that she did not
dare, as an audience always made her nervous.

One morning, however, returning unexpectedly to pick up some papers I
had forgotten, as I opened the front door with my latch-key I heard the
piano being played upon, and walked very quietly up the stairs to
listen. The door of the room was ajar and I stood outside.

She was playing a soft nocturne, but just as I had taken up my position
she finished and started a new piece. I repressed a shudder, for of all
things she had chosen Chopin's 'Funeral March.'

As I have said, I had thought she would be a good player, but I never
expected what I had heard then. She played divinely. There was mastery
and soul in every chord she struck, and the imperishable beauty of
Chopin's masterpiece hallowed round that room like music from Heaven.

I peeped round the door. I knew her back would be turned towards me and
that I should be quite safe. Then, realising she was so engrossed in her
playing, I ventured to tiptoe into the room and sink down into an
arm-chair. Then for half an hour I had a delightful treat. She was
playing with no music before her, and went from piece to piece with the
ease and abandon of long familiarity.

"Good heavens," I murmured, "how she must have suffered, being deprived
of her music!" and I felt a great lump come into my throat.

She stopped playing suddenly and, rising to her feet, turned round in a
quick movement to face me. Her eyes were bright with excitement and her
cheeks were flushed. "I knew you were there," she said, and her lips
quivered and her voice faltered. "I didn't hear you come in but I saw
you reflected in the polish of the piano. Still, somehow I didn't want
to stop playing. You had been wanting so often to hear me and I know I
had been ungrateful in refusing." She smiled a nervous but pretty smile.
"Now, you've only to thank yourself for what I've inflicted on you."

"Bless your heart!" I exclaimed. "You've given me the greatest treat
I've had for a long time." I spoke with enthusiasm. "By Jove, you can
play. You've the soul of a real artist."

That night I brought home for her the whole operatic score of
'Lohengrin,' and her gratitude was quite pathetic. It embarrassed me,
and I was glad when she had left the room.

After that I often induced her to play for me. Sometimes her mother came
up with her into my room, but more often she came up by herself. Mrs.
Brendon, no doubt, was quite sure that no one would want to flirt with a
girl with such an awful blemish upon her face. I, too, never gave the
idea of flirtation a thought. I liked Margaret's company because her
playing delighted me, and also because it pleased me to think that in
showing my interest in her I was doing something to brighten her life.

She had never spoken to me about the condition of her face, and of
course, I had never made reference to it. Moreover, when talking to her
I took good care to never let my eyes wander to that dreadful stain. I
always looked her straight in the face and held her eyes with my own.

We were now on the best of terms, and she did many little things for me
that I would never have dreamed of allowing her to do when I had first
arrived at the house. She kept the papers in my desk tidy for me, she
pressed my clothes, and, when she knew beforehand that I was dining out,
she always had everything laid out ready for me. She did the mending for
me, too, and never in all my batching days since my poor mother died had
it been so nicely done.

The repair of a badly torn driving-glove once was quite a work of art
and could not have been done better if by a glove expert.

"A labour of love!" I remarked jokingly to myself, and then I sighed to
think that the poor girl would never have a lover. How could anyone ever
so forget that awful blemish upon her face as to make love to her? No,
it was destined she would never know the greatest of all thrills in
life. She would be maiden and childless to the end of her days.

One Saturday in late spring when she was bringing up a rather, for me,
early lunch, I noticed she was looking pale, and I said sternly, "See
here, Margaret, your cheeks have got no colour in them. It's sunlight
you want. Those walks at night are not enough for you." I hesitated just
a moment. "Now, what about coming out for a ride with me this afternoon?
I have to go down to Haslemere on business and the fresh air will do you
good. It's going to be a lovely afternoon and we'll have the hood down."

Her eyes opened very wide and her cheeks reddened like fire. "But I--I
couldn't. I couldn't," she gasped.

"Why not?" I asked. "You're not afraid of me, are you? I won't bite you.
You can leave your veil on if you want to, and pull it up when we get
out into the country. My business in Haslemere will only take me a few
minutes, and you needn't get out of the car. Yes, you've got to come. Go
and ask your mother if she'll let me take you. Come back and tell me at
once."

But it was a good ten minutes before she returned, and then her voice
was quite steady. "Mother says I may come," she said demurely, "and she
thinks it very kind of you."

"Not at all," I said quickly. "I hate driving by myself, and any
kindness done will be done to me. Now, I'll bring the car round at two
o'clock and you be ready as near then as you can."

So at the time arranged it was a very dainty-looking young woman who
came tripping down the steps of number thirteen. I am bad at describing
women's dresses and all I can say is that she looked smart, with
everything in good taste. She had a scarf covering part of her forehead,
making the stain not nearly so conspicuous.

As I had said it would be, it turned out to be a lovely afternoon, and
when we had got out of town the smell of the countryside was delicious.
The splendour of approaching summer was in the air and something of the
glory of everything must have entered into our hearts. Margaret forgot
her shyness and was chatty and animated, and I put out of my mind all
recollection of the horrible port-wine stain and remembered only that I
had a girl of most charming disposition by my side.

My business with our client in Haslemere took me much longer than I had
expected, and it was past five o'clock before we started upon our return
journey home. Then, getting near town, I suggested telephoning Mrs.
Brendon that we should be dining out and that she need not prepare
anything for me. Margaret was very much against the idea at first, but I
told her I knew of a quiet little restaurant in Soho, where we could be
almost by ourselves at the end of a long narrow room.

"And you must shake off this idea, young lady," I said emphatically,
"that you never intend to go about anywhere because you are afraid
people will look at you. What does it matter if they do? It won't hurt
you." I warmed up in my enthusiasm. "Forget your little trouble,
Margaret, and don't be so sensitive about it. I know you've got courage,
because of that determined little chin of yours. Be brave, now."

And she was brave, the poor girl, as with a little choke in her voice
she agreed to come with me. I did not learn until later, moreover, how
much courage it needed on her part, for she had allowed herself to be
seen openly in no place of public entertainment since she had been
sixteen. She had not been to any theatre, picture palace, concert or
restaurant during the last six years.

Now, I always flatter myself that that night I made the ordeal much less
trying than she thought it was going to be. Arriving quite early at the
restaurant, I was able to get the very table I wanted, right at the end
of the room, and she sat with her back to all the other diners.

I ordered some champagne and insisted upon her having a glass.
Unaccustomed as she was to wine, it brightened her up at once, and soon
she was talking across the table to me as animatedly as if we two were
alone together in the room, and the best and most intimate of friends.
The food was good and there could be no doubt about her enjoying
herself. Her eyes sparkled and her face was continually lightening up
into smiles. I thought, with great sadness, she would be really
beautiful but for that ugly disfiguring stain. We lingered over our meal
so long that it was half-past nine before I drove up to Trevor Road. I
was dropping her at the front door before taking my car round to its
usual garage.

When she had alighted from the car, she held out her hand and I shook it
for the first time.

"Thank you so very much for the beautiful time you've given me," she
said sweetly. "It was the most wonderful treat I've had for years;" and
I fancy she returned ever so slightly the gentle squeeze I gave her
hand.

I thought quite a lot about her that night, but it was only compassion I
was feeling for her. That ugly stain, I was sure, would prevent any man
from ever making love to her.

It seemed rather funny, and to me at all events just a little bit
awkward, when she brought in my breakfast the next morning, with the
animated companion of yesterday falling back into her place again as the
server-up of meals. Fortunately, we both had a sense of humour and we
smiled things off.

"Feeling all right this morning?" I asked. "None the worse for the fresh
air?"

"It did me a lot of good, and made me think I was quite young again,"
she replied, "and I can still smell the heather of the Hindhead Hills;"
and I felt foolishly happy that I had given her such pleasure.

The following week I invited her to come to the Opera with me to hear
'Lohengrin.' I invited her mother as well, but the latter said she would
rather not come.

"I am not musical, like Margaret," she said. "She gets that from her
father," and then she added gratefully, "you are being so very kind to
Margaret, Mr. Brown, and if you do bring her dreams which, of course,
can always only remain dreams, with a girl of her disfigured appearance,
you are still doing her a world of good. Before you came here it had
begun to trouble me she was falling into a melancholy which would end up
in her becoming a dreadful invalid."

Mrs. Brendon's remarks, for a moment or two, made me a little uneasy.
Surely, I thought, Margaret had more sense than to think I should ever
fall in love with her, and sense enough, too, not to let herself be ever
anything more than grateful to me. No, I was not playing with fire and
leading the girl on! She knew everything was only just kindness on my
part, and was quite aware I took other girls out, as she had seen the
flowers I had brought home to give them. Yes, everything was quite all
right, I frowned. Trying to make her life happier and brighter was but a
small part of repayment of the debt I owed both to her and her mother
for the evil I had brought upon them. I had long since come to the
determination that while I lived they should never want.

Upon the night of the Opera when Margaret came upstairs to announce she
was all ready to go with me, I felt quite delighted with her appearance
and frankly told her so.

Of course, by no possibility could she hide altogether the dreadful
stain, but she had now made it decidedly less noticeable by fringing her
hair quite low upon her forehead. People would still stare at her. That
was to be expected, but they would probably not stare for so long.

"You look very nice," I said, "and just don't let it worry you if people
stare a bit." I nodded significantly. "I'm sure if you had no birthmark
at all they would stare much longer, particularly the men," and I could
tell by her blush that she appreciated the compliment.

Arriving at the Opera House and walking down to our seats, she seemed
quite at her ease, showing, at all events, no outward signs of any
nervousness. Rather amused at my conceit, I was flattering myself it was
in part due to the fact that she had so presentable an escort. I am by
no means a bad-looking man, well set-up and very healthy looking in
appearance. So it would be consoling her to think that the other women
there must realise that, at any rate, some man thought her nice enough
to become her escort.

Of course, she was thrilled with the rendering of the opera, and so was
I. Once, in one very beautiful part, I let our hands touch on purpose,
and whether she noticed it or not, she did not draw hers away. I was
very angry with myself about it afterwards. It was exactly as if I were
flirting with her.

Looking back in after days, I am sure that night marked an epoch,
although at the time it did not enter into my mind. At any rate, from
the very next morning I noticed some subtle change in Margaret's
attitude towards me. She no longer looked at me when she spoke to me,
and when I was speaking to her, she took to averting her eyes. Also, she
seemed to have become nervous again, and always anxious to get out of my
way. Certainly, she was not unmindful of my comfort in any way. Rather
the opposite, for never had my clothes been better looked after or
little services for me more thoroughly done. But she was different
somehow. Her attitude towards me had changed, and I was quite sure about
it.

About a week later, I suggested she should come up and give me some
music after dinner, and, although she agreed, I noticed she had
hesitated for quite a few moments before doing so. Then, later, she
stopped playing much earlier than was her wont, and had slipped from the
room almost before I had realised she was going. And it was the same,
too, upon several subsequent occasions when she played for me. She did
it, but she did it reluctantly, and seemed glad to get away.

This state of things went on for about a fortnight, and then one night,
thinking things over as I lay awake in bed, it came to me in a blinding
flash of realisation that I had been most foolishly encouraging the
girl, until she had become really fond of me. Then, suddenly realising
what her feelings were, she now wanted to pull herself up before things
went any further. Her common sense, of course, told her it could only
end in one way, as no man would want to marry a girl with such a
terrible disfigurement as hers.

I took no pride at all that I was in the way of making a conquest of
her. Instead, I felt terribly mortified and grieved. I ought to have had
more sense than to make a fuss of her. I was the only man friend she had
ever had, and with her lack of experience of the other sex, there was no
triumph in that she was becoming attached to me.

Of course, now the only thing for me to do was to go out of her life as
quickly as I decently could. I would leave their house, but before doing
so would send them, anonymously, a sum of money which would place both
her and her mother beyond the reach of want for many years.

Still, I would do things gradually, I told myself. I must not alter my
whole mode of life all at once, and must give reasons for any change in
it that would seem quite natural to them.

Accordingly, the following two nights I dined out and did not come home
until very late, with the explanation that we were very busy at the
office. On the third night, however, I was home as usual for dinner at
seven and, to give no inkling of what was in my mind, when Margaret was
clearing away asked her if she would come up later and give me a little
music. She hesitated, exactly as she had been so continually doing of
late, but upon my pleading that I had got a headache and that music
would help it pass off, she said at once she would be up at nine
o'clock.

So just before nine I got everything ready as usual, lighting the two
candles upon the piano and turning out the other lights. We always did
that, Margaret preferring to play with no glare behind her and I loving
the peace and rest of a partly darkened room.

Margaret appeared to time and then, after she had been about half an
hour at the piano, when she began playing a soft little piece from a
book of miscellaneous music which I had recently bought for her. I got
up from the arm-chair in which I had been lying back, and walked over to
see what piece it was. It was new to me, but of a most appealing melody.
I saw it was a Hungarian love-song.

I stood behind her while she played it through. It died away so softly,
that for a moment I hardly realised the last note had been struck.
Margaret dropped her hands into her lap and let her head bow ever so
slightly forward. Her attitude seemed unusual to me, and without
thinking what I did, I put my hand under her chin and lifted it up until
I could see her face. Her eyes were filled with tears.

"What's the matter, Margaret?" I asked. "What's upset you?" but she made
no reply and just shut her eyes. A tear fell on to her cheek.

"You poor baby!" I said compassionately and then upon the impulse of the
moment, with my hand still under her chin, I tilted it up still further
and bending over her, kissed her gently upon the lips.

Although I wasn't the least bit in love with her, the kiss was very
pleasant to me. Her lips were soft and warm and moist. I kissed her
again, this time not quite so softly and the kiss was a longer one. "Now
kiss me back," I whispered and, on the instant, not only were her lips
responsive but, flinging up her arms around my neck she pulled me
tightly to her. I lifted her up fiercely and carried her over to the
arm-chair in which I had been sitting.

Then for a long minute our oblivion lasted, until, with a little
startled cry, she unloosed her arms in a quick movement and made to push
me from her.

"Oh, what have you done?" she whispered hoarsely. "You don't mean
anything by it."

"Oh, don't I?" I cried, stung to a dreadful feeling of remorse by her
distress. "I mean a great deal."

"But you'll never want to be my lover!" she exclaimed. "You only kissed
me out of pity." Her voice was broken in her misery. "Who'd be the
sweetheart of a girl with a face like mine?"

As in a flash of lightning I realised what the position was. By her so
passionate a return of my kisses I had drawn from her an avowal of what
her real feelings were, an avowal so unmistakable that it would be
degrading to my manhood for me to pretend to ignore it and pass it by. I
had made her fond of me, and then, just in a careless moment of pity,
had so acted that she had been taken off her guard and had confessed
that fondness without shame.

I saw it all so plainly. I had been quite aware of my danger and yet had
deliberately walked into it with my eyes open. Now I must prove myself
to her to be either of a decidedly despicable nature or else one of the
best of men, which no doubt she had been imagining me to be. I caught my
breath. Ah, I was to bring a wonderful happiness into her life or I was
to add to the sorrow I had already brought upon her and her mother!

I had only the fraction of a second to decide. Her kisses were still
warm upon my lips; I was still holding her supple body in my arms and I
could feel the wetness of her tears still upon her cheek, so close to
mine.

I crossed the Rubicon and, crossing it, crossed it manfully and with the
determination never to turn back.

There and then I asked her to marry me. I fibbed it was no question of
pity, but that I loved her sincerely with the love that every man should
have who asks a woman to join her life with his.

At first, she would not believe me but I convinced her in the end and
when we parted for the night, it was in the small hours of the morning.
I felt a great happiness that at last I was really doing something which
was a sacrifice for me to do, in atonement for the great wrong I had
committed.

And I take it to my credit that from that time to this I have never let
her or her mother learn that in those early days I thought I was making
any sacrifice at all.

By the next morning, after only a few hours of very troubled sleep, I
had all my plans cut and dried, and subsequently induced Margaret and
her mother to agree with them.

We would be married almost at once, within a month, and whilst we were
away upon our honeymoon, Mrs. Brendon was to arrange everything so that
when we returned home we were all to continue to live on in Trevor Road
until I had chosen another house, probably a little way out of London.
Mrs. Brendon, however, was to engage a maid to make the work much
lighter.

So less than four weeks later I entered into my married life, with the
greatest respect for Margaret, but fully anticipating I should always
have to be playing a part. I never believed I should have the slightest
passion for her.

We were married early one morning in the first days of a glorious
September and, straight away from the very church door, started upon our
motoring honeymoon. We were intending to tour round the beauty spots of
Scotland. We reached York that evening and hesitatingly suggesting to
Margaret that we should put up at the popular and generally crowded
Minister Hotel, greatly to my surprise she agreed at once.

"But there'll probably be a lot of people there, dear," I said. "The
tourist season is still not far off its height."

She smiled brightly. "I don't mind how many are there, my husband," she
replied. "Anyone can stare at me as hard as they like," she nodded
happily, "as long as I have you with me. No, I'm never going to worry
about people any more." She laid her hand affectionately upon my arm.
"When they look at my poor face and then look at you they're sure to
think that I must be a very charming girl to have landed such a handsome
and distinguished-looking husband." She seemed amused. "So don't you
ever worry about my feelings. I promise you they are not going to
trouble me."

And sure enough she didn't seem to mind anything. When, that night, we
walked down the crowded dining-room to our seats, she held her head high
and was as bright as if she were the best-looking woman there. In the
days which followed too, it filled me with a great tenderness when I saw
how proud she was of being a married woman. She flashed her wedding-ring
upon every occasion as if it were in truth the symbol of her deliverance
from the pre-nuptial slavery of her dreadful affliction.

Looking back, I think it was this courage I saw I had inspired in her
which, even in the course of our first wedded days, began to arouse in
me feelings of real love and passion for her. Every action of hers
showed how fond she was of me, but there was always a restraint in her
expressions of affection and she never pushed them unduly. She always
waited for some manifestation upon my part, first.

In the beginning, my advances were a little forced, hard as I tried to
hide it, but very soon I found myself groping for her in the night to
make sure she was by me.

I had intended to be away only a fortnight, but I was finding such
happiness had come to me that I prolonged the honeymoon for another week
and, returning home, could hardly credit the change in my feelings.

I had started away from the church upon my wedding morning with really
no love and, certainly, no passion for my wife and I had returned--a
devoted and passionate lover. The appearance of that dreadful birth-mark
no longer troubled me. I didn't notice it when I looked at her.

We had been home a little over a month, when one afternoon it was
brought home to me most unpleasantly that I should never be able to bury
the past as deeply as I had fondly thought.

We were at a chrysanthemum show at the Botanical Gardens, Margaret, her
mother and I, when Mrs. Brendon exclaimed suddenly, "Oh, I see an old
friend of my husband over there! I must introduce you to him. I met him
last week and told him all about Margaret's marriage." She laughed. "I
told him so many nice things too, about you, that he said he would like
to meet you." She whispered so that Margaret should not hear, "He
thought you must be a very fine man to be making my dear Margaret so
happy, in spite of that poor face of hers. Wait here. Don't go away.
I'll go and fetch him."

She disappeared among the crowd and I turned my thoughts again to the
flowers. In a minute or two, however, she came back with a man, whom, to
my consternation, I recognised as Inspector Stone. "This is Mr. Brown,"
she said, and she added proudly, "Margaret's husband." She turned to me.
"This is Inspector Stone, who was a great friend of Margaret's father."

The inspector glared at me with an annoyed frown. I do not know who was
the more astonished, he or I, but certainly it was I who recovered
first.

"How do you do, very pleased to meet you," I said, and I held out my
hand. He half hesitated and then took it reluctantly. He turned to Mrs.
Brendon and seemed about to say something to her, but I gave him no
chance.

"Let's go and have some tea," I went on, and taking hold of Mrs.
Brendon's arm I led her towards the Pavilion, leaving Margaret to follow
with Inspector Stone. I knew the inspector would never dare to speak to
Margaret about our former meeting, but I was not nearly so sure he might
not do so to her mother. So I determined I would not leave them alone
together for one minute, if I could possibly help it.

The little tea-party was a great success. Certainly, the amazement upon
the inspector's face took quite a little time to die down, and at first
his attitude towards me was inclined to be cold and distant. Then,
perhaps because he saw how proud and happy Margaret was, he seemed to
begin to think better of it, for his manner thawed and his big heavy
face broke into a pleasant smile.

"So you've been married two months, have you, Margaret?" he asked.
"Well, and how is your husband treating you?" and he looked at me with a
frown that was intended to be pretence, but which I knew was very stern
reality.

Margaret laid her hand upon my arm. "He's the best of husbands, Mr.
Stone," she replied, "and I'm the happiest woman alive." She nodded
smilingly. "With this poor face of mine I never thought any man would
ever fall in love with me"--her eyes sparkled--"but one did."

The inspector's deep voice boomed. "Well let's hope he keeps it up. Some
of us married men soon begin to think we want a change," but the twinkle
in his eyes robbed his last statement of all sting.

After that everything went brightly and, when the inspector took out his
watch and said he must be going no one was more sorry than I, for he had
shown himself to be a most entertaining companion.

He said good-bye to Margaret and her mother and then, last, to me. Then,
when he had gone a few paces he stopped and, turning round, beckoned to
me. "One moment, Mr. Brown," he called out, "I've got a little secret to
tell you."

I went over to him and, linking his arm friendlily in mine, he led me
well out of ear-shot of the others and turned his back to them,
evidently so that they should not see the expression upon his face.
"Look here, my friend," he almost snarled, "I don't know what your
little game is, and how you've come to marry that girl, but I tell you
this"--his eyes were menacing and hard as steel--"if ever I learn she's
unhappy, then I'll come and murder you on the quiet. I'll shoot you one
night with a pistol with a silencer on it. You make no mistake. I'm
quite capable of it."

My heart went out to him for his consideration of Margaret and I said
quickly and warmly, "And I shall deserve it, sir, and will gladly take
my punishment." I shook my head. "No, don't be anxious about her. It's a
real love-match and I'll see she's happy." I added as an afterthought,
"It must seem extraordinary to you that she's married me, but believe it
or not, it was quite a coincidence that I met her."

"I don't believe it," he said instantly. His face lost its hard look.
"Still you may be a better man than I took you for once and have a bit
of a conscience after all. You may never have meant to kill her father,
and I don't forget that you sent back the hundred pounds to the bank."

"Steady, steady," I said sharply, "you're a good-intentioned but a very
obstinate man. You've been quite mistaken all along, and you never had a
shred of proof against me."

"No," he grunted, "that was the trouble. You were too clever for us." He
scoffed. "I'll believe you only when Margaret loses that birth-mark
she's got." He patted my arm smilingly. "Well, good-bye, and be a good
boy."

"What did Mr. Stone want to tell you?" asked Margaret when I returned to
them.

I pretended to look very mysterious. "Well, if you must know," I said
dropping my voice, "he said he would like to be god-father to our first
baby," and Margaret blushed prettily.

I have not seen Inspector Stone again since that day, but he sent me his
kind regards when he happened to meet Margaret's mother again a few
weeks later. No doubt she had given him a good report of me.

And now I come to another extraordinary happening in my life, showing
once again how extraordinary Chance can be and what a great part it may
play in our lives.

We had been married less than six months and one night were dining out
at a fashionable restaurant.

Margaret, as usual, was supremely unconscious about her appearance and
did not mind people staring at her, which of course they always did,
some rudely and persistently, but others with only a fleeting and
sympathetic glance.

We were half through our meal when I saw a distinguished-looking man get
up from a table close near us and proceed to walk to the entrance door.
I had noticed he had glanced several times at Margaret, but had taken
great care only to do so when her eyes were not in his direction.

He had passed out of sight when a waiter came up to our table and
presented a small folded piece of paper on a salver.

"What's this?" I asked. "It's not for me."

"But it is, sir," said the waiter, "from that tall gentleman who was
sitting at the table by the pillar and who has just gone out. He told me
to give it to you directly he had gone."

Very curious, I picked up the piece of paper and unfolded it. Upon it
was written in pencil, "That birth-mark upon the young lady's face could
be removed, but there is only one man in the world who can do it. He is
Professor Lebrun of Geneva." There was no signature to the note.

I read it through twice and then, rather amused, handed it across the
small table to Margaret. She read it with a slight smile and shook her
head. "No good. Father took me to Sir Donald Stewart years ago and he
said nothing could be done for it. It would always be there and always
be the same."

She dismissed the matter with a pretty shrug of her shoulders, and we
said no more about it that night, but it kept on recurring to me in the
succeeding days and I could not get it altogether out of my mind.

Finally, I made enquiries from a medical friend about this Swiss
professor and was told he was a well-known specialist in diseases of the
skin and patients flocked to him from all parts of the world for
treatment. There and then I made up my mind I would take Margaret to
him, but before that would obtain an opinion from the best man in
London.

Accordingly one day we visited a great specialist in Wimpole Street, but
he shook his head at once and stated that he did not think any treatment
would be beneficial. I asked him what he thought about Professor Lebrun
and he was quite enthusiastic. "A great man," he said, "but I don't
think he would give you any help either. Still you might consult him
and, if you like, I'll give you an introduction. I know him very well."

A fortnight later found us in the beautiful city of Geneva, and
interviewing the Swiss professor. He was of small size only a little
over five feet in height, but he struck me at once as a man of dynamic
energy. 'A pocket eagle' was how I described him to myself. He spoke in
staccato and imperfect English.

"Oh, dear me, dear me," he exclaimed, "and ze pretty lady has gone all
zese years like zat. Twenty-two years you say she is. Can I do anyzing?
Let me see, let me see?" And for a solid hour he examined Margaret under
powerful glasses and many different coloured lights. Then he sat silent
for a long time, staring hard at her with a very thoughtful expression
upon his face.

At last he spoke and his face broke into a reassuring smile with his
first words. "Ye-es, I sink it can be cured. It vill take two months and
she must come into my hospital. No callers, no visitors, just me, ze
nurses, and ze ozer patients."

"Two months," I exclaimed, "but she will be very lonely," and then I
told him she was expecting a baby in the autumn, and such a long time in
hospital would be bad for her all by herself.

"Not at all, not at all," he protested animatedly. "She vill be gay as a
vild bird." She smiled. "She is musical zis little one. I can see it by
her eyes and zose beautiful hands. Vell, I have Schairn, ze greatest
pianist in ze world at present in my hospital and he vill be zere ze
whole time she is. He play to ze ozers every day and zey worship him.
No, she vill not be lonely, and I sink----" he raised his eyes
impressively--"I sink I vill restore to you a very beautiful voman in
two months." He laughed merrily. "If all goes vell, it vill be a new
vife I shall bring to you."

We made up our minds quickly and so two days later I left Switzerland by
myself, a very lonely man with a great gap in my life. We were to write
to each other every third day, not more often, so that our letters would
be days of great expectancy to both of us.

Those two months in London proved to be very exciting for me. A great
American corporation was negotiating for the patent of the carburettor
in which I had a half share, and every day almost there were
consultations with engineers and lawyers. My partner in the patent was
for selling at any price, provided it was a good one, but by this time I
knew we were on a good thing and was strong for holding out until they
agreed to pay one hundred thousand pounds.

It seemed an enormous sum to ask, but they were very keen on the
carburettor, and that money would be a flea-bite compared with their
annual turn-over. Still, they hung fire and made out sixty thousand
pounds was their utmost limit. I tried a big bluff and said the deal was
off then, making as my last and final proposal eighty thousand pounds.

We heard nothing from them for a fortnight and I was feeling very
despondent that my bluff had failed when over came a cable closing with
the offer.

The cable arrived the day before I was to start for Geneva to fetch
Margaret and following upon her letter, I was filled with a great
happiness. Margaret had not written that she had got rid of the
birth-mark but she had said it had been improving with every week of
treatment. Still, I read between the lines. She was keeping back the
best in order to surprise me.

How can I describe my meeting her? It was as if I were in a dream that
day, and in a way it is a dream to me still. I have never quite got over
it.

Arriving at the hospital, I saw the professor first. He was all smiles.
Yes, his treatment had been successful and it had been quite a triumph
for him, 'just a leetle one' he said modestly. Still, by far the
greatest pleasure to him about it was that he was giving a very
beautiful lady her proper position in society. Oh, yes, it was possible
I should hardly recognise her, she was so changed.

Then, for a moment, when she came in and stood demurely before me, I
really was not certain it was she. She had purposely had her hair done
differently and was wearing, too, a dress I had never seen.

Gone was the disfiguring stain and she stood before me, at a few yards
distant, a beautiful woman with a perfect, flawless face.

She threw herself into my arms and burst into a flood of tears. I heard
the click of the closing door behind me. The professor had left us
alone.

Yes, the birth-mark had entirely vanished, leaving the skin from where
it had gone very little different from that of the rest of her face. It
was a little more ivory-looking and that was all.

Grateful beyond any adequate expression, I asked the professor what his
fee was. "Two hundred guineas of your English money," he replied. He
smiled. "Viz any von else it vould be five hundred"--he bowed
gallantly--"but I have had ze ozer money in ze pleasure I have had in
vaiting upon your beautiful lady," and, in parting, he gave Margaret a
diamond brooch, the buying of which must have made a big hole in the two
hundred guineas.

And now I am at the end of my story. I gave up my occupation in the City
and, buying a property here in Essex, settled down as a gentleman
farmer. That was more than eight years ago. Margaret has presented me
with three children and there are not a more happily married couple,
than are we, to be found anywhere.

Why have I troubled to write all this down? I do not know. Perhaps I
have done it because Margaret and the children are away and I was lonely
and wanted something to occupy my mind. I realise it is foolish to raise
up the ghosts of the dead past, but for a long time I have wanted to
recall everything and get the proper perspective of these extraordinary
days. Having taken that first step in wrong-doing was it by chance only
that I was saved from continuing upon my downward course? Shall I ever
know?

To-morrow I shall read right through this manuscript and make up my mind
what to do with it. I must be careful, for it would be as deadly as a
bomb if it fell into unfriendly hands.

       *       *       *       *       *

Well, I have read it, and in ten minutes I shall consign it to the
flames. Everything I have written is true and I have bared my soul to
myself. One thing, moreover, amuses me.

I wrote in the beginning that primeval forces are strong in every one of
us and that I should like to murder a certain man. Strangely enough,
that very man has just rung me up asking me if I will dine at his house
the day after to-morrow. For political reasons I have thought it
expedient to accept and so, in a few hours from now, I shall be sitting
at his table, eating his food and drinking his wine. That is the way of
the world, deception and hypocrisy running like a scarlet thread through
all our lives. How seldom do we dare to be our own true selves?




Chapter IV.--THE DEATH OF A SCOUNDREL.


Sir Roger Hake, Member of Parliament for the Saffron Walden Division of
Essex was a self-made man and very proud of it. Of humble origin, his
father had been a coal-miner and his mother a domestic servant; he had
worked his way up from an errand-boy at eight shillings a week when
fourteen years of age to be, at forty-five, the sole proprietor of a
hundred and more shops known from Glasgow to Penzance as Hake's Chain
Stores.

A man of considerable wealth, it was his favourite saying that he should
be a happy one, too, because money would buy everything. And certainly
it seemed to be so in his case. He had a town house in Berkeley Square,
a large and historic estate, which he had renamed Hake Court, near
Saffron Walden, he owned Wonder Boy, by far the best two-year-old in
training, and, to many people, above all he had married the lovely Mary
Hellister, more than twenty-five years his junior.

He was a fine, well-set-up man and undeniably handsome, in a bold,
coarse way. He had a big head, big fearless bull-like eyes and big bushy
eyebrows. In his strength and courage he was just typical of that
predatory Britisher of centuries ago, who had wakened up half an hour
before anybody else, and grabbed most of those parts of the world which
were worth having.

Of an over-bearing and masterful disposition and subject occasionally to
most violent outbursts of temper, he had bullied his way to success,
trampling over all who barred his way without the slightest pity,
conscience or remorse. He had known what he wanted and he had generally
managed to get it.

He had engaged the butler who was now with him, and whose third year of
service had nearly run to its end, in a way which was all his own and
betrayed the true Hake touch.

"'Ow much have you been gettin'?" he snarled at their first interview.
"Two pounds! Well, I'll give you seventy bob, but mind"--and his fierce
eyes glared--"I'm buying you for that. Understand? What I tell you to do
comes before everything, and you're to see nothing and hear nothing that
I don't want you to. You're to keep your mouth shut like a trap. All
right, then, you can start straightaway." He nodded menacingly. "Now,
don't you forget what I've told you. I never tell anybody twice. You
keep your mouth shut. That's the main thing."

And certainly Huntley, the butler, a refined-looking man of polished
manners, had seen much during his stay with Sir Roger about which it was
so obviously expedient to know and say nothing.

His master had a great fondness for a pretty face, no matter in what
walk it was to be found, and if its owner could be tempted sufficiently
then the face was bought. No woman, however, reigned long in Sir Roger's
life, one succeeding another in quick succession. Apparently it was the
acquisition which so appealed to the knight, for once the victory was
won or purchased he soon tired. From time to time he had trouble, too,
with boy-friends, fathers, and even husbands, but the all-conquering
cheque-book generally seemed to have put things right, quickly.

An unpleasant man, Sir Roger, with the weaknesses that so often
accompany great strength of character!

With a man of such temperament and inclination, as can be easily
imagined, Lady Hake did not have a very happy life. From the very
beginning it would never have been imagined by anyone who knew her that
her marriage to the knight had been the outcome of any affection for
him. Certainly, he himself, at the moment, had been consumed with a most
devouring passion for his young bride, but there had been no love or
passion on her side, and he had just bought her as he had bought
everything else he wanted.

Her father, a hard-up captain on retired pay, had sold her for the three
hundred pounds annuity Sir Roger had settled on him. It had been a
callous and shameful transaction, on both the parents' part, and Mary, a
gentle, clinging girl, had not then developed enough strength of
character to refuse to be a party to the transaction.

Of course she had, no doubt, been dazzled in a way by the prospect of
being Lady Hake, and very fond of her parents, had been thankful that
her father's debts would be paid and he and her mother comfortably
settled for life. So, after some persuasion, she had allowed Sir Roger
to slip the heavily bediamonded ring upon her finger, and had resigned
herself to his ardent caresses.

The wedding had been celebrated with great pomp at St. George's, Hanover
Square, and she had had an expensive but unhappy honeymoon in the South
of France, to return home very glad that the holiday was over, as the
nervous chatelaine of Hake Court and the ornate mansion in Berkeley
Square.

As she had expected, her life was not a happy one. Apart from having no
love for her husband, she soon ceased to have even any gratitude or
respect for him. He had tired of her quickly, and before a year had
passed had lost most of his interest in her. Her coldness infuriated
him, and he started sneering at her people, referring to her parents as
paupers living upon his charity. More than that, she knew--he hardly
made any secret of it--she was by no means the only woman in his life
now, and that most people were quite aware of it, too. So she had begun
to hate him and was always terrified she might one day bear him a child,
the heir, as he had put it in his occasional jocular moments, to his
'spot of cash.'

So things were when, one evening towards the end of June, Sir Roger was
giving a small dinner-party, to be followed later by some bridge. The
knight was a great gambler and, lucky as well as shrewd, he would
sometimes boast that his winnings at cards formed no small part of his
income.

As a Member of Parliament, for political reasons he was obliged to
entertain lavishly, but this particular party was one a little out of
the ordinary, and where he knew he would be able to play for high
points. Apart from Lady Hake, there would be only men present at the
dinner and again, only those, too, who, as Sir Roger grinned, could
afford 'to drop a bit.'

All the invited guests, save one, had residences in his constituency,
but, although they were his staunch political supporters, he did not
care much for them. As a matter of fact, they none of them cared much
for him, either. Still, another general election was shortly coming on
and they were quite aware he was about the only man who could retain the
seat for their party. Splashing a lot of money about upon charities and
institutions, and subscribing to everything he was asked to, he was the
ideal member for a proverbially shaky seat.

When, however, the guests took their seats at the dinner table that
evening, they were not all the ones he had originally intended, for that
very afternoon one of those he had invited had 'phoned up to say he was
not feeling well enough to come. So, to fill the vacancy, to make up the
required number for the two tables of bridge, Sir Roger had had to rope
in his private secretary, Avon Harland, a young fellow of twenty-two and
who had only been with him for about six months. Sir Roger was very
annoyed at having to ask him to play because it was a rule of life with
him never to be over-friendly with those he employed. Still, upon this
occasion, he realised there was no help for it.

"And see here, Harland," he explained frowningly, "we shall be playing
for much higher points than you can afford. So I'll be responsible for
both your winnings and your losings. Understand, I'll hand over one
hundred pounds to you and what you lose won't cost you anything, and
what you win you will pay over to me."

From his expression, the secretary did not seem to like altogether the
arrangement, but good jobs were hard to get and the salary of three
hundred pounds a year would be difficult to pick up anywhere else. So he
acquiesced with a frown.

The guests arrived at the time appointed, half-past seven, but the
knight was by no means in the best of tempers during the meal which
followed, and accordingly vented his ill-humour upon the weakest person
present, his wife. He was cold and frowning to her, and once made her
blush with shame by remarking generally upon the way everyone tried to
sponge upon him because he'd made a bit of money. He added sneeringly
that he was now expected to keep every one of 'his damned relations.' No
one commented upon this remark and the subject dropped. Everyone,
however, knew quite well that he was referring particularly to his
wife's parents, as the story of the marriage was well known.

The meal over, Sir Roger conducted his guests to the library, and they
all took their seats for the bridge. It would be well at this stage to
enumerate who the six guests were.

Commander Vanraven was a typical naval man, bronzed and with deep blue
eyes. He had a merry, happy-looking face, but his firm lips and square
jaw would have warned anyone it would be dangerous to play any tricks
upon him. He was just over thirty years of age.

Byles Chater was a well-known King's Counsel. In the early 'forties, his
was the type of face so common to many great advocates. Lean,
clean-shaven and with large brooding eyes, his mouth was wide and his
lips were kept pressed tightly together. Of decisive speech, he was
cynical in his outlook upon life.

Dr. King-Harley was an eminent specialist in diseases of the mind, and
it was said laughingly that he regarded everyone as more or less insane.
His expression was thoughtful and rather stern, but those who knew him
best held him to be one of the kindest and most sympathetic of men.

Then there was Hector Norton whose property adjoined Hake Court, and
whose herd of Jersey cows was one of the finest in the land. He was the
envy of all other breeders, generally sweeping up, as he did, all the
most valuable prizes, north, south, east and west in all the English
shires. He was said to be making a fortune from the sales of his stud
bulls.

The fifth of the players was Paxton-Smith, the newspaper proprietor who
had hacked his way to fortune with the same force and energy as had done
his host, but in a far nicer way and with consideration for all he had
had dealings with.

Last of them all was Martin Leeder, one of the best known of the
Newmarket trainers. He was a man of good reputation and respected by all
who knew him. It was said he had been most fortunate a little while
previously when one of his own horses had won the City and Suburban
handicap. He had backed it heavily and at prices starting at fifty to
one.

The play started, they were all keen players and the points being
shilling ones, an intense silence filled the room. The night was hot and
oppressive. All the curtains were drawn and the windows were wide open.
Two electric fans seemed to do little to cool the air.

About eleven o'clock there was a sharp shower of rain, but it was too
short to bring any cooling down with it. The play went on for about half
an hour and then came a most vivid flash of lightning, followed almost
instantaneously by a tremendous peal of thunder, which seemed to rock
the very foundations of the house. All the lights went out and the room
was plunged into pitch darkness. The rain now poured down heavily.

"Keep your seats," called out Sir Roger. "The lights will come on again
in a few seconds. We often get this trick played upon us here."

But a couple of minutes or so passing and the lights not coming on, Sir
Roger swore angrily. "Why the hell Huntley doesn't come in with candles
I don't know," he called out. "Perhaps it's only one of our fuses which
has gone. I've got an electric torch in my study and I'll get it and
see."

His study was the room adjoining the library and there was a door in the
library leading into it. He lit a match to enable him to pick his way
across the room, and disappeared. The others sat on in the darkness with
peal after peal of thunder following. Some minutes went by and then,
suddenly, the lights went up again.

       *       *       *       *       *

At two minutes after midnight the Saffron Walden police station was rung
up and the sergeant in charge galvanised into a fierce excitement by the
message the constable who had answered the 'phone brought to him.

"God!" he exclaimed hoarsely. "What do you say? Sir Roger Hake's been
shot and it looks like murder!"

The constable jerked his thumb behind him. "Man at the other end says
so. He's still there."

Sergeant Houseman darted to the 'phone. "The sergeant here! Repeat what
you said--Oh, oh!--Who is speaking? Doctor King-Harley!--Are you sure
he's quite dead?--Where are you speaking from?--And there's no sign of
the party who killed him?--Well, don't touch a single thing!--Leave
everything exactly as it is and don't let anyone leave the house!--You
understand?--All right, then!--We'll be up as quickly as possible!"

Hake Court was nearly three miles out of Saffron Walden but very soon
two police cars had arrived at the lodge-gates, bringing with them the
Superintendent of the Saffron Walden police, the police surgeon and
police photographer and two plain-clothes detectives. The lodge-keeper,
a morose and surly-looking man, was waiting just inside the drive, ready
to unlock the gates.

"How long have these gates been locked?" asked the Superintendent
sharply.

"Since about half-past nine," grunted the gate-keeper. "They're always
locked as soon as it begins to get dark."

"What for?" jerked out the Superintendent. "This is a new idea, isn't
it? I've not heard of it being done here before."

"We've done it ever since we've had the dogs," said the man. "The dogs
are let loose at dusk and they go about the grounds all night. There
they are!"

Three huge dogs had loomed out of the darkness on to the drive in front
of the cars, and brought themselves to a standstill. They looked savage
creatures, with their big massive jaws and big eyes.

"Great Scott!" exclaimed the police surgeon who was new to the district.
"What has he kept them for? They're Livonian wolf-hounds, and as
dangerous as hell."

"Only to those they don't know," said the lodge-keeper. "He kept them
because he was assaulted by two strangers, one night in the grounds."

"It wasn't reported," commented the Superintendent sharply. "We heard
nothing about it."

"No," said the man, "Master dealt with them himself." He nodded. "Master
thought they had been punished enough. They had to be helped to get back
to their car."

"Drive on," said the Superintendent to his driver, and he added in a
frowning aside to the surgeon. "Sir Roger made a lot of enemies. He was
too fond of the other sex and thought he could pick where he chose. He
wasn't popular with everyone."

Arriving at the Court, the police-party were taken at once to the study
where the dead man was lying outstretched upon the carpet. He was upon
his side, with his head surrounded in a little pool of congealed blood.
There was a bullet-hole in the right temple. The police surgeon said he
would have died instantaneously and that in his opinion death had taken
place just over an hour previously.

Dr. King-Harley, who alone of the card-players had accompanied the
police into the study, quickly put the Superintendent in possession of
all the salient facts as far as they, the card-party, were concerned.

He said they had been playing uninterruptedly until, it was computed,
about half-past eleven. Then the lights had failed suddenly, following
upon a loud burst of thunder. Waiting a couple of minutes or so to see
if the lights would go up again and nothing happening, Sir Roger had
left the room, as he had stated, to get his electric torch from his
study and find out if the fuse had gone in the hall.

That was the last any of his guests had seen of him alive. The lights
had gone up again in a few minutes and they had sat chatting together,
awaiting his return to resume the play. A quarter of an hour or so had
passed and then they had begun to get impatient, particularly so
Commander Vanraven who said he had to be on the golf-course for some
important match at nine the next morning. At last the Commander had rung
the bell and the butler appearing, he had been asked if he knew where
his master was.

Shaking his head, the man had appeared most surprised and had started at
once to look for Sir Roger. Proceeding into the study, the first place
he had thought of, he had switched on the lights and then shouted
instantly for the others to come to him. Running in, they had seen Sir
Roger lying exactly as he was now, prone upon the carpet and with his
head in a pool of blood and the bullet-wound in his forehead.

Dr. King-Harley continued that no weapon had been seen lying about and
no one had heard a cry or a report of any rifle or pistol, but that
could be understood in view of the noise of the thunder-claps which had
followed upon Sir Roger's departure. He, the doctor, had gone up to Lady
Hake and broken the news to her. She had put on some clothes and was now
waiting in the drawing-room. She had not been allowed in to see the
body.

The Superintendent was a man of quick decisions and, after some
whispered orders to his subordinates, a few words with Lady Hake and a
couple of minutes' conversation over the telephone, he went into the
library where the guests of the evening were still waiting anxiously for
permission to leave for their homes.

"I'm sorry," he announced curtly, "but none of you can go away to-night.
I have communicated with Scotland Yard and officers from there will
arrive within a few hours to question you all. Until then Lady Hake says
she can provide you with sleeping accommodation. But one thing first,
please. Before you leave this room I shall want to search you all."

From dismay at learning they were not going to be allowed to return
home, the expressions upon the faces of those present turned to
annoyance.

"What!" exclaimed Commander Vanraven, voicing the opinions of the
others, "then do you think any of us had a hand in his death?"

"I don't think anything," snapped the Superintendent. "It's my business
to deal only with facts," and he eyed them very grimly, "and fact number
one is that Sir Roger was shot by someone inside the house. There is no
doubt about that."

"Good God! man, have you no imagination?" scoffed Byles Chater. "Isn't
it almost certain he was shot by someone firing through the open
window?"

"No, it isn't," snapped the Superintendent. "The certainty is in quite
another direction. He was shot by someone standing well inside the
room." He smiled coldly. "I smelt cordite directly I went in there. I
happen to be a non-smoker and my sense of smell is very keen."

"But couldn't whoever he was have leant over the windowsill when he
fired?" asked the gaunt K.C. sarcastically, almost as if he were
prompting a little child.

"Well, he didn't," retorted the Superintendent, "or he'd have left his
footmarks on the flower-bed under the window." He smiled his cold smile
again. "We police think of things, just the same as you outside people
do." He looked very stern. "No, this killing was done either by one of
you seven gentlemen here, the butler, one of the eight maid-servants or
by Lady Hake herself."

"Good God!" exclaimed Byles Chater again, and with his face in obvious
distress now, "leave Lady Hake out of it, if you please."

"I leave out nobody," said the Superintendent. "It's my job to suspect
everyone until the guilty party is found." He spoke in most
business-like tones. "Now, I'll first take all your names and addresses,
and then it will be pleasanter for everyone if you make no fuss and let
one of my men and me just give you a quick once-over. Of course, I don't
expect to find any of you with a pistol on you now."

Shortly after, they were told they could go to bed and young Harland
showed them the rooms which had been assigned to them. Late as it was
then, however, they did not part at once, but stayed talking until
nearly another hour had passed.

It had been arranged they should be down for breakfast the next morning
at half-past eight, and anxious to get things over and leave the Court
as soon as possible, all were punctual to the meal. The butler waited
upon them and gave them all the news. Certainly, some of it was very
startling.

Directly it had become light Sir Roger's own pistol had been seen lying
in full view upon the lawn in front of the study window and there was no
doubt it was the weapon with which he had been shot! The police had been
watching in the Court all night to make certain no one should leave! Two
of the Big Four of Scotland Yard, Inspectors Stone and Gilbert Larose,
had just arrived and were to take charge of the investigation! The
failure of the electric light had been general over the district and had
lasted exactly six minutes!

"And when do you think, Chater," asked Commander Vanraven when the
butler had left the room, "we shall be allowed to go?"

The K.C. looked gloomy. "Certainly not before the afternoon, and
perhaps, not until the evening," he replied. "These two men are very
thorough. I've seen them in several cases."

There was a knock upon the door and a big, stout man, with a pleasant
smiling face entered the room. He closed the door carefully behind him.

"Pardon my disturbing you, gentlemen," he said, "but I should like to
make myself known to you now you are all together. I am Inspector Stone
from Scotland Yard and, together with my colleague, Inspector Larose,
shall be shortly having a little talk with all of you individually." He
looked round, and his glance lingered on the King's Counsel. "Good
morning, Mr. Chater," he smiled. "So the tables are going to be turned
in a few minutes, sir, and instead of you asking me questions, I shall
be questioning you."

"Quite all right, inspector?" smiled back Byles Chater. "I shall be
ready to help you all I can."

"That's the spirit," nodded Stone. His eyes took in everyone there. "And
I am sure all of you will be anxious to do the same." He spoke very
sternly. "You must understand, gentlemen, that you are all under
suspicion, very grave suspicion, for already we are certain that the
dreadful crime was committed by someone inside the house. We have not
the slightest doubt about it."

"But even if that is the case, Inspector," asked Dr. King-Harley, "how
can you be so certain Sir Roger was killed by one of us or one of the
servants?"

"Or by Lady Hake or Mr. Harland," supplemented the inspector solemnly.
His tones were grave and heavy. "Because, sir, no one left the house
after the murder had been committed. There are no strange footmarks
anywhere on the sodden ground around the house. Besides, those fierce
dogs would have seen to it if any stranger had been about in the
grounds." He shook his head. "No, I regret to say, gentlemen, that the
murderer will be found either among you six here, the secretary, the
butler, Lady Hake or the six maid-servants. Unhappily, there is no
getting away from it."

"Well, leave his widow out of it," scowled Commander Vanraven. "She's
only a child."

"Of course," agreed the inspector instantly, as he rose up to go, "and
so we're leaving her until the last, hoping it may not be necessary to
question her at all. We'll be taking the butler first."

The enquiry was being held in the library, at the end away from where
the card-tables had been set out the previous evening. Nothing in the
room had been interfered with and it was exactly as it had been when the
card-players had left it to go to bed. Superintendent Roberts and the
inspectors sat behind a small table, with Inspector Stone presiding.
Gilbert Larose, the international detective, was just then at the very
height of his reputation, it being only a few months before, as the
husband of Lady Ardane, he was to retire altogether from the Criminal
Investigation Department.

The butler came in looking rather nervous, but Inspector Stone at once
helped to put him at his ease.

"Look here, Huntley," he began, "if you didn't kill your master, you've
no need to worry at all. We're not very formidable and all we want is to
get at the truth. So all you've got to do is to answer truthfully all
the questions I am going to put to you. Now, I understand you've been
here nearly three years. Was Sir Roger a good master to you?"

The butler evaded the question. "He paid me well, sir. I've been getting
seventy shillings a week."

Stone frowned. "Seventy shillings a week!" he exclaimed. "That's a lot.
Then you were more than an ordinary butler to him!"

Huntley shook his head. "No, sir, I wasn't. My duties were just the
ordinary ones, but I was paid so well so that I should be very careful
to do nothing that would ever cause me to lose my situation."

"Which means?" demanded Stone sharply.

Huntley coughed. "That I was never to talk about Sir Roger's private
affairs, sir. I was to keep my mouth shut, the master ordered me. He
said he was buying me."

Stone looked round at his colleague and then back at the butler.
"Hush-money!" he exclaimed. "Then what was going on?"

"Oh, nothing sir! Nothing very important! Only, for one thing, I was
never to mention the visitors who called."

The stout inspector glared. "Visitors! Do you mean women ones?"

Huntley nodded. "Yes, sir." He coughed again. "The master was fond of
the ladies and he knew quite a number of different ones. He used to
bring them home, particularly in Berkeley Square, for champagne and
sandwiches quite late at night."

"Did her ladyship know?" snapped Stone.

The butler spoke quickly. "I hope not, sir, but I can't say. Her
ladyship is very quiet and retires early and both the Court here and
number seven Berkeley Square are very large houses. What goes on in one
part is not necessarily known in another."

"Who were these women?" asked Stone. "Tell us their names."

"I don't know them, sir. The ones who came at night I often didn't even
see. I only heard them laughing, and smelt the perfume they had on them,
after they had gone."

"But didn't Sir Roger send you off to bed when he had these visitors? He
wouldn't have wanted you about."

"But he did, sir. I was never allowed to go to bed until after he had
gone, however late it was. You see, sir, Master was very peculiar in
some ways. For one thing he was very afraid of fire, because I've heard
tell some fortune-teller once told him he'd one day be burnt to death.
So he was terribly afraid that when he was lively----"

"When he was drunk, you mean?" asked Stone.

"No, sir, he was never drunk. But when he'd had plenty he became
careless and would then throw matches about, or leave the fire dangerous
or the geyser still alight in the bathroom. So, I had to be always
about."

Stone considered. "But you haven't answered my first question yet. Was
he a good master?"

The butler hesitated, as if he were unwilling but not unable to answer
the question. Then he took the plunge boldly and emphatically, with
obvious bitterness in his tones. "No, sir, he was not. His temper was
very uncertain and he mostly spoke to me as if he were speaking to a
dog. He was not a pleasant gentleman to work for."

Stone lifted his eyebrows. "And yet you've remained with him for three
years."

The butler gave a wan smile. "With the seventy shillings a week, sir.
That's what kept me here." He nodded. "Besides, sometimes the tips are
good. The gentlemen at the parties are often generous."

Larose interjected a question here. "Then you are not sorry he's dead?"
he asked sharply.

"Oh, but I am, sir! I mayn't get such a good place again. Except for the
late hours, the work is light. I have two parlourmaids under me."

Stone looked down at the paper upon the table. "Well, now coming to last
night. Give us your version of everything."

"I have not much to tell you, sir, beyond what you already know. It was
Master's invariable rule that I should never come into any room where he
was unless I was sent for, so I was sitting where I always sit at night
when there is any company here, in that little room just off the hall
and near the front door, when the library bell rang. I was reading a
newspaper, and happening to glance at the clock as I got up, I saw it
was about three minutes to twelve. I went into the library where all the
gentlemen were and Mr. Chater asked me if----"

"One moment," interrupted Stone, "we're getting on too quickly. Where
were you when the lights failed?"

"Oh, in the same place, in that little room, sir, and it was most
unfortunate as I found I had got no matches on me. So, I had to feel my
way into the kitchen and then I couldn't lay my hands upon a box,
anywhere. I was in a great flurry, expecting to hear Master shouting for
me any moment. I was upset, too, because I don't like thunderstorms as I
am always so afraid the house may be struck. There are iron deposits in
the earth not very far from here and with that and the big trees
surrounding the Court I am always expecting----"

"Never mind about the trees," interrupted Stone testily. "We want to
know where you were all that time when the house was in darkness."

The butler had a pained expression upon his face. "I was telling you,
sir. I was looking for some matches and I couldn't find any anywhere. I
tried the kitchen, the scullery and my pantry, feeling about all the
time because the whole house was inky black and----"

"But hadn't you got a torch?" snapped Stone.

"Yes, sir, and I crawled up to my bedroom to get it, but things were
most unfortunate there, too. Emma, one of the housemaids, had turned out
my room that morning, and she had not put back the torch where I usually
keep it. It took me a long while to grope for it and then, just as I
found it, the lights went up again."

"How do you know they went up just then?" asked Stone.

"Because from the window of my room, sir, I suddenly saw two broad beams
of light shine up over the lawn. They were from the library windows."

"And you mean to tell us," asked Stone, "that the whole of the time the
house was in darkness, exactly six minutes we are told, you were looking
for matches or your torch."

The butler's reply was very firm. "Yes, sir, I was. The time, too,
seemed longer than six minutes to me. I should have said it was nearer
ten."

"And you never went near the library when the lights did go up?" asked
Stone incredulously. "Why was that?"

"Master was a hasty man, sir, and he might have been furious with me. I
was glad he was having time to calm down."

"Go on," said Stone. "You had come to where Mr. Chater asked you where
Sir Roger was."

"I told him I didn't know but would go and look and I crossed the
library to go into Master's study, as the first place where I thought he
might be."

"Was the door between the two rooms shut?"

"No, sir, but it was pushed close to. The room was in darkness, and I
felt for the switch and----"

"But good heavens, man," broke in Stone impatiently, "if you found the
room all dark why should you have imagined your master would be there?"
He spoke very sternly. "Come, come, that want's some explanation."

The butler looked him unflinchingly in the face. "Sir," he said slowly,
"Lord Leighton, my master before Sir Roger, and I was with him eight
years, died suddenly in an apoplectic fit. He was just such a man as Sir
Roger, ruddy-faced and in perfect health up to the very minute of his
death. I found him dead in his armchair one evening, hot and sultry such
as was last night." The man spoke very solemnly. "That is why, sir, I
looked for my master in the unlighted room. I was always thinking he
might die one day in a fit of temper."

Stone altered his line of questioning. "Now about this pistol he was
shot with. You knew he'd got it?"

"Oh, yes, sir, everyone did. It was kept openly in one of the
pigeon-holes of his desk."

"How long's he had it?"

"Since last April, sir, after two men had attacked him one night in the
grounds. He beat them off but he bought the pistol the next day. No,
sir, we none of us know who the men were. We all think it was a private
quarrel and I, myself, believe it had to do with a lady, because when he
came indoors after the fight I heard him mutter something about a little
trollop. He often muttered to himself when he was very put out."

Stone frowned thoughtfully. "Now about these gentlemen at the
card-party. You know them all? They have been here often before? They
were real friends of his?"

The butler hesitated. "Well, sir, speaking frankly now he's dead, I
don't think he had any real friends. He wasn't a man whom most people
liked. Still, it suited many to keep in with him either for political or
business reasons. For instance, Mr. Chater's brother was his solicitor
and must have had hundreds of pounds out of him in the course of the
year. Then Mr. Martin Leeder trained his horses for him, and Mr.
Paxton-Smith and Commander Vanraven supported him politically, to keep
the Saffron Walden seat for the Conservative Party. Mr. Norton kept in
with him because he got a bit of help from him for the Saffron Walden
Hospital where Mr. Norton is the chairman of the Board of Management. So
you see it was like that; they had an axe to grind by keeping friendly
with him."

"But whom of the lot would you say he knew best?"

"Well, perhaps Mr. Norton," replied the butler. "His estate adjoins ours
and is less than a mile away." He smiled. "Mrs. Norton is a very
beautiful lady, and Sir Roger has been greatly taken with her. They're
both great rose-growers and the master has often been over lately to
look at her flowers." His smile broadened. "Of course, people have been
talking, but I should think Mrs. Norton could take care of herself."

"Now another thing, Huntley," said Stone. "With all this unfaithfulness
on his part, upon what terms was Sir Roger with his wife?"

The butler hesitated. "Well," he said slowly, "I don't think he ever
struck her, but short of that he wasn't a good husband."

"Great Scott!" exclaimed Stone. "Then did they quarrel?"

"No, no," said Huntley quickly, "her ladyship's not a quarrelling sort.
I mean he wasn't kind to her. Like me, she got all his bad temper. Even
if he wasn't in a bad temper, he often didn't take any notice of her for
days on end together. Then, some nights after dinner he'd talk to her
quite a lot, especially after he'd had champagne. It was a week of
neglect and then, perhaps, a day or a couple of days of being kind to
her."

"Did they occupy separate bedrooms?"

"Oh, yes, he started that a few months after they had been married. He'd
soon taken to being away quite a lot. He said it was on business."

"But you don't think it always was?" queried Stone.

The butler shrugged his shoulders. "Well, it included a lot of
week-ends, anyhow."

Stone frowned. "And her ladyship, did she have many visitors?"

"No, her own people were never invited to the house and she spent her
time mostly with her painting. She's a very quiet and gentle lady."

A short silence followed and then Stone said sharply, "Well, Huntley,
you're an intelligent man, and so in your own mind, you must have formed
some opinion as to who killed your master. Whatever you say will be
treated with confidence." He regarded him intently. "Now who do you
think fired that shot?"

The butler shook his head. "I can think of no one, sir. I know I didn't
do it, Mistress is incapable of it and certainly no one among the
gentlemen could have done it without the others knowing." He nodded. "If
it were possible I should have said he shot himself accidentally. He was
very careless about the safety-catch of that pistol and several times
I've found it raised. Once he even passed it over to me to clean, with
the catch up and the magazine half loaded. When I pointed it out to him,
he told me I was a fussing fool."

Inspector Larose now took his turn at the questioning. "I'd like to put
something to you, Mr. Huntley," he said most politely. "Now I've just
had a look round the rooms on the ground-floor here and I notice there
is a mixture of the old and new. For instance, in the kitchen you have a
modern electric cooker and yet a very ancient looking kitchen range with
that big hook hanging down in front. Surely you don't ever use the
old-fashioned turning-spit?"

"But we do," nodded the butler. "Master had all the joints cooked that
way to keep in the flavour of the meat."

"Very wasteful in the way of coal, wasn't it?" asked Larose.

"In both coal and coke," agreed Huntley. "To roast with the spit
required a big fire and it made the kitchen unpleasantly hot in warm
weather."

"And you had a joint roasted last night, of course," queried Larose.

"Yes, saddle of mutton, sir. A large one!"

"And dinner started what time?"

"A quarter to eight. We always have it at that time."

"And that being so, Mr. Huntley," went on Larose, and he spoke much more
sharply now, "with the large fire which you say was always necessary for
roasting when the spit was used, wouldn't some of its embers have been
still alight when, as you tell us, you groped your way into the kitchen
to feel for matches? Wouldn't the kitchen have not been completely dark
and couldn't you, at any rate, have lit a piece of paper at the fire?"
His voice rose. "Answer me quickly, please."

But the butler did not answer quickly. His face went a dusky red and he
took quite an appreciable time before he replied huskily. "It was quite
dark, sir, as I have told you, and there wasn't even a glimmer of
light." He spoke reproachfully. "Do you think I would lie to you, sir?"

Larose was all politeness again. "Not necessarily," he said. He smiled.
"I was only curious. That's all."

Stone asked a few more questions and then the butler was dismissed, with
the intimation that he was to ask Mr. Harland to come in when he heard
the bell ring, which would be in a minute or two.

Then Stone turned to the others. "Well, what do you think of him?" he
asked. "What's the verdict?"

"He was lieing about looking so long for those matches," replied Larose,
"and you see when we come to question the cook we shall find out he's
been prompting her what to say."

"Then should we have the cook in at once, before he's had the
opportunity to speak to her?" asked Stone.

Larose shook his head. "It wouldn't help us. It wouldn't clear up what
he'd really been doing. No, let him warn the cook. It will confirm our
suspicions of him." He nodded. "It is quite possible he shot his master,
but we shall have great difficulty in proving it. He is a clever man."

"One thing," commented Stone. "It's quite plain he hated his master and
there may turn out to be a much deeper reason than for the way he says
he was always treated by him."

Avon Harland, the youthful-looking secretary, came in looking very calm
and collected. Well below medium height, he was on the small side and of
slight physique, but he was decidedly good looking, with an aristocratic
and refined appearance. He held himself erect.

He said he had been Sir Roger's secretary for nearly six months. He did
not complain of him as an employer, although his manner was by nature a
very discourteous one. They had not been in any way friends, their
relations being strictly business ones. He had his own two rooms and an
office at the Court, and was Sir Roger's agent as well as secretary. Sir
Roger owned considerable property in the neighbourhood, and there were
always a lot of things to look after. He had occasionally had lunch with
Sir Roger, but then it had only been when the latter had been pressed
for time and wanted to discuss business with him. The previous night was
the first time upon which he had had dinner with him, and he had only
been present then because one of the invited guests having defaulted at
the last moment, he had been roped in to make up the eight players at
bridge.

He then gave his version of the happenings in the card-room, which
tallied exactly with that given by Dr. King-Harley to the Superintendent
of the Saffron Walden police. Stone asked him to indicate which chair he
had been occupying when the lights went out and he told him. It was the
one nearest to the door leading out into the lounge hall and farthest
away from that leading into the dead man's study.

"And are the card-tables and chairs exactly as they were last night when
you were playing?" asked Stone.

Harland regarded them carefully and nodded. "Yes, and the packs of cards
are exactly as they were then, too," he said. "I was just about to
deal."

Stone spoke in brisk and business-like tones. "Well, Mr. Harland, as I
have told the others, unhappily there cannot be the slightest doubt Sir
Roger met his death at the hands of someone inside this house, and I am
sure you must share that opinion, too." He raised his hand to emphasize
the seriousness of his question. "Now can you swear none of you
gentlemen left this room when it was in darkness last night?"

"We are all positive of it," replied Harland firmly. "We were all in our
proper places at the card-tables when the lights came on again, all in
the same places we had been occupying before they went out."

"But one of you might have been out and come back," suggested Stone.

"How could he have done it?" asked Harland sharply. "Even if he had
managed to slip away unnoticed, in the darkness, which I doubt, how on
earth could he have crawled back and found his own chair again without
disturbing anyone? Remember it was black as ink here."

"And, of course, you all talked together as you sat in the darkness?"
was Stone's next question.

"Certainly, we did, and, discussing things afterwards, we are sure that
everyone of us joined in the conversation."

"And I take it," went on Stone, "that everything had been just ordinary
and uneventful at the card-tables until the lights went out. I mean
there had been no quarrel or dispute of any kind about the play."

Harland shook his head. "None whatever. Everything was just as ordinary
and quiet as it could be."

"You all came into the room, you played those hands of bridge and none
of you left the room?" Harland nodded and Stone went on, "And about the
other players, had you met them all before?"

"No, only one of them, Mr. Norton, and I had become acquainted with him
because of some business connected with the estate."

"Then you have formed no opinion of their characters?"

Harland smiled. "Not sufficiently to determine whether any among them
would be a murderer."

Stone spoke sharply. "Now, I won't beat about the bush, Mr. Harland, but
having been associated for six months with Sir Roger you must have
formed some idea as to what his character was. Of course, you have!
Well, whatever his business abilities, he wasn't a nice man in private,
was he? To put it plainly, he didn't make a good husband for a young
girl like Lady Hake, now did he?"

Harland's face hardened. "No, it is common property he did not."

"And you can no doubt supplement what the public know by what you have
yourself observed in private since you came here."

Harland was silent, and Stone went on persuasively, "Come, come, Mr.
Harland, you had better tell us. We are bound to learn all about it in
the end, but we shall be better able to determine its value coming from
you, an educated man, than from the tittle-tattle of the servants. Now
Sir Roger was interested in many women, wasn't he?"

The secretary spoke bitterly. "He was a satyr, a beast, and the pursuit
of women was a mania with him. He carried on with them here and in town,
and I am certain that's what he kept a secret cottage on the coast in
Essex for. I wonder someone hasn't shot him long ago."

Stone spoke very thoughtfully. "Then you think he was killed out of
revenge, do you?" He shook his head. "But everything points to the crime
having been committed by someone in the house!"

"And that most probably was so," snapped Harland, he nodded
significantly, "by someone who was in hiding in the Court." He spoke
quickly. "Looking back, in my opinion the mistake was that the house
wasn't searched at once. We were all too ready to accept the idea that
he was killed by someone who was actually living here."

Stone's eyes opened very wide. "That's a funny idea, isn't it?" he
asked.

"Not so funny as it seems when you consider it," said Harland. "This
house is old and rambling and covers a lot of ground, the front door is
always kept open during the day, and there would be plenty of places to
hide, once anyone got in. As for getting away again, the dogs were
chained up before six this morning and there are several places where it
would be quite easy to climb over the wall. I've heard the village boys
do it often enough to come after the fruit."

A short silence followed and then Stone asked, "And what about this
secret cottage, where is it, and what do you mean by calling it secret?"

"It's near the little village of Bradwell, and on the estuary of the
River Blackwater, and I call it secret because he'd bought it, or was
leasing it, under another name. He's known as William Hale down there,
and I believe that's where he's been going for many of those week-ends
when he's supposed to have been up North."

"And how did you come to know about it?"

"Quite by accident. A receipt for Council Rates, paid in cash the
previous Saturday, got mixed among some other papers he brought me one
Monday, and when I handed it back to him, he seemed confused enough to
make me curious. So the following Sunday, having nothing better to do, I
went down that way on my motor-bicycle, and nearly ran into him. He was
staying there with a companion, a young woman. I saw them both in the
distance."

Stone made a gesture of disgust. "And do you think he managed to keep
all these adventures from coming to the knowledge of Lady Hake?"

Harland's face at once took on a wooden expression. "I should hardly
think so, but I really can't tell you. I have been brought in contact
very little with Lady Hake, but from what I have seen of her, I am sure
she would prefer to hide her troubles from everyone. She is of a
reserved and proud disposition."

After the secretary had left the room, several minutes elapsed before
the bell was rung again. The three men considered what he had said.

"Think anything of that idea that some stranger was hiding in the
house?" Stone asked the Superintendent.

The latter looked uneasy. "Don't know what to say," he frowned. "Of
course, it is easy to see now it would have been just as well to search
the house, but"--he shrugged his shoulders--"with so many possible
suspects, as it were right under my very nose, I didn't dream of looking
beyond them."

"A very honourable admission, sir," nodded Stone, "and your making it
does you credit. Of course it is possible, although not in the slightest
degree probable, that someone was hiding in the house. Myself, however,
I think the idea quite fantastic." He turned to Larose. "Now, my son,
what do you think of young Harland?"

"Only one comment at present," nodded Larose, "and that is why was he
curious enough to track down Sir Roger to that lonely village on the
Essex coast? That strikes me as peculiar, as he looks a gentlemanly man.
I mean, in the ordinary way, I can't think of him troubling himself with
any of Sir Roger's private affairs." He shook his head. "No, there's
something there which would probably interest us if we found it out."

Dr. King-Harley was the next to be questioned, but all he added to what
he had told the Superintendent the previous night was how he had broken
the news to Lady Hake. Accompanied by the head-parlourmaid, he had gone
up and knocked upon Lady Hake's bedroom door, and upon her opening it,
had told her her husband had met with an accident.

"I had to start breaking it to her that way," he explained, "as it would
have been too awful to tell her right out he had been murdered."

"Was she asleep when you knocked upon her door?" asked Stone.

"No, she was in the bathroom, fomenting her arm. She had been stung by a
dragon-fly in the afternoon, and had worn a small bandage at dinner."

"How did she take it?"

"Very badly. She was terrified. I never saw anyone more frightened. She
was prostrated at once, and I didn't feel it wise to allow her to be by
herself for one moment afterwards. I made her have one of the maids with
her all night."

Stone cleared his throat. "But was she--" he hesitated--"was she as
devoted to her husband as all that?"

"It was not a question of devotion, at all," said the doctor sharply,
"but the fact that a murder had been committed in the house. It was
enough to terrify the strongest woman."

Stone spoke carelessly. "Still, would you say she was happy in her
married life?" he asked.

The doctor elevated his eyebrows. "Well, would you say it after what the
butler has just told you." He smiled a cold, grim smile. "Oh, yes,
Huntley's been telling us he kept nothing back, and I think the man was
glad to speak his mind. He must have detested his master."

Stone spoke very sternly. "But don't you realise Doctor King-Harley that
in saying that you are suggesting that he is the murderer?"

"Not at all," scoffed the doctor. He looked amused. "Why, when he came
into the library last night, in answer to our ring, I could smell he'd
just had beer and cheese. And I ask you--would an ordinary man, whose
trade was not murder go in for beer and cheese just after he'd made his
first kill?"

Stone shook his head. "Human beings are strange creatures, Doctor, and
you can never----"

"But good God, man!" exclaimed the doctor testily, "don't you know that
minds are my speciality and I'm what they call 'a mad doctor'? Well,
you've not a hope in the world of fixing that murder upon Huntley. I
tell you that, I, who can sum up a man's mental equipment in half a
split second. Bless my soul, until Huntley had switched up the study
lights and seen his dead master lying there, he was the cool, unruffled
gentleman's servant. Then--then he went all to pieces."

Stone seemed impressed by the doctor's earnestness. "Well, well, Doctor,
we'll leave that for the moment. Now tell us, have you any suggestion to
make, in strict confidence of course?"

The doctor shrugged his shoulders. "Only what we all think now, that
someone who was hiding in the house shot him and got away this morning."

"Who first started that idea?" snapped Stone.

"I don't know. Oh, yes, I believe it was Mr. Norton. He brought it up at
breakfast and"--the doctor laughed--"we all seized on to it like
drowning men. We were relieved to have an explanation that would clear
everybody in the house."

When the doctor had gone out, Larose remarked, "Certainly that butler
may not have been the one to use that pistol, but I am still sure he was
lieing to us about what he was doing during those six minutes the lights
were out. If he'd been having his supper, as the doctor suggests, I'm
certain he'd have mentioned it to us."

The King's Counsel came in next. He was sarcastic and cynical and added
nothing to what the inspectors already knew. As for Sir Roger's private
life, he said that, of course, there were lots of rumours about, but how
many of them were true no one knew. Perhaps there were stories going
round about himself. He had two pretty typists in his Chambers and had
made them presents of flowers and chocolates and, occasionally, had
taken them out to lunch. Who had committed the murder he couldn't hazard
the faintest guess. If the butler had done it, then he was the most
consummate actor he had ever seen.

"Now for this Mr. Norton," said Stone as he rang the bell again, "and we
may get some meat there if we find Sir Roger had been carrying on with
his wife."

The door opened and a pleasant-looking man in the middle 'thirties
entered the room. Stone's eyebrows came together in a heavy frown. "But
it was Mr. Norton we asked for and----"

"I am Mr. Norton," smiled the newcomer. "There is no mistake. You've got
the right man."

Stone's face relaxed into a smile. "Well, your beard makes you look
naval, sir, and I quite thought you were Commander Vanraven."

The inspector might easily have been forgiven for his mistake as Mr.
Norton had all the appearance of a naval man. He was smart and alert in
appearance, with his neatly trimmed beard, strongly suggestive of the
bridge of a man-of-war. A puzzled expression came into Stone's face.
"But haven't I seen you somewhere before?" he asked. "Your face seems
vaguely familiar."

Mr. Norton laughed lightly. "Well, you saw me a little while back in the
breakfast-room. I was with the others when you came in."

"Of course, of course," laughed back Stone, "I ought to have remembered
that." His face sobered down. "Now, Mr. Norton, can you tell us anything
to help us?"

But apparently Mr. Norton could not, and his testimony was exactly that
of the others who had preceded him Then Stone asked, "You were a great
friend of Sir Roger, were you not?"

"Not exactly a great friend," replied Mr. Norton, "but I knew him pretty
well."

"And you liked him?" queried Stone.

The other smiled. "In parts." He explained. "You see, although, as we
understand the butler has told you, one side of his nature was very
detestable, still the other had many good points. He was most generous,
for instance, in his charities, and helped the district a lot."

"So you put up with him," nodded Stone.

"Yes, we all did," nodded back Mr. Norton. He smiled. "We had to, if
only for financial and political reasons. He was a good member for the
division, in his way."

"But he wasn't liked among his own class?" suggested Stone.

"Not particularly. But then he was never a man's man. He was too
masterful, too brusque and over-riding."

"But he was popular with the ladies?" went on Stone. "Did Mrs. Norton
like him?"

"Y-es, in a way. She was proud that she thought she could always wheedle
a bigger subscription out of him than anybody else could."

"Did he visit your home?"

"Good gracious, yes. It's barely a mile away from here. He was always
popping over to compare his flowers with ours."

"Did he bring his wife with him?"

"Very seldom. Their marriage was a great mistake. She is gentle and
refined and shrinking, and he was coarse and rough, and soon tired of
anything he'd got."

Stone frowned. "You don't give him a good character, Mr. Norton, and yet
you allowed him, as you say, to be 'always popping over.' Weren't you
afraid of his annoying your wife?"

Mr. Norton seemed very amused. "So that's what you've been trying to get
at, is it? Wondering if I were the jealous husband and had put that
bullet in him!"

Stone got rather red and looked down his nose. "Not at all," he said. "I
was only curious, that knowing him to be the man he was, why you allowed
him to come to your house when you yourself were probably not always
about."

Mr. Norton shook his head. "Oh, he always behaved quite properly when
with my wife. He knew he had to there."

"And is your wife friendly with Lady Hake?" asked Stone.

"Not as friendly as she would like to be, but then they're both women of
a reserved disposition and don't seem to want friends. Besides, Sir
Roger purposely kept his wife in the background and we thought my wife
trying to push herself in there would have made things harder for Lady
Hake. I tell you, the man was of a peculiar temper."

Stone proceeded to question him about the happenings of the previous
night but, as with all the others, was soon up against a stone wall.
Next, Larose asked casually, "And what do you think, sir, about this
idea of Mr. Chater's that someone who had been hiding in the Court
killed Sir Roger?"

"It wasn't Mr. Chater's idea," protested Mr. Norton at once. "It was
mine. I thought of it in the night." He nodded. "And I still think it
the only possible explanation."

He left the room a few minutes later and Stone turned to the others.
"Another shrewd one," he remarked with a deep sigh. "He came in all
prepared with an answer to every question he thought we might put." He
frowned. "Anything to say, Gilbert?"

"Only that perhaps you fell too easily for his explanation of where
you'd seen him before," smiled Larose. "You golloped it down without an
instant's thought and he seemed very pleased you did. He had one of his
hands clenched when he first came in, but he unclenched it at once then
and didn't clench it again."

"You're too subtle, Gilbert," frowned the inspector. "Your imagination's
always running away with you." He turned to the Superintendent. "Know
anything about this Norton, Mr. Houseman?"

The Superintendent smiled. "I should rather think I did. He's a Justice
of the Peace here and I often see him on the Bench. He does a lot of
public work, too, and is greatly respected. As for Mrs. Norton, as the
butler said, she's a very beautiful woman, round about thirty, I should
think."

Stone seemed disappointed and rang the bell for Martin Leeder to be
brought in. The trainer told the same story as the others had done and
the inspector was on the point of dismissing him when Superintendent
Houseman exclaimed suddenly, "Oh, one moment if you please, Mr. Leeder!
Now how long have you been training Sir Roger's horses? Oh, four years.
Then tell us the true story of the shooting of Molly's Darling, the year
before last."

The trainer frowned. "What's that to do with Sir Roger's death?" he
asked.

The Superintendent could show himself just as important as the men from
Scotland Yard, if need be, and perhaps, he was glad of the opportunity
of doing so now. "That's what we want to find out," he said firmly. "I
want to know the truth of that, and as Sir Roger's trainer, you can give
it me. One moment, though." He turned to Inspector Stone. "In case
you've not heard of it, the story is this, Inspector. Lord Barham had
that wonderful little mare, Molly's Darling. Perhaps you remember her? A
little bit of a thing, but she won lots of races and was a great
favourite with the public. But Lord Barham died, and at the sale of his
horses, Sir Roger bought the mare. Then one day he backed her to win a
big packet at Sandown Park, but she was crushed with her heavy weight
and just failed. She was taken back home to Mr. Leeder's stables and
then, two days later, it was given out that she'd dropped dead at
exercise. That was what the public was told, but I heard later"--the
Superintendent spoke scowlingly--"that Sir Roger pistolled her in cold
blood, out of spite." He turned to the trainer. "Now is that so, Mr.
Leeder?"

The trainer looked him straight in the face. "I decline to say."

Inspector Stone spoke very sternly. "Come, come, Mr. Leeder, that's not
helping us and you must realise we can find out in other ways if you
won't tell us now. It was a dreadful thing if Sir Roger did shoot the
mare, and we don't want to make a public scandal of it and bring
discredit upon the racing world. We can subpoena you to attend the
inquest and then have you asked there."

But the trainer still remained silent, and Larose added his plea to that
of the others, but he did it with a smile upon his lips and no threat in
his tones. "Don't you see what you are doing, Mr. Leeder?" he said. "You
are depriving us of a motive for the murder! Here are you, one of the
most respected men upon the turf, with a three-year-old grievance
against Sir Roger for his dreadful cruelty to a beautiful animal! You
wait your chance and then pistol him just as he killed the mare! See, by
your silence you make us think you're guilty."

The trainer looked defiant. "I thought that was what you were trying to
get at, but I didn't shoot the man." He nodded to the Superintendent.
"Yes, sir, your story is quite true. Sir Roger killed her himself. I was
down with pneumonia at the time and didn't hear until a week afterwards.
Then when I saw him, my fury had cooled down, but I've had no love for
him ever since."

"But you've still appeared friendly with him?" said Stone.

"Oh, yes. I've had my living to get," snapped Leeder. He sighed. "But I
often work for men I don't like."

"Thank you, Mr. Leeder," said Larose, and, no more questions being
asked, the trainer left the room.

"Another suspect," grunted Stone, "though he doesn't look the type!"

"Well, we're not looking for a type," commented Larose thoughtfully.
"I'm thinking the party who killed this beast will be a very respectable
sort of person to look at. Just a very ordinary individual, whipped up
by sudden passion to commit the crime."

From Commander Vanraven and Paxton-Smith, they learnt nothing.
Certainly, the Commander seemed most unaccountably more nervous than any
of the others had been, so much so, that Stone commented afterwards that
if looks counted for anything, then he was surely the guilty man. As for
Paxton-Smith, his attitude was one of annoyance more than anything else,
as if he were annoyed at having been inveigled into coming to the
card-party and then been let in for all the subsequent scandal.

"Take the maid-servants before Lady Hake," suggested Larose. "We can go
through them quickly. I don't suppose we shall get much."

And, certainly, they gleaned nothing of any importance from them as to
the actual occurrences of the previous night, as it appeared they had,
everyone of them, either been awake at the time of that first peal of
thunder, or else had been awakened by it, and could all give one another
alibis. They could none of them have been near the study during the time
when the lights were out.

When the cook, however, came to be questioned, they learnt several
interesting things. A woman about forty, she had been with Sir Roger
since the death of his first wife, two years previously; she was shrewd
and intelligent, if inclined to be a bit talkative. She made no secret
of her dislike of her dead master.

"But I had nothing to do with him," she said, "or I probably wouldn't
have stopped a week in the house." She smiled. "But then I was too old
for him to be interested in me. I'm not young and pretty."

"Mr. Huntley doesn't seem to have been too fond of him, either,"
suggested Stone with the idea of leading her on.

"No, he wasn't," she agreed, "but he never discussed him with us. He
knew it was as much as his place was worth if it had ever got back to
the master." She nodded significantly. "But perhaps he thought he had a
special reason for not liking him."

"What do you mean by that?" asked Stone at once. "Come, you must see it
can do you no harm now, whatever you say," and he smiled in a most
friendly manner.

"Well, sir, it's like this," she said. "We used to have a pretty girl
here, one of the parlourmaids, called Elsie Bane, and Mr. Huntley was
very taken with her. Master admired her too, and often used to speak to
her. One day she was put on the staff in Berkeley Square, under Mrs.
Rawson, the housekeeper there, whom Mr. Huntley hates. Then the girl
left London suddenly, and we were told she had taken another place in
the country on her own account. No one was supposed to know exactly
where she had gone, but Mr. Huntley doesn't believe it. He thinks Master
knew and had something to do with her going off." She nodded vehemently.
"I think so, too. The housekeeper looked very funny when I asked her
about it. But she has always been very thick with Sir Roger and wouldn't
say anything."

Stone made no comment, but proceeded to ask her about the relations
between Sir Roger and Lady Hake.

"Poor little mistress," sighed the cook, "she's had a bad time. From not
wanting to have her out of his sight once. Master's been hardly taking
any interest in her lately. He blamed her too, for every little thing
which went wrong in the house. He was angry with her yesterday about
something, and one of the girls heard him storming at her. Yes,"--she
lowered her voice darkly--"she's supposed to have got a dragon-fly bite,
on her arm yesterday, but Betty saw her without the bandage and says it
looked more like a bruise."

A short silence followed as Stone looked round at the others. But their
faces were quite impassive and he turned back to the woman and asked
her, "Now, has Huntley told you what we asked him about the kitchen fire
last night?" She nodded. "And he told you to say he hadn't, if we asked
you?" She nodded again and Stone smiled. "Well, you say we didn't ask
you. See?" and she smiled back. He went on. "Well, what do you think?
Would there have been any embers burning at about half-past eleven?" and
she replied, "I should say so but of course, I can't be sure. I
certainly had had a good fire burning all the evening."

She was dismissed with the intimation to talk as little as possible
about what had been asked her. Then Stone turned once more to his
colleagues. "And what now?" was his question. "I suppose we must have
that poor little widow in!"

"No," said Larose, "I'd like to have the butler in again first."

Stone pushed the bell, remarking at the same time, "Well, don't give him
any more reason why we are suspecting him."

"On the contrary," said Larose, "I'm going to ease his mind there."

The butler came in as self-possessed as before, but his eyes roved
quickly round upon all the three men there, in turn.

"Tell me, Mr. Huntley," said Larose, "did you know Sir Roger had a
cottage or bungalow or some sort of house at Bradwell upon the Essex
coast, and that he used to go there at week-ends?"

The man looked very surprised, his eyes opened very wide and his jaw
dropped. "No," he replied slowly, "I've never heard anything about it."
He was most respectful. "May I ask, sir, who told you?"

Larose shook his head. "You may ask, but I'm not going to tell you.
Still we believe the information to be quite correct. Now for another
matter. Was Sir Roger methodical in his habits?"

"Certainly he was," replied Huntley, "most methodical in everything."

"Well, what was the last thing he generally did at night, just before he
went up to bed?"

"Locked up his desk in his study, and saw that the door of the safe was
shut. He was always most particular about that."

Larose spoke very solemnly. "So that if anyone knew his ways and wanted
to lie in hiding and be pretty sure of catching him alone, he would be
waiting for him in his study the last thing at night?"

"Yes," agreed the butler, with his eyes fixed intently upon Larose's
face.

"Thank you," said Larose. "That's all I wanted to ask you," and the
butler left the room slowly and as if reluctant to do so because his
curiosity had not been satisfied.

"So, Gilbert," frowned Stone when the door was shut again, "then you're
falling for the idea now that some stranger was hidden in the house?"

"Not necessarily," said Larose, "but what the cook told us about that
missing girl, the parlourmaid I mean, has made me realise we can't
altogether leave it out. What about Sir Roger having wronged her and she
waiting for him in the study to have her revenge. She could easily have
hidden behind that thick curtain by the window."

Stone looked sceptical. "For the matter of that," he commented dryly,
"what about her ladyship having been waiting there to avenge that bruise
upon her arm?"

Larose nodded. "Exactly, anyone who knew Sir Roger's ways might have
filled the bill there!" He frowned. "So now we'll ask Lady Hake to come
here."

"One moment!" said Stone. "Let me think."

"What about?" asked Larose, rather impatiently.

"That fellow Norton," replied Stone. He held up one hand for silence.
"Gosh, I've heard that voice somewhere and it's associated in my mind
with something disappointing!" He shook his head. "But no, I can't
recall him! I'll have to worry about it later. It's sure to come back."
He heaved a big sigh as he put his finger on the bell. "Now for her
pretty little ladyship. Let's hope she didn't fire that shot."




Chapter V.--THE WHITE SLAVE.


When in answer to the inspector's ring the butler appeared in the
library and Stone learnt that Lady Hake was in the drawing-room, he
requested him to ask her if they could come and speak to her there.

"Less of an ordeal for her," he nodded to the others when Huntley had
left upon his errand. He made a grimace. "She must realise we only want
to question her because we believe it is possible she may have been the
one to shoot her husband."

The Superintendent scoffed. "You won't think that when you see her.
She's only just over nineteen. She was eighteen when he married her." He
nodded. "She is a very pretty girl."

Stone shook his head. "Youth and good looks are no bar to crime, and
particularly so in a woman. I knew a girl once, with the face of an
angel, who poisoned the man who jilted her, and she wasn't even
eighteen."

"Mad?" queried the Superintendent.

"Not a bit of it," laughed Stone. "As sane as you and me, and clever
enough, too, to wheedle the jury into acquitting her. The old judge was
furious. He was as certain as we were that she had done it. It was a
sure thing, though the evidence was only circumstantial."

"What became of her?" asked the Superintendent.

"Became of her!" exclaimed Stone. "Why she married another man." He
laughed. "I met her twenty years afterwards and she was a most respected
woman. Four children and a husband who thought the world of her." He
nodded. "I would have forgiven her if she hadn't used strychnine. The
man she poisoned died a terrible death."

The butler returned to say that his mistress was waiting to see them
and, accordingly, with no delay the three men were ushered into the
drawing-room.

Now if the two inspectors had been imagining a girl of doll-faced beauty
they were very much mistaken. The Mary, Lady Hake, was a very different
being from the Mary Hellister of maiden days. The short year of married
life had effected a great change in her, but its unhappiness, instead of
crushing her, had developed a force of character which not even her
parents had suspected lay latent in her. It had given strength and
decision to her face and, acutely sensitive of the shame her husband had
brought upon her, pride had come to her aid and taught her to hide her
misery under a mask.

So, it was a proud and very self-possessed young woman who now greeted
the inspectors and Superintendent Houseman and motioned them to be
seated. Certainly, Stone thought, she was very lovely with her clear-cut
profile, her beautiful colouring, her eyes of deepest blue and her
exquisitely moulded lips and chin. With all his acquaintance with the
worst side of life, he wondered how any man, becoming so recently
possessed of such a treasure, could have allowed his tenderest emotions
to stray elsewhere.

"I am sorry to have to trouble your ladyship," he began in most
sympathetic tones, "but it is our duty to learn where everyone was last
night. Of course, in your case it is only a matter of form." He went on
briskly, "Now I understand you did not see your husband again from the
moment he left the dining-room after dinner?"

Her voice shook ever so little. "No, I did not see him again."

"And you came here into the drawing-room and remained by yourself until
you went off to bed? Did anyone see you were here?"

"Phoebe, my maid, who brought me a cup of tea at about ten o'clock," she
replied, she hesitated just a moment, "and Mr. Harland who came in at my
husband's request to fetch a box of cigarettes which had been left
here."

Stone frowned. "What time did Mr. Harland come in?" he asked.

"I don't know, but it was some while after I had finished my cup of tea
and before eleven, because I went up to my bedroom then."

"Was that early or late for you?"

"Neither; my usual time."

Stone was still frowning. "And Doctor King-Harley says that he did not
come up and tell you what had happened until after he had rung up the
police-station at Saffron Walden. That would make it after midnight and
yet you were still not in bed. How was that?"

Her voice was quite steady. "I had sat at the window watching the storm
and did not begin to undress until it was over."

Stone eyed her very intently. "Doctor King-Harley tells us you were
fomenting your arm when he knocked upon your door."

She nodded carelessly. "Yes, a dragon-fly had stung me that afternoon."

Stone was all sympathy at once. "A nasty insect to be stung by!" he
exclaimed. He rose to his feet. "May I look at the place?"

"But you won't be able to see much now," she said, "I've put grease and
powder on it, so that it doesn't show. My skin discolours easily and it
was disfiguring."

She held out a beautifully moulded arm for his inspection and for a few
seconds he bent over it. "It must have swollen up a lot," was his
comment, given thoughtfully and very slowly.

"It did," she said, "but it quickly went down."

He resumed his seat and his questioning. "And after you once went up to
your room you did not leave it?" he asked.

"No, I did not come downstairs again until"--she hesitated--"until I was
told the police were in the house."

"Now, another thing, your ladyship," went on Stone, "had your husband
any enemies, do you think?"

She nodded. "I expect so. Successful business men always make enemies,
don't they?"

"Yes, but any particular ones, I mean. Did Sir Roger ever mention to you
that he was in danger from anyone?"

"No, never!"

"But you knew he'd bought a pistol."

"Oh, yes, he used to practise in the garden with it." She shook her head
wearily. "It's no use your asking me anything about my husband's
business affairs or who his rivals were, because I knew nothing of them.
He never talked to me about them."

A moment's silence followed and then Stone asked, "Well, you can make no
guess as to who killed him? None whatever? You don't think your butler
can have done it?"

Her eyes opened very wide. "Why? Huntley had nothing against him. My
husband was sharp-tempered and irritable sometimes, but Huntley
understood him, as we all did. We didn't take any notice of his moods."
She smiled a reluctant smile. "No, Huntley is much too polite to have
killed him. He's been a gentleman's servant all his life and it's his
nature to put up with everything from those who employ him."

The three men returned to the library and resumed their seats in
silence.

"Well," asked Stone at length, "what about it?" He answered his own
question with a frown. "She's quite different from what I expected.
She's got spirit and we can't leave her out."

"I'm a bit suspicious, too," nodded the Superintendent. "I expected to
find her a gentle woe-begone creature, but instead--" he spread out his
hands--"why she's quite capable of punishing any man's brutality to
her."

"Ay, and he was brutal," scowled Stone. "He'd gripped that beautiful arm
of hers and that was a bruise right enough." He drew in a deep breath.
"Yes, I'm glad the man's dead! She'll be able to have some happiness in
life now and--" he sighed deeply--"give some decent chap a taste of
heaven too."

"One thing," went on the Superintendent slowly, "when she said young
Harland had come in to get that box of cigarettes I noticed by your
frown that you remembered Harland had told us none of them had left the
room at all during the evening."

"Yes, I did," nodded Stone, "but I don't think I attach any importance
to it." He turned to Larose. "What do you think, Gilbert?" A thought
seemed to come suddenly to him. "Ah, what if she showed Harland her
bruise then and it made him so furious that, in the white heat of
passion and before he'd had time to calm down, he followed Sir Roger
into the study and shot him dead." His eyes opened very wide. "Now
that's an idea."

"Who's got the imagination now?" laughed Larose. "In one breath you
think the girl shot him and in the next, young Harland." He shook his
head vexatiously. "No, we've got a lot to think out before we can
concentrate upon anyone in particular."

Stone winked at the Superintendent. "Our friend Gilbert Larose is
incurably romantic and it would be torture to him to have to place the
cuffs on Harland if the young fellow were in love with her pretty little
ladyship."

"I wonder how she'll be left off?" queried the Superintendent. "She may
be a great catch now."

"So she will be," nodded Stone. "I got out of Huntley directly we
arrived here this morning that Arnold Chater was Sir Roger's lawyer and
I rang him out of bed at once. He'll be down here any moment now to see
Lady Hake, but he told me definitely that she inherits everything by a
Will signed directly after the marriage."

He rose from the chair. "Well, I suppose we'll have to tell those
card-players they can go now, and to-morrow have the inquest adjourned
until we're more ready." He frowned. "We're going to take no scalps back
with us to town to-day."

The two inspectors arrived back at Scotland Yard late that afternoon and
Stone at once sought out his old friend and colleague Inspector Carter.
"See here, Elias," he said, looking very troubled, "we've been all day
on that Sir Roger Hake case and done no good. I see the evening
newspapers have already nosed out a lot and I expect you've read all
about it. Well, one of those seven card-players, who all swore they had
never left their seats when the lights went out, is worrying me a lot.
I'll stake my life I've seen him before, but I can't think where."

"Can't he help you?" asked Inspector Carter.

"Help me!" scoffed Stone. "Not he! He won't! That's it! There's
something fishy about when and where we met before. Well, this chap is
quite a big bug down there, a magistrate and all that, and I've got a
photograph of him opening a Flower Show last year. It's been lent me by
the local newspaper, the Saffron Walden Chronicle."

He produced a fair-sized photo from his bag. "Now here he is in this
group. The fellow with a naval beard, next to the Mayor with his chain.
Now, do you ever remember seeing him? He's associated with something
unpleasant to me. He's a gentleman, good looking and very nicely spoken.
He's very confident and bold in all he says, very sure of himself and
always ready with an answer. He's got a nicely modulated voice."

Inspector Carter scrutinised the photo, long and carefully, through a
big magnifying-glass which he took out of his desk. He breathed heavily,
he stared hard and he thought. "I've seen him," he said at length, "and
I've seen him when I was with you. What's his name, Norton! No, we
didn't know him by that name. It was a much commoner one."

"Smith, Jones, Martin," prompted Stone anxiously, "Thompson, White,
Black, Anders----"

"Wait!" interrupted Carter sharply. "I have it. It was Brown. Yes, and
the Christian name was something very funny, a name that you see carved
on stones in the British Museum. Ajax, Pluto, Jupiter--ah--Jason. That's
it, Jason Brown. Now, who the dickens was he?"

Stone flopped down on to another chair and snatching out his
handkerchief began to mop his forehead fiercely. "Oh, Elias, Elias!" he
exclaimed weakly, "with all your poor intelligence and third-rate
brain-power, you're a perfect treasure of a man to work with. Who was
Jason Brown?" he asked with gathering strength. "Why, man alive, he was
that man we couldn't get the evidence against in the Beachy Head murder
case of ten or eleven years ago." He sprang up in his excitement. "Oh,
what a revelation! Of course, it was he, older, more sure of himself and
with more authority about him because of his public position. By Jove,
how he must have chuckled at my not placing him."

Carter's eyes were still upon the photograph. "Yes, it's Jason Brown
right enough--and so now he calls himself Norton."

"Hector Norton," laughed Stone in great glee, "another heathenish name
in all conscience." He seemed delighted with himself. "And I just told
you this had been a blank day!"

"Cool down a bit, Charlie," warned Carter frowningly, "now you know who
he is, how is it going to help you? If he's been as slick now as he was
on Beachy Head, you won't be able to land him."

Stone's face fell. "Oh, he's slick, right enough. He had every answer
ready before I'd even asked the question." His face brightened. "But
we'll have Gilbert in and see what he says."

Larose listened most intently to the story of the Beachy Head murder,
and of Jason Brown's subsequent marriage to the daughter of the man he
was supposed to have killed.

"But he's not got that wife now!" exclaimed Stone angrily, "the Saffron
Walden Superintendent told me his present wife is a beautiful woman,
whereas poor Margaret Brendon, his first wife, was disfigured with a
dreadful red birthmark covering half her face. No, he's probably killed
her and married again." He snapped his fingers together. "Once a
murderer, always a murderer if only chance comes your way."

"Well, what are you going to do now?" asked Carter. "There seems to be
plenty to find out about the man, though it may have no direct bearing
upon the Hake Court murder."

"To-morrow," snapped Stone, "I'll send two of our men down to Saffron
Walden and we'll find out on the quiet all about this precious Hector
Norton, when he came to live there, where he moved from, when his first
wife died, when she was buried and what the death certificate says she
died from." He nodded viciously. "With that information in our hands
we'll have something to go upon."

"And I'll go down to that bungalow in Essex," said Larose, "and find out
what I can about the woman or women Hake's been meeting there." An idea
struck him. "Did you by chance, happen to find out from the
Superintendent what the present Mrs. Norton is like?"

"I didn't find out by chance," frowned Stone irritably. "I enquired
particularly what sort of woman she is, and Houseman told me she is of
medium height, good looking, with grey eyes and beautiful teeth which
she makes the most of when she smiles. She's away from home just now or
I should have gone and seen her."

"Good," laughed Larose, "then I'll look out for a grey-eyed beauty with
a good mouthful of ivories."

The following morning he motored down across the dreary Essex marshes to
the little village of Bradwell which lies almost at the extreme northern
end of that lonely stretch of land between the rivers Blackwater and
Crouch.

"It looks all right, now," he muttered, as the road ran in and out
across the marshland, "but, Heavens--what a place to be in the winter.
I'll bet the whole shore is blanketed then for days on end in fog."

He parked his car in the yard of the village inn and strolled into the
bar to have a drink. He was served by a bright-faced young fellow who
looked only just out of his teens. 'Couldn't be better,' ran his
thoughts. 'He'll know everything and everybody in the district.'

"Where's Mr. Hale's place?" he asked over a glass of beer.

The young fellow pointed through the window. "Over there," he replied.
"It's the last bungalow at the end, right on the shore. It's about a
mile from here." Then he added, "He's not there to-day though his wife
is, so I expect he'll be coming this week-end."

"Oh, his wife's there, is she?" asked Larose.

"Yes, she came into Mr. Powell's place, he's the grocer, this morning
for the newspaper and some other things."

"Has she got a car?"

"No, a bicycle." The boy laughed. "You want a bicycle in these parts
when it's been raining. The road is bad across the marsh."

"Then you get the newspapers here?" said Larose.

The boy laughed again. "Rather, the postman brings them out from
Southminster before eight o'clock. We're quite up to date except for
people who go and build bungalows a long way from the proper roads."

"I haven't seen Mr. Hale for years," said Larose meditatively. "He used
to be a fine, healthy-looking man."

"So he is now," said the boy. "I saw him motoring through here last
week. He has to come this way when it's wet because of the road, but if
it's fine he takes a short cut and turns on to the marsh lower down."

"What's Mrs. Hale like?" asked Larose.

"Oh, a good-looking lady, very handsome."

"Do they keep a servant there?"

"No, there's no servant. You see they only come there every now and
then. Still, when they do they sometimes bring down a woman with them to
do up the house, but she only stays during the day and then Mr. Hale
drives her back to Southminster to catch the last train at night."

Larose asked a few more questions, and then announced he was going to
take a stroll to stretch his legs, but would be back later for another
drink and some bread and cheese.

He did not cross directly over the marsh to the Hale bungalow but made
his way round by the sea-shore, thus approaching it from the side. He
judged it contained only four rooms. Stretching away from the front
verandah was a little plot of grass which ran down almost to high-water
mark.

Turning the corner of the house, he came with great suddenness upon a
woman lying back in a big deck-chair upon the verandah. Upon her lap was
a newspaper. Apparently, she had her eyes shut, for she took no notice
of his approach. His footsteps were deadened by the sand, so she did not
hear him, either.

Arriving to within a few yards of her, he stopped and then coughed to
attract her attention. The effect was electrical. Obviously she had not
been asleep, as she sprang like lightning to her feet and faced him with
all the terror of a cornered animal.

She had evidently been crying recently, for her eyes were red and
swollen, and her face was wan and tear-stained. Her hair, too, was all
dishevelled. He drew a deep breath, as he saw that upon ordinary
occasions she would have been a very handsome woman and that--the colour
of her eyes was grey.

"I'm sorry to trouble you," he began, "but----"

"Who are you and what do you want?" she almost shrieked at him. "Don't
you know you are upon private property?"

"My name is Larose," he said quietly, "and I want"--he had realised it
would be wisest to come straight to the point--"to speak to you about
the late Sir Roger Hake." He pointed to the newspaper she had flung to
the ground. "I see you know what has happened to him."

The woman's bosom rose and fell in her emotion, her mouth was opened
wide and her grey eyes seemed more grey than ever in her dreadful
terror.

Larose put as much sympathy as he could into his voice and went on very
quietly, "But I want to give you as little distress as possible. I
only----" He broke off suddenly and asked, "You are Mrs. Norton aren't
you, Mrs. Hector Norton?" He spoke a little sharply. "Now, no
prevarication, please."

The woman spoke hoarsely. "What's it to you whoever I am?" Her voice
rose in anger. "I refuse to discuss anything with you."

Larose shook his head. "But you can't do that. I'm an inspector from the
Criminal Investigation Department of Scotland Yard and I'm enquiring
into the murder of Sir Roger Hake."

Her face went pale as death and she tottered back and sank into the
deck-chair. "But I can't have had anything to do with it," she wailed.
"I've been staying here since Tuesday. They can tell you that in the
village."

"I know that," nodded Larose assuringly. "We're not suspecting you. We
are quite aware you've been here all the time and we have nothing
against you. Still, we think you can help us to find out who the real
murderer is." He spoke sternly. "Now, when you've been coming down here
it's been as Sir Roger's wife, hasn't it? You two have been passing as
Mr. and Mrs. Hale."

She was more composed now and a little defiant. "You say so," she said.

"Well, there's no getting away from it, is there?" he asked.

"Of course not."

He spoke sharply. "Now does your husband know you've been here?"

She flashed him a sarcastic smile, showing a row of perfect teeth. "What
do you think?" Her face sobered down to fear. "He'd kill me if he knew."

"As he probably killed Sir Roger," snapped Larose. He went on, "Does he
suspect you? You're sure he doesn't?"

"I don't think he does."

"Are you separated from him?"

She nodded and then her defiance rose again. "You can do what you like,"
she said angrily, "but I'll answer no questions. If my husband killed
Sir Roger, then just you prove it. It's nothing to do with me and you
can't compel a wife to provide evidence against her husband."

And that was all she would say. She picked up the newspaper again, and
pretending to read, took not the slightest notice of him, even to
ignoring his polite good-day when, realising it was hopeless, a few
minutes later he took his leave.

"Poor creature," he meditated, "she was evidently fond of him." He
sighed heavily. "Why is it the worst of men so often make such an appeal
to really nice women? This one here is no wanton. She has quite a good
face and would be as faithful as a dog to the husband who treated her
properly." He scowled. "That fellow Norton, or Brown or whatever his
name is, was probably a brute to her and yet"--he frowned--"he didn't
look a bad sort of man to me. I rather liked his appearance."

After a few enquiries at the railway-station at Southminster Larose
returned to town, his next visit being to the Hake mansion in Berkeley
Square to interview the housekeeper there. He found her a hard-faced
angular woman of middle age, with cold fish-like eyes, and thin lips,
pressed very tightly together. She had very little to say for herself
and everything had to be dragged out of her by close questioning. She
volunteered nothing of her own accord. Asked if she knew Sir Roger had
any enemies, she replied laconically, "Plenty--business ones."

Questioned as to if she knew the identity of any of the ladies Sir
Roger, as the butler had said, sometimes brought home for champagne
suppers late at night, she professed to know nothing about them. She had
always believed the midnight visitors to be gentleman ones. As for the
parlourmaid, Elsie Bane, she gave her a bad character. The girl was sly
and could not be trusted, and to where she had gone and with whom she
had gone--she nodded significantly here--no one could say. She had taken
herself off one morning at an hour's notice, apparently being in
possession of sufficient money--there was more nodding here--to be quite
indifferent to the month's wages she was forfeiting.

Asked about the bungalow upon the Essex coast, she raised her eyebrows
and appeared most surprised. She knew nothing about it, which last
statement amused Larose quite a lot, seeing that the description he had
got in Southminster of the woman who had been occasionally brought down
to clean up the bungalow tallied exactly with that of the housekeeper
now before him.

'An out-and-out liar,' he told himself as he left the house. 'Of course,
she was hand in glove with Sir Roger in his love adventures and if any
harm came to that poor little Elsie Bane, then she knew all about it.'
He made a gesture of disgust. 'She looks a typical procuress to me.
Cold, cruel and sexless, it's my opinion she would do anything for
money.'

Arriving at Scotland Yard, he found Inspectors Stone and Carter in
earnest consultation with the two plain-clothes men who had been sent
down to Saffron Walden and had just returned with what information they
had been able to gather about Mr. Hector Norton, of Crane Park, of Crane
village, about three miles from Saffron Walden. It appeared he had
bought the park about eight and a half years previously, having moved,
it was believed, from Hampstead. He had been then married to his present
wife and they had arrived with one child about a year old. They had now
three. His wife's maiden name had been Andover. Her Christian name was
Wendy, or at any rate he called her that. As for his previous wife,
nothing could be learnt about her, no one, indeed, being aware that he
had been married before. He was now a gentleman of independent means,
making, however, a very profitable hobby of breeding prize Jersey cows.
He had once been connected with the Stock Exchange and it was said he
had made a fortune in the rubber boom of ten years back. His wife was a
very good-looking woman, only two or three years younger than he was,
and they appeared to be living on the best of terms. She occasionally
went away by herself, it was said to visit her mother who lived near
Edinburgh. She was away at the present moment and had been away for a
fortnight. She was expected back any time now.

"And what were her relations with Sir Roger Hake?" frowned Stone.

"As far as we can gather," replied the plain-clothes man who was the
spokesman of the two, "they were very friendly with each other. It was a
joke among the servants that one day they would be running off
together."

The plain-clothes men were dismissed and Stone turned to Carter and
Larose. "Exactly," he snapped, "that wretch got rid of poor Margaret
Brendon in some way and married this other bit!" He thumped his fist
upon the desk. "Ay, and he must have got rid of her quickly too, to have
turned up in Essex eight and a half years ago with a child, a year old
by this new wife, when ten years ago he had only just married the girl
whose father he had murdered on Beachy Head." He thumped again upon the
desk, "We must get hold of this Wendy at once. Perhaps, if she was very
gone on Hake, she'll round on her husband and put us in the way of
getting evidence against him. That's what----"

"But doesn't it strike you, Charlie," broke in Carter quickly, "that if
this man is what we take him to be he may, already, have made certain
she will not speak. She may already be out of our reach. She may be dead
too."

"No, she's not," said Larose. He nodded very solemnly. "I spoke to her
only a few hours ago."

For the moment the two colleagues were too astounded to make any comment
and he went on: "She is staying at that bungalow on the coast near
Bradwell. She was waiting for Sir Roger to come down this week-end, but
learnt of his death from the newspaper this morning. She was prostrate
with grief," and then he proceeded to relate everything which had taken
place that morning.

"And she told at once who she was?" asked Stone.

Larose laughed. "I sprang it upon her and she was so amazed I knew who
she was that she couldn't deny it."

"Well, well!" exclaimed Stone. He frowned. "But how much nearer does
this bring us to arresting Jason Brown?" He nodded. "Still, we've got
the motive for his killing Sir Roger--Sir Roger ruining his wife."

"But can we prove he knows she was unfaithful?" asked Larose. "Don't
forget that when I asked her if her husband knew, she said he'd kill her
if he did." He nodded. "Yes, and she was not acting then. She meant it."

"But, of course he knew," protested Stone. "The thought was uppermost in
his mind when we were questioning him, and knowing we should sooner or
later find it out, he tried to forestall us and cut the ground away from
under our feet by sarcastically bringing it up first." He turned to
Carter. "That's just what the Jason Brown of ten years ago would have
done, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is," agreed Carter. "He was always a little bit ahead of all
our questions."

"One moment!" exclaimed Larose. "You've told me this Jason Brown wasn't
altogether a bad lot. You say he returned the money to the bank and
showed repentance for having killed the husband and father by helping
the widow financially and marrying the daughter who was so hideously
disfigured that no other man would have taken her."

"That's so," frowned Stone, "I couldn't understand him then." He stuck
to his prejudice. "But he couldn't have cared tuppence for the girl by
marrying the other woman so quickly." His voice rose. "Good God, man,
she could hardly have been cold in her coffin before he took this second
wife!"

"And Margaret Brendon may have died quite naturally," went on Larose.
"There may have been nothing suspicious there."

"Well, that's what we've got to find out," said Stone, "and if it turns
out there was anything wrong, then the evidence against him will have
become cumulative." He thumped upon the desk for the third time. "Don't
you see it is cumulative already, for it must be far more than a
coincidence that he is mixed up in two murders, first that of Beachy
Head and now that of Hake Court. No, when a man's suspected of one
murder, a suspicion which in our country happens to less than one person
in a million, it may be just chance or bad fortune but"--the stout
inspector clenched his fist--"when a man's suspected of two murders,
with years passing between them, then depend upon it it's neither chance
nor bad fortune but only what he deserves."

He rose to his feet with a grim smile upon his face. "To-morrow, boys,
we will all three go down to Crane Park and just try to bounce the
fellow into a confession and he'll be so surprised to see us that it is
just possible he'll throw up the sponge."

The following morning soon after nine o'clock the three inspectors left
Scotland Yard in an unofficial-looking police car. Carter was pensive,
because he never counted his chickens before they were hatched and
Larose was doubtful, because he'd rather liked the look of Hector
Norton, but Stone was most hopeful and very careful to see there had
been a pair of handcuffs put in the pocket of the car.

Larose drove, and passing through Saffron Walden they soon reached Crane
village, with Crane Park just on its outskirts. "Whwew," whistled Stone
as they passed through the open park gates and saw the house nearly half
a mile away in the distance, "but murder seems a paying business! This
chap's got a lovely place. Go slowly up the drive. Don't let it appear
as if we are in a hurry." He looked uneasy. "I hope to goodness we find
him at home."

Just as they had reached the end of the drive and were slowing down to
pull up at the big hall door, a man attired in breeches and leggings and
carrying a short riding-whip stepped out. He stopped and looked
enquiringly at the approaching car.

"Hurrah!" exclaimed Stone softly. "We're in luck. It's the assassin
himself!"

The car was brought to a standstill and Stone jumped briskly out. "Good
morning, sir," he said curtly, "we want a word with you."

Mr. Norton looked frowningly at the watch upon his wrist. "Well, it must
be a short one," he said, "unless you don't mind waiting about an hour.
I have some important business with my bailiff and am just riding over
to meet him."

Stone came straight to the point. "We know who killed Sir Roger now and
that's what we've come here about."

There was no doubt in the minds of the three inspectors that Mr. Norton
was astonished and most disagreeably so, too. His face went a little
pale and his jaw dropped.

"Yes, Mr. Jason Brown," went on Stone fiercely, "you're returning with
us for another little talk at the Yard and it won't end in the way the
last one did." He nodded vehemently. "My strong advice to you is to give
no trouble. You shot Sir Roger because he's got your wife away from you
and you'd found out."

If the inspector had been confident the man before him would be amazed
and overwhelmed, presumably by the unmasking of his identity and their
knowledge of him having committed the crime, he was certainly not going
to be disappointed. For the moment Mr. Norton was too amazed to speak.

"There's no getting away from it this time," went on Stone truculently.
"We've got the evidence we want and you'd better admit everything
straight away. It's no good your attempting to deny it."

The man who called himself Mr. Norton found his tongue at last. "Don't
you be a fool," he cried angrily. "You're talking arrant nonsense. I
didn't shoot Sir Roger and you can't have the slightest evidence that I
did. As for my wife"--he smiled scoffingly--"Sir Roger has no more got
her away from me than you have." He lifted his head and laughed
scornfully. "Oh, what another mare's-nest you've discovered." He spoke
very sternly. "But see here, Inspector Stone, no tricks upon me now. I'm
not a friendless boy, remember, but a public man and one of His
Majesty's Justices of the Peace. You'll ruin your whole career if you
lay a finger on me."

His words, so confidently spoken, fell upon Stone's ears like a cold
douche, but for all that the stout inspector kept up a brave appearance
of assurance. "Oh, and you'll tell us, too," he retorted, "that you are
not masquerading under a false name and that Hector Norton is your real
one."

"So it is," was the quiet reply. "Nine years ago, my aunt, Mrs. Edwin
Norton of Chichester, bequeathed to me her whole estate upon the
condition that I changed my name to Norton, which I accordingly did. As
for the Christian name, Hector, I was baptised Jason Hector Brown, but
when I changed the Brown to Norton by deed-poll I dropped the Jason. I'd
never liked the name, and Hector Norton sounded better." He laughed
lightly. "Very easily explained, isn't it?"

"But the explanation is a bit late, isn't it?" snarled Stone. "Why
didn't you tell us all this the day before yesterday, when we were
questioning you at Hake Court?"

"But why should I have explained everything to you then?" asked Mr.
Norton sharply. "I am under no obligation to you for any kindness shown
to me, and I want to forget the most undeserved nightmare you thrust
upon me."

Stone turned the conversation brusquely. "Where's your wife?" he asked.

"I shan't tell you that," replied Mr. Norton firmly. He spoke bitterly.
"I don't want her to know her husband has been suspected of murdering
her father."

"Her father!" exclaimed Stone in scorn. "Why, you wretch, she's not the
girl you were married to when I last saw you."

But Mr. Norton made no reply. The sound of a car had been heard in the
distance and all, turning round, fixed their eyes upon one coming up the
drive.

"God, here she is!" exclaimed Mr. Norton after a few moments in the most
obvious dismay. He turned like the strike of a snake upon Stone. "You
dare to mention her father to her," he cried fiercely, "and I'll----"

"You'll what?" derided Stone, because he'd stopped speaking. "More
thoughts of murder in your heart, eh?"

Mr. Norton spoke very quietly. "I'll knock you down if you do, or at any
rate I'll try to." He corrected himself quickly. "No, I won't. There'll
be no need to. With all your harshness, I know you to be too much of a
gentleman to bring it up to her."

The car arrived to where the four men were standing and a woman jumped
out. "Hullo, Jim, how are you?" she called out brightly, and ignoring
the presence of the others, she ran up to Mr. Norton and kissed him.

"Quite all right, Wendy," was the smiling reply. He pointed to Inspector
Stone and added gaily. "But look here. There's an old friend of yours.
Don't you remember him?"

Margaret, for of course it was she, turned in the direction he indicated
and instantly uttered a little cry of pleasure. "Of course, I do," she
exclaimed, stepping forward and holding out her hand. "How are you, Mr.
Stone? I've often thought of you and wanted to see you again. Mother was
speaking about you only last week."

"But--but----" began Stone.

"Don't you remember me?" she asked, as the inspector made no attempt to
take her hand. "Why, I am Margaret Brendon that was, then Margaret Brown
and now"--she laughed merrily--"Margaret Norton. The last time we met
was at a Chrysanthemum Show at the Botanical Gardens. I introduced you
to my husband then."

"You, Matthew Brendon's daughter?" exclaimed Stone, looking really
astounded. "Why----"

"Oh, how stupid of me," she broke in. "Of course, I forgot you knew me
when I had that dreadful birthmark. But it's all gone, as you see. A
wonderful professor in Geneva took it away more than nine years ago, so
long ago that I'm continually forgetting now I ever had it." She laughed
gaily. "Now don't you remember me?"

Stone's frowning face at last relaxed and he shook her hand warmly. "Of
course, I do," he said, he made a grimace, "and I see I've made a great
mistake. I jumped to conclusions too quickly."

He turned sharply to Larose. "This is not the lady you saw yesterday?"
and Larose, who had been looking most uncomfortable, shook his head and
replied instantly, "No, and not a bit like her, either."

"But what are you here for, Mr. Stone?" asked Margaret curiously.

The inspector hesitated and her husband broke in quickly. "It's about
Sir Roger," he began, "and----"

"Oh, wasn't it awful about him!" interrupted Margaret. "I didn't know
anything about it until yesterday morning. I was up in Scotland near
Loch Doon and I left the children with Mother and started to come back,
within an hour." Her voice shook. "And fancy your being in the house at
the time!"

"Yes, that's the trouble, dear," said Mr. Norton. "Because of your being
away, a stupid tale got about that you had left me because of Sir Roger
and that I had shot him in revenge."

"How abominable!" exclaimed Margaret. She smiled at Stone. "But I
suppose you had come to investigate it?"

The inspector nodded uneasily. "Y-es, that's it, Mrs.----" he
hesitated--"Mrs. Norton. In matters like this we have to investigate
everything we hear."

Larose stepped forward and raised his hat. "I am very sorry, Mrs.
Norton," he said, "but I am afraid it is all my fault that we are here.
My name's Larose and I'm another inspector from Scotland Yard." He shook
his head vexatiously. "I've been badly taken in. Yesterday I went down
to a little village on the coast and met a lady there who admitted to me
she had left her husband for Sir Roger Hake. She led me to believe she
was a Mrs. Norton. Naturally, I thought she must be you. Then when she
went on to say her husband would commit murder if he knew about Sir
Roger,"--he made a grimace--"we began wondering if he had found out, and
so had to come down here and enquire."

Margaret had listened with widely opened eyes. "But why did she say she
was me?"

Larose hesitated. "We-ll, it was I who first suggested it and then she
let me think I was right." He spoke quickly. "You see I'd had a
description of you," he smiled, "as being grey-eyed and of very nice
appearance. So when I saw the lady whom I had already learnt was a great
friend of Sir Roger had grey eyes and was very pleasant to look at, I
jumped to the conclusion she might be you. Then, of course, to prevent
my knowing whom she really was she let me fall into my own trap."

"But it's all right now, sir!" exclaimed Mr. Norton laughingly. "You
needn't look so apologetic, for I'm sure my wife will forgive you since
you've referred to her as good-looking."

Everyone laughed and the tension at once relieved, Mr. Norton, unmindful
now of his appointment with his bailiff, insisted they should come into
the house and partake of some refreshment. When they took their leave a
little later everyone was smiling and on the best of terms.

"Very sorry, you two," apologised Larose as they were driving away. "I
came a bloomer, didn't I?"

"Never mind, son," said Stone. "Those two men I sent down were fools.
Fancy them telling us Margaret Brendon's name was Andover, just because
her mum is Mrs. Andover now! It never entered into their silly heads
that the mother might have married again. Now, as quick as you can go to
Bradwell and we'll be darned lucky if that other woman is still there."

But they were not lucky, as she had locked up the bungalow and left the
previous afternoon. Stone was impatient to get back to town but, greatly
to his annoyance, Larose alighted in the village, and according to
Stone's watch, spent no less than seventeen and a half minutes gossiping
in the little general store where the newspapers were sold.

"What did you find out in all that time?" he growled.

"Quite a little bit," nodded Larose. "Mr. Hale has had the bungalow for
about six months but only three people, all females, have been noticed
to come there, his wife, the woman who does the cleaning and, if you
please, one of his daughters. This daughter was the first one to come
there and the woman describes her as being small, with auburn hair and
very pretty. She says the girl only came once and only stopped two days,
going off on the bicycle one afternoon when her father was having an
afternoon sleep. He came enquiring for her in the village when he woke
up, and was very angry to find she wasn't there. He hadn't known she was
going away and said she must have got tired of the loneliness."

Stone nodded significantly. "Some tragedy there, I should say." He made
a gesture of disgust. "We're looking for the murderer to get him hanged
and yet it really ought to be to give him a reward."

Inspector Carter made one of his rare contributions to the conversation.
"Our morning's not been altogether wasted," he remarked thoughtfully.
"Certainly, it's exploded the particular motive we thought we'd found
for Norton's killing the man, but I wouldn't say he mayn't have had
another, for of one thing I'm certain. If he didn't kill him, he knows
who did. When you said you had found out who was the killer his face got
pale and he looked downright ill. Then when you went on to accuse him,
because Sir Roger had taken his wife, he was relieved at once. He saw
you were right off the target there."

"Good for you, Elias!" exclaimed Stone heartily. "I noticed the change
in him, but hadn't thought of it long enough to work out the reason as
you have done. What do you say, Gilbert?"

Larose considered. "I think Elias is right. At any rate, this Norton's
not off my list yet, although, as I confess, I rather like the man.
Well, I'll drop you both at the Yard and then I'm going down to the
Court again. I've got another idea, and besides I can give them back the
key of the study door. It's no good keeping the room locked up any
longer."




Chapter VI.--THE GUTTERED CANDLE.


Later, that same afternoon, when Larose arrived at Hake Court, as he had
expected it was Huntley who opened the door to him. "Here, I want a word
with you," he said smilingly. "No, you needn't look worried. It's not
about yourself this time but about that young girl who used to be here,
Elsie Bane, the parlourmaid."

For the moment the butler's face had changed from uneasiness at the
reappearance of Larose to annoyance, seemingly, at the mention of the
girl's name, but he quickly resumed his habitual air of respect and
proceeded to lead the way into a small room opening out of the big
lounge hall.

"What do you want to know about her, sir," he asked quietly. "Why do you
come to me?"

"I want to find out where she is," replied Larose, "and I came to you
because I've heard you and she were good friends."

Huntley nodded. "We were friends, sir," he sighed, "and I would give a
lot to know where she is now. I'm afraid something has happened to her."

"Tell me all about it," said Larose, "and I'll see what I can do. Let me
know exactly what happened."

"She left here, sir, on February eighth," said the butler. "Mrs. Rawson,
the housekeeper in Berkeley Square, had sent away one of the maids there
and she said she couldn't get another suitable one for the time being.
Elsie didn't want to go, but----"

"Were you and she engaged?" asked Larose.

"Not exactly, sir, but we were soon going to be. Well, sir, Elsie went
up to town and I never had a line from her afterwards, although she had
promised to write often. Then, less than a fortnight later we heard she
had suddenly dismissed herself and no one knew where she had gone. That
is the last anyone has heard of her."

"And you don't believe this story of her going away herself is true?"
asked Larose.

"No, sir, no one believes it," replied Huntley. "It wasn't like Elsie.
She wasn't that kind of girl. She was sensitive and very gentle."

"And what do you think?" asked Larose.

The butler looked very stern. "I haven't the slightest evidence in proof
of it, sir, and it would have gone badly with him long before this if I
had," he spoke very slowly, "but, I believe, sir, my late master had
something to do with it. Unfortunately, he had become attracted by her
appearance."

"Did she tell you that herself?" asked Larose.

"Not exactly, sir, but she said he had lately taken notice of her and
been very polite. You see, she was very clever in arranging flowers and
Mistress used to give her all those which came in from the garden to
arrange in the vases. That brought her in Master's way."

A short silence followed and then Larose asked. "Have you tried to find
her?"

Huntley shook his head. "I didn't know where to start, sir. She came
from the Wanstead Orphanage and had never heard of her parents. She
hadn't a relation in the world that she knew of."

"But hadn't she any friends to whom she may have gone?"

"She had only one friend that I know of, and I don't know her name. It
was a girl she'd met when she was at Wanstead and this girl had married
and gone to live somewhere in Norfolk, I don't know where."

"Have you got a photograph of Elsie?"

"Yes, sir, would you like to see it? I'll go and fetch it."

The photo proved to be an enlarged snapshot, and showed a decidedly
pretty girl of graceful figure, standing against the wall of a small
back garden. "She gave it to me, sir," said Huntley, with a choke in his
voice, "only about a month before she left. It was taken just before she
came into service here, and when she was staying in Norfolk with this
friend I have mentioned."

"She looks clever as well as pretty," commented Larose.

"Oh, she is clever, sir! She always said the Orphanage people never
ought to have put her into private service. She was very artistic and
was always drawing roses and lillies and other flowers. As for being
pretty, sir, this photo doesn't do her justice. Her colouring was so
good, with auburn hair and blue eyes."

Larose lowered his own eyes and frowned uncomfortably. Auburn hair and
blue eyes! That was the description he had got in Bradwell village of
the girl whom Sir Roger had given out was his daughter! Good God, what a
tragedy for this man before him--if he only knew!

It was almost as if the butler had sensed what was in Larose's thoughts,
for he went on with deep feeling: "If only I could get her back, sir, I
wouldn't mind what had happened to her. I know she would never have gone
wrong on her own account."

Larose eyed him very sternly. "And you want me to find her at any cost?"
he asked.

"At any cost, sir?" queried the butler, looking very puzzled.

"Well," exclaimed Larose in great surprise, "haven't you realised that
our only interest in finding her will be with the idea that it is she
who shot Sir Roger? He had wronged her and she came into the house that
night to avenge herself upon him."

The butler's face was a study and Larose thought that if ever there were
a case of a man thinking before he spoke, he had one before him now.
Huntley was searching hard and furiously for an answer. At last he said,
and he spoke very quietly, "I am not in the least afraid, sir, for I
know she would never have done it."

"But she may not be able to prove that?" snapped Larose.

"Oh, yes, she will, sir," said Huntley, "for, of course, there will be
people who will be able to swear where she was that night." Just the
faintest suspicion of amusement came into his face. "I haven't the
slightest fear there, sir."

"All right," nodded Larose, "then you take the consequences. Now let me
have the photograph for a few days. Oh, one more question! Of course,
the story of why Elsie left Berkeley Square came from the housekeeper
there? And you don't believe it?"

"No, sir, not a word of it. Mrs. Rawson is a bad woman and would do
anything Sir Roger told her to--for money. If Master harmed poor Elsie
then I'm certain she made it easy for him."

"Well, that finishes you, Mr. Huntley," smiled Larose; "at any rate for
the time being. Now will you please go and ask her ladyship if I can
speak to her. You may tell her I will only keep her a very few minutes."

Larose was left waiting for quite a quarter of an hour and then, instead
of being taken to Lady Hake, she came to him herself.

She looked pale but very pretty, and he thought with a pang of the
questions he was going to ask her. "I'm very sorry to come to you again
so soon," he said, "but, unhappily, I can't help it."

"No, I suppose you can't," she said wearily. "I know I've got some
dreadful times before me, but, of course, I shall have to put up with
them."

"But they won't be so very dreadful," said Larose, "and if you are quite
frank with us there will probably be no need for you to be called at the
adjourned inquest."

"I have been quite frank with you," she said sharply.

"I'm sure you have," nodded Larose, "and I only want you to go on being
so. First, it's about that Elsie Bane I want to ask you. Now do you give
her a good character?"

"Elsie Bane!" exclaimed Lady Hake. "What do you want to know about her
for?"

"Because we are wondering if she came into the house and fired that
dreadful shot. You see, she would know where the pistol was, she would
know Sir Roger's habit of going into his study the last thing at night,
and she would know where to hide herself away afterwards."

Lady Hake's voice was cold and cutting. "What should she want to shoot
my husband for?"

Larose turned away his eyes. Now for it, he thought. He would have to
speak very plainly. He spoke as casually as if he were speaking about
the weather. "Because he may have wronged her," he said. "Of course, we
know there have been many of the other sex in Sir Roger's life and a man
cannot go on for ever like that without making enemies." It seemed
almost as if he were stifling a yawn. "So we are wondering if Elsie Bane
was one."

A long silence followed, with Larose continuing to keep his eyes turned
away. Then Lady Hake said calmly and with no trace of emotion. "Elsie
was a good girl and I can't imagine her shooting anyone. She was of a
superior class."

"Was it you who had her transferred to Berkeley Square," asked Larose.

The answer was slow in coming. "No, my husband and Mrs. Rawson arranged
that."

"Then didn't you think there was something strange about her dismissing
herself and going off in the way Mrs. Rawson has made out she did?"
asked Larose.

"Yes, I did."

"You were suspicious?"

"I was; it wasn't like Elsie."

"But you asked no questions?"

"What was the good? No, I had learnt to shut my eyes. You can't alter a
man's nature by letting him see you suspect him."

"Now another thing. Do you like Mrs. Rawson?"

"No, certainly not!" The answer was emphatic there. "I shall dismiss her
at once when I get things into my own hands."

Larose was still looking out of the window. "About that bruise you have
on your arm which you made out was a dragon-fly sting, of course Sir
Roger gave it to you?"

A long silence followed and then came a faint 'yes.'

Larose turned his head sharply and his eyes were now fixed intently upon
her as he asked his next question with great sternness. "And when Mr.
Harland came in to fetch those cigarettes that night you showed him the
bruise and told him your husband had done it?" He raised one forefinger
warningly. "Now answer truthfully, understanding I am going to put the
same question to Mr. Harland."

Her face went pale as death, her eyes stared and her mouth opened.
Larose watched her without a muscle of his face moving and his eyes
narrowed under his frowning brows. She looked terrified. He rose to his
feet and walked over to the window.

"Poor little woman," he murmured, "but I had to ask her."

Quite a minute passed before he turned round. The face of the young
widow was now quite composed, and its ashy-grey appearance had passed
away.

"Well," he asked, "you haven't yet answered my question."

"Was there any need for me to answer it?" she asked coldly, and then she
added with some spirit: "Surely you should have seen enough of me by now
to realise I am not the sort of woman to expose my shame to a man who is
almost a stranger." Her eyes flashed. "I have learnt to keep my troubles
to myself."

"And that's the best way," nodded Larose.

"Now," she went on sharply, "you shall go and ask Mr. Harland himself--"
she looked contemptuous--"as you said you intended to."

She pushed upon the bell and, after a short silence, which Larose made
no attempt to break, the butler appeared.

"Mr. Harland is in the office?" she asked. "Is he alone?"

"I think so, your ladyship," replied Huntley.

"Then take this gentleman in to see him, at once," she ordered, and
Larose was dismissed with a curt bow.

It was quite a long way to the secretary's office, and Larose realised
for the first time what a lot of ground the house covered. They went
down one long passage, up a few stairs, along a short passage, down some
stairs, and then along another long passage right to the very end. Also
Huntley took his time, and did not walk quickly. Once, too, he stopped
and pointed out through a window. "That's the old chapel over there,
sir," he said. "It's said to be four hundred years old." He smiled.
"It's not been used much lately," but Larose was not interested, and
motioned him to walk on.

The door of the office was ajar when they reached it, and young Harland
was speaking upon the 'phone when Larose was ushered into the room. The
secretary raised his eyebrows ever so little at seeing the detective and
then, pointing out a chair to him, continued his conversation on the
'phone. The telephone was a desk one.

"Certainly . . . Yes!. . . Yes!. . . Of course, of course!. . .
Naturally things will be very unsettled for a little while. . . Well,
good morning."

He hung up the receiver and turned to Larose. "Well, sir," he said a
little brusquely, "what is it you want to know now?"

Larose pointed to the 'phone he had just been using. "A house one?" he
suggested smilingly, and a faint pink suffused the young man's face as
he noddingly admitted that it was. "And may I ask who was speaking to
you?" asked Larose very politely.

"One of the gardeners," replied Harland. He dismissed the matter
quickly, and forced a smile upon his face. "Now, Mr. Larose," he asked,
"what more questions are you going to ask me?"

"One very important one," said Larose, "and it is this." He paused a
long moment, noticing that young Harland had stiffened himself in his
chair, was assuming a wooden expression and was clenching his hands
tightly together. He went on slowly. "Do you remember hearing Mr. Norton
join in the conversation when the lights were out? Don't forget he was
sitting next to you."

The secretary's hands unclenched, his whole body seemed to relax and the
expression upon his face became a definite one. He spoke slowly and
emphatically. "I do remember. I am certain I heard him speak. I am quite
sure about it."

"Still, that doesn't prove," commented Larose, "that he didn't shoot Sir
Roger. I am still unconvinced that it was impossible for anyone to have
left that room. So he may have done it and come back." He regarded
Harland intently. "You know, if Mr. Norton did not kill him, I'd almost
stake my life he thinks he knows who did."

Harland shook his head slowly. "But I don't see how that's possible,"
his face brightened, "unless whoever did it has confessed to him."

"But why should he have confessed to him?" queried Larose. "Whoever was
the murderer, why should he have confessed to anyone, unless he were
proud of it and intending to give himself up?"

Harland shook his head again. "It's no good your propounding such
puzzles to me, Mr. Larose, for I'm not equal to them." He spoke sharply.
"But just take this in, sir, once and for all," his voice rose slightly,
"you can't accuse me or Mr. Norton or anyone of the others in the
card-room that night, unless you accuse the whole lot of us. Either we
are all innocent or else we are all guilty. As I have told you, we
talked the matter over, fully, and are all convinced that no one left
the room after Sir Roger went out."

Larose nodded. "Then that leaves only her ladyship, the butler, and the
suppositious person hiding in the house, with the strength of suspicion
against them in that order, Lady Hake being most suspected, then
Huntley, and last 'an unknown murderer.'"

Larose had expected a violent outburst of protest from the young fellow,
but nothing of the kind happened. Instead, Harland just smiled
contemptuously. "The evidence of Doctor King-Harley will definitely
clear her ladyship," he said. "She absolutely collapsed when she was
told of her husband's death, and the most consummate actress in the
world cannot make herself pulseless, as the doctor says she was, at
will."

"Then the butler?" suggested Larose, wanting to turn Harland inside out,
now the latter seemed to be in the mood.

"Nothing doing there, either," frowned Harland. "We'll all swear that
his surprise was a hundred per cent real."

There was a knock on the door and upon the secretary calling out 'come
in,' to the amazement of them both, Lady Hake entered. She gave a quick,
peculiar little look from one to the other of them, and then, after a
slight nod to Harland addressed Larose. "I wanted to be sure and catch
you before you left," she said. She spoke very coldly. "If you still
doubt my word when I told you Elsie Bane was a girl of good character,
the thought has just come to me that you couldn't do better than apply
to the Superintendent of the Wanstead Orphanage. She was there for two
years, first as one of the orphans and then, later, as a private maid to
the Matron. They will speak for her and, perhaps," she looked sarcastic,
"you are more likely to believe them than me."

"Thank you," said Larose politely. "I am sure I am very much obliged to
you. I'll do as you say." Then, wanting to detain her and see how she
and the secretary acted when they were together, he went on quickly,
"But now you're here, Lady Hake, you may be able to help me in another
way. We were discussing Mr. Norton when you came in, and tell me--would
you say he was friendlily disposed towards Sir Roger?"

"Why shouldn't he have been?" she asked frowningly,

"We-ll!" hesitated Larose, "I was wondering if they were rivals in any
way."

"You mean for Mrs. Norton's affections?" she asked. "You think Mr.
Norton was jealous of my husband?" She spoke cuttingly. "That's your
trouble, Mr. Larose, you think too much," and with a curt little bow she
let herself out of the room.

Larose looked meaningly in the direction of the door. "She came in to
see if we were quarrelling," he smiled. "Funny how the sharpest people
sometimes give themselves away!" Then, as the secretary made no comment
and had turned his eyes upon some papers on his desk as if he were
anxious to get on with his work, he continued, "She's got plenty of
spirit, that girl, and would be quite capable of anything." He sighed.
"And if she did shoot him, I shouldn't altogether blame her."

Harland looked up instantly. "Who would?" he demanded. Then, seemingly
annoyed with himself for his remark, he added quickly: "But she didn't.
That is quite impossible!"

Larose drew a bow at a venture. "And do you know, Mr. Harland, you have
just put an idea into my head. You said you card-players were either all
innocent or all guilty." He bent forward significantly towards him. "Now
why shouldn't you all be guilty?"

Harland regarded him, frowning heavily. "What do you mean?" he asked.

Larose smiled blandly. "Well, one of you shot the man and the others are
perjuring themselves to save him." He looked amused. "You see, I am
being quite frank with you."

"Frank's not a suitable word," said Harland quietly. "If it would not be
rude I should suggest, 'mad' as being more appropriate." He raised his
voice scoffingly. "And you think six level-headed, disinterested men
would risk their skins to save a seventh whom they hardly knew? None of
us there were really friendly with one another and we most of us were
mere acquaintances." He shrugged his shoulders. "Speaking for myself, I
had never even seen three of them before that night."

"But why particularise yourself?" asked Larose, eyeing him very
intently.

Harland was quite candid. "Because you've got me in your mind, of
course." He laughed. "You've not come down here to ask me about Mr.
Norton. You've come to get a line on me myself." He warmed up. "No doubt
you think here's a young man who knows a pretty girl is being very badly
treated. He's on the spot and must guess a lot more even than he
actually sees. So, what is more natural than that he should have been
the one to shoot the beast of a husband?" He spoke bitterly. "I'm not a
fool. Of course, I should be the one to be most suspected!"

"You think so?" asked Larose quite pleasantly.

"I do," replied Harland. He nodded. "But you're a bit puzzled all the
same. You've got Lady Hake and Huntley in your mind, too." He looked
Larose straight in the face. "But I didn't do it, and neither of them
did it either."

Larose smiled. "Well, who are we to fasten it on to?" he asked. "It must
have been someone."

The secretary bent forward earnestly. "Do you realise, sir, that you may
have started off wrong from the very beginning?" He raised his hand
impressively. "You have banked everything on that Superintendent's nose.
He says he smelt cordite directly he was taken to see the body, and
therefore that the pistol must have been fired in the room. But what if
he was wrong? Look at the possibilities it opens up. He may have been
shot by someone outside, who left no footmarks on the gravelled drive?"

Larose looked sceptical. "But how would anyone have managed to get into
the study to get the pistol without leaving footmarks in the flower-bed
under the window?"

"The pistol mayn't have been in the study at all. Sir Roger may have
left it in the summer-house. I've known it left there before. The target
he used to fire at is on a large oak tree about twenty yards away.
Sometimes, if it was raining, he would sit in the summer-house and fire
from the seat there. Everyone here can tell you that."

Larose frowned. "But what about those dogs? We are told they would allow
no stranger in the grounds."

"But how can they be everywhere?" asked Harland. "The walled grounds
cover nearly fifty acres and from what I've seen of the animals,
directly they're loosed, they go and stand with their noses poked
through the bars of the gates. A man across the road breeds
cocker-spaniels, and these Livonians here are interested. Another thing,
too, directly it rains the dogs take cover. They go into the
summer-houses, there are four of them, or else into the sheds. They
always seem to keep together."

"Hum!" remarked Larose very thoughtfully. "You're interesting, young
fellow!"

"And do you still think I did it?" asked Harland, now smiling for the
first time.

Larose considered. "Yes--and no," he replied. He smiled. "But now, more
no than yes." He spoke quickly. "And one more question." He took in the
good-looking face, the aristocratic profile, the eyes which spoke of
courage, the firm strong chin and the sensitive, yet withal, humorously
tender mouth. A nice boy, he thought, and one of whom any girl might be
proud and by whom she would be made happy. He rapped out his question
sharply. "Are you in love with her?"

Harland smiled sadly.

"What man who has seen her is not?"

Larose got briskly to his feet. "Well, I'll just go and have one last
look round the study and then give up the key. We shan't be wanting it
any more. Now the way back to the hall is right along the passage, up
those few steps and----"

"No, no," interrupted Harland, "that's a long way round. Don't go up
those steps at all. Take the first turning to the right. It's much
shorter," and they shook hands in parting, in a most friendly way.

Larose met the butler in the hall. "Here," he said sternly, "what the
devil did you take me all that way round for?"

"To show you that chapel, sir," replied Huntley most politely. "I
thought----"

"Oh, yes, you thought all right," snapped Larose, "and that's why you
did it." He spoke very sternly. "You were listening at that door,
Huntley, when I was talking to your mistress."

Huntley looked very aggrieved. "I wouldn't think of doing such a thing,
sir. I know my place better than to dream of doing that."

Larose did not labour the matter. He had no proof and knew he would
never get any. Really, he told himself, he was suspecting everyone of
everything. "I'm going into the study," he said, "and when I've finished
I'll give you the key to take to your mistress."

Entering the room, it smelt close and musty, but he did not open the
windows and neither did he draw up the blinds. Instead, he switched on
the lights and, sinking back into an armchair, let his eyes rove round
everywhere. Except for the body having been taken away and a rug thrown
over the blood-stain upon the carpet where the body had lain, the room
was exactly as it had been left when the investigating detectives had
finished with it.

He began talking softly to himself. 'There, through that door came the
murdered man, not murdered then but in the pride of his strength and
lust of life. He came in cupping a lighted match in his hand, for
without doubt a breeze had risen with the coming of the rain, and there
was a draught blowing from the open window. For the same reason, no
doubt, he would have pushed to the library door behind him. He picked up
the torch upon his desk and lit one of those candles on the
mantel-shelf, the one nearest to the library door. We know he did that
because it is guttered by the draught from the window; the drops of wax
have run down one side of the candle, the side away from the window. The
parlourmaid, Janet, yes Janet is her name, is sure it was not guttered
before that night or she would have noticed it and picked off the blobs
of untidy-looking wax. Then--what did he do next?'

Larose half closed his eyes and let his thoughts have full rein. Then,
suddenly, he frowned, a slightly puzzled frown at first, which soon,
however, became a very puzzled one. He opened his eyes widely, and sat
up straight in his chair. 'Gad,' he exploded suddenly, 'but why the
devil did he light that candle at all? He had said he was coming in for
his torch and there it was all ready to his hand upon the desk. He
didn't even pick it up. We know that because there was not a single
finger-mark upon it. The girl had rubbed her duster over it in the
morning. Then why didn't he pick it up, if he had come in expressly for
it?'

A thought striking him, he rose quickly to his feet and, striding over
to the desk, picked up the torch. He pressed on the button, but nothing
happened. The light did not come on. He stood staring at the torch, with
his mouth open. Almost, it might have been thought, he was expecting it
to speak.

Suddenly, he whistled. 'Gad,' he exclaimed again, 'he did pick it up,
but he found the batteries were dead and so lit the candle. That
accounts for the second match we found in the grate. He had to strike
another one to light the candle.' He caught his breath. 'Oh, hell, and
as there were no finger-marks upon this torch, it means that someone had
wiped them off, wiped them off because he had perhaps picked it up
himself and was making sure he should leave no clue behind! Now, let me
think. Let me think.'

He threw himself down in the armchair again. 'So he lit that candle, but
he did not take it in his hand to light him from the room because,
again, there are no finger-marks upon the candlestick. Janet had dusted
that, too, that morning.'

He thought hard. 'What happened? I have only three minutes to account
for, as the darkness lasted six minutes and it is computed Sir Roger
spent the first three of them in the library, waiting with the others
for the lights to go up. He must have been shot during those second
three minutes of darkness, because if he had been alive when the lights
had gone up again--surely he would have returned to the card-players.
Besides, it was no longer thundering when the light came on.'

He pressed his hands over his forehead, springing up suddenly, however,
to stride over to the mantel-shelf and examine the candles, both of them
this time. Then, with a low quick intent movement, he moved the two
candlesticks together, so that they stood side by side. He noted with a
frown that the guttered one must have been burning quite an appreciable
time longer than the other. A moment's consideration and he lit the
unguttered candle, taking out his watch to time how long it would take
for it to burn down until it was exactly level with its fellow. To make
the surroundings as near as possible to those of the fatal night, he
opened the window.

'Quite a little breeze,' he nodded, 'and this other candle will gutter
in the draught.' He sat down to wait.

The minutes passed slowly and the room was very quiet and still. Oh, if
only the walls could speak and give up the secret which they held! What
would their story be? A white-faced woman, with blazing eyes, killing in
a white-hot passion for her revenge, or a man in cold fury carrying out
a righteous judgment as if it were an act of God, or, yet again, a
wronged husband avenging his wife's stolen honour? Who would ever know.

The time dragged on slowly until after twenty minutes he was at last
satisfied that the candles were now of equal height, with the guttering
almost identically the same.

'Now let me reconstruct everything,' he murmured, 'as far as it is
possible from what we know. At eleven-thirty-two the lights failed and
did not come on again, until eleven-thirty-eight. Of those six minutes
of darkness it is estimated Sir Roger passed three in his chair by the
card-table. In the course of the next three he went into the study, lit
the candle and was shot during that last loud peal of thunder, just
before the lights went up. He must have been shot during that peal of
thunder as, otherwise, with all the inmates of the Court awakened with
their windows wide open, the noise of the firing would certainly have
been heard by someone. Yes, we can be quite sure that it was by the
light of that candle the assassin took aim and shot him. Then what
happened?'

He leant back in his chair and thought hard. 'Why,' he asked slowly,
'was that candle left burning for twenty minutes? Knowing as we do that
Sir Roger lit it when he went into the study, say at eleven-thirty-five,
those twenty minutes would bring us up to eleven-fifty-five, only seven
minutes before the telephone rang in the police-station?' His eyes were
all screwed up in his perplexity. 'Then that means that when Huntley
opened the study door he would have instantly seen his murdered master
lying right before him, without any switching on of the light. But, with
the door open, the interior of the room was in part view of all the
seven card-players, and they all confirm Huntley's testimony that the
room was in pitch darkness when he went in. Then are they all lying,
Huntley and these seven men?'

His thoughts ran on. 'But, in any case, that does not explain why the
candle was still left burning after the lights went up. It leaves things
just as unexplainable as----' But he suddenly snapped his fingers
together in exultation. 'I have it! I have it! The candle was not put
out because, in his hurry to escape from the room, the murderer did not
switch off the electric light, and with that on, he would not have
noticed that the candle was still burning!'

His exultation was, however, short-lived, and he was soon looking as
puzzled as ever. 'But who was it,' he asked ruefully, 'who did put out
both the candle and the electric light? Did the murderer, remembering
his mistake, creep back in the very nick of time and plunge the room
into darkness again, just before Huntley came in? Oh, what a mystery!
What a puzzle!'

He thought for a long time and at last gave it up for the time being.
'And it's no good my waiting here any longer,' he sighed. 'I've found
out something, but just what it means I don't know. I'll have to think
it over.'

He let himself out of the room, and locking the door behind him, looked
for a bell in the hall so that he could summon the butler and pass over
the key to him to take to his mistress.

Then all at once Lady Hake herself appeared from the dining-room, so
suddenly that the idea instantly flashed into his mind that she had been
waiting for him. Greatly to his surprise, she smiled graciously when he
gave her the key.

"You must be tired," she said. "Would you like some refreshment? Would
you like a cup of tea?" and something in the way she spoke suggested to
him that she wanted him to say yes.

So he smilingly accepted, and greatly to his surprise again, she had
some with him and they sat on either side of a small table in the big
lounge. They talked of the weather and of the flowers in the vases for a
few minutes, and he thought many times, that with all her sad
expression, how really lovely she was. He told himself he would like to
go on looking at her for hours. Then suddenly she said apologetically,
"I'm afraid I've been very curt with you, Mr. Larose, but you must
overlook it in the great trouble I am going through."

"I've nothing to overlook," smiled Larose. "I expected you would be much
more put out than you were at the questions I had to ask you."

"I realise now it's no good my pretending I'd been living happily with
my husband," she went on. She spoke bitterly. "Everyone seems to have
known I was a very miserable woman." She looked him straight in the
face. "Tell me, are people saying I shot him?"

Larose shook his head and fibbed resolutely. "Certainly not," he said.
"No one would think that. The shooting was no woman's work."

Her eyes were still intently upon him. "And do you suspect Mr. Harland?"
she asked, and he could sense she was holding herself in with a great
effort.

Then, on the instant, it came to him in a most uneasy realisation that
there might be yet more tragedy in store for this unhappy girl. Harland
had admitted he was in love with her and now, by the very way she was
acting, an intuition told him the feelings were returned. God, if they
were already lovers and the slightest inkling of it got abroad then
Harland would be the focus of all suspicion!

He was so slow in answering her question that she repeated it and a
little sharply now. "Do you suspect Mr. Harland?" she reiterated.

"I beg your pardon," he said. "I was thinking." He spoke with an
assumption of frankness. "Not in particular, not more than any of those
others who were in the library." He smiled. "You see we can't well
suspect any of them without suspecting the whole lot, as they all back
one another up in declaring none of them left the room."

She drew in a deep breath. "And are you," she asked hesitatingly, "are
you the one who decides?"

He looked puzzled. "Decides what?" he asked. "Oh, decides in what
direction we must continue to look!" He laughed. "Bless your heart, no!
All of us at the Yard pool the ideas which come to us and then sometimes
one of us gets a brain-wave and we all act upon it."

She hesitated again. "B-ut I've heard your opinion carries a lot of
weight with them in London."

He shook his head smilingly. "Not overmuch! Just now my opinion is that
this may turn out to be one of those cases where the mystery is never
solved. We may never learn who fired that fatal shot."

He left her, he thought, much brighter. She herself saw him to the front
door and gave him a wistful little smile as he drove away. 'Gilbert,
Gilbert,' he murmured, as he turned his car towards London, 'you ought
never to have come into the Police! Justice and not Law is your
mistress! You don't want to find that boy guilty because of those eyes
of hers!' He snapped his teeth together viciously. 'But how the devil
can he be guilty with those six other men swearing he never left the
room? Heavens, what a puzzle!' He nodded. 'But I'll track down that
little Elsie Bane now, and see if she can tell us anything. Auburn or
red hair in a girl always makes her a bit of a devil!'

Having mentioned nothing to his colleagues of his discovery of the
guttered candle, the significance of which was still evading him, the
following morning he set out upon his journey into Norfolk to pick up
Elsie Bane.

With the little he had learnt about her, it might have been considered
that his task was quite a hopeless one, but that was by no means the
view he was taking of it. On the contrary, he was of opinion he had a
good sporting chance of finding her, as he was practically certain she
would have gone to that one girl friend of hers who lived in Norfolk.

Upon his return to the Yard the previous evening, sitting alone in his
room, he had thought everything over most carefully and in the end had
been by no means dissatisfied with his prospects. First, he had examined
the photograph the butler had given him under a powerful magnifying
glass and summed up what it told him.

He decided at once that Elsie's friend's house was situated in a city.
The garden was narrow and therefore he argued it would be small,
suggesting land that was valuable and which meant, of course, it was
certainly not in a village or probably not even in a little town. No,
the garden looked as if it belonged to a good-class working-man's house,
perhaps one of many others all in a row in the suburbs of some city.

He had arrived at this opinion before he decided that the faint lines in
one corner of the photograph in the distance above the garden wall, were
the overhead lines of trams or trolley-buses. He was very pleased with
himself there, for that would narrow down the search tremendously, as he
knew that in Norfolk there were only trams or trolley-buses in Great
Yarmouth and Norwich. Agriculture was the main industry of the county,
and out of Norwich it contained no manufacturing centres.

So to Norwich he would go first, but arrived there, what was he to do?
The girl had always been expressing her distaste for domestic service,
and her experiences at Hake Court were not likely to have taken away any
of that objection so, of course, she would most probably try to get a
position in a shop. But she was unskilled in every trade! No, no, she
wasn't! She had a natural gift for arranging flowers. Yes, she loved
flowers, so what would be more probable than that she would try for some
work among them? At any rate, that would be her first thought and with
her nice appearance she might have had some luck and been successful.

He smiled grimly to himself. It was a long shot, but in pursuit of the
criminal classes he had often brought such a one off. Arriving in
Norwich, learning from a friendly policeman where the best flower-shops
were, he paid a visit to each one of them. Either he bought a buttonhole
or else made certain he could get a good view of the assistants through
the window. But he saw no sign of a girl answering to the description of
Elsie Bane among them, and he did not think it wise to ask after her by
name. If and when he found her, he wanted to make himself and his errand
known when she was by herself. Above all things he did not want to give
her a shock when others were present.

His search so far fruitless, a new idea struck him and he enquired of
another policeman which florist in the city had the largest trade in
funeral wreaths. He was told Smith, in Castle Street, made more of them
than all the other shops put together.

So six o'clock found him standing outside Smith's, waiting for the
employees to leave. Then, almost the first girl who came out looked like
what he expected Elsie Bane would look; a little older perhaps, but with
a nice complexion and rich auburn hair.

'Here goes it,' he whispered exultingly. 'I'll chance it and follow this
little miss.'

The girl walked quickly along in the direction of the river, and at a
safe distance, he kept her in view. Then a great piece of luck happened
for she turned into Mortimer Park and sat down upon a seat by the side
of the ornamental pond. Then, from a brown-paper bag of odds and ends of
cake and bread, she threw crumbs to attract the birds. He walked quietly
up and sat down upon the same seat, but not close near her. He lifted
his hat politely.

"Excuse me, Miss Bane," he said, "but I've come a long way to speak to
you and this couldn't be a better place, for our talk will be a very
private one."

Her face was the picture of amazed distress, but he appeared not to
notice it and went on, "Really, I want particularly to speak to you
about Mr. Huntley, first. He's been very worried about you and very hurt
you've not written to him."

She drew in a deep breath, and rising abruptly to her feet, started
shaking the crumbs from her dress with the undoubted intention of
walking away.

He saw half measures would be of no good, and, accordingly, changed his
tone instantly. "No, don't go away," he said sharply. "If you do, I
shall only have to follow you and get help." He spoke very sternly. "I'm
a detective and come from Scotland Yard."

She gave a little gasp and instantly resumed her seat. Her face had
paled and she looked very frightened. He returned to his kinder tone and
spoke quite friendlily. "No, you've no need to be afraid. You can finish
with the detective business with one answer. Where were you last Monday,
night?"

She answered him chokingly, but with no hesitation. "Here in Norwich. I
am living with friends."

"And of course that can be proved?" he went on.

She nodded, and he could just hear what she said. "Yes, I went with them
to the pictures that evening."

"Of course you know why I ask? You've read what happened in the
newspapers?"

She nodded again. "You mean about Sir Roger Hake?"

He pursed up his lips. "Yes, it was a very dreadful business, and we
haven't been able to find out who did it."

"But you didn't suspect me?" she asked looking very horrified.

"You have to be accounted for," he replied. He spoke with as much
friendliness as he could. "But I'd better explain everything. You see we
know he got you down to that bungalow of his at Bradwell and that you
escaped from him. So, having suffered so much from him, we thought it
quite possible you got into the Court that night and shot him for his
punishment."

"But I tell you I didn't," she exclaimed wildly. She clenched her teeth.
"I hate him, but I would never have dared to do that, however much I had
wanted to."

"Then a word from your friend telling us where you were," nodded Larose,
"will make that quite all right. But now about Mr. Huntley. Why haven't
you let him know where you are?"

She looked at him with her eyes wet with tears. "Would you, after what
has happened?"

Larose nodded again. "I would--with him. He guesses what has happened,
but does not believe it was your fault. He is sure you are as good a
girl as you always were, and were trapped somehow."

"So I was," she choked. "It was that vile Mrs. Rawson who helped him.
She took me down to clean up the bungalow and then after I'd had some
tea I don't know what happened." Her words came very slowly. "When I
woke up in the night she had gone and only Sir Roger was----"

"That's enough," said Larose. "And Mrs. Rawson gave it out you had left
of your own accord, in a great temper. Now about Mr. Huntley. He's going
to leave the Court and he wants you to come back and marry him."

She shook her head. "Oh, I couldn't."

Larose spoke crossly. "Of course you can! What do you want to punish him
for--because Sir Roger was a beast to you? It isn't fair. No, it isn't.
Now, you take me to your friends and they'll just verify about last
Monday. Then I'll go back and tell Mr. Huntley you're going to write to
him. He'll be a delighted man."

'And that finishes with little Elsie,' said Larose to himself, when that
night he was having dinner in a hotel in Norwich, 'and if friend Huntley
doesn't get hanged, I suppose she'll marry him and they'll live happily
ever afterwards. Huntley'll make quite a good husband, although he's
quite capable of a thumping lie or two when it suits him.'

He sipped his wine meditatively. 'And what a lot of lies have been told
over this business! I'm as certain as ever I was of anything that we've
got the murderer in our hands and yet--we can't put a name to him--' he
hesitated a long moment--'or her! Oh, if only I knew why that candle had
been allowed to burn for those twenty minutes! But one thing about it
stands out clearly--whoever blew it out was the murderer! I can be quite
certain of that.' He sighed. 'And how everything in a way points to her
little ladyship as being the guilty one. She hated her husband, he had
laid violent hands upon her within a few hours of his death, and now she
is terrified that young Harland should be suspected of what he has not
done.' He nodded. 'Or she thinks--or knows he did it and her terror is
because he may be found out. So, in another way everything points to
Harland. He is in love with the wife, he knows how vilely she is being
treated by the husband, and he has just seen her bruise! He returns to
the library with the cigarettes, white-hot in fury, he creeps after Sir
Roger in the darkness and he shoots him dead! He creeps back, unnoticed,
to the card-table!'

He shook his head vexatiously. 'But all that does not fit in. The six
other men swear Harland could not possibly have left the room, and even
if he had, to creep in again he would have had to push open the study
door and those in the darkness in the library would certainly have seen
the light of the candle behind him. Besides, as I have convinced myself,
over and over again, Sir Roger was shot during that last peal of thunder
just before the lights went up. Yes, it's all most mysterious, but never
say die, and as I'm up this way I'll go back through Newmarket and have
a talk with that trainer man. He seemed quite intelligent and I may get
a fresh idea out of him,' he grinned, 'although I don't suppose he'll be
too pleased to see me. He didn't seem to like having anything to do with
the police that day.'

And, certainly, when he was shown into Martin Leeder the next morning,
the latter did not seem too happy about it, and frowned most uneasily.
Larose explained he had not made a special journey but, being in the
neighbourhood upon another matter, had thought he would look in and just
ask another question or two.

"You see, Mr. Leeder," he went on, "if we could only prove one of you
left the room after Sir Roger the whole mystery would be solved at once.
Now are you sure none of you went out?"

"I've told you already that I don't think so," replied the trainer
testily. "I heard no one move and certainly no one struck a match."

"But would that have been necessary?" asked Larose.

Leeder shrugged his shoulders. "If Sir Roger had to do it to cross a
room in his own house, wouldn't a stranger have found it even more
necessary?"

"Young Harland wasn't a stranger!" suggested Larose.

"He was much more so than Sir Roger," retorted Leeder.

Larose continued: "Well, if none of you seven did it, it leaves only the
butler and Lady Hake to be accounted for. One of those two is guilty
and----"

"Oh, keep Lady Hake out," broke in Leeder hotly. "I--I'd stake my life
she had nothing to do with it. It's--it's a shame even to suspect her,
the poor suffering woman which she is."

He seemed so upset that, to ascertain more of what was in his mind,
Larose went on stressing the point. "But unhappily we can't leave her
out," he insisted. "We know the life Sir Roger led her and she had good
reason to wish him dead." He spoke gloomily. "We may even have to arrest
her on suspicion and then her only hope of being proved innocent will be
if the real murderer comes forward and confesses he did it."

Leeder's face was now covered in perspiration, but he made no comment.
Larose looked very stern and added, "Then if we find anyone has been
shielding him he will be punished, too, as having been an accessory to
the crime after the act." He nodded. "That is a very serious offence."

The trainer burst out irritably. "Oh, do go away, please. I'm sick of
the whole business. If you go on questioning me for a week I can't tell
you any more man I have done already." He pulled out a big watch. "And
I've got my work to do. So, good morning."

'And I wouldn't like to swear that man doesn't know something,' nodded
Larose, as he drove off in the car. 'He'd got the wind up and seemed to
be thinking about himself as well as her little ladyship.' He swore
angrily. 'The devil of it, as with them all, is there seems to be no way
of making them speak.'

He made his journey back by way of Saffron Walden and called in at Crane
Court to give Huntley the news about Elsie Bane. The butler was
overjoyed and his eyes filled with tears. "I'm so very grateful to you,
sir," he said hoarsely. He hesitated. "Was she treated very badly, sir?"

"She was," nodded Larose gravely, "and that was the great reason why she
didn't write to you. She felt ashamed to. Another reason, however, was
she was afraid Sir Roger might get to learn where she was living."

"What do you think I'd better do, sir?" asked Huntley anxiously.

"Don't write," said Larose. "Go down and see her. It will make it much
easier for her to tell her story than to put it on paper. She's been
badly wronged, but if I know anything of women, she's still a thoroughly
good girl. As you thought, it was that vile Mrs. Rawson who brought the
trouble on her. She drugged her."

The butler's face went all sorts of colours and his lips moved although
he did not speak.

Returning to the Yard, Larose told Stone about Elsie Bane and the stout
inspector breathed hard. "That's another one out of it," he snorted. He
made a gesture of disgust. "But they're all out of it! Ay, and all still
in it! I've been to see Byles Chater and that Doctor King-Harley to-day.
But what was the good? They just stuck to their stories and there we
are." He clenched his fist. "And so, I suppose it will end. Another
failure for us, with the murderer sitting tight, and all the while,
grinning behind his wooden face." He heaved a tremendous sigh. "It's no
good, Gilbert, we're beaten. We're at a dead end."




Chapter VII.--JUDGMENT.


Huntley obtained the Sunday off and went down to Norwich on his
motor-bicycle. He saw Elsie Bane and what passed between them must have
been satisfactory as he returned to Crane Court that night, from his
appearance, in quite a happy frame of mind.

Finding his mistress had not yet gone up to her bedroom, he went into
the dining-room to speak to her. He told her he had come to give notice
and would be very sorry to leave her, but when everything was
settled--which was his delicate way of referring to his late master and
the forthcoming adjourned inquest--he would like to go. Of course,
however, he would only leave when it was quite convenient for her
ladyship.

"But why do you want to go, Huntley?" asked Lady Hake. "Is there any
special reason?"

"Yes, your ladyship," replied Huntley, "I'm going to be married," and he
added very solemnly, "to Elsie."

Lady Hake did not hide her astonishment. "Oh, then, you've heard from
her?" she exclaimed. "You've been to see her to-day."

"Yes, your ladyship," replied Huntley. "She's staying with a friend of
hers in Norwich. She's been there all the time. She's working at a
florist's."

Lady Hake's face flushed. Fully awakened to the fact, from the questions
Larose had put to her, that it was common rumour with the servants her
dead husband had been the cause of the girl's disappearance and knowing
the butler's feelings for Elsie, she did not want to pursue the matter.
At the same time, however, she realised that if she made no comment it
would be an admission that she knew everything. So, she asked very
quietly, "Then she wrote to you?"

It was now the butler who got red. "N-o your ladyship," he stammered,
"the police found her."

"The police!" she exclaimed in startled surprise.

"Yes, Inspector Larose did," replied Huntley uncomfortably. He went on
quickly, "You see, your ladyship, they wanted to find out where she was
that night when Master--when everything happened. So Inspector Larose
gave his whole attention to it and he found out where she was at once."

"But how did he find out," asked his mistress, looking very puzzled,
"when no one had any idea where she had gone?"

Huntley related how the girl had been traced, some part of which he had
learnt from Larose and the rest from Elsie herself. He finished up by
adding, "He is a very clever man, this Mr. Larose." It seemed that he
heaved a big sigh. "They say he always finds out everything in the end."

A short silence followed. Lady Hake's eyes were turned away and it might
almost have been she had not heard his closing remark. However, she said
at last, "But he seems a very kind-hearted man, this inspector?"

"He is, your ladyship," agreed the butler heartily, "quite different to
all the others."

"Well, I shall be very sorry to lose you," she said with a rather sad
smile, "and if you want one, of course, I'll give you a very good
reference." She went on in a business-like tone, "I'm glad you've come
in to see me to-night, because I want some papers to go up to the
lawyers the first thing to-morrow morning, and you can take them for me.
I'd like you to leave as early as possible."

"Very good, your ladyship," bowed Huntley, "I'll go into Chelmsford on
the motor-bicycle and catch the eight-thirty express there. Then I'll be
in Chancery Lane before half-past nine."

Huntley always preferred to go up to Town that way; firstly because it
was quicker, and secondly, because by leaving his machine in Chelmsford
he avoided riding through the London traffic.

The next morning, having arrived at Liverpool Street a few minutes after
nine, he was just emerging into the station yard when a taxi drew up
quickly and he saw Mrs. Rawson, the Berkeley Square housekeeper, was
inside it.

His face crimsoned up in fury at the sight of her. 'I'd murder her if I
got the chance,' he snarled. Curiosity now tempered his rage. 'But where
the devil is she going?'

Obviously she had not seen him and springing out of the taxi, in frantic
haste, almost before it had come to a standstill, she beckoned to a
porter to approach at once.

"Hi, you there!" called out the taxi-driver loudly, lugging a big, and
apparently, heavy suit-case from his cab. "Look alive, please! This
lady's only got about three minutes to catch the Southminster train."

'Southminster!' whistled Huntley. 'The station for that damned Bradwell
bungalow! What's she doing there.'

He followed at a distance to see that she caught the train and then,
speculating hard all the time as to what the housekeeper was--as he
called it--'up to,' he made his way to the lawyers' and delivered his
mistress's papers.

Then, although he had had no intention of doing it before he had known
the housekeeper would not be there, he thought he would call in at
Berkeley Square. He was received with great delight by the three maids
in charge who, along with the housekeeper always constituted the
skeleton staff when Sir Roger and Lady Hake were not staying there. They
were most eager to hear all about the tragedy at Hake Court, but he gave
them little satisfaction.

"I don't want to talk about it," he said. "It's a terrible business and
it does not seem we shall ever get rid of the police. They're still
poking about the place and questioning us. It's terrible for poor little
Mistress." He turned the conversation. "Where's Mrs. Rawson to-day."

It was obvious at once from the expressions on the girls' faces that the
housekeeper was not popular. "She's gone off for the day to her sister
at Norwood, who's very ill," said one of them.

"Oh, she's gone to Norwood, has she?" asked Huntley. "And her sister's
very ill?"

"So she says," said the girl, "and she went there yesterday as well,
both times with her suit-case packed full." She nodded darkly. "But
we're not so sure about this sick sister of hers. We'd never heard of
her before and we believe Mother Rawson thinks she is going to get the
sack and is getting things away, beforehand."

"What things?" asked Huntley sharply.

"We can't tell you," replied the girl. "You know she's got the keys of
all the cupboards and the store, and keeps everything locked up. She's
locked her room, too, so that we don't know if anything's been taken
from there. At any rate she's sent several boxes away by carrier and she
took good care, too, we shouldn't see the labels on them."

Huntley returned to Hake Court wondering a lot about Mrs. Rawson and,
saying nothing to anyone about her, was secretly resolving to go down to
Bradwell as soon as he could and have a look round. Elsie had told him
exactly where the bungalow was situated, and he was sure he would have
no difficulty in picking it out, without having to go into the village
to make enquiries.

Later in the week came the interesting news, by way of a letter received
by the cook from one of the Berkeley Square maids, that the lawyers had
given Mrs. Rawson notice and that she would be leaving any day now.

'And so I shall have to be very careful,' nodded Huntley to himself,
'for it may be it'll be to that bungalow she'll be going. She'll be
thinking no one knows anything about it, and it's just likely she'll be
going off with a lot of things which don't belong to her and hiding them
there.' He nodded. 'Well, if she's not in the bungalow I'll get inside
and see.'

On the following Sunday he was free for the whole day, and setting off
early upon his motor-bicycle, proceeded to cut across country in the
direction of the Essex coast. He crossed the London-Ipswich road at
Witham, and passing through Maldon and Latchingdon, soon found himself
within a few miles of Bradwell. But he was not minded to go anywhere
near the village, and turned off on to a marsh road, which he saw led to
the coast, when he was about three miles from it. Then, deep in the
Tillingham marshes, he got off his motor-bicycle and considered his
position.

He had brought with him a small pair of Sir Roger's racing glasses and
could pick out most clearly the last bungalow, which he knew to be the
one he was wanting, about a mile and a half away. The blinds were down
and there was no sign of life about the place.

Still, if he were going to effect an entrance, he did not want anyone to
hear him ride up on a noisy motor-bicycle and, perhaps, become
interested in what he was doing. So he decided to hide his machine in a
nearby ditch, which was happily quite dry, and proceed the rest of the
way on foot. It was almost any odds, he thought, against anyone coming
near the lonely and desolate stretch of marshland where he now was.

Half an hour later he was outside the bungalow and prospecting
cautiously around. There was no one about and the next bungalow was
nearly a quarter of a mile away.

'God, what a place to have brought poor little Elsie to!' he choked. He
ground his teeth viciously. 'But, by Cripes, I'll pay the old devil out,
somehow!'

Keeping his driving gloves on, so that by no chance should he leave any
finger-marks behind, he produced a stout pocket-knife and had soon
forced the catch of one of the windows and was standing inside the
bungalow. Pulling up the blind, because the light was dim to his eyes
just fresh from the sunlight, he found he was in quite a good-sized
room, very comfortably furnished, with heavy curtains and a thick carpet
covering the floor. It contained a large double bed covered with a blue
satin eiderdown. All the furnishings were new or almost new. He guessed
it was Sir Roger's own room as there was a box of his particular cigars
and a silver ash-tray upon the mantel-shelf. Also in one corner was a
small .22 rifle and in another a twelve-bore double-barrelled gun.
Picking them up, each in turn, he frowned in disgust at his late
master's carelessness in leaving them both loaded.

He tiptoed round the other rooms, a smaller bedroom, a dining-room and a
kitchen. Everything was nicely appointed and it was evident no money had
been spared. He began opening the several cupboards and whistled at
once. They were packed full of stuff which had, obviously, been brought
from Berkeley Square and which had, certainly, never been intended to be
used in that little bungalow. Finest linen sheets, blankets,
pillow-cases, and quite a number of tablecloths. In a box he found
cutlery, a quantity of silver forks and spoons and pairs of silver
candlesticks and two valuable old silver snuff-boxes.

'Gee, she's stolen every damned thing!' he exclaimed. 'She is reckoning,
and quite rightly too, that poor little mistress won't know half of the
things that should be up in Berkeley Square! Gee, what a thief!'

But his discoveries in that cupboard were not all, for every cupboard in
the place contained what looked like more stolen things, even including
tinned provisions and two ten-pound packets of tea.

Seating himself down in the dining-room, which faced to sea, he was
considering what he should do next, when, to his horror, he heard voices
outside. There was the sound of wheels rattling over stones and then a
man called out, "Whoa!"

Paralysed in his fright, for quite half a minute, he sat on where he
was, but then, awaking to his danger, he darted to the window and peered
round the corner of the blind.

Hell, there was the housekeeper herself, coming up the short garden
path, with her arms full of bundles, while behind her barely a dozen
yards away, was a man lugging a big box off a cart! A large black dog
was smelling about just under the dining-room window.

Huntley thought like lightning. He must get back into the bedroom, but
he dared not get out of the window as the dog would have him for
certain, and come after him at once. No, he must hide in the bedroom and
wait until the man and the dog had gone! Oh, what a fool he'd been not
to keep a better look-out. Of course, the housekeeper had come down by
the early morning train, and been driven from the station in that cart.

He turned into the bedroom just as he heard the key grate in the front
door, and jumped behind the thick curtain. Then, as he was pulling the
curtain straight, his hand knocked against the small rifle which was
standing in the corner and he had to clutch sharply at it to prevent it
from falling on to the floor. Still gripping it, with no time to put it
back in the corner, he drew his arm in behind the curtain. Then he
cursed deeply, as he remembered that although he had pulled down the
window after he had climbed in, the blind was still up. He heard the man
with the cart talking to Mrs. Rawson.

"Well, that's that, marm," said the man, panting hard, and there came a
sound as of some heavy object being plumped down on to the floor. "I'll
bring up the other two boxes on Toosday and you pay me then. But don't
expect me much before five because I've a big round that day."

"That'll be all right, then," said the housekeeper, "but oh! keep that
dog out! Don't let him come into the house. Get out, you brute!" and
there were stampings of feet, as if she were trying to frighten the
animal away.

"It's all right marm," cried the man huffily, "and don't you try to
strike him, or he'll fly at you. He smelt something. That was all. He
smelt a rat, perhaps."

"A rat!" exclaimed the housekeeper in horrified tones. "Do you think one
can have got in here?"

"Shouldn't wonder, marm," said the man. "There are some big 'uns about
here." Perhaps he spoke maliciously because she had threatened his dog.
"And they're very savage sometimes."

"Oh, what shall I do, if there is one?" asked the housekeeper in most
concerned tones. "I'm terrified of rats."

"Do with him, marm?" laughed the man. "Why shoot him, of course. I see
there's cartridges on the mantel-shelf over there and so you've got a
gun. You can kill him easy with that. Good morning, marm. See you the
day after to-morrow," and he banged the door behind him as he went out.

Huntley cursed under his breath. 'My God, if she takes hold of that gun
and comes looking round!' he murmured, 'I'll be as good as dead, or with
a big hole in my stomach.'

A long silence followed and then Huntley felt rather than heard the
woman moving about the bungalow. He thought afterwards she must have
taken off her boots because, being new ones, they were hurting her. At
any rate, he sensed a sort of stirring in the passage. Then he heard a
rustle and the rustle seemed to be coming nearer and nearer. A silence
followed and then something moved by the wall of the room in which he
was and he heard, or imagined he heard, a click.

Another silence followed, and not being able to tell what was happening,
the suspense began to unnerve him and his knees trembled so much that it
was only with an effort he was able to keep himself upright. Things
became so unbearable at last, that he made to pull gently upon the
curtain so that he could look round it into the room. With all his care,
however, he must have pulled too hard for, to his unutterable horror,
down came the curtain-rod, curtain and all, and he stood in full view of
the housekeeper, who was standing on the other side of the room with the
double-barrelled shot-gun in her hands.

Her face was as white as a ghost and her eyes were filled with terror.

For perhaps five seconds they stood staring at each other and then it
was the woman who recovered first.

With a startled cry, she lifted up the gun and pointing it straight at
him, pulled hard upon the trigger. But nothing happened, for she had
only pulled up the trigger to half cock.

"Don't shoot, you idiot," shouted Huntley, but seeing she was
deliberately pulling up the trigger again, he flung up the little rifle
which he had all the time been holding in his hands, and pulling up the
trigger, fired straight at her body.

She clutched at one side of her breast, gave a short moan and fell
crashing on to the floor. She had been hit just over the heart.

Huntley panted as if he had been running a long distance and swallowed
hard. He stared wonderingly at the body as if he did not know what he
had done. But the realisation of everything came to him in a flash and
dropping the rifle like a red-hot coal, he darted over to the woman and
tried to lift her up. But her body sagged in his arms and, with a
dreadful shudder, he let it sink back on to the floor. He saw blood was
soaking down all over her cotton dress.

He looked round like a hunted animal. The sun was shining through the
window and a long vista of the marshland stretched before his eyes.
There was not a soul in sight. He craned his head to listen but all he
heard was the faint lapping of the waves outside.

He tiptoed like lightning, in turn, to all the other windows of the
bungalow and peered round the corners of the blinds. There was no one
near, but in the distance he saw a party of two men and two girls coming
along the sands.

He must be quick; he must get away at once; he must leave no traces of
anything behind. Thank goodness he had not taken off his gloves and so
there would be no finger-marks to worry about! He would lock the front
door, and leave by the way he had come, by the window. 'Then,' he smiled
a sickly smile, 'let the police puzzle out for themselves, who the
killer was, and how he had got in.'

Keeping his eyes averted from the dead body, he went back into the
bedroom and, mounting upon a chair, put back the curtain-rod and
adjusted the curtain. Then, having locked the front door, he was just
about to leave the bungalow when he heard voices again, very close this
time.

He peeped round the blind in the front room and saw it was the little
party of four he had noticed in the distance, a few minutes ago. They
had a large picnic basket and some rugs with them, and also two
deck-chairs. They had brought themselves to a standstill in front of the
house. He could hear plainly what they were saying.

"Oh, this is far enough," called out one of the men. "I vote we stop
here. No one will come as far as this." He looked at his watch. "It'll
be high tide about eleven and it is ten minutes to, now."

"Yes, this'll do for us," said one of the girls. She pointed to the
little stretch of grass belonging to the bungalow. "And we'll camp on
that bit of grass. Then we won't get so much sand in the food. There's
no one in the bungalow, as the blinds are all drawn."

Huntley was horror-struck. He was caught like a rat in a trap. He could
not leave the bungalow by the back, as directly he got a few yards from
it he would be seen. It was open and flat country all round.

With a dry mouth and a fearfully beating heart, he watched the little
party settle down, and it was quickly apparent to him they were going to
be there for the day. They spread out the rugs, placed out their
picnicking things and even lit a fire with chips of wood they had
gathered, right in the middle of the garden-path.

"And we needn't even have bothered to bring water all this way," said
one of the girls producing a small ready-filled kettle from the basket.
"There'll be plenty of good water in that tank there," and she pointed
to the one at the side of the bungalow.

Huntley smiled a wan and ghastly smile. Here was this light-hearted
picnic party within a few yards of the bloody corpse of a woman who had
just been killed. And they would be eating and drinking and making merry
within a few feet of the killer, who by the Tuesday night, if not
sooner, would be looked for, high and low, by every policeman round the
countryside. He shuddered at the prospect--his thoughts were conjuring
up. Oh, if he could only get away. He would be caught red-handed, if by
any chance anyone came to the bungalow.

In a few minutes, however, he began to calm down. No one would be coming
to the bungalow. There was no reason for them to come and the
housekeeper was the only one who possessed a key. He settled himself
down to wait with what patience he could.

Then, closing his eyes, he tried to work out everything which might
happen when it became known the woman had been murdered, and he did not
try to hide from himself that things would look very black for him. Of
course, he would be suspected at once. Inspector Larose knew what hatred
he must have for the housekeeper and naturally, would have told his
brother inspector the part the woman had taken in Elsie's pitiable
story. Then, looking for a motive for the killing of the housekeeper,
their thoughts would turn instantly to him.

God, and they would learn he had been away all the Sunday on his
motor-bicycle, and wherever he made out he had gone to for the day, he
would not be able to furnish a single witness to prove it.

His breathing almost choked him. He must baffle them in some way, and
the great point in his favour was that he had plenty of time to think
out how he could do it. Ah, and to begin with, he must supply another
motive for the crime. He must make out the woman had been shot by
someone who had broken in to steal. His thoughts ran on. But how would
the police know there had been anything in the place worth stealing? If
he took away the silver spoons and forks and the candlesticks and the
snuff-box, they might never learn they had ever been there. What, in the
ordinary way, would there have been in a little bungalow like this to
tempt anyone to break in and rob? Why, nothing! He shook his head
vehemently. No, to deceive the police properly, he must be as crafty as
a fox.

Then he smiled cunningly as an idea came to him. He would gather
together everything which was worth taking in the bungalow and so give
the police the impression that he had been packing them up to carry
away, and been interrupted.

So he set about carrying this out most methodically. Opening a suit-case
he found in the smaller bedroom, he tipped all its contents on to the
floor there and bringing it into the kitchen, laid it upon the table.
Then wantonly tearing up a good sheet from one of the cupboards, he
carefully wrapped up every piece of silver and packed it into the
suit-case. In the housekeeper's handbag, he found twenty-seven pounds in
treasury-notes, and these he dropped all close together upon one place
on the kitchen floor, to suggest that he had been so agitated in his
flight that he had not noticed them fall.

All these preparations took him until about half-past one and by then,
being much easier in his mind, he began to feel hungry. The housekeeper
had brought with her a fair-sized string bag, and examining its
contents, he found in it, among other things, a small brown-paper bag
with 'Liverpool Street Station' on it. Opening it, he saw a whole
meat-pie and one partly consumed. After a long consideration, he ate the
whole pie over the kitchen sink, being most careful that any crumbs he
made should fall back into the brown-paper bag. Then, after a drink of
water, which he took by putting his mouth close to the tap, he resigned
himself to continue his long wait, his only escape from its monotony
being his watch upon the picnic party outside.

They had had a bathe, their meal, more cups of tea and now were resting
and dozing upon the little stretch of grass. He could hear everything
they said and had soon even got to know their Christian names. He
gathered they had come down by char-a-banc from Forest Gate and would be
leaving for the return journey at six.

So, the long afternoon wore on and at last, with great relief, he saw
them pack up and leave. By then, however, he had come to the conclusion
that, having waited so long, it would be wiser now to wait until it got
dark. He was devoutly hoping no one had come across his motor-bicycle.

Darkness having at last fallen, he left by means of the kitchen window,
leaving it open to support the idea how quickly he had had to get away.
To his great relief, he found his motor-bicycle exactly as he had left
it, and very soon he was upon his way home.

He rode his motor-bicycle very carefully, but as quickly as he could, as
far as possible avoiding all main roads. Luckily, he knew the country
well and so managed his journey that he never went through a lighted
town. He was confident that, up to the very gates of Hake Court, he had
slunk unobtrusively and almost unseen across the whole country of Essex.

Arriving at the gates of the Court grounds, they were opened for him by
one of the other gardeners who lived in the village.

"Hepburn's in hospital," announced the man. "He wasn't feeling well this
morning and Mistress came down to see him. Then she insisted upon his
going straight off at once. She drove him in her car to make certain he
went."

Huntley was not interested over much. Hepburn was an ageing, taciturn
old bachelor, and not liked by the other servants, of whom he took no
notice. Indeed, he took no notice of anyone except Lady Hake for whom he
had of late developed a most dog-like devotion.

Letting himself into the house through the back door, Huntley changed
out of his cycling overalls and went down into the kitchen to get
himself some supper, hoping as it was so late that all the girls would
have gone off to bed and he would escape being asked where he had been.
Anticipating the questioning of the police, which he was certain would
come later, he was prepared, however, to give out at once that he had
been down to Southampton. That would have been a journey long enough to
have made it practically impossible for him to have been anywhere near
Bradwell as well, upon the same day.

No one was in the kitchen and he did not meet any of the other servants
until the next morning at breakfast. Then, going in for the meal, he was
surprised to see mackerel upon the table.

"Yes," smiled the cook, noticing his surprise, "Mr. Chater called in
last night with a string of them for the mistress. He and Doctor
King-Harley motored down to Hastings yesterday and got some, fresh off
the fishing-boats, just as they had come in."

"Oh!" exclaimed Huntley, an idea suddenly flashing into his mind. "I saw
them there. I went for a ride yesterday along the South Coast as far as
Worthing," and he smiled to himself at the boldness of the idea which
had come to him.

That afternoon he asked Lady Hake if she would spare him the day off on
the morrow, as he wanted to go up to town to buy an engagement ring for
Elsie Bane, and he was told he could be spared.

Accordingly, soon after ten the next morning, he presented himself at
the chambers of Byles Chater in Temple Court and asked to see the King's
Counsel.

"But you haven't an appointment," frowned the clerk to whom he had
addressed himself, "and Mr. Chater is very busy. What's your business?"

"Private," said Huntley, "but you give him my name and tell him I come
from Hake Court and it's most important I should see him."

The clerk took himself off, as if rather reluctantly, but returned
immediately and beckoned to the butler to follow him.

Byles Chater looked curiously at Huntley when he was shown in. "Well,
what is it you want?" he asked. "Do you come from Lady Hake?"

"No, sir, I'm here about myself," replied Huntley. Then making sure the
door was shut behind him, he blurted out quickly and very nervously,
"The truth is, sir, I've got myself into very grave trouble and I expect
I may even be arrested to-night." He could hardly get his words out. "I
want you to help me, sir."

"But what on earth have you done?" frowned Byles Chater.

"I've--I've killed a woman, sir," stammered Huntley ruefully. "The body
hasn't been found yet, but I expect it will be this afternoon, and then
it won't be long before the police come to me."

"Good God," exclaimed the K.C. with his eyes as wide as saucers, "what
the devil did you do it for?"

"I had to do it to save myself, sir, and----"

"But who was the woman?" snapped the other sharply.

Huntley almost choked. "Mrs. Rawson, sir, my late master's housekeeper
in Berkeley Square. She was a very evil woman."

"Good God!" exclaimed the K.C. again. He lowered his voice. "Tell me all
the story."

So Huntley began by relating his surprise at learning from Inspector
Stone that Sir Roger had a bungalow at Bradwell. Then he said how he had
seen the housekeeper going off on the Southminster train, when she had
given out she was going to Norwich. He had heard of the boxes she was
sending away and so was suspecting that now Sir Roger was dead, she was
stealing things from the house in Berkeley Square. So he had gone down
to the bungalow on the Sunday which had just passed. Then he told
everything which had happened there, how he had found the stolen things,
how she had arrived unexpectedly, how he had hidden behind the curtains
and how she must have seen his feet sticking out from underneath when
she had come into the bedroom. Then he told of the curtain falling down
and how she had tried to shoot him and he had had to fire at her to save
himself.

Then he related how he had had to remain in the bungalow until night and
what he had done to cover his tracks.

Byles Chater listened to him with close attention, never taking his eyes
from his face. Then when Huntley had finished, he asked frowningly, "And
you say you've left no clues behind you? Then why will the police
suspect you?"

"Because they know, sir," said Huntley very solemnly, "that I had every
reason to want to harm Mrs. Rawson. She had taken my young lady down to
that bungalow and drugged her so that Sir Roger could carry out his vile
purpose. I only learnt of it after he was dead," and then he related the
whole story of the disappearance of Elsie Bane: how no one had known for
months and months to where she had gone, but how through Larose her
whereabouts had been discovered, and he, Huntley, and the girl had met
again.

"And the dreadful part is, sir," he finished up with, "it cannot be
hidden from the police that I was away all Sunday on my motor-cycle and
so, unless I can prove I was miles and miles away from Bradwell, they
will be sure it was me."

Byles Chater nodded. "Of course they will!" He spoke decisively. "Well,
my advice to you, my friend, is to go and give yourself up. Give
yourself up at once, to-day, this morning, before they find the body.
Make a clean breast of everything and I'll do the best I can for you. At
any rate, I can promise you you won't hang."

Huntley spoke hesitatingly. "But, sir, thinking that I've taken my
revenge upon the woman because of what she did to my sweetheart,
wouldn't the police make out that I had had revenge upon Sir Roger too,
because of what he'd have done to her?"

The K.C. nodded. "No doubt!" He shrugged his shoulders. "But you're
lucky there. They can't prove anything. You'll be quite safe."

Huntley hesitated. "But if I could prove, sir, that I was somewhere else
on Sunday, I should be all right." He gave a little cough. "I told them
in the kitchen this morning that I was in Hastings then, and had seen
you and Doctor King-Harley." He nodded. "Of course, I'd heard you had
brought those mackerel from there."

Byles Chater glared at him in amazement. "You're a big liar, aren't
you?"

Huntley sighed. "But not a bad one, sir. I don't tell lies which hurt
anyone, and I thought----" he hesitated again--"I thought that perhaps
you would very kindly say you had seen me at Hastings when you were
there on the Sunday morning and then that would save me."

It hardly seemed that Byles Chater could believe his ears. He bent
forward with his face all puckered in an amazed frown. He was evidently
too astounded to be angry. "And what do you suggest offering me in
return," he asked with biting sarcasm, "for this little accommodation of
perjury upon my part."

"Well, sir," replied Huntley very solemnly, "I've helped you by holding
my tongue, and I thought you might perhaps now help me in return." He
spoke quite firmly. "I have kept silent when a word from me would have
been most unpleasant for all you gentlemen, more unpleasant than I dare
to think."

It was now the great King's Counsel who could hardly get out his words.
"W-hat, what do you mean?" he asked.

Huntley lowered his voice to an intense whisper. "I was in the study
that night, sir, when Sir Roger was shot. I was hiding behind the
curtain and saw everything." He spoke fiercely and quickly. "I watched
the struggle between Master and Mr. Harland. He had called Master a foul
brute and Master had shaken him and spat in his face and called her
ladyship a female dog. Then Mr. Harland snatched up the pistol and
killed him. Then he threw open the library door and called out that he
shot him and was going to ring up the police. You all came running in
and you said it served Master right and they were all glad Mr. Harland
had done it. Then you said--yes, sir, it was you--'let's give him an
alibi, let's all swear he never left the room.' And the doctor and Mr.
Norton agreed at once, but the others were not willing at first and you
all went back into the library to talk things over."

Huntley seemed to have exhausted himself by his long speech and finished
hardly audibly, "Then I ran out of the study, sir, and didn't come near
it again until you rang for me."

Byles Chafer's face had gone an ashen grey, but it was drawn in cold
proud lines and there was no sign of fear or weakness in the lips
pressed so tightly together. His eyes glared menacingly at Huntley, "And
you think," he asked contemptuously, "that anyone will believe this
story if you tell them?"

Huntley nodded gravely. "Inspector Larose has the proof of it, sir," he
said, "but he does not realise it yet. He does not understand what it
means." He spoke most respectfully. "You gentlemen made one great
mistake, sir. You left that candle burning all the time you were
deciding what to do, and Inspector Larose has noticed it. He lighted the
other candle to see how long it would take to make them both level. The
other afternoon he shut himself up in the study for longer than an hour
and I don't know what he isn't up to. I am afraid of him, sir. He is a
very great detective and we must all be afraid of him, for he is most
dangerous."

In spite of his self-control, the K.C. frowned heavily and uneasily.
"And what do you intend to do," he asked sharply, "if I refuse to
perjure myself in the face of your threat?"

"Oh, it is no threat, sir," replied Huntley hastily. "If you don't see
your way to help me, I shall still say nothing." He shook his head
vehemently. "But I shan't give myself up. I shall take a fighting chance
and make out I was on the South Coast."

For a long minute, Byles Chater considered, stroking his chin
thoughtfully and with his eyes staring into vacancy. Then, with a deep
sigh of resignation, he jerked up the receiver and asked for a number.
"Is Doctor King-Harley in? Then put me on to him please. Mr. Byles
Chater speaking.--Is that you, Doctor? It's Chater here. I must speak to
you at once. It's about Hake Court and the matter is very urgent. Right.
I'll come round at once."

He hung up the receiver and rose quickly to his feet. "Come on," he said
to Huntley, "we'll go and speak to Doctor King-Harley."

A taxi was summoned and Huntley was bundled in. Not a word was spoken
during the journey or until they had been shown into the doctor's
waiting-room. Then the K.C. said, "I shall speak to him, first. You'll
wait in here."

Only about two minutes elapsed before Byles Chater was taken in to the
doctor and the consulting-room door closed behind him. He spoke
casually. "Things not too good, brother," he said. "We had an audience
that we were not aware of that night in Hake's study. His butler was
behind the curtain there and saw and heard everything. Now he's in
trouble himself--" he laughed mirthlessly--"with another killing, and he
wants help from you and me."

The doctor's face was very grave and he made no attempt to hide his
consternation. It became graver still as Byles Chater proceeded with the
butler's story. When it was finished, he looked very white and drawn.

"What a mess!" he exclaimed. "What a damnable mess we're in." He drew in
a deep breath. "It was mad of us to start the business in the very
beginning."

"It was," nodded the K.C. solemnly, "and we're in it up to the neck
now." He regarded the doctor intently. "The point is, are we two to
involve ourselves still more in the hope of playing for safety?"

"If we're found out," said the doctor thoughtfully, "if it becomes known
how we perjured ourselves to save young Harland, it means ruin to all
our careers. It means penal servitude for all of us."

"Quite so," agreed Chater at once, "we shall probably get three years,
although under all the circumstances the jury will certainly recommend
us to mercy."

The doctor frowned. "But you say this man is not unfriendly; he's not
going to round on us in any case."

"N-o," the K.C. admitted slowly, "but he's shrewd enough to realise he
may be charged with a double murder and then--to clear himself from the
charge of having killed that beast, Sir Roger--it is just possible he
may not be able to resist telling about us." He spoke judicially.
"Really, it would be foolish of him not to do so, as he is under no
obligation to any of us."

"And you think," asked the doctor quickly, "that if we put him under
such an obligation, he will say nothing, out of gratitude?"

"There will be no need for him to say anything then," nodded Byles
Chater emphatically. "If we give him this alibi he asks for he will be
out of the danger zone at once. Cleared of the suspicion of having taken
his revenge on the woman at Bradwell, there will be no suspicion of his
having taken revenge on Hake." He raised his hand to stress his point.
"You see, as I look at it as far as Huntley is concerned, the two
killings are indissolubly linked together. Both of those who have come
to these dreadful ends had jointly inflicted a terrible wrong upon him
through that Elsie Bane, so what will be more natural, if it can be
proved he killed one, than to suspect him of having killed the other?
The probability then becomes cumulative. But if the idea that he killed
one of them is scotched on the head at once--then the idea that he
killed the other will never enter into anyone's mind?"

"But didn't he tell us," queried the doctor, "that the detectives were
not inclined to believe him when he said he had not come near us because
he had been hunting for matches all the time the lights had been out.
Isn't he suspected already?"

"No, he's not," snapped Byles Chater, "Old Charlie Stone sort of hinted
to me that they believe he'd been upstairs courting one of the maids."
He spoke testily. "But what do you agree to do about him now? I'm for
halving our risks and swearing we saw him at Hastings on Sunday."

"I'll have him," snapped back the doctor, and he put his finger upon the
bell. "If he seems reliable I suppose we'll have to do it, but if he's a
weakling I'll not go any further."

Huntley came in and bowed most respectfully to Dr. King-Harley who took
him in hand at once, coming straight to the point.

"Now then," he said savagely, "this is blackmail!"

"Oh, no sir!" exclaimed Huntley in horrified tones. "I wouldn't think of
such a thing."

"But if we don't do as you want us to," scowled the doctor, "you'll give
us away to the police."

"No, I shan't, sir," said Huntley firmly. "I will never do that. I'm too
fond of my poor mistress. I want her to marry Mr. Harland and get some
happiness for the awful life she's been having."

"She mayn't want to marry him," snapped the doctor.

"Oh, but she does, sir. They've been sweethearts for quite a little
while."

"What!" cried the doctor. "How do you know that?"

"They've been meeting in the summer-house, sir, very late at night. They
don't know it, but I've sort of been keeping watch for them so that
Master shouldn't find out."

"Gad!" exclaimed Byles Chater using his favourite expression. "You're
not lying to us now?"

Huntley shook his head. "No, sir, and I only tell you because at a time
like this I think it is best we should all know everything. It will help
us to beat those inspectors." He nodded. "Mr. Harland and Mistress had a
narrow escape only a few nights before the card-party. They thought Sir
Roger had gone to bed and Mr. Harland was petting her in the hall. I
heard Master coming and pretended to come out of the passage and fall
over a chair. I made a lot of noise and Mistress escaped up the
back-stairs. Mr. Harland made out he was half asleep in an armchair, but
I think Master was a little bit suspicious, because he smelt the scent
Mistress uses." He nodded again. "That's why I believe he called her a
dreadful word in the study, which made Mr. Harland shoot him at once."

"Well, I'm damned!" exclaimed the doctor. "What'll we hear next?"

"But we can't blame her, sir," said Huntley. "Master led her an awful
life. He used to come home and boast to her about the women he'd been
making love to."

"How do you know?" asked Byles Chater.

Huntley hesitated. "Well, sir, sometimes Master talked very loudly
and--I listened."

"Does she know Mr. Harland shot her husband?" asked the doctor.

"No, sir, he's told her he didn't," replied Huntley. He looked a little
embarrassed. "I happened to have been listening then, too." He smiled,
"She thinks Mr. Reeder killed him because he'd shot that beautiful
racehorse, Molly's Darling. She's sure of it."

The K.C. looked at the doctor and the latter nodded. Byles Chater turned
to the butler. "Well, if we're going to help you, tell us exactly what
you want us to say."

"That you saw me in Hastings, sir," replied Huntley, "somewhere about
middle of the day." He coughed. "Mrs. Rawson passed away about twenty
minutes to eleven, so that would be the best time to say."

"Can you be sure that was the exact time?" asked Byles Chater sternly.
"Remember we must make no mistake now."

"Oh, there's no mistake, sir. I've looked up the train and it arrived at
Southminster at a few minutes to ten, and the carrier man had to bring
her on for between four and five miles. So what time did you gentlemen
get to Hastings?"

"Soon after twelve. We parked our car in West Street and went into the
Victoria Hotel for lunch at half-past."

"That will suit me, sir," smiled Huntley. "Now, I know Hastings well. I
spent a holiday there last year and I was there for the day last August
Bank Holiday. So when you walked along the sea-front, coming from West
Street, you saw me standing with my machine against the rails, right in
front of the hotel watching the people bathing. It should have been
about high water, sir."

"It was," grunted the K.C. "Near enough, at any rate."

"And it was bright sunshine," went on Huntley, "and as you passed me you
nodded and said, 'Good-day to you, Huntley, out on the spree, are you?'
and I laughed and said, 'Oh, no, sir. I am too old for that.'"

"And that's all I said," frowned Byles Chater, half amused and half
annoyed at the confident way the man was arranging things. "Don't make
out I said too much or I shall forget it."

"Not for a moment, sir," said Huntley. He thought for a few seconds.
"Then you went straight across the road into the hotel. Oh, and my
motor-bicycle looked very bright and all nickel-plated. You just noticed
it had a large tank."

"And what did I do?" asked Dr. King-Harley, sarcastically. "Didn't I say
anything?"

"No, sir," smiled Huntley, "you just nodded to me. You were carrying a
newspaper in your hand. You both were wearing light suits? Yes, and soft
hats? Oh, I had got the usual motor-cycle suit and an air-man's cap, and
I hadn't any goggles on when you saw me."

"But what is there to have prevented you being in Hastings in the
morning?" asked Byles Chater, "and killing that woman in the afternoon
or evening?"

"I've thought of that, sir," said Huntley, "and was going to ask you
what time you left Hastings in the afternoon."

"About half-past four and we came back by way of Eastbourne. I suppose
we left there at six."

"And you passed me then in Terminus Road. I was going very slowly and
coming in the opposite direction, just before you turn off to go to
Devonshire Park. Apparently I didn't see you. I came back by the same
way I went. You said to Doctor King-Harley, 'Here's that gay knut again.
Where's he off to now?'"

The doctor's grim face broke into a smile. "I think we can rely on him
all right, Chater. He seems to have all his wits about him." He turned
to Huntley and his face clouded a little.

"Now, you're not likely to give yourself away in fright when the police
first come to you?"

"Oh no, sir, you can trust me," replied Huntley. He smiled. "I appeared
quite all right, sir, didn't I, when I came in that night when one of
you gentlemen rang the bell. You wouldn't have guessed I knew the master
was lying dead?"

"No, by Jove, no!" exclaimed the doctor fervently. "I'd have staked my
life you weren't acting then." A thought struck him. "But here, how did
you come to be behind the curtain that night?"

"Master had some headache tablets in his desk and I'd gone to get one,
sir. Then I'd unfortunately spilled them all out of the bottle just
before the lights went out and I was waiting to see to be able to pick
them up again. I daren't let Master know I'd been to his desk, so I went
behind that curtain the instant I saw him coming in with the lighted
match."

"One thing more," asked the doctor uneasily. "Now are you positive you
left no finger-marks behind in that bungalow."

"Quite positive, sir. I never took my gloves off once during the whole
day, from the moment I left the Court until I got back there at night.
It was a great trial to me, as the day was very hot."

"And another thing," frowned Byles Chater. "If they arrest you, insist
that you have a lawyer at once. But don't go to my brother's firm. Ask
for Mr. Cole Nathan of Fleet Court. You couldn't have a better man, but
don't tell a soul, least of all, him, that I recommended you."

"Very good, sir," bowed Huntley, and he was dismissed with the stern
injunction to be on the look out continually and to hold himself ready
at any moment for the shock of the arrival of the detectives.

When he had gone, the two friends looked intently at each other. "Are we
gentlemen, do you think, King-Harley," asked Byles Chater, "to be
deliberately perjuring ourselves to save two murderers?"

The doctor made a wry face. "If we are," he replied, "we are now
certainly madmen as well." He shook his head vexatiously. "Just imagine
two men high up in honourable professions like ours, acting like this!
It is incredible! It is fantastic beyond belief!"

"It was all my fault for suggesting it," commented Byles Chater
gloomily, "but I was maddened, as we all were, with the way that devil
had treated poor little Mary Hellister--thank God I don't think of her
as Lady Hake now--at dinner. We did it in the heat of the moment," he
nodded, "and I'm damned sure we've all been regretting it ever since."

"Never mind!" nodded the doctor. He smiled his dry smile. "Remember
all's well that ends well."

"But, by God, it's not ended yet," snapped Byles Chater. He drew in a
deep breath. "Shan't I be glad when that adjourned inquest's over!
That's the snag we've got to get over."




Chapter VIII.--THE THREADS OF FATE.


In the meantime, upon the morning when the butler of Hake Court went up
to see Mr. Byles Chater, a letter arrived at Scotland Yard for Larose.
It was marked 'Private,' postmarked Newmarket and dated the previous
day. It was signed Emma Reeder and read:



DEAR SIR,

I am Mrs. Martin Reeder and write to you in the strictest confidence.
Please on no account let my husband learn I have written to you, but I
feel I must do so for he is so very worried, and the worry is making him
really ill. He cannot sleep, and he eats hardly anything. The night
after you came here, the other day, he had no sleep at all and twice,
the next morning, he sat down to write to you. But he tore the letters
up each time. I know it was to you he was writing because I happened to
see one of the envelopes which he had addressed, first. Of course, it is
that dreadful murder which is worrying him. He has something on his mind
and I am sure he will not be well again until he has told it. He did not
shoot Sir Roger Hake, but he knows who did. I have implored him to tell
you, but he is obstinate and says he will not. Still, I believe if you
come down again--find some pretence for seeing him--he will tell you
everything. He has said to me he has done nothing very wrong, except
that he has been very foolish. He is always too good-natured and so, of
course, has now been led away by others.

Yours truly,

EMMA REEDER.

P.S.--Please come soon.



Larose laid the letter upon the table and for a long while stared
thoughtfully out of the window He did not seem particularly elated. 'So,
as I thought,' he muttered, 'this man knows something and, to save that
poor girl, I may perhaps be able to make him speak. Yes, that is the
card to play. I must make out suspicion against her as stronger than
ever. I could see he was anxious about her last week. I'll go down at
once.'

Arriving in Newmarket and turning into the avenue where the trainer
lived, he got something of a shock when he saw that the blinds of the
Reeder home were drawn down. However, he walked up the front path and
gently pushed the bell. A very solemn-faced maid answered his ring.

"Can I see Mr. Reeder, please?" he asked.

She shook her head. "He's dead, sir," she replied in a whisper. "He met
with a dreadful accident yesterday evening." She pointed out through the
open door to a man near a garage about fifty yards away and added
chokingly, "He'll tell you all about it, sir. He's his chauffeur," and
she closed the door quickly to escape further questioning.

Larose was aghast. Notwithstanding the drawn blinds, the shock was
unexpected and he felt an unpleasant feeling in the pit of his stomach.
For the moment he was inclined to return to his car straightaway, but
thinking better of it he walked across to the man the girl had
indicated.

"Good morning," he said. "This is very dreadful news I've just heard.
Will you very kindly tell me what happened?"

"Yes, sir," replied the chauffeur. "Mr. Reeder was kicked on the head by
the brood-mare, Molly Bawn. It happened yesterday evening."

The name struck some chord of memory in Larose's mind. "Molly Bawn!" he
ejaculated.

"Yes, sir, the dam of Molly's Darling," nodded the man. "She belonged to
Sir Roger Hake who was murdered by someone last week." He smiled a wan
smile. "It's strange that both the owner and the trainer should have met
with dreadful deaths within a few days of each other."

"Shocking!" exclaimed Larose. "How did it happen?"

"She was stung by a wasp, sir, and she kicked out and caught Mr. Reeder
right on the temple. His forehead was crushed in and he was killed
instantly."

"It's terribly sad," said Larose.

"Yes, sir, and sadder still because the mare was a great favourite of
his. She's as docile and gentle as a lamb, too."

Larose heard footsteps behind him, upon the gravelled drive, and turned
to see the maid who had opened the door coming towards him. "Are you Mr.
Larose?" she asked. "Then Mrs. Reeder says she will speak to you."

Larose hesitated. "Oh, but I don't like to worry her!" he exclaimed.
"Are you sure she wants to see me."

"Yes, sir, quite certain. She's bearing up wonderfully."

Larose found Mrs. Reeder a kind-faced-looking woman of middle-age. Her
expression now was one of great grief, although she had herself well
under control. "It was not fair for me to have asked you to come down
all this way and not at least speak to you," she said. She shook her
head. "But I'm afraid I can't tell you anything." She spoke very
solemnly. "The secret died with him."

"You think he knew?" asked Larose.

"I'm sure he did," she nodded, "and why he was hesitating to speak was
simply that he wanted to shield whoever it was who killed Sir Roger
Hake."

"He didn't like Sir Roger?" suggested Larose, to draw her out.

She shook her head. "No one liked him, Mr. Larose," she shrugged her
shoulders, "except a few silly women. He was a bad man."

"And why do you think Mr. Reeder would have liked me to know who killed
Sir Roger?" asked Larose.

She spoke decisively. "It was a matter of justice, Mr. Larose. He said
you detectives are accusing someone who did not do it, and he wanted to
see that person cleared. At the same time he didn't want the real person
found out."

"And he told you that?"

"Not in so many words, but he let me know what was in his mind. My poor
husband was like that. He would often give you a half-confidence when no
confidence at all would have been better. It only made me worried, too."

"And what did he mean when he told you, as you wrote me, that he had
only been foolish?"

Mrs. Reeder hesitated. "I think it was he'd been induced, against his
better judgment, to help hush up who had shot Sir Roger. At any rate, he
told me it had taken them nearly half an hour to persuade him to make a
fool of himself."

"Taken them?" queried Larose.

"Yes I am certain there was more than one in it."

"And you can tell me nothing more?" asked Larose.

"Nothing," replied Mrs. Reeder, and then she added quickly: "Oh, except
that he said in his sleep the other night, 'Of course he's in love with
her.' I just caught the words."

'A sure thing!' nodded Larose, as he drove away. 'Young Harland killed
Sir Roger and the others entered into a conspiracy to shield him. But
there was some argument about it as they didn't all agree at first. That
was when the candle was left burning, and they didn't notice it was
burning until they went to turn out the electric light. They were
intending that the study should be in darkness when the butler went into
it after they had rung for him to ask him about his master.' He frowned
heavily. 'Now what the devil am I to do about it? However certain I may
be, I can't prove anything.'

He broke his journey at Cambridge to make some enquiries about Harland,
whom he knew had taken his degree there two years previously. He,
Larose, had a friend upon the professorial staff and he soon learnt all
there was to know about the secretary of the dead man.

Harland had had a good reputation as a quiet and very well-balanced
young fellow. Everybody had liked him. He had been a prominent member of
the Amateur Dramatic Society and upon several occasions had taken
leading parts with distinction.

'Exactly,' smiled Larose, when once again he was back in his car, 'an
actor, and a darned good one, too. He lied to me with all appearance of
perfect truth.' He frowned. 'But I don't put his lying against him. He
had to lie, not only for his own sake, but also to save the dainty
little widow from a terrible scandal. Of course, if it were to come out
that he had killed Hake, then everyone would say he had done it because
they had been lovers.' He nodded. 'Most probably they have been. Her
anxiety about him, the other day, certainly suggests it. And what would
have been more natural? Neglected and brutally treated, she would at
once have aroused his pity and then--his love, of course, would have
followed.' He sighed. 'I know I could easily have fallen in love with
her without there being any need for that pity to start me on.'

His thoughts ran on. 'But how the devil could he get all those
level-headed men to perjure themselves for him? Oh, but they are
gentlemen, they are men of the world, they are gamblers! Shilling
points, indeed! Why, they could easily have dropped fifty pounds during
the evening! Yes, they were the very type of men to take risks--and
revel in them!'

He shook his head. 'But I don't suppose for a moment Harland asked them
to shield him. His nature is much too proud for that. No, they
volunteered it. They were just all ripe to be delighted someone had put
paid to the Hake brute. They knew how he was treating his girl wife and
most likely he had been insulting to her that night at dinner. The maids
said he was in a bad temper at the meal. Then who was it suggested the
perjury? Perhaps it was that Norton who first suggested it. Or perhaps
it was the K.C. fellow, or perhaps the Harley Street quack. Yes, always
beware of doctors. They have a morality of their own, and are the finest
fellows in the world, most of them.'

He went on. 'Then there was that Navy chap, the nice-looking Commander.
Ah, he would sympathise with her little ladyship. Beauty in distress and
all that. But what about Paxton-Smith? A hard-bitten shrewd chap. Still,
very kind-hearted if his sympathies were roused and with the courage of
a lion when fighting for the under-dog. He's built that way and always
sponsoring lost causes. No, there's no doubt Reeder was the last one to
come into line and now--well, we can't get him for a witness.'

Arriving at the Yard, he found Inspector Stone in some excitement over
an anonymous letter which had just arrived. It was addressed to New
Scotland Yard, obviously in a woman's handwriting, and was written upon
a half-sheet of good-class note-paper. It read:



'The writer of this informs the authorities that the late Sir Roger Hake
had recently come to suspect his wife and his secretary of guilty
relations. So, it was probably one or the other of them who shot him.'



"Now," exclaimed Stone, triumphantly, "what do you think of that? Most
likely this was written by the woman you met at the bungalow. She was
fond of Hake and now wants his murderer avenged."

Larose nodded. "I shouldn't be surprised. This is the kind of letter she
would write. She was educated and a lady, and probably Hake's latest
catch."

"Well, we must find out the truth about these two," said Stone. "If
they've been making up to one another it's hardly probable the servants
won't know something about it." He screwed up his eyes. "The devil of it
is they won't want to tell. That butler there is all eyes and ears and
should know everything, but he won't give them away." He nodded. "Still,
we may be able to find out something in the village. They're always
chock full of scandal, those little places. I'll send Henderson down
to-morrow. He's at his best when he's trailing anything to do with a
skirt."

"The young widow's very well liked by everyone," remarked Larose
meditatively, "and they'll certainly shield her if they can."

"And she'll need a lot of shielding all round," nodded Stone
significantly, "because if she and young Harland were on anything more
than mildly friendly terms, then it's any odds upon her having shot her
husband. At any rate, we've got the motive then for either her or
Harland doing it, and with six men swearing Harland never left the room
then it can only be she."

"But that doctor's testimony," frowned Larose. "It will be hard to get
over. Don't forget he said she went into a dead faint directly she heard
of Sir Roger's death."

"I don't forget it," scowled Stone, "but I don't believe a word the
doctor says. Of course, he's on the girl's side, too. They all are," he
shrugged his shoulders, "just because of her dainty face and lovely
eyes." He shook his finger in Larose's face. "Why, I wouldn't trust you
ten minutes, my boy, if she started making up to you. I've always told
you you're too sentimental to be a policeman."

"But if we do find they've been sweet on one another," said Larose, "it
will be no actual proof that Lady Hake shot her husband. It gives no
evidence of guilt that we can produce in a Court of Law."

"No, it may not," snapped Stone, "but it will show us where she's got a
chink in her armour." He raised his hands emphatically. "Then we'll
break her down next week in the witness-box in the Coroner's Court." He
heaved a big sigh. "Yes, we'll have to turn that dainty little woman
inside out and show her up as soiled a little drab as any erring sister
in the lowest walk of life. It'll be very sad but it'll have to be
done."

"All right," said Larose, "but you wait first and see what you find out
to-morrow." He pointed to the letter upon the desk. "That may be just a
bit of spite."

Stone nodded. "Of course it may. At any rate we'll talk things over
again when Henderson gets back this afternoon."

But as it happened, by the following afternoon all their thoughts for
the time being had been switched off into quite a different direction.
The body of the dead woman had been discovered in the bungalow and it
had been identified as that of Mrs. Rawson, the housekeeper of the late
Sir Roger Hake.

Events there had followed very quickly, and, thanks to the enterprise of
a reporter attached to the Chelmsford local paper, the whole tragedy had
been avalanched into the limelight hours and hours before it would
otherwise have happened.

The carrier had arrived at the bungalow with two heavy boxes about four
o'clock on the Tuesday afternoon, a little earlier than he had expected,
and had been very surprised to find the blinds in the front of the house
were drawn and that he could get no answer to his knocking. He scouted
round the house and found the open window, with the blind flapping
noisily. He poked his head inside the window and called out loudly,
"Anyone at home? Are you there Mrs. Smith?"

But he got no answer and he said afterwards that he didn't like the look
of things. The place seemed so dark and gloomy and he would have sworn
there was a nasty smell. He didn't fancy going in himself, so instead,
he dropped his dog into the room and the animal disappeared out into the
passage beyond. A couple of minutes or so having passed, he called to
the dog but the animal would not come. So he got into the bungalow to
see why.

He went into the passage and looked into the room opposite. The light
was very dim, with the curtains drawn, but he could just make out his
dog sniffing hard at something on the floor. He could smell something,
too. He struck a match to see what it was and then nearly fainted when
he saw a woman's body lying there. He struck another match and
recognised the body as that of Mrs. Smith, and he felt he wanted to be
sick when he saw the stains upon her dress and the horrible looking
black patch upon the carpet.

He grabbed at his dog and got out of the bungalow as quickly as he
could. Then he drove like fury into Bradwell and tried to get the
Southminster policeman. But the latter was not in and he rang up the
sergeant at Maldon. The sergeant got a quick grasp of things.

"You go back at once," he ordered, "and wait by the bungalow. See that
no one goes inside. Now, tell me exactly where the place is. Oh, the
last one towards the Crouch and I can't miss it! All right, I'll be
there in a little over half an hour."

But he was not there in half an hour or anything like it. Indeed it was
more than an hour before he arrived and then it was a procession of
three cars, one of them an ambulance, which passed through Bradwell
village to the bungalow. Believing, from the carrier's gruesome account
that a murder had been committed, the sergeant had rung the
Superintendent at Chelmsford to acquaint him with what had happened.
Whereupon the Superintendent had stated he would come himself and bring
everybody and everything necessary.

So the party included the police surgeon, the official photographer and
finger-print expert, and two plain-clothes detectives. But they were not
all who were arriving at the bungalow that afternoon, and it had come
about in this way.

The woman at the Bradwell post office had a brother who was on the staff
of the Chelmsford Chronicle, and in great glee she tipped off to him
what was going on. The reporter scented a good story, and, as a country
agent for the Daily Messenger of London, sensed a nice little addition
to his banking account. So, unlike the Chelmsford superintendent, having
no helpers to gather together, he started off on his motor-bicycle at
once, and had obtained several good photographs of the bungalow, the
open window and the waiting carrier, 'who had discovered the body,' long
before the police arrived. He had also got a photograph of the dog who
had 'smelt the remains.'

He had got even more than that, for he had obtained from the carrier the
whole story of Mrs. Smith's arrival upon the previous Sunday morning,
what she was like in appearance and how she had been dressed. Then,
suddenly remembering how his dog had wanted to sniff about the bungalow
directly the woman had unlocked the door, the carrier had become greatly
excited and stated that most probably the murderer had been actually
hiding in the house when they arrived.

So, the young reporter, besides the photographs, had got page after page
of good and--what he called--'meaty' notes before the police arrived
upon the scene, and in consequence, was not caring very much whether
they snubbed him or not. But, to his great delight, he saw the
Chelmsford Superintendent, whom he knew well, was with the party, and
the former, coming out of the bungalow in a few minutes, gave him
several pieces of information to add to those he already had. He was
told the woman had been shot with a small rook rifle, had evidently been
killed on that Sunday morning, and that the motive for the crime looked
like being robbery.

The next morning the Daily Messenger had a great scoop, coming out with
a large photograph upon it's front page, under big leaded type of
'DREADFUL MURDER IN BUNGALOW AT BRADWELL UPON THE LONELY ESSEX COAST.'

Then it went on to give details of the arrival of the woman at the
bungalow upon the Sunday morning, with the murderer probably being
already in hiding in the house, how she had been shot through the heart
and how for two and a half days her body had lain just where it had
fallen upon the floor. It hinted darkly here how the body had started to
decompose under the burning summer heat in the small shut-up bungalow.

Then it went on to suggest there was certainly something very mysterious
about the whole affair. The bungalow did not belong to the woman, as she
had made out to the man who had brought her boxes, but to a
well-to-do-looking London gentleman who came down at occasional
week-ends with a lady, said to be his wife. The gentleman's name was
supposed to be William Hale and he had given out in the village that he
came from London, but there was no such name in the London Directory or
in the telephone book either.

Another reason why it was believed Mr. Hale was a Londoner was because
when he brought down a cleaner to go through the bungalow, which he
occasionally did on Saturdays, he drove her into Southminster to catch
the evening train and then it was for London she always took her ticket.
The mysterious thing about this cleaner was that the description the
Southminster porters gave of her tallied exactly with that of the
murdered woman who had given her name to the carrier as Mrs. Smith and
stated she was the owner of the bungalow.

Then, there was another thing which was very mystifying, the Daily
Messenger went on. The murderer was intending to rob as well as kill,
for he had packed up considerable plunder to take away. Something,
however, had frightened him at the last moment and he had, apparently,
left in a great hurry, empty-handed. But that was not all which needed
explanation. How could the presence of the so many valuable things found
in that lonely little sea-side bungalow be accounted for? There was a
quantity of valuable silver ware, out of all proportion to the amount
which would ever have been needed there, and also, valuable silver
candlesticks and antique silver snuff-boxes, which were probably of
great value, too. What did it all mean?

Then it went on to give descriptions of the dead woman and Mr. William
Hale, the latter description having been obtained from the Bradwell
villagers.

Finally, it enjoined its readers that if any of them thought they
recognised Mrs. Smith or Mr. Hale from these descriptions, would they
please come forward at once and give the authorities all the help they
could.

Larose saw the article first and, arriving at the Yard, rushed in to
Inspector Stone at once.

"Here we are!" he exclaimed, thrusting the newspaper under Stone's eyes.
"This is Hake's bungalow photographed here and the murdered woman is
Hake's Berkeley Square housekeeper, Mrs. Rawson. The description is
hers, exactly."

Stone read the article very carefully through and then looked up
significantly at Larose. "And are you sure it is the housekeeper?" he
asked.

"It's her description," nodded Larose, "tall, angular, sharp-featured,
dark and with greying hair." He pointed to the telephone upon the desk.
"Ring up 13 Berkeley Square and ask if Mrs. Rawson's there. That'll
settle it."

Stone got through at once. "That the late Sir Roger Hake's house?. . .
Who's speaking?. . . Oh, the parlourmaid, but I want to speak to Mrs.
Rawson. . . . She's not there. She's left, has she. Then when did she
leave? . . . Very early last Sunday morning. . . . Did she take any
boxes with her?. . . Oh, three more large ones. . . . You don't know to
where she went? . . . You don't think it might have been to Bradwell? .
. . Yes, Bradwell. BRADWELL, in Essex. . . . Oh, you've never heard of
it! Thank you. Good morning."

He turned to Larose. "It looks a clinch," he nodded. "The girl says she
had been sending boxes away all last week. Then depend upon it she had
been robbing the Hake Estate and someone got to know the value of the
stuff she'd got down there and killed her for it."

"Unless--unless," commented Larose slowly and he regarded his colleague
intently, "the Hake Court butler got to know she was there and did her
in."

"Gad, I never thought of that," exclaimed Stone, his eyes sticking out
like marbles. "He may have gone there and had a violent row and shot her
because of her having drugged his little sweetheart." He thumped his
fist upon the desk. "And by Jupiter, if he shot her, what about his
having shot Sir Roger as well? Wouldn't he have had the same motive of
revenge there?" He snapped his fingers together triumphantly. "Oh, how
this may simplify everything for us!"

Larose shook his head. "Don't be too sure, Charlie. Huntley may never
have been away from Hake Court. He may have a cast-iron alibi."

"Well, we'll soon find out about that," said Stone. "I'll ring up Lady
Hake and ask her if he's been away from there since Sunday," and he made
to reach for the telephone upon the desk.

But Larose pulled back his hand. "No, no, don't do that," he said. "We
mustn't give him any warning. We must take him on the hop. That'll be
the best way. He's a clever man, this Huntley."

"Sharp as a weasel," growled Stone. "Very likely he staged all that
packing up of valuables to make everyone believe it was them the
murderer had come after." He nodded. "You're right, Gilbert. We'll go
down to Chelmsford, and then to this bungalow first. I'll ring
Chelmsford and tell them we're coming."

But his own telephone rang at that moment and, as he listened into the
receiver, his face puckered up in great surprise. "All right, send them
up at once," he said. He turned to Larose. "Now, that's devilish funny.
Two young men want to speak to somebody here about the Bradwell murder.
They say they can tell something about it."

"By Jove, what an extraordinary coincidence!" exclaimed Larose.

The door opened and two young fellows about twenty years of age were
ushered in. "Sit down," smiled Stone. "We are Inspectors Larose and
Stone, and we shall be very glad to hear anything you have to say."

The elder of the two produced a copy of the Daily Messenger from his
pocket and pointed to the photograph of the Bradwell bungalow. "We were
down there last Sunday," he said rather nervously, "and picnicked on
that bit of lawn. You can see some of the pieces of paper I'm sorry we
left behind. What we want to tell you is that we arrived there exactly
at ten minutes to eleven and as we were sauntering along, about a
hundred and fifty yards before we got there, we heard a sound like a
rifle-shot."

Stone frowned. "Let me be quite certain of what you say. You and your
friend here were----"

"And two young ladies, as well," broke in the young fellow. "We all
heard the shot and you can ask them too. We'll give you their
addresses."

"All right," smiled Stone. "Then, you arrived there exactly at ten
minutes to eleven. How do you come to remember the time? Oh, you looked
at your watch and remarked it should be just high-water?" He pointed to
the newspaper. "Have you read there that the carrier said he brought the
woman to the bungalow soon after half-past ten?"

"Yes," nodded the young fellow, "and that's what made us come here.
We're certain now we heard the firing of the shot which killed her."

"What did you do when you heard the shot fired?" asked Larose,

"We all of us looked round," was the reply, "and wondered where on earth
it had come from. Then we thought it had come from a boat we saw out at
sea. We knew sound travels a long way over water."

They were asked several more questions, their names and addresses were
taken and then they were dismissed with many thanks for having come
forward.

"And that gives us proof positive," remarked Stone, "that the murderer
was in the place when the woman and carrier arrived." He grinned. "Won't
we just astound the Chelmsford lot when we tell them what we know."

And certainly the Chelmsford Superintendent was astounded when Larose
identified the body in the mortuary. He recognised it as Mrs. Rawson at
once.

The police photographs were brought out and scrutinised carefully by the
two inspectors while Superintendent Wilson unfolded the whole story.

"And we found no fresh finger-marks," he said, "except those of the
deceased woman. Whoever packed that silver so carefully was undoubtedly
wearing gloves. Upon the rifle with which the woman was shot there were
no finger-marks at all, but upon the double-barrelled shot-gun there
were plenty of hers. Evidently she had got the gun in her hands when she
was hit with the bullet which killed her."

"And your surgeon says she had been dead longer than two days when she
was found?" asked Stone. "He reckons she was killed on Sunday morning?"

"Yes, he is sure of it," nodded the Superintendent, "and apart from what
you now tell me those young picknickers told you, we should have been
pretty certain of it too. You see the woman had not even taken off her
hat to put away any of the perishable provisions she had brought with
her before she was killed. No, we had already come to the conclusion she
had been killed by someone who was hiding in the house when she
arrived."

The Superintendent then accompanied them to the bungalow at Bradwell,
where two plain-clothes men had been left in charge.

"We've only removed the body as yet," he explained, "and so you will see
everything practically exactly as we found it and as when the murderer
left it when he fled away."

Inspector Stone, after looking round for a few minutes, at once gave his
opinion. "See here, Superintendent," he said. "I think this appearance
of the killer having suddenly been frightened away is all a put-up job
to mislead us. Look at it in this light. The fellow had all day to pack
up that silver, because he was imprisoned here from before eleven until
after six. You agree, that as long as those picnickers were parked upon
that bit of grass, he couldn't have cut off without being seen?"

"Hardly," nodded the Superintendent, "with no windows at the back and
the kitchen door opening at the side. It would have been too risky. He'd
have been certain to have been noticed."

"Then why the devil," went on Stone, "didn't he have all the stuff ready
for the first moment when he would be able to get away? Why did he sit
here all day long doing nothing?"

The Superintendent made no reply and Larose took up the tale. "But what
makes me rather think he never intended to go off with anything," he
said, "is his leaving this twenty-seven pounds in notes behind upon the
floor. When he'd killed the woman it's any odds he'd have looked into
her bag at once. That'd have been the first thing he'd have done and,
finding the notes, he'd have pocketed them carefully. If he'd have done
it carefully they wouldn't have dropped out of his pocket, but if he had
done it carelessly they would have shown signs of having been crumpled
up." He pointed to the notes lying upon the table. "And they don't show
any signs of crumpling, do they?"

"And now for that darned butler," nodded Stone, grimly, as they drove
away. "I shall be very disappointed if he wasn't away on Sunday on that
motor-bicycle of his, and didn't get back until well after dark."

"It's a long shot, Charlie," commented Larose warningly, "and if we do
find he was away, depend upon it he'll have some good tale ready of
where he was. We shan't catch him out easily."

Arriving at Hake Court, to their dismay it was the parlourmaid who
answered the door. "Damnation, he's bolted," muttered Stone under his
breath. He forced a smile upon his lips. "I wanted to see Mr. Huntley
for a couple of minutes," he said. "Isn't he in?"

"Oh, yes, sir," smiled back the parlourmaid, "he's having his dinner. He
went into Saffron Walden for her ladyship and that made him late. But
he's just finishing, sir, and I'll go and send him to you at once."

"Tell him there's no hurry," said Stone, pleasantly. "We can wait five
or ten minutes. Let him finish his dinner."

The parlourmaid looked rather shocked. "Oh, sir, he wouldn't do that. He
won't keep you waiting. I'm sure he'll come at once."

She showed them into a little room at the end of the hall, and turning
to go, almost collided with Huntley himself. He was all smiles as he
inclined himself respectfully towards the inspectors. "I heard your
voice, sir," he said, addressing Inspector Stone, "and thought I'd
better come myself."

Stone's heart sank a little at the perfect composure of the man and
there was no answering smile upon his face. He unmasked his guns
instantly. "Where were you on Sunday, Huntley?" he asked very sternly.

The smile faded from the butler's face. There was no mistaking the
sharpness of the tone in which he was being addressed and he looked
curiously at the inspector. "Upon my motor-bicycle, sir," he replied
without the slightest hesitation. "It was my Sunday off duty."

"Where did you go?" snapped Stone.

"Along the South Coast, sir," he said, "from Hastings to Brighton."

"Oh!" exclaimed Stone and he stared hard and long at the butler so long
that it was soon obvious the latter had become uncomfortable. He got
rather red.

"What do you mean, sir?" he asked respectfully. "I expect you you mean
something."

"I do," replied Stone and his stare was a long one again, as the butler
moistened his lips and swallowed. Then Stone asked with his face as
black as thunder, "Seen the newspaper, this morning?"

"Yes, sir."

"The Daily Messenger?"

"No, sir, The Times and Daily Telegraph. We don't take the Messenger."

"Then you don't know what's happened?" asked Stone.

The butler's tone was quite calm and even. "No, sir, that is if it's
anything particular."

The inspector pretended to laugh. "You lie well, Huntley," he sneered,
"but not well enough to deceive us." His tone hardened viciously. "You
were at Bradwell on Sunday."

The butler made no pretence at not remembering the name.

"Where my late master had that bungalow, sir!" he exclaimed. He shook
his head. "No, sir, I have never been there. I don't know that part of
the coast at all. The roads are not good."

"A-ah," snorted Stone, "then you know where it is?"

Huntley looked very grim. "I have reason to know, sir." He inclined his
head in the direction of Larose. "I expect that gentleman has told you
about my girl friend, Elsie Bane."

Watching him like a cat bent upon the torture of a mouse, Stone almost
hissed out his next words. "Then you pretend not to know Mrs. Rawson was
murdered at Bradwell on Sunday morning?"

Huntley's eye-brows lifted, his mouth opened and it seemed he was not
breathing in his surprise. Then he clenched his hands and his face took
on a look of hate. "I did not know it, sir, but I'm glad of it." He took
out his handkerchief and spat into it. "I would have murdered her myself
if I could have been sure of not being found out."

"You did murder her," thundered Stone. "We can prove it."

"You can prove it!" exclaimed Huntley bewilderedly. His face all
suddenly crimsoned up in fury. "And who's the liar now?" he shouted.
Then, on the instant his whole expression changed, his face fell into
respectful lines again and he went quickly, "Oh, I beg your pardon, sir.
I ought not to have spoken like that. I quite forgot myself." He spoke
decisively. "No, sir, I did not murder the woman. I was many miles away
out of Essex on Sunday."

Stone was most disturbed by the man's confident air, but he scoffed
sarcastically, "And you will be able to prove that, of course?"

The butler nodded, "I can prove I was in Hastings, sir, on Sunday, as I
met Mr. Chater and Doctor King-Harley there. They spoke to me on the
sea-front."

A cold shiver ran down Stone's spine. If what the man was saying could
be corroborated, then everything was knocked instantly upon the head. It
was a terrible disappointment. He clutched at a straw, having, however,
to pull himself together to steady his voice. "What time was that?" he
snapped.

Huntley considered. "The hotels had not been open long, so I should say
it was very soon after half-past twelve, sir. They were just going into
the Victoria Hotel, I expect, for lunch."

"But that doesn't say you didn't go down to Bradwell afterwards?"
scowled Stone, hoping now against hope that the woman might after all
have been killed later in the day than they all had been thinking.

"Oh, no, sir, I quite see that," agreed Huntley. He shook his head
emphatically. "But I didn't. I went on to Eastbourne and Brighton and
didn't get home here until half-past ten." Stone's hopes seemed to
revive. "And we shall want witnesses to testify to where you were late
in the day," he said very sternly. "Who can you bring?"

For the first time Huntley looked crestfallen and uneasy.

"I--I don't suppose I can bring anyone, sir," he faltered. "I met no
other people I know and who among that holiday crowd would remember any
particular motor-bicycle? There were thousands of us about."

"What did you do at Eastbourne and Brighton?" asked Stone.

"Nothing much, sir, I just sat on the front and watched the people."

"Where did you go for your meals?"

"I didn't go anywhere. I bought some sandwiches at a shop in Seaside
Road in Eastbourne and some lemonade and more sandwiches in King Street
in Brighton."

A short silence followed and Stone said very sternly. "Well, you're
under very grave suspicion about the woman and now, about your late
master, too. You had a spite against both of them on account of that
girl, and," he nodded, "it looks to me as if you've taken your revenge."
He spoke briskly. "So, you'll have to come back to town with us while we
make some enquiries. I tell you the matter's very serious."

Huntley's face paled. "Oh, but you can't do that, sir," he said. "Look
at the disgrace for me. People will think you've taken me up because I
killed the master. They will never forget it. My good name will be gone
for life."

"We can't help that," said Stone. "We can't let you remain free until
you're cleared."

"But I shan't run away," pleaded Huntley. "I've nothing to run away
for." His voice firmed. "And you've no right to arrest me, Inspector
Stone. You said Mrs. Rawson was killed on Sunday morning and I couldn't
have done that and been in Hastings at the same time. If you only want
to know about the morning, ring up either of those gentlemen I
mention--or both of them. It's so very simple, for they'll be able to
tell you at once." He spoke defiantly. "If you do take me up and shame
me before everybody I claim the right to ring up a lawyer first. I shall
want to speak to Mr. Cole Nathan."

Stone frowned. The butler was playing a stronger card than he knew. The
police hated Nathan. He had got them a nasty rap over the knuckles quite
recently for being, so a learned judge had said, too precipitate.

"Why do you mention Mr. Nathan?" asked the inspector suspiciously. "Have
you already had him in your mind to defend you?"

"I've never thought of him before, sir," said Huntley, returning to his
meek and respectful manner. "I shall only choose him, sir, because I
have often seen his name in the paper. He seems a very good man."

Stone looked meaningly at Larose and, the latter nodding, he turned back
to the butler. "All right," he said, "I'll ring up. But you remain here.
I know where the telephone is," and left the room, leaving the two
together.

"What did you go into Saffron Walden for?" asked Larose curiously.

"For her ladyship, sir," replied Huntley. "She sent me to get some
special fruit for Hepburn, the gardener at the lodge. He's in the
village hospital, very ill. They say he's got pneumonia in one lung and
a cancer in the other."

Stone could not get Byles Chater on the 'phone, the latter being busy in
the Courts, but, after some delay he got speech with Dr. King-Harley.
The quiet specialist was very annoyed at being interrupted and in a
tremendous hurry.

"Yes, we saw the man there on Sunday," he said, "I only nodded but Mr.
Chater spoke to him. Of course, it was the Court butler, Mr. Chater
chaffed him about having his eye upon the other sex. I should say it was
about half-past twelve, perhaps a few minutes later. We were just going
to have our lunch."

"And he wasn't there when you came out?" asked Stone. "That was the last
you saw of him?"

"No, he wasn't there, but that wasn't the last we saw of him. He passed
us in Eastbourne in the evening."

"Oh, but he didn't tell me that!" exclaimed Stone.

"Probably he didn't see us," returned the doctor. "It was in the main
street and there was a lot of traffic at the moment. It wasn't a time
for looking round. Well, good morning, I can't tell you anything more,"
and he rang off hurriedly, as if afraid of being further questioned.

"That's that," sighed Stone as he hung up the receiver. "What a ghastly
sell!"

Returning to the little room, he spoke very sternly to Huntley. "We'll
give you the benefit of the doubt," he said, "and let you remain here
for the present." He raised his hand warningly. "But mind, no leaving
the Court. You're not to use your motor-bicycle until we give you
permission."

The butler received his reprieve with no outward sign of jubilation.
"Thank you, sir," he said meekly. "You'll always find me here."

He accompanied them to the front door and with a curt nod they got into
their car and drove away, Larose being at the wheel. Then the moment
they had turned the bend in the short drive and were out of sight of the
house, Larose stopped the car and alighted quickly.

"Wait a moment," he said to his surprised companion. "I've got an idea.
I won't be long," and back he ran towards the Court, making his way,
however, along the strip of grass at the side of the gravelled drive.
His footsteps made no sound.

Arriving at the front of the house, he found, as was always the case
during the daytime, the outer hall door wide open and the inner, a
glass-panelled one, closed but unlocked. Tiptoeing softly into the hall,
he looked round for the butler, but the latter was nowhere to be seen.
He heard rustling, however, from the direction of the little room where
they had just had their interview with him, and walking to the doorway,
saw the man himself with a newspaper held wide open between his two
outspread arms and with his head bent close to the pages. He looked up,
startled, as the shadow of Larose fell across the room, and then for a
good ten seconds, without a word, the two stared at each other very
solemnly. Then Larose smiled, and--after a moment--Huntley smiled, too.
The detective's smile had evidently been infectious. "I've come back for
my paper," he said.

"Certainly, sir," said the butler, and folding it up, he handed it to
him.

Larose was still smiling. "You're a clever chap, Huntley," he remarked
pleasantly, "and it would be a pity to stretch your neck."

"Yes, sir," agreed the butler, smiling back, "and I don't think you'll
be allowed to do it."

"No, I don't think we shall, either," said Larose, quite serious now.
"You've been too clever for us," and he nodded his thanks as Huntley let
him out of the hall.

He rejoined the impatient Stone and was soon bustling the car towards
London. "Well," exclaimed the inspector, "what do you think?"

"Think?" laughed Larose. "Oh, that he did it, of course! But we shan't
trip him and another killer will have got off with his kill!" He seemed
amused. "When I went back just now he'd got his nose buried in our
Messenger."

"Quite natural," commented Stone, "he wanted to read the report of his
own murder."

"But he wasn't reading about the murder," exclaimed Larose. "That's the
damning part of it. He was reading the sporting page, inside." He
pressed home his point. "Just think of it, Charlie. If we'd given him
the first news of that woman's death and he'd not seen it in the
Messenger when he went into Saffron Walden this morning--wouldn't his
first urge directly we had gone been to read all about it? Wouldn't he
have glued his eyes to the photograph of that bungalow which had meant
so much to him and Elsie Bane? Why, of course he would!"

"Of course!" agreed Stone violently. "Damn him!"

"It's all a puzzle," sighed Larose, "and I can't make head or tail of
it. Men like Chater and King-Harley are not going to perjure themselves
for Huntley and yet----"

"Well, I'll see Chater this evening," growled Stone, "and I'll talk to
that quack again, too. If there's any hanky-panky I'll nose it out."

But the inspector did not nose out anything. Chater and the doctor
corroborated each other's stories in minute details, and corroborated
them with such accuracy that, while they swept away one suspicion, they
seemed to raise another.

Still nothing could be done and the angry inspector relieved his
feelings by ferocious threats as to what was going to happen to everyone
involved at the forthcoming resumption of the inquest upon Sir Roger
Hake.

"Wickham Adders will give 'em hell," he said. "It seems to me that every
man jack of them--and, of course, the woman too--is a liar."

And while the Law was striving its utmost to give one victim to Death,
Death himself was preparing to snatch another one in the little village
adjoining the Court.

Andy Hepburn, the dour custodian of the lodge gates was dying and the
only person who seemed really sorry about it was his young mistress. His
dog-like devotion to her, unspoken but so artlessly apparent whenever
she was near him, had touched her deeply and every day she came to the
little hospital to see him. She brought him little gifts, and stroked
his hand and said she hoped he would soon be better, and his old eyes
never left her face the whole time she was in the room.

A few days before the Coroner's Court was to sit again, when she arrived
to see him she found him very weak, and the sister in charge told her
the doctor thought it was now only a matter of hours before he would
pass away.

She stopped a little while talking to him, and he was quite coherent and
able to speak to her, too. When she left him, however, he closed his
eyes as if he were very tired and wanted to sleep.

The sister and the nurse stood at the window watching her drive away in
her car. "Isn't she lovely!" exclaimed the nurse, "but just fancy
everyone thinking she killed her husband."

"You shouldn't say that," reproached the sister sharply. "Everyone
doesn't think she killed him, only some do."

"Well, they say all the detectives believe she did," nodded the nurse,
"and that it'll go badly with her at the inquest. Mr. Pike at the 'Rose
and Crown' told Mother that she even might be arrested. Things look very
black for her. You see they can't find anybody else to fix the murder
upon."

Still talking, they went out of the room. Old Andy had got his eyes wide
open now, and his expression was a startled one. An hour passed and he
had made no attempt to go to sleep, rather he seemed intent upon keeping
himself wide awake.

The doctor, a kind-faced elderly man, came in presently, and asked him
how he felt.

"Weak, weak," nodded Andy. He looked intently at the doctor. "Don't ye
gammon me. I'm goin' to die, ain't I?"

The doctor nodded back solemnly, "But you won't feel any pain, Andy.
You'll just sleep away."

The old man looked anxious. "But I want to tell something afore I die."
His eyes held the doctor. "I want to tell it was me what killed the
master."

"What, you shot Sir Roger?" exclaimed the doctor, looking horrified.
"Are you sure you did?"

Andy nodded again. "Bring Policeman Blake here. He can write it all
down." He spoke in a whisper. "Do it quick, Mister. I feel I'm pegging
out."

The doctor went straight to the telephone and in less than five minutes
the village constable was sitting by the bedside, with a writing-pad
upon his knee, all ready to take down the sick man's dying depositions.
The doctor and the sister was standing on either side of the bed.

The constable was round-faced and, at first sight, would have seemed to
anyone rather simple looking. His actions, now, however, showed that he
was very much all there. "Andy's mind's quite all right, sir?" he asked
the doctor. "He'll understand what he's saying?"

"Perfectly well," nodded the doctor. "He's as conscious as you or I, and
in a perfect mental state."

"Well, you tell us, Andy, what you want to say," went on the constable,
"just in your own words now and I'll write it down."

Andy spoke slowly and as if concentrating his thoughts with some effort.
"I shot Master with that pistol," he said very slowly. "Names don't
matter and I ain't going to mention any, but he'd behaved badly with a
girl I knew. I've hated him for years and I am glad I did it."

"Go on," said the constable, because Andy had stopped speaking. "Tell us
how you came to do it."

Andy went on. "It was chance-like that I shot him. I'd forgotten to
loose the dogs that night and went to do it very late. The rain was
heavy as I was going and I went into the summer-house to shelter. I saw
Master had left his pistol there, as he sometimes did. When the rain got
better I walked towards the house. I saw Master's study window was open
and was going to leave the pistol on the sill. When I got near the light
went up and I saw Master in the room. I hadn't meant to do it, but
something made me think of the girl and I pointed the pistol at him and
fired it off. Then I got frightened and threw it away, but I knew I
could not be found out."

The old man sighed heavily and closed his eyes. The doctor nodded to the
constable. "That'll do," he said, "He's had enough," and he added
whisperingly, "Let him sign it, quick. His heart's very dicky, and we
can't be certain of even a few minutes."

So Andy scrawled his name at the foot of the paper and the policeman,
the doctor and the sister all witnessed his signature.

Then it was a very breathless and important constable who rushed to the
'phone to ring up the Superintendent in Saffron Walden. But the latter
was out and did not hear about the confession until the evening.
Whereupon he drove post-haste into the village to see Andy, but the
doctor definitely refused to allow his patient to be worried any more
that day, and the Superintendent went grumblingly away. He rang up
Scotland Yard, but could only get speech with Larose who was absolutely
astounded at his news.

"But I am disgusted with myself!" exclaimed the Superintendent. "I ought
to have thought of that man in the first instance. He had every
opportunity for, of course, those dogs wouldn't have interfered with
him. It was my darned nose which misled me. I was so positive I smelt
that cordite when I went into the room."

Larose was very annoyed with himself, too. He had built up so many
elaborate theories about the murder and--all in one moment--they had
been knocked on the head by one of the most simple explanations
possible. As with the Superintendent, he told himself he ought to have
thought of the lodge-keeper at once as a possible suspect. It was most
careless and remiss on his part.

Then suddenly he frowned heavily. He was puzzled, very puzzled. This
confession did not explain the mystery of that guttered candle and it
did not account for Reeder's worried condition of mind. If the trainer's
hints to his wife had meant anything, they had meant a conspiracy
somewhere, and how did that fit in with the lodge-keeper's confession?
It didn't fit in at all.

Filled with doubts, Larose made up his mind to go down and see Andy
Hepburn the first thing the next morning. Accordingly, on the morrow, it
was barely half-past eight when he pulled up outside the cottage
hospital.

Then, announcing who he was to the sister, he received a terrible
disappointment when he was told that the sick man had passed away during
the night.

"Bad luck!" said Larose. "Still, it can't be helped." A thought struck
him and he asked, "Did anyone see him after he had made that confession
which I understand you witnessed? I mean, of course, anyone to do with
the police."

The sister shook her head. "No, the Saffron Walden Superintendent came
last night and was very annoyed because upon the doctor's instructions,
I wouldn't let him come in." She smiled. "He seemed to look upon it as a
personal affront."

Larose smiled back. "Well, we policemen get upset very easily. We're
built that way." He sighed. "But about this poor chap who died, he went
off very suddenly, didn't he?"

"Yes, he'd just written a little letter," replied the sister. "One
minute he was talking and the next he was dead."

"He'd written a letter?" exclaimed Larose. "Was he as well as that?"

"Oh, it was only a few words, just for Lady Hake," said the sister. "He
asked me for a piece of paper and wrote a few words and I gave him an
envelope and licked it up for him." She turned to the desk. "Here it is.
It's quite pathetic, addressed to 'Mistress.' He was so devoted to her."

Larose looked at the envelope with the one word scrawled across it.
"Yes, it's very sad," he said. He nodded. "I'm going up to the Court
now. Should I give it her?"

"Yes, if you'll be so kind. And tell her ladyship those carnations she
brought him yesterday were in his hand when he died."

They talked on for a few minutes and then Larose took his leave.
"By-the-by," he said in parting, "I don't think you'd better mention
about the letter you've given me to take to Lady Hake." He laughed. "The
Superintendent may think you ought to have given it to him."

"I won't mention it," she laughed back. "No one but me knows he wrote
it."

Larose next visited the village constable and the local doctor, at once
realising that their testimonies would be conclusive as to Andy having
been in his right mind and knowing perfectly well what he was saying
when he had dictated his confession.

Next, he went up to the Court, intending to ask Lady Hake bluntly if she
could account for Hepburn's hatred of her husband. He was going to tell
her, too, that with the confession in the hands of the police it might
not now be necessary to call her at the inquest.

To his disappointment, Huntley informed him that Lady Hake was away for
the day, visiting her mother who was ill. He gave him the address at
Maida Vale.

Larose eyed the butler curiously. "And what do you think about this
confession the lodge-keeper made. I suppose you've heard about it."

"Oh yes, sir, the doctor for the village here came up at once and told
her ladyship. I can't understand it, sir. It seems incredible to me. I
knew Andy didn't like the master, but then he never liked anyone much.
He was a very bad-tempered man."

"Did you know he was a crack-shot with a pistol?"

Huntley looked flabbergasted at the question. "I shouldn't think he'd
ever had one in his hands before, sir. It was a marvellous fluke he hit
the master."

"Well, good morning, Huntley," said Larose. He smiled pleasantly. "About
your own little affair, I sympathise with you, but we'll get you yet. I
don't believe for a moment you're the simple innocent you make out. You
did that woman in right enough."

Huntley was most respectful. "Very good, sir, if you say so." The
corners of his mouth twitched. "But I'm afraid, sir, you'll have a
trouble in proving it."

"Yes, that's the difficulty," said Larose. "You've well beaten us up
till now."

Larose had a short talk with the Superintendent in Saffron Walden and
then returned to town, taking the lodge-keeper's confession with him to
give to Stone. But going, first, to his own room in Scotland Yard, he
took out of his pocket the letter Andy had written, intending to put it
in another envelope and post it to Lady Hake.

Noticing, however, that the flap of the rather stiff envelope had become
unstuck, after a moment's hesitation, he took out the piece of paper
inside and glanced over the shaky characters scrawled right across the
page.

For the moment his look was only a mildly curious one, but suddenly his
expression altered to one of amazement in which consternation was
mingled.

His mouth was dry and he breathed a little quicker as he read aloud to
himself. 'Dear Mistress, I told them that to help you. I heard the nurse
say the police were after you, but now you will be safe. I'm glad you
did it. Your humble servant, Andy Hepburn.'

For a long minute he could not withdraw his eyes from the paper, but
then he refolded it carefully and put it back into the envelope. 'And if
this becomes public property,' he murmured, 'it will look almost
certainly,' he could hardly get out his words, 'as if she were guilty,
and somehow, Andy had come to learn it. No, he was not a man of
imaginative nature, and perhaps, he did go out to unloose those dogs
that night and was actually an eye-witness of the murder.' He sighed
heavily. 'Then good Lord, what a tragic ending for that girl!'

He put the letter into his pocket and went in to see Inspector Stone.
The latter had, of course, already heard about Hepburn's confession, but
now he read it through intently.

"And what a tame conclusion to everything," he exclaimed. He shook his
head disappointedly. "There will be no chance now of us showing everyone
what clever chaps we are." He shrugged his shoulders. "Still, to have
done it we should have had to break that poor little woman on the
wheel."

"And you think," asked Larose slowly, "that but for this confession we
had a strong case against her?"

"The very strongest," replied Stone. He nodded significantly. "And
didn't everyone else think so, too? All those seven card-players, and
that darned butler as well, were doing their utmost to shield her." He
laughed ironically. "Gosh, what a sell! They all had their trouble for
nothing." He tapped the confession upon the desk. "Well, with this
confession here everything will die down. There's no getting behind it.
It's a complete clearance for everyone else."

Larose made no further comment and said nothing about the letter in his
pocket. The next morning, however, he went down to Hake Court once
again, having taken upon himself the serving of the subpoenas upon those
there who were to be called at the adjourned inquest. He gave the butler
his, and then was shown in to Harland in the office.

"Here is your subpoena," he said sharply, "and I have one here for Lady
Hake, but whether I serve it upon her or not depends upon what you tell
me in the next few minutes."

Young Harland looked very troubled. "Can't you spare her, Mr. Larose?"
he asked. "She's suffered such a lot already and to appear in the
witness-box will be a dreadful trial for her."

"Of course, it will," nodded Larose, and he added significantly, "It
will be a dreadful trial for you, too, as you will be terrified every
moment as to what may be coming out."

"And what exactly do you mean by that?" asked Harland frowningly and
with some spirit.

"I mean," said Larose slowly, "that you two will be perjuring yourselves
the whole time, and one little slip, and one or other of you will be
arrested and charged with the murder." He raised his voice slightly.
"Oh, I won't beat about the bush! Either you or she shot Sir Roger and
one of you will have to confess it to save the other."

Harland laughed scoffingly. "And what about that confession of Andy
Hepburn?" he asked sarcastically. "Does that count for nothing?"

"Yes, for nothing," nodded Larose solemnly, "for nothing, as you'll
admit when you've read this," and, taking the lodge-keeper's letter from
his pocket, he handed it to him. "The man wrote it just before he died."

A few moments of dreadful silence followed and Harland's face went a
dreadful colour. His hands shook, so that he could hardly hold the
paper.

"But--but, what does it mean?" he stammered.

"Pretty obvious, isn't it?" asked Larose. "It confesses that what he
dictated to that policeman was a lie. As he says, he did it to save his
mistress. Of course, he overheard the nurses saying we are suspecting
her. Everybody seems to have been aware of that. Oh, you needn't dispute
the handwriting. The sister at the hospital said he wrote it and she'll
testify that it's his."

"I know it is," said Harland hoarsely, with his eyes glued upon the
piece of paper. "I know his handwriting quite well." He spoke as if to
himself. "What a dreadful thing for him to have written." He looked up
suddenly and asked sharply. "But how did you get hold of it?"

"I happened to be the first one of us who came to the hospital after he
had died," said Larose, "and the sister gave it to me to pass on to Lady
Hake. Then, when I came up here yesterday to see Lady Hake I found she
was away. Back at the Yard, I noticed that the flap of the envelope had
come unstuck--you can see for yourself it has never been properly
pressed down--and I took out the letter and read it. I should have been
justified anyhow in doing that, as I was strongly suspecting one of you
two."

"And what's going to happen now?" asked Harland.

"That depends entirely upon you," said Larose. "So far I am the only one
who has read the letter."

"And if I tear it up," asked Harland, thrusting the hand holding the
letter behind his back, "what then?"

"You wouldn't have time to," laughed Larose. "I'd be upon you in half a
minute." He spoke quite kindly, "I'm stronger than you. You're not very
big and muscular, are you?"

Harland sighed heavily. "No, that's the worst of it. I've suffered all
my life because I've not been a big fellow." He brought his hand back.
"Here's the letter. Now what do you want of me?"

"Just the truth," said Larose. "I want to----" He broke off suddenly.
"But tell me, first, does Lady Hake herself believe that confession the
lodge-keeper dictated is true?"

He spoke so quickly that Harland was thrown off his guard and answered
equally quickly, "Most implicitly, she's never doubted it for a moment."

"Exactly!" snapped Larose triumphantly. "Then it is you who are the
murderer. As I have told you, it is positive to me that either she or
you shot Sir Roger and if you declare with such certainty she believes
in the guilt of that lodge-keeper, then she is innocent herself." He
spoke quietly now. "And, she being innocent, the guilty one of the two
must be you."

"Can you prove that?" asked Harland, equally as quietly.

Larose nodded. "To my own satisfaction," he said. He took out Mrs.
Reeder's letter and handed it to him. "Just read that."

"But you didn't see Mr. Reeder," said Harland, when he had read it
through. He pointed to the date upon that letter. "I saw in the
newspaper he was killed instantaneously that very evening."

"But I saw his wife," rejoined Larose, "and although her husband hadn't
told her everything she knew a good bit." He spoke sternly. "I want to
know about that conspiracy which was hatched between you all, the
conspiracy in which Reeder was the most unwilling to join, and took all
the time that candle was burning to be persuaded to do so."

Harland was visibly discomforted. "But what's your game, Mr. Larose?" he
asked sharply. "You want to get me hanged, don't you?"

Larose shook his head. "Not necessarily, for I have a lot of sympathy
for the person who killed Sir Roger. He was--at any rate to men--a
loathsome type, and the world is well rid of him. No, I am not keen that
anyone should be punished for his murder, as he most probably deserved
it and I expect it was done under great provocation."

"Then leave it alone," pleaded Harland. He pointed to Hepburn's letter
which still lay upon the desk. "Tear that up and forget it, and untold
misery will be saved for some of us."

Larose smiled. "But you forget my position, young fellow. I am an
emissary of the Law and must have some justification for what I do. What
makes me hesitate now is that, although I have moral proof that you are
guilty, I see that the proof that would satisfy a court of law may be
impossible to obtain." He nodded. "And in trying to get it I may have to
bring harm to a number of kind well-meaning people whose only fault has
been their good-nature."

"Well, what's your price for silence," asked Harland, looking very
worried, "and what's your promise," he shrugged his shoulders, "if I
tell you what little I know?"

"Little?" queried Larose. He laughed. "I guess it will be a lot." He
became serious. "I don't sell myself and I promise nothing except that
if you can convince me that Lady Hake had nothing to do with the matter,
I will not serve this subpoena upon her."

"And what about myself?" queried Harland.

"I'll not use anything you say against you, and if I can't prove you're
guilty by my own discoveries, I'll leave you alone. Oh, and you needn't
incriminate the others in anything you tell me."

"I'm not going to," said Harland sharply. He drew in a deep breath.
"Well, here goes." He spoke quickly. "I shot the brute and I've never
blamed myself for it since. It all came about like this. When the lights
had failed and he was going out he ordered me to follow him. He knew I
knew something about electricity as I'd put the lights right before. He
found his torch was dead and lit that candle. Then, turning round, I
suppose he didn't like my expression, for he blazed up madly and asked
me why the hell I'd been so long getting those cigarettes. I just looked
at him and he asked sneeringly if I'd stopped to molest his wife."

Harland's eyes were blazing as he recalled the scene. He went on. "His
sneer infuriated me and I sprang at him to strike his evil face. But I
ought to have known better. He just side-stepped and escaped the blow. I
over-reached myself and he gripped me like a bear from behind, and
holding me tight tipped up my head and," he shuddered, "spat in my
face."

"And neither of you shouted?" asked Larose, because Harland had stopped
speaking, the memory of the spitting crimsoning him in shame.

Harland shook his head. "I never said a word the whole time and he spoke
through his clenched teeth. No, I just struggled, but I had no chance
and he shook me like a dog with a rat. Then he called Lady Hake a
terrible word and flung me from him on to the floor. I sprang up and,"
he shrugged his shoulders, "the pistol was on the desk and I shot him."

"And then?" asked Larose after the long silence which followed.

"Then?" smiled Harland. "Well, you must guess what followed."

Larose considered. "And is the butler in this deal?"

"Good Lord, no!" exclaimed Harland. He smiled again. "But I believe he
thinks I did it because he is being so darned anxious to do everything
for me lately." He laughed nervously. "Very decent fellow, Huntley,
quite a superior sort. I roped him for some private theatricals I was
getting up some months ago in Saffron Walden. A man failed me at the
very last moment, and Huntley took the part of a doctor. By Jove, he
wanted no coaching. He's an actor, born."

"Yes, he is," nodded Larose feelingly, and he added with perfect
sincerity, "and so are you."

Harland shrugged his shoulders. "I've had to be. These last dreadful
days I've had to act and lie at every twist and turn." He shook his head
gloomily. "Once this dangerous game was started there was no help for
it. As you've guessed I was not standing alone."

"No, and it doesn't require much imagination now," said Larose
thoughtfully, "to fill in everything that happened." He frowned. "If it
becomes public, the mystery to everyone will be why six hard-headed men
were willing to perjure themselves when they stood to get absolutely
nothing by doing so."

Harland shook his head. "There would be no mystery, Mr. Larose, if
everyone were aware of what had been happening, only that very evening.
They had heard that devil insult his wife at dinner, then they had seen
that bandage upon her arm and all guessed from his sneering jokes it was
a bruise and no sting, and, as we sat down at the card-tables, he had
boasted of a coarse infidelity, that very afternoon, with some new woman
whose surname he did not even know. Bah--there was not one of them who
was not glad to see him stretched out dead!"

Larose got up to go. "You can burn that letter," he nodded. "Yes, do it
straightaway and crumple all the ashes well, too. That's right. Oh, and,
of course, Lady Hake won't have that subpoena now. Good-bye." He smiled.
"And if it weren't for what I am, I'd wish you good luck. As it is, I
suppose I'll have to go on looking for stronger evidence against you."

"And do you think you'll find it?" asked Harland, with a smile which was
not as easy-looking as he would have liked to make it.

Larose shook his head. "I hardly think so, for at any rate my colleagues
won't help me." He nodded. "It may comfort you a little to know that
Inspector Stone is quite satisfied with that confession of the
lodge-keeper, and will not even be coming down to the inquest, now. Give
my kind regards to Lady Hake and tell her she won't be seeing us any
more."

"Good-bye, Mr. Larose," said young Harland with some feeling. He held
out his hand. "And thank you very much for your consideration. Whatever
happens I shall always be very grateful to you."

Huntley, who evidently had been waiting for him in the hall, gave Larose
a beaming smile as the latter went out.

'Really,' grinned Larose to himself as he drove away, 'I seem to be very
popular with the criminal classes just now.'

The adjourned enquiry into the death of Sir Roger Hake was concluded
upon the following Friday, in the village institute. The Saffron Walden
Superintendent appeared for the police and Larose was present as
representative for Scotland Yard. The proceedings were very short. Byles
Chater and young Harland gave evidence as to Sir Roger leaving the room
when the lights had failed. Huntley told of the finding of the body,
later, and Dr. King-Harley testified how he had found life to be
extinct. Then the village constable appeared in the box and the
lodge-keeper's confession was read. The local doctor gave evidence that
Hepburn was of perfectly sound mind.

The Coroner's summing-up was very brief. There could not be the
slightest doubt, he stated, as to who had committed the murder and only
one possible verdict could be brought in. The confession of the
lodge-keeper was conclusive proof as to where the guilt lay, and
accordingly he directed that a verdict of wilful murder be recorded
against Andrew Hepburn, and the jury obliged without any delay.

Upon one Monday morning in the autumn of the following year, Inspector
Stone, looking stouter than ever, came into Larose's room in Scotland
Yard and plumped himself down in a chair.

"By Jove, Gilbert!" he exclaimed, heaving a big sigh, "how time flies."
His eyes twinkled. "I had quite a little adventure on Saturday afternoon
and it finished up with three glasses of champagne."

"Very nice, Charlie," commented Larose, pretending to smack his lips,
"but whose pockets did you pick to buy the fizz? I know darned well that
with all those kids you've got you couldn't buy it out of your screw."

"I was out in my old car with the missus," went on Stone, ignoring his
colleagues query, "and we were just passing through a sweet little
village a few miles out of Haslemere, when, going by an old church, I
heard the organ playing and stopped the car to listen. I thought there
must be a wedding on because four posh cars were parked outside, but the
missus thought the music wasn't quite proper for a wedding as they were
playing, 'There's a friend for little children.'"

"But in these days," nodded Larose darkly, "you must expect everything."

"Well," said Stone, "we had a bit of an argument about it and so, as
there was plenty of time, we waited to see who was right." His eyes
bulged at the relating of the story. "Then, Gilbert, out came a little
lot of people you and I both know. First, a man in a swell chauffeur's
uniform with silver buttons, and I recognised that chap Huntley, the
butler of Hake Court. Then came a trained nurse with a nipper, all lace
and frills and a little puckered-up face, in her arms." He paused
dramatically. "Now whose baby do you think it was?"

"Not yours, surely?" frowned Larose. "You couldn't have had anything to
do with it." He shook his head. "Still I should not be surprised."

Stone looked contemptuous but then, confident that he could afford to be
magnanimous in the importance of the news he was about to impart, his
face became smiling again. "It was Lady Hake's baby," he exclaimed.
"Lady Hake, now Mrs. Avon Harland, and by Jove, she looked as lovely as
ever. Much lovelier, indeed, for now she looked so happy." He asked
sharply. "Did you know they had been married?"

Larose nodded. He knew it well enough, for he had had a piece of the
wedding-cake sent him, addressed in what he guessed was the one-time
dainty Mary Hellister's handwriting.

Stone went on. "But that wasn't all the surprise, by Gosh, no, for after
Mr. and Mrs. Harland came"--he rolled his eyes as if in mingled
amusement and disgust--"Byles Chater, Doctor King-Harley, and Mr. Beachy
Head Norton. I learnt afterwards that Huntley had married that little
Bane girl and was now Norton's chauffeur. Oh, and, of course, Mrs.
Norton was there, too."

"Oh, what a mix-up!" exclaimed Larose, now much too interested to want
to try and be humorous.

"Yes," nodded Stone, "three men whom at one time we would have arrested
upon the capital charge all coming together out of church, as
respectable as you and me and as if butter wouldn't melt in their
mouths."

"And they saw you?" asked Larose.

"Saw me?" ejaculated Stone. "Why they buzzed around my old car like a
swarm of bees and I had even to kiss the baby! Then they would make us
come up to their place about a mile away--I learnt she had sold Hake
Court before she had married--and drink to the baby's health."

"Very nice, too!" commented Larose. "I wish I had been there."

"Perhaps you ought to have been," nodded Stone darkly. He went on
sharply: "I say, my boy, have you seen her little ladyship since those
Hake Court days?"

"No, I've not set eyes on her since, but why do you want to know? What
do you mean by that funny look?"

"Nothing, nothing, lad," said Stone. He burst into a loud guffaw. "Only,
they told me one of the baby's names is Gilbert. Ha, ha, ha!"


THE END.


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