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Title: The Dark Mill Stream
Author: Arthur Gask
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1300281.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: January 2013
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Title: The Dark Mill Stream
Author: Arthur Gask

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

WHAT THIS STORY IS ABOUT

A large sum of money was stolen from a London bank and hidden in an old
mill in a lonely and unfrequented part of Essex. It is found by two men
already deep in crime, and the dreadful murder of one of them follows.

Gilbert Larose, the one-time great international detective, when
discovery seems well-nigh impossible, nevertheless, picks up the
trail--almost from what he hears in the whisperings of the wind--and it
leads him to an important country gentleman living in an historic
mansion in Norfolk.

A story packed with thrills and surprises from cover to cover, featuring
that most famous of all investigators Gilbert Larose at his brilliant
best.

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


THE DARK MILL STREAM

BY

ARTHUR GASK


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



First Printing 1947.



CONTENTS.

CHAPTER:

I........THE TRADER FROM HOICHOW
II.......THE OLD MILL
III......THE SECRET OF THE MILL STREAM
IV.......DEEPER IN CRIME
V........LAROSE TAKES A HAND
VI.......AN OLD DOG FOR THE TRAIL
VII......THE TRAIL OF MURDER
VIII.....A THIEF IN THE NIGHT
IX.......THE PERIL OF LAROSE
X........THE SPIRITS OF THE DEAD
XI.......THE VENGEANCE OF MAN





CHAPTER I.--THE TRADER FROM HOICHOW.

AT eight and thirty years of age Chester Hardacre was a well set-up,
good-looking man, with good features and large, fearless blue eyes. The
general impression of his face, however, was not altogether a pleasant
one, for it was hard and grim, giving the idea, and quite rightly, too,
that he would be relentless and without any scruples whatsoever in
getting all he wanted in any way and at all costs. There was certainly
no appearance of sympathy or pity about him.

Of strong personality, he was a well-known character in Hoichow, the
chief seaport of Hainan Island, only a few miles distant from the
mainland of China, where he had been a trader for fifteen years. He
carried on quite a successful business in his large store and, indeed,
would have been a rich man but that gambling was the ruling passion of
his life. He had left many thousands of pounds on the racecourse of
Hongkong, only a day and a night's journey away, and he was reckless,
too, in the amount of money he risked at cards.

A man of most violent and uncontrollable temper, he was a master to be
feared, and once, for some trifling offence, had so badly beaten up one
of his house-boys that the latter had died two days afterwards. The
Chinese population were furious and it had required all the influence of
the white community on the island and the passing over of a considerable
sum of money, to hush up the matter and stay the authorities from taking
action.

From a strictly moral point of view, Hardacre, too, was hardly what
purists would have called a good man. He was unmarried, but his big
bungalow above the harbour was never without its chatelaine. His male
friends, when they were calling upon him accompanied by their wives or
daughters, made it a matter of routine when approaching his bungalow to
honk loudly upon the horns of their cars in order to give warning so
that the ruling favourite might be discreetly spirited away into one of
the back rooms.

Many women, native, of course, had flitted across his life, for he was
always changing them in a casual, off-hand way. Undoubtedly, however, of
all who had ever taken his wayward fancy he had been most partial to
Winna Mee, and that, probably, because as a new acquisition, contrary to
the usual meekness of her race, she had furiously resisted his advances.

A lovely Chinese girl, beautiful as a just-budding rose and dainty as a
piece of rare porcelain, her small body was lithe and beautifully
proportioned. She was sold to him somewhat late in her life, as she was
nearly fifteen when he bought her from her parents for the equivalent of
20 English money. She was not disposed, however, to be so casually
handed over to a stranger so many years older than herself, particularly
as she already had a lover in her own village.

So, when the 20 had been paid over and she had been deposited in the
bungalow like a load of sugar-cane or a consignment of cotton, she had,
at first, been as difficult to handle as a wild cat. Only amused,
however, at her furious attempts to repulse him, the trader had quickly
shown her who was master and, her nails closely clipped so that there
should be no more scratching, in a few days she had seemingly become
resigned to her fate. Still, it was a long while before Hardacre allowed
her to prepare any of his food. He had no wish to wake up in the night
in the dreadful agony of bamboo spines piercing through his intestines.

However, he came to trust her at last, and that was after one night when
he had caught her old lover prowling round the bungalow with a most
business-like looking Gurkha dagger naked in his hand. The man was a
sailor and, just returned from a long sea voyage, he had learnt only
that day that his lady-love had been so callously disposed of. He was no
weakling and for some dangerous and thrilling moments the trader had
fought him with bare hands. In the end, however, he had succeeded in
getting his dagger away and had then given him a severe thrashing,
sending him off with a contemptuous kick and not deigning to hand him
over to the police.

Winna Mee had been an interested spectator of the struggle, trembling as
to what would be the outcome, but when the trader returned victoriously
into the bungalow her eyes glowed in her excitement and she looked at
him as she had never done before. Then, suddenly, she threw her arms
round his neck and kissed him passionately in the way he had taught her.
A veritable child of the jungle, she had been won in the jungle fashion
and would be faithful to him henceforth, without any reservation. After
that night she was his devoted slave, all her coldness disappeared and
she was ardent and ever ready with her caresses.

For nearly two years she reigned in the bungalow and, such was her
fascination for him, during that time Hardacre's affections never
wandered. Her flower-like beauty seemed to grow upon him and he thought
he would never be tired of looking at her. His happiest hours were when
he was with her.

Then the great catastrophe occurred and at once all his obsession for
her turned a complete somersault and he became most unjustifiably and
unreasonably angry.

She told him she was going to bear him a child.

Now in the circles in which Hardacre moved, in the white man's club and
the general social life of Europeans on the island, it was of no account
for a European to live with a native girl. Indeed, it was considered as
quite the natural thing for an unmarried man to do. It became, however,
a very different matter if the girl had a baby by him. Then it was
regarded as letting down the whole white community and bringing
discredit upon their class.

So when the trader found what was going to happen, his fondness for
Winna Mee vanished at once, and with no delay he prepared to bundle her
out neck and crop, hoping the matter would not become generally known to
his friends and acquaintances. At first, the girl was all tears and
frenzied lamentations, but, upon learning that Hardacre was going to
endow her with twice her purchase price, she speedily became in part
consoled. Forty pounds was a tremendous sum to her and she would return
to her village as a queen with the spoils of victory thick upon her. Not
only was she going to bear a white man's child, but, with the money she
possessed, she would be able to acquire property which would go a long
way towards keeping her in comfort for the rest of her life. Added to
that, she knew her prestige would soon enable her to get a husband
agreeable to her choice.

So Winna Mee went out of Hardacre's life, as he thought for ever, and in
a few weeks another girl reigned in her place. The time passed on, and
then, when Winna Mee had been gone for nearly years, happening to pass
through the village from where she had come, in mild curiosity he made
inquiries about her. To his intense horror, he learnt that, only a few
months before, she had shown signs of leprosy, and was now an inmate of
a leper settlement.

His reaction to the news was, at first, only one of intense sympathy for
the girl, and a great wave of tenderness surged through him as he
recalled how lovely she had been in those first days when she had come
to him. With a dreadful pang he thought of the ravages the hideous
disease would in time make upon her beautiful young body. He had seen
many lepers since he had come to live on Hainan Island, and some of them
had been so loathsome to look at that for days afterwards they had
haunted his dreams.

Then, suddenly, a most terrifying possibility avalanched itself into his
mind and his face went ashen-grey with fear. Why, for nearly two years
he had been in actual contact with her day upon day, and night after
night she had lain in his arms! God, the awful disease was infectious!
She might have had it in its early stages when she had been living with
him! She might have given it to him and, perhaps, for months and months
the dread bacilli had been coursing through his arteries and veins!

He almost choked in his consternation. It was common knowledge that one
might contract the disease and yet show no sign of it for as long a
period as seven years. Seven years, and it was only just two since he
had sent her away!

The next night at the club he got into conversation with a young doctor,
and inquired, as casually as he could make out, about leprosy. The
doctor had not been long in the East, but for all that he seemed to know
a lot about the disease. "A damned nasty business," he said, "and if I
got it I think I'd shoot myself. Oh, yes, you can catch it by contact.
You get the leprae bacilli from an infected person on your skin, and
then, with the smallest scratch, the bugs get underneath and you're
booked. You can get it in another way, too, for the bugs can enter
through the mucous membrane of the nose and throat."

Hardacre's hands became cold and clammy, and he furtively wiped the
beads of sweat from his forehead.

In the months which followed, the trader became intensely nervy and
irritable. He lost weight, and his friends kept telling him he didn't
look well. And in time he began to feel anything but well. He was
thoroughly out of sorts and had dreadful sleepless nights. He lost all
pleasure in his food, but made up for it by drinking spirits by the
bottle. He was always thinking about leprosy, and half a dozen times a
day would strip himself and search for a white spot somewhere upon his
skin.

His temper became worse and worse, and he was always making out people
were insulting him. His friends and acquaintances took to avoiding him
as much as possible, and there were even whispers that he was going to
be asked to resign from the club.

A climax came there one evening when another member accused him of
cheating at cards. Quick as a flash of lightning, Hardacre picked up a
heavy decanter and struck his accuser straight in the face. The decanter
broke and he jabbed at him with the broken stem, severing one of the big
arteries in the neck. Notwithstanding that the man was obviously
mortally wounded, Hardacre threw himself upon him and gripped him
fiercely by the throat. It took all the efforts of four men to pull him
away and, struggling violently, the trader had ultimately to be bound
hand and foot to prevent him doing further mischief. The man he had
attacked passed away during the struggle.

Of course there was no chance of the matter being hushed up, for the
dead man was an important official of a big trading concern, and so
Hardacre was at once handed over to the authorities for trial and
punishment. But while there was not the slightest sympathy for him and
everyone would have liked to see him decapitated in the Chinese fashion,
it was realized what a dreadful blow it would be to white prestige if
that happened. So the two British doctors on the island, much to the
trader's fury, certified him as insane and recommended he be put away in
an asylum.

That, however, did not satisfy the authorities and they were adamant
that he should stand his trial. Seeing that there was no help for it,
certain members of his one-time friends then started to make
arrangements for him to escape from custody and be smuggled out of the
island.

Under a power of attorney given by the trader, his business was sold for
2,000 and part of the money used in bribes to further his escape. One
night the bars of his cell were filed through for him and the next
morning found him well out to sea in a small fishing boat and heading
for the coast of French Indo-China. He reached there without mishap and
some weeks later had made his way round to Rangoon. From there it was
not difficult to get to Calcutta and finally, travelling third class, he
took ship by a P. & O. liner for England.

The voyage undoubtedly unproved his health but, a most unusual thing for
him, he found himself suffering a lot from headaches, and though there
were certainly no outward signs of the dread disease upon him, he was
still worried, thinking he was in its early stages.

He had decided what he would do and was determining to consult the best
authority upon tropical diseases in London. He would not tell him he was
terrified he had got leprosy, but would approach him in the ordinary
way, as a man who had just returned from the tropics and was feeling
very much off colour. He would let the doctor find out for himself what
was the matter with him, giving no help to diagnose any possible
complaint.

Arriving in London with just over 1,400 and intending to husband his
resources as much as possible, he put up at a cheap coffee tavern in
Theobald's Road. The neighbourhood was poor, but the coffee tavern had
been recommended to him as being cheap and clean by one of the stewards
on the boat. It was called "Benson's Hall" and, ashamed to be staying at
such a place, he registered under the name of George Hunter. Chester
Hardacre, he prided himself, was a high-sounding name and, he thought,
it would be ridiculous in such surroundings.

From a London directory he learnt that a Dr. Humphrey Monk was the chief
consulting physician of the School of Tropical Medicine in the East End,
and he decided he would be a good man to go to, arguing that the doctor
must be of high standing to be occupying such a position.

Accordingly, after having had to wait a couple of days for an
appointment because the doctor was out of Town, one morning he was
ushered into a beautifully-appointed consulting room in a big old-world
home in Cavendish Square.

Dr. Monk was a smallish man of slight build, but for all that he looked
brimful of dynamic energy. About sixty years of age, he had a high
forehead and big, very shrewd grey eyes set deeply under big bushy
brows. Waving Hardacre to a chair, he seated himself at a desk and,
taking an index card from a pigeon-hole, at once asked him for his name
and address. Hardacre gave his name as Charles Henson and, somewhat awed
by his surroundings and surmising from them that the doctor's charges
would be very high for all who could pay them, flushing slightly as he
did so, said he was staying at the Theobald's Road coffee tavern. He was
hoping a smaller fee would then be expected of him. The preliminaries
over, the doctor asked what the trouble was which had brought Hardacre
to him.

The trader had many times rehearsed the story he was intending to tell
and he told it straightforwardly and with no hesitation.

He said he had but recently returned from equatorial Africa where he had
been living for a few years. He had been feeling seedy for a long time,
generally run-down and suffering a lot of headaches. His body also ached
a bit, chiefly in his bones.

The doctor listened attentively and asked him several questions. Then he
told him to strip to the waist to allow of his examining his heart and
lungs carefully. Afterwards he made him take off the rest of his
clothes, and minutely went over every inch of his body.

At length, pointing to a small spot on one of his shins, he asked him how
long it had been there, and Hardacre replied he had not noticed it
before, adding it was probably a bite from an insect. There had been
plenty about in the boat and they had annoyed him a lot.

Making no comment, the doctor took a bottle out of a cupboard and
proceeded to drop a minute quantity of the liquid it contained first
upon the spot itself, and then upon the adjoining skin an inch and more
away.

"I shan't hurt you," he said. "You won't feel anything," and with a
needle he made two little pricks where he had dropped the liquid. He
wiped drops of liquid away, and for a long minute stood intently
regarding the skin. He motioned to Hardacre to resume his clothes.

A couple of minutes or so of silence followed, before the trader, fully
dressed again, was back in his chair. The doctor spoke very quietly. "I
don't want to distress you unnecessarily," he said, "but I want to know
if, within the past few years"--he spoke very slowly--"you happen to
have been brought into contact with anyone known to have been suffering
from leprosy?"

Hardacre's heart almost stood still. A dreadful mist arose before his
eyes and his mouth went dry. So his awful fears were confirmed. This
doctor was diagnosing leprosy when he had not been given the slightest
pointer in that direction. It was many seconds before he found his
voice, and then he whispered hoarsely: "Yes."

The doctor frowned. "Then you had that trouble in your mind when you
decided to consult me," he said. He nodded. "Still it was a good thing I
had the opportunity of making an independent diagnosis without any help
from you."

"But have I leprosy?" faltered Hardacre through his dry lips. "Do you
think I am infected?"

"Oh, I can't say that for certain yet," replied the doctor quickly.
"There will be nothing definite until I find the actual leprae bacilli
in you. I shall have to see if there are any in that little spot you've
got there on your shin."

"But I thought," said Hardacre tremblingly, "that leprosy began with a
white patch somewhere on the skin."

The doctor shook his head. "Not always. It can first show itself in a
brown spot or pimple such as that one you have." He spoke impressively.
"Now, tell me when you were actually in contact with this leprous
person, and how close was the contact."

"It began as long as nearly five years ago," said the trader, "and it
lasted for not quite two years. I have not been near the person for
getting on for three years."

"But three years does not make you safe," commented the doctor, shaking
his head. "We have no certain knowledge as to how many years may elapse
between acquiring the disease and it beginning to show itself, but there
are well-authenticated cases where the time has been over ten years. Who
was this person you may have got it from--a native, of course?"

"Yes, a native woman," replied Hardacre huskily.

"A servant?" queried the doctor.

Hardacre hesitated. "More than that," he said. He spoke almost
defiantly. "She was living with me in my bungalow."

"Ah, and if she were infected herself," nodded the doctor, "that would
have given ample opportunity for her to infect you. Did you get rid of
her because you found out she was sick?"

"No, for other reasons," was the reply, "and it was not until two years
afterwards that I learnt she had recently been taken ill and put in a
leprosorium," and he went on to explain how he had come to find out what
had happened to Winna Mee. "But do you honestly think, sir," he
concluded with his voice shaking, "that I am really a leper?"

"I've already told you I can't tell with any certainty until I've dealt
with the contents of that spot," said the doctor a little testily. His
voice dropped to a more sympathetic tone. "Still, I can't hold out much
hope that you are not, for undoubtedly you have some of the symptoms of
early leprosy. Besides, that little test which I made just now makes
things look very ominous."

"But nothing happened," frowned Hardacre.

"No, that's exactly it," nodded the doctor. "Nothing did happen, and
if it were certain you were leprosy free, something should have
happened. It was histamine, which comes from ergot, which I put on your
skin and, after I had pricked it, within a few seconds I should have
seen a pronounced reddening of the skin. But, as you saw, we didn't get
any reddening at all and that's what makes me suspicious."

A few minutes later, after he had obtained some of the contents of the
spot, he dismissed Hardacre, enjoining him to come back in two days'
time. "Then I shall be able to tell you for certain," he said, "and we
shall have to decide what we must do."

They were a miserable two days for the trader, and he was white and
shaky-looking when he returned two days later to Cavendish Square.
Directly he entered the consulting room he saw by the expression upon
the doctor's face what the verdict was going to be.

Grave and unsmiling, the doctor said very quietly: "I am sorry to tell
you that we found leprosy bacilli in the specimen and----"

"Then I am a doomed man!" choked Hardacre. "There's no hope for me!"

"No, no, you mustn't say that," protested the doctor quickly. "Indeed,
there is a lot of hope for you if you take things in the proper way. I
won't deceive you by saying we know of any specific cure, but I do
assure you the disease is distinctly amenable to treatment and only a
very small percentage of sufferers actually die of it. It is recognized
now that it is a self-healing disease, like small-pox and typhoid fever,
but while typhoid burns itself out in, say, twenty-one days, leprosy may
take twenty-one years. So, if you never actually get rid of it, if you
follow directions implicitly and keep up your general health, you may
hold it at bay for the remainder of your life."

"I'll do anything," said Hardacre miserably, "but what is there to do?"

"Lots of things. Firstly, you must hypnotize yourself into the belief
that you're not going to get worse, but, instead, you are going to get
better. So you mustn't brood over it, by no means an impossible attitude
of mind when you carry out the routine I am going to lay down for you.
You must build up your health and strength in every possible way, and
you must live a good out-door life and get plenty of exercise and fresh
air. You must take up some hobby or occupation strenuously, to occupy
your mind."

"But aren't you going to give me any medicine?" asked Hardacre, a little
comforted by the doctor's words.

"Certainly," replied the doctor. "I'm going to put you on strong doses
of potassium iodide. They are getting splendid results from it in India,
better than from anything else. I'll give you a prescription at once."
He regarded the trader curiously. "Now are you pretty well off?"

Hardacre frowned. "If I were should I be staying at the address I gave
you?" he asked bitterly. "No one could surely imagine a man of means
would be stopping anywhere near Theobald's Road." He shook his head.
"No, I have not much money and I shall have to earn my living like most
other people do. But why do you ask?"

For a few moments the doctor hesitated. Then he said thoughtfully: "I am
wondering what can be done in your particular case, for of course
segregation will be imperative to prevent you passing on the disease to
others."

"Then am I infectious?" exclaimed Hardacre in a horrified tone. "Can I
infect other people?"

The doctor nodded. "Most assuredly you can. In the first instance you
probably became infected by that native girl from a spot no bigger than
the one you have now on your shin. Apart from any spots, too, the
secretions from the mucous membrane of the nose and throat can infect as
well." He nodded again. "Yes, the early stages of the disease are
considered the most dangerous of all."

"Then what am I to do?" asked Hardacre, dreadful possibilities of what
might be going to happen to him avalanching into his mind.

"Well, that depends upon what you can pay," replied the doctor, "but,
anyway, things will be arranged for you. You see, in this country
leprosy is not usually a notifiable infectious disease but it happens to
be so now, as several cases have come to light recently in the Port of
London. So, I shall have to report your case at once to the Health
Authorities and they will deal with it according to your circumstances.
That's why I asked you if you were a man of any money." He spoke in
business-like tones. "You say you have a little! Well, if you could run
to six guineas a week, then there is a very exclusive little colony in
Wales which you could join. It is on an isolated part of the coast in
most ideal surroundings, and there would be plenty to occupy your mind.
You could fish and golf and there is good shooting. At present there are
about twenty men and women there, all of a better class, and there's a
good doctor in attendance."

"But do you mean to say there is a leper colony in this country?" asked
Hardacre aghast.

"Certainly! Indeed there are several of them, but this one of which I am
speaking is the best. Now could you afford six guineas a week?"

The trader could hardly find his voice. "For how long?" he asked
hoarsely.

The doctor shook his head. "That I can't say. It might be for some
time." He nodded. "So we shall have to wait until you are lepra bacillus
free before you can mix with the world again."

He repeated his question. "Can you run to six guineas a week?" A thought
struck him and he turned to pull open one of the drawers of his desk.
"Ah, wait a moment! I have a photograph of the place somewhere here and
it may help you to make up your mind, for you will see the surroundings
are well worth the money."

His search gave Hardacre time to think and his face puckered up into an
ugly scowl as he thought furiously and hard. Damn, he had fallen into a
trap and this doctor was going to hand him over to a leprosorium, bound
hand and foot! But he wasn't going to have it. Blast it, he wouldn't! He
would hide away somewhere on his own and give himself the treatment the
doctor was prescribing! Hell, but he mustn't let the doctor know! He
must pretend to agree with him and cut off quick!

He forced a smile as the doctor, finding the photograph, handed it
across. "See, it's quite a nice place, well-appointed and as comfortable
as a hotel. Now, what do you say? You must decide quickly, for you must
go somewhere straightaway. We can't have you left as a possible course
of infection to others an hour longer than can be helped."

Hardacre nodded. "All right, I'll go there," he said. "I can at any rate
manage it for two or three years and then hope for the best."

"That's the spirit," exclaimed the doctor. "That gives you the best
chance of keeping it under. Now, I'll ring up the Health people and
they'll pick you up this afternoon. I'll arrange it for, say, three
o'clock. They'll put you up somewhere to-night and have you motored down
into Wales to-morrow." He wrote rapidly at his desk. "Now here is the
prescription for the iodide of potassium, and you must start taking it
at once." He rose briskly to his feet. "And that's all now. I'm very
pressed for time. I'm off to Scotland directly after lunch for a
consultation." He smiled. "I shan't be seeing you again, and my fee is
seven guineas." Then, seeing what he took for a look of astonishment
upon the trader's face, he added: "That includes the laboratory fee for
making a culture of the bacilli."

Hardacre cursed under his breath. Seven guineas! It was an extortion! It
was barefaced robbery! Why, that morning he hadn't been with him much
more than ten minutes!

He paid over the money, noticing with some resentment that the doctor
handled the notes gingerly and put them at once into an envelope by
themselves. Also, to his annoyance, he ushered him out of the consulting
room without offering to shake hands.

In the depths of depression at the doctor's verdict the ex-trader made
his way into the hall, but yet another, and an almost greater shock this
time, was to come to him, for, as the street door was opened by the
nurse attendant for him to pass out, he came face to face with a young
fellow who had just arrived on the doorstep, and to his consternation
recognized him as a man he had known on Hainan Island. God, it was young
Burton from the British Consulate at Hoichow!

The young fellow did not seem to notice Hardacre at first and addressed
himself smilingly to the butler. "If my uncle is very busy, Nurse," he
said, "I won't stop. I'll come another----" but happening to glance in
Hardacre's direction, the words froze on his lips and he stared as if he
could not believe his eyes.

Hardacre had gone a sickly colour, but his face was expressionless and
he looked straight before him as if he had not recognized the young man.
With no hurry he passed out into the street. His legs, however, were
shaking under him and he was trembling in his fright. What a most
damnable piece of bad luck! And this Burton was the doctor's nephew,
too! It couldn't be worse, for of course he would tell him everything
and the police would be upon his track at once!

Turning into the first public house he came to, two stiff brandies did a
lot towards steadying both his limbs and his nerves, and he began to
take a much more hopeful view of the situation. After all, young Burton
might not be quite certain he had recognized him, but, if he had, what
was there to back up his word to convince anybody else? The police were
not likely to start upon an extensive search without having something
definite to go upon. Anyhow, extradition was always a lengthy business
and, besides, the Hoichow authorities might not be willing to move in
the matter. After all, the man who had been killed had been a European
and not a Chinese and that would certainly not incline them to disturb
themselves unduly.

Also, there was do doubt they had connived at his escape, or it would
not have been managed so easily, and any searching inquiries would
certainly bring to light that bribing had been going on. The 500 he had
paid would not have gone to only minor officials. Undoubtedly someone
high up had had his whack out of it too. No, he had plenty of time to
get away and hide, if he did not panic and lose his head.

His thoughts reverted to the doctor and he sneered contemptuously that
he had deceived him all right. The fool was certain he was going to
allow himself to be segregated without any protest, and he was equally
as certain he was not. Long before three o'clock he would have started
for where no Health Authorities would find him. It was only just after
noon now and so he had a good three hours to get clear.

As it happened, however, the trader was very much mistaken about his
having kept his real intentions from Dr. Monk. On the contrary the
latter was highly suspicious that his patient was not intending to
accept segregation so readily as he had tried to make out, for, when
searching in the drawer for the photograph he had shown Hardacre, he had
chanced to glance up for a moment and in doing so had caught a fleeting
glimpse of the trader's face reflected in a mirror on the wall. Hardacre
was scowling sullenly, with something of the terror, the doctor thought,
of a trapped animal. Then, when the doctor had turned round again with
the photo in his hand, Hardacre's expression was as quiet and resigned
as before. The sudden change in the expression had given the doctor a
warning.

Accordingly, the moment his patient had left the consulting room, the
doctor phoned up the chief medical officer of the Port of London, and
told him all that had taken place.

"And I'm more than half inclined to think," he concluded, "that he'll
try to make a breakaway. He looks just that type of man, accustomed to
having his own way and impatient of all restraint. So, I think you'd
better pick him up as soon as you possibly can. Good-bye, I can't stop.
I've got to catch the one-thirty from Euston and I've a lot to see to
before that. I've a consultation in Edinburgh to-night."

All unaware of the danger threatening him, Hardacre made his way back to
the coffee tavern, intending to pack his suitcase and leave the place at
once. The appetizing odour of roast pork, however, assailed his nostrils
directly he walked into the place, and he decided to have dinner first.
Strangely enough, he was now quite hungry, and he felt very pleased with
himself at the way he was starting to stand up to his misfortune.

He made a good meal and was quite leisurely about it. Indeed, it was
well after one o'clock when he made his way into the place to get his
bill from the girl at the desk. Two men who had come in quietly through
the street door, however, reached the desk just before him and, standing
behind them, to his horror he heard the name he had given to the doctor
mentioned.

"We want to speak to Mr. Henson," said one of the men. "Is he at dinner
or will you give us the number of his room?"

"Henson!" exclaimed the girl. She shook her head. "There is no Mr.
Henson staying here."

"Oh, but there is," protested the man. "We are quite sure of it. We were
to meet him here. We have an appointment."

The girl shook her head. "There's a mistake somewhere. There's no one of
that name staying here." She pushed a big book across the counter.
"Here's the register. Look for yourself."

A very short survey of the book brought a frown to the man's face, and
he turned to his companion and whispered: "He's diddled us as the doctor
thought he would. He gave him a wrong address." He turned back to the
girl and asked sharply: "Anyone come to stay here lately who'd got a
fair bit of luggage with him, as if he'd just arrived from abroad?"

The girl shook her head. "People with much luggage don't usually come
here," she said with a smile, and Hardacre was devoutly thankful he had
left his two big leather trunks in the cloakroom at St. Pancras Station.

"Well, phone up and get his description," growled the other man to his
companion. "He may be staying here but under another name," and the
first man at once walked over to the telephone cabinet and shut himself
in.

Hardacre had heard everything and, controlling himself with an effort,
sank weakly into a chair. The second man, waiting for the result of the
phone call, moved over across the hall and, seating himself, took out a
cigarette and commenced to smoke. Then, his eyes happening to fall upon
the trader, he proceeded to stare hard and frowningly at him.

"The devil," muttered Hardacre in dreadful consternation, "he sees I'm
brown and look like someone from the tropics! He's suspicious!"

And certainly the man did seem suspicious, for he kept his eyes fixed on
the trader. An idea, however, coming into Hardacre's mind, he pulled
himself together with another effort and, rising leisurely to his feet,
moved back to the desk.

"Give me a couple of your prospectuses, Miss," he said quietly and, upon
her complying at once with his request, he strolled over with them in
his hand to the man who was continuing to regard him so intently.

"Excuse me, sir," he said with a polite bow, "but will you accept these
little tariff cards of ours. You might, perhaps, be able to recommend us
to your friends." He smiled pleasantly. "I am Mr. Benson, the proprietor
of the coffee tavern."

Instantly the frowning expression upon the man's face relaxed.
"Certainly," he said, "and I'll give them to anyone I think they may
interest." He lowered his voice mysteriously. "But I say, Mr. Benson,
are you sure you've not had a man here lately who looks as if he'd just
come from abroad? I mean a man who's been living in equatorial Africa."

Hardacre considered. "Not lately," he replied with a shake of his head,
"at least not within the last few weeks." He winked knowingly. "Police
work, is it?"

"Not at present," said the man. He nodded. "But it might turn out to
be."

They chatted for a couple of minutes and then the first man came out of
the telephone cabinet. From his expression it was plain his telephoning
had not brought much result.

"No good," he said disgustedly to his companion, and not troubling to
lower his voice, "the doctor's gone off to Scotland and his damned nurse
has got two days' holiday and cleared out. They don't know where to get
in touch with her." He swore angrily. "Come on, it's no good stopping
here any longer," and to Hardacre's intense thankfulness, they went out
and got into a waiting car.

An hour and a half later the trader, having recovered his trunks from
the cloakroom of St. Pancras Station, was taking a ticket at Liverpool
Street for Burnham, a quiet little town on the banks of the River
Crouch.

Two days later, upon his return from Scotland, Dr. Monk rang up the
chief medical officer of the Port of London again to inquire how things
had gone with his patient and was most astonished to learn what had
happened.

"As I told you," he said, "I was half expecting he would try to get
away, but I can't understand why you didn't find him at that coffee
palace. I am almost certain he was stopping there, because the first
time I saw him, when he took off his clothes for me to make an
examination, a card fell out of his jacket pocket and, as I picked it up
to hand back to him, I saw it was one showing the tariff charged at
Benson's Hall. It may be, of course, that he was there under a different
name, and I should say now that that is very likely, as he was a proud
sort of man and seemed rather bitter at having to put up at a cheap
place like a coffee palace."

"It was a mistake I didn't ask you for a full description of him," said
the medical officer. "It was very careless of me. Let's have it now."

"Well, he was tall and well-built," said the doctor, "and not at all a
bad-looking fellow. Clean-shaven and bronzed, though not as sun-burnt as
most people would be who had lived in the tropics, as he stated, for ten
years. Still, you could tell he'd been living abroad. By the by, a
nephew of mine happened to run into him as he was leaving my house and
at first was very positive he was a man he had known on Hainan Island
just off the mainland of China. He says the chap had been arrested some
six months ago for killing a fellow-member of their club in Hoichow, but
had bribed his way out of prison and escaped."

"What--wanted for murder?" exclaimed the medical officer.

"Something like it. The other man was killed in a brawl over a dispute
at cards."

"And did he know your nephew had recognized him?" asked the medical
officer sharply.

"My nephew isn't certain," replied the doctor. "At any rate the man
didn't show it and that makes my nephew not so positive now." He
laughed. "Or at any rate he says he's not so positive, though I'm half
inclined to think his uncertainty is because, if this fellow is the
wanted man, the white community in Hoichow would not like the scandal of
his being brought back. In fact, I believe my nephew is sorry now he
mentioned anything about him to me."

"Hum," remarked the medical officer. "Well, it's nothing to do with us,
but I'll send my men again to the coffee palace, although I think it's
quite hopeless now."

The two men duly arrived at Benson Hall and asked to see the proprietor.

"Want to see Mr. Benson," demanded the elder, planting himself in front
of the desk, where the girl clerk had smiled as she recognized them.

"Mr. Benson?" she queried, looking rather puzzled. "There's no Mr.
Benson staying here."

"I mean the boss," said the man sharply, "the proprietor of the Hall."

"But there's no proprietor," explained the girl. "It belongs to a
company. Mrs. Williams is the manageress. Shall I fetch her?"

The man frowned heavily. He indicated his colleague. "But this gentleman
spoke to Mr. Benson when he came here the other day. He gave him two of
his tariff cards." He spoke angrily. "Where is Mr. Benson? What's the
mystery about him?"

The girl looked rather frightened. "There's no mystery, sir," she
replied, "but the Mr. Benson who once owned the place has been dead more
than twenty years."

The other man stepped forward. "Look here, Miss," he said persuasively,
"we want that gentleman I was talking to the other day, the one who came
over to you and got those tariff cards to give me. He was a Mr. Benson,
wasn't he? He told me he was."

The girl smiled all over her face now. "No, no," she said quickly, "he
was just one of the gentlemen staying here. His name was George Hunter."

"Hell," exclaimed the first man, "then where is he now?"

"Oh, he left us a few minutes after he'd given your friend our cards,"
said the girl. "He went up and got his suitcase at once, and was gone
almost immediately." She wanted to smile but was afraid to, because, the
truth beginning to dawn upon them, the two men were both looking so
angry.

A short hard silence followed and then the girl added timidly: "Yes, and
he may have been the very gentleman you came to inquire about, although
he had given his name here as Hunter. We believe he must have come from
abroad quite recently, because the chambermaid who did his room tells us
now that his pyjamas had a tag on them with the name of some firm in a
foreign country."

For many moments the two men were so dumbfounded in their anger at the
way they realized now they had been tricked, that they did not speak.
Then the elder said hoarsely: "Thank you, Miss. We are much obliged.
That's all we wanted to know," and without another word they turned away
and walked out into the street.

"We'll never catch him now," said one of them as they were driving off
in their car. "He's too damned clever for us." He laughed mirthlessly.
"The blasted impudence of him! But why the hell didn't the doctor think
of giving us his description in the first instance?" and his colleague
shrugged his shoulders disgustedly.




CHAPTER II.--THE OLD MILL.

IN the meanwhile Hardacre was settling down somewhat uneasily in a
little inn just outside Burnham, right on the muddy banks of the River
Crouch. Of all places in which to hide away he had chosen Burnham
because, as a boy, he had once spent a holiday there, and it had always
remained in his memory as one of the quietest places he had been in.

Surrounded in every direction by boggy Essex flats, except in summer and
then only for a few weeks, the district was as lonely and unfrequented
as anyone could wish, the only permanent inhabitants being a few
fishermen and some farmers with very small holdings.

He had remembered, too, a lonely little inn which stood all by itself
about half a mile out of the town on its seaward side and, when he had
been driven there that cold and misty evening, his heart sank in dismay
at its desolate appearance.

Inside the inn, however, everything looked comfortable and clean, and
the man and his wife who kept it were delighted when Hardacre informed
them that, if the accommodation and the cooking were satisfactory, he
might be staying for some time. He said he had but recently recovered
from a serious illness and, a writer by profession, he wanted perfect
peace and quiet.

The inn-keeper assured him with a grin that he would have all the quiet
he wanted, as in the winter, from one week's end to another, no
customers except an occasional fisherman and an odd farm-hand or two
came in for refreshment.

That night, after a well-cooked and nicely served meal, washed down by
two bottles of good beer, Hardacre took stock of his position, and, but
for the fear that the Health Authorities might be putting detectives
after him, he would have been by no means' in a depressed state of mind.

A shrewd, intelligent man, he had fully taken in all that the doctor had
told him regarding his complaint, and that leprosy, like tuberculosis,
would not flourish in healthy and well-nourished bodies. So he was
confident then that he would be able to keep the disease at bay and had
even hopes that in time he would throw it off altogether. As for what
the Health people would do, well, he would just have to chance things
there. If they were, indeed, to start upon an intensive search for him,
he was hoping they would have expected him to have hidden away in some
crowded city and not for one moment have gone to a little country town
so near to the great Metropolis.

Anyhow, he would keep himself as much out of sight as possible and, when
out for exercise and fresh air, take his walks where he was not likely
to meet many people. He remembered there were nearly five miles of
lonely and almost uninhabited country along the river bank towards the
sea, and so there would be many chances against him coming upon any
curious strangers. Also, he would grow a beard and that would soon make
his appearance very different from any description which might have been
given about him.

As to how he was going to earn his living, that would have to wait a
while. He had nearly 1,400 in good English bank-notes sewn up in his
belt and, at any rate, living economically they would provide for him
for three or four years. Of an enterprising and go-ahead disposition,
long before the money was spent he was certain he would have thought out
some profitable occupation to follow.

In the days which followed, time did not hang nearly so heavily upon his
hands as he had been expecting, and after the first rather anxious
weeks, he became confident he was safe and would not now be discovered.
The innkeeper and his wife were an unlettered incurious couple, and the
few strangers he encountered upon his walks, after wishing him polite
good-days, seemed to take no further interest in him.

When January came and the trader had been at the inn three months, he
was satisfied with his condition of health, and quite sure the drug he
had been most religiously taking was doing him good. Certainly, two more
little spots had come out on his shin, but they were very small ones,
and the first spot did not seem to have grown any bigger. In himself,
too, he was feeling much better and his appetite was good.

With the coming of early spring, however, he thought it would not be
safe to go on staying in Burnham much longer. Certainly, the rough
bearded fellow he looked now was very different from the well-dressed
patient who had consulted Dr. Monk. Still, he was not intending to take
any chances, and he remembered having seen a large stuffed trout in a
glass case in the doctor's consulting room. So it might be the doctor
was an enthusiastic fisherman and, the million to one chance
eventuating, he might one day come down to Burnham to fish in the
Crouch.

Besides, he felt there was another reason why he must leave the place.
Although the charges at the inn were very moderate, he was not living
anything like as cheaply as he had expected he would. He found he could
not do without luxuries, and had taken to sending up to Town for
expensive delicatessen foods and cases of good champagne, with a dozen
bottles of the wine often not lasting him a fortnight. Also, he must
have the most expensive Egyptian cigarettes, and he could easily get
through from thirty to forty of them in a day.

So he realized he must start earning money, but in exactly what way he
had no idea until one came to him from a poultry-farmer whose place,
about three miles from Burnham, he used to pass on his lonely walks in
the direction of the sea. He had often noticed the man at work, but for
a long while nothing more had passed between them than a wave of the
hand. Then one day the man came running up to him to borrow a box of
matches and, after a short conversation, asked him to come and look at
his birds.

Rather bored, Hardacre complied with his request, and to his surprise,
found himself interested at once. The poultry farm was small, but most
methodically kept and, even to the trader's inexperienced eyes,
contained some magnificent birds.

The man appeared to be delighted to have someone to talk to, and said he
was doing well, very well and--with a grin--much better than he would
like the Income Tax people to know. He said he had been there six years,
but had only just learnt the secret of success and that was to sell his
birds at a high price.

"You know," he explained, "I came to realize it is much easier to sell a
live bird for a guinea than a dead one for three and six. So, I go in
for stud birds now and breed from only the very best. I sell no hens
under a guinea and ask five for my roosters. I am beginning to get known
and people from all over the country buy from me. These Indian Game are
my speciality. Lovely birds, aren't they?"

"They are indeed," agreed Hardacre. "They look quite up to exhibition
standard."

"Oh, yes, I take prizes with them all over East Anglia," nodded the
poultry-farmer. He frowned disgustedly. "But more often than not only
second ones, because there is one man who always beats me when he enters
any of his birds, Indian Game, the same as mine. Still, the chap is in a
big way and has more than two thousand birds to pick from. That gives
him a big pull over us little chaps. He is a clergyman in Ingatestone."

"But can't you breed from his strain?" asked Hardacre. "Doesn't he sell
any of his eggs?"

"Oh, yes, he sells them, right enough," nodded the man. "He often sends
away a couple of hundred dozen in one batch." He scowled. "But the old
devil pricks every blooming eggshell with a needle, so that none of the
eggs will hatch out."

"Gad, what a selfish brute!" exclaimed Hardacre. "It would serve him
right if someone broke in and stole a dozen sittings. I know I'd do it
if I wanted them."

"And I might do it, too," laughed the man, "if it were anything of a
soft job, but he's got high fences all round his place and fierce dogs
are turned loose on guard at night."

Returning thoughtfully to the inn, Hardacre considered everything the
poultry-farmer had told him and, always quick and even hasty in his
decisions, before he dropped off to sleep that night had quite made up
his mind that poultry raising was the very occupation he had been
looking for. He knew he was a good organizer and a good man of business,
and that, when he put all his energies into anything, he invariably made
a success of it.

So, keeping his intentions to himself, he took to making daily visits to
the poultry farm, watching the man at his work, seeing how he handled
the birds, and, with judicious questioning, learning from where he
bought his supplies and what he paid for them. The man was a bachelor,
living by himself, and was most flattered at the interest the trader
took, lending him books, too, on poultry, and never seeming weary of
explaining things to him.

In a few weeks Hardacre was confident he knew enough to start for
himself and, buying a bicycle, he began taking long journeys all round
the country-side to find a suitable place to begin operations. After a
lot of looking about, he thought he had at last found what he wanted in
a little property of about six acres, some seven miles from Manningtree
and a little more than two miles from the village of Great Bromley. It
was known as Benger's Flat and its situation he considered ideal, as its
surroundings were very lonely, with no other habitation within a mile.
There was an old water mill on the property and a rambling old house in
a rather bad state of repair, with every window in it broken.

The mill had not been in use for many years and the property was part of
the estate of an old lady who had died about a year previously. Her
executors were anxious to get it off their hands, for no buyer had come
forward and, indeed, not a single offer had been made. The estate agent
in Manningtree, who secretly was delighted to have anyone now making
inquiries about the place, told Hardacre the price was 1,000, as
certain water rights went with the mill and the land was valuable.

"Valuable, fiddlesticks!" commented Hardacre scoffingly. "If the place
is worth anything like that figure, why has it been left to go to wrack
and ruin all this time? My offer is six hundred pounds, and not a penny
more." And get it for the 600 he eventually did, the agent having
averred it was the cheapest place he had ever sold.

Saying not a word to anyone in Burnham, Hardacre commissioned a builder
to make the house habitable, and then called in a carpenter to fix up
poultry sheds, exactly after the style of those of his poultry-farmer
friend. Finally, one morning he left the little town on the Crouch as
quietly and unostentatiously as he had arrived, with not a soul knowing
where he was going. Through the medium of advertisements in a poultry
journal, he stocked his pens with some of the best birds he could buy,
and settled down to what, he told himself, should be poultry raising in
a scientific way.

He had been hoping he would be quite content with his new life, but
speedily was not by any means so certain about that. The loneliness was
depressing, as from one week's end to another he saw no human being
except the man from the general store in Great Bromley, who called twice
a week with bread, groceries, meat and the London newspapers. Hardacre
would have liked to have cycled into Colchester or Manningtree every now
and then for a change, but a paragraph he had come across in one of the
papers had put the wind up him and made him afraid to show himself
anywhere in public.

The paragraph had been headed, "The Long Arm of the Law," and it related
how a man, who had been wanted by the Birmingham Police for nearly six
years, had only that week been picked out by a constable in Ipswich,
simply by the description which had been broadcast, and tabulated in
every police station all those years ago.

"Hell," exclaimed Hardacre with a sickening feeling in his stomach,
"wanted in Birmingham and recognized in Ipswich, all those miles away!"
He moistened his dry lips with his tongue. "Perhaps if I only knew it,
my description has been on the wall of every police station ever since I
got away."

One day when the provision man called, Hardacre was in one of the fields
a little distance from the house, and the man came over to find him and
get his order. Hardacre was watering his fowls and the tradesman, with
poultry of his own, was immensely struck with the appearance of some of
the prize birds. He was most enthusiastic about them and, an inveterate
gossip, Hardacre was sure he would spread all over the district what
good-class birds they were. That might mean, he cursed, people coming to
see them and, almost as bad, thieves coming after them at night.

So he bought a big ugly-looking dog to mount guard, and was immensely
pleased the animal growled savagely at the tradesman and wanted to go
for him whenever he called. With a grim smile, he hoped the man would
broadcast that about, too.

Three months went by and a great change was manifesting itself in
Hardacre. His depression had got much worse and his nerves were
beginning to fray so badly that he realized he could not go on much
longer in the same way. It was not that he was worried about his health,
for the spots on his shin had none of them become perceptibly bigger. He
felt pretty well in himself, too, and he had a good appetite. He had not
been denying himself anything in the way of eating and drinking,
continuing with the hampers of wine and expensive delicacies sent down
from one of the best provision stores in London.

He told himself he had been only following the doctor's instructions to
do himself well, and had kept on, too, with his medicine all the time,
but, strangely enough, although he knew the doctor had done him a lot of
good, nevertheless he had worked himself into a state of vicious and
venomous hatred against him, arguing perversely that the specialist was
responsible for most of his present troubles. The man was a scaremonger
and an alarmist and had grossly exaggerated his, Hardacre's,
infectiousness. He cursed him deeply for having sent the Health
Authorities to run him down.

No, physically he was certain there was not much the matter with him, at
any rate not enough for him to have been condemned to this lonely,
desolate way of life, but, mentally, he knew himself to be fast becoming
a sick man.

He cursed that the poultry-farming business was a wash-out, and was
greatly disappointed that he had so lost all interest in it. Certainly,
he had had a lot of set-backs to dishearten him. Many of his expensive
birds had sickened and died within a few weeks of his having bought
them, and he found the day-upon-day attending to fowls a most monotonous
business. They were dirty and messy creatures at best, and he was
beginning to loathe the very sight of them.

It was not only, too, that his occupation was so palling upon him. He
wanted excitement, he wanted company, he wanted people to talk to and,
above all, he had begun to hanker after the companionship of the other
sex.

Another matter also was worrying him a lot. It had of late become an
obsession with him that even after all these months his hiding-place
might yet be discovered. All sorts of suspicions were coming into his
mind. He imagined the bi-weekly grocer had taken to looking queerly at
him every time he called, and, also, he believed the place was being
watched. His common sense told him he hadn't the slightest grounds for
this last belief, but it grew upon him until he was absolutely convinced
that there were spies posted about.

This idea became so strong that he sent to Town for the best pair of
binoculars he could get, and, some days for hours at a time, would take
himself up into the loft of the mill and from well behind the narrow
window there sweep the glasses round and round in every direction, in
the certain expectation of, sooner or later, catching sight of someone
hiding in the reeds of the mill stream or among the tussocks of thick
grass in the surrounding meadows.

Weeks went by and his patience was not rewarded. Then, all in an
instant, it came to him that his worst suspicions had been justified and
that things were as bad as they could be, for late one afternoon his
horrified and startled eyes did fall upon a man crouching in a clump
of willows, over upon the side of the mill stream about two hundred
yards from the house.

He went breathless in his terror and excitement. So the police were upon
his track at last! A detective had been posted to watch the house! Then,
it would be only a matter of days, perhaps even only hours, before he
himself would be arrested and taken off for segregation!

For quite ten minutes, still as a graven image, he stood watching.
Through his strong glasses he could see every line of the man's face
quite plainly, and to his frenzied imagination they were as evil as
could be.

The man peered hard at the mill, he stared at the chicken sheds, and he
looked up and down the placid mill stream, many times.

Then he disappeared, to come in sight again, however, in about a couple
of minutes from the other side of the clump of willows. He was now
sauntering along aimlessly with a cigarette in his mouth. He did not
look once in the direction of the house or the mill, and, proceeding
very slowly on his way, finally disappeared in the direction of the
distant village.

Hardacre wiped the sweat from his forehead and laughed in derisive
relief. That man a detective! There wasn't one chance in a million that
he was! A weedy, under-nourished-looking little rat, he had never been
connected with the police! He was just some little sneak thief from a
city slum after his, Hardacre's, fowls!

The trader scoffed contemptuously. Well, let him come! The dog was off
his chain every night and it would go badly with any blackguard prowling
round. The trader felt like a man suddenly reprieved from impending
violent death.

Two mornings later, however, he came out into the yard to find his
watch-dog stretched stark and stiff before the house door. Undoubtedly
poisoned, in his death agonies he had half bitten through his tongue.
Hardacre's face went as black as night. Then the poisoner was
undoubtedly intending to come after the fowls and he had got rid of the
dog first, so that he should not be interfered with when he came!

Hardacre gritted his teeth savagely and, taking a small automatic from
one of his trunks, made certain it was loaded and placed it handy in his
hip pocket. God, he would shoot the thief when he came, and bury him in
one of the cellars! There was going to be no police-court publicity
about it!

All that night he remained on the watch, but nothing happened and the
next morning found him irritable and exhausted from want of sleep, and
in a more murderous mood than ever.

The next night, determined not to be caught out in his fatigue, he made
a bed for himself on the floor of the mill itself and, leaving the big
door ajar, was confident he would hear anyone passing to get to the
poultry sheds. It was from the house, he argued, the marauder would
expect danger to come, and most probably he would give no thought to the
old mill, particularly so if he saw the door had been left carelessly
open.

He put out all the lights at the usual time, about ten o'clock, and,
creeping into the mill, lay down upon his improvised bed of old sacks
and prepared for fitful sleep, most annoyed at the draught which fanned
his face from the unclosed door. Within a few minutes, however, before
at any rate even in his dreadfully tired condition he had begun to drop
off to sleep, he no longer felt the draught and, opening his eyes
uneasily to see what had happened, to his amazement, saw the door had
been pushed to, and a light, as from a small electric torch, flashing
quite near to him. The light went round and round. A thrill of great
triumph surged through the ex-trader and his first impulse was to spring
up and grapple with the thief. Then it leapt into his mind that unless
he succeeded in laying hands upon him in his first attempt, the wretch
might bolt outside and escape in the darkness. So, realizing that his
own recumbent body was in part hidden by some sacks of chicken food, he
decided to make no move until the thief was within seizing distance.
Then he would get him without difficulty. So he continued to lie where
he was, with a finger upon the button of his own torch. He would give
the little thief the shock of his life, for of course the intruder was
the small man he had seen spying from the willows, two days previously.

A few minutes of intense silence followed, and then with the light still
bobbing round, he heard the sounds of someone breathing hard and a
shadowy form loomed up close near him. With a fierce shout he thrust out
his foot, and the man with the light tripped over it and fell heavily to
the floor.

Hardacre was upon him in a flash and, grabbing him by the collar of his
jacket, shook him like a terrier with a rat. His prisoner, however,
showed no fight at all and just slumped in his arms as limp as a piece
of rag.

Thinking he must be unconscious through the force of his fall, Hardacre
lifted the man up roughly and carried him into the house. Then, after
passing his hands quickly over him to make sure he was carrying no
weapon, he bumped him down not too gently upon the kitchen floor and,
keeping a wary eye on him all the time, proceeded to light the big
hanging lamp.

The man opened his eyes, and struggled to a sitting position with some
effort, but he had, evidently, not quite recovered all his senses, as he
regarded his captor with puzzled and bewildered eyes.

Hardacre jerked him up into a big chair, and, seeing no danger in his
puny body, did not even trouble to tie him up. The kitchen door was shut
and the little devil, he told himself, would have no chance of getting
away. He smiled at recognizing in him, as he had expected, the man he
had seen hiding in the willows. Well, he would almost murder him now! He
had killed his dog, and come thieving after his chickens and he would
have no mercy on him! He would let him revive a bit and then flay him
with the whip he kept handy for the dog! He frowned. Ah, but he must not
make him a hospital case. He must not be too much hurt to be sent
packing, later, as there must be no police inquiries about what had
happened!

Suddenly the man seemed to look whiter and more sickly still and
Hardacre, thinking he was going to faint, hurriedly poured out a stiff
measure of whisky and, tipping up his head, forced him to gulp it down.
It was no act of pity or kindness. It was only that Hardacre did not
want a fainting man who could not take the punishment he was going to
give him.

And all this while not a word had been spoken by either of them, but
neither's eyes had left the other's face.

At last, apparently revived by the burning spirit, the man broke the
silence in weak and shaking tones. "You'd no business to have knocked me
about like that," he whimpered hoarsely. "I wasn't doing anything wrong.
I was only trying to find somewhere to get shelter for the night, and
seeing that door open, I----"

"You liar,"' burst out Hardacre fiercely, "you had come after my fowls
and you poisoned my dog two days ago."

"No, sir, I've never been here before," wailed the man, "and I was here
quite by chance to-night. I----"

"Shut up!" thundered Hardacre. He almost hissed out his next words. "You
little sneaking rat, I saw you spying from the willows the other day. I
was watching you through my glasses." He spoke menacingly. "You wait a
moment and you'll feel what I'm going to give you. You won't have a
whole bone in your body after I've done with you, you little thieving
blackguard!"

He turned to reach for the dog whip hanging on the wall, quite unknowing
that in all his life before never had he been in greater danger than he
was then. His back was towards the man and there was a big butcher's
knife upon the table.

The man's eyes flashed. He was no rat as Hardacre had called him. He was
more of the weasel than the rat, and his body, though slight and
puny-looking, was lithe and tough as whipcord, and hardened by the
rigours of recent prison life. He had knifed a man in the back before,
and indeed had just been released from the best part of seven years'
penal servitude for having clone so, and he would have stabbed Hardacre
with no more compunction than killing a fowl. Thirty-three years of age,
he had been in the hands of the police many times and "robbery with
violence" was his special line. Cowardice, certainly, had never been one
of his failings.

He ground his teeth now in his impotence, for he felt his legs were
wobbling under him. One of his ankles, too, had been so twisted in his
fall in the mill that it was heavy as lead and he dared not put it to
the ground.

So Hardacre had no lightning stab in the back and, with the whip in his
hand, he turned to regard the little man with a cruel and menacing
smile. "Now then," he snarled, uplifting the whip, "are you ready to
take it?"

The man was breathing quickly, but he spoke quietly and with restraint.
"Don't you strike me, sir. It will pay you far better not to. I can tell
you something which will make you a rich man."

"You little liar!" scoffed Hardacre. He laughed contemptuously. "And you
little fool, too."

"But I'm not lying, and I'm anything but a fool," protested the man
vehemently. "I know a secret about this old mill. There is a large sum
of money hidden here, but you won't find it without me."

"Liar!" scoffed Hardacre again, but for all that the man's vehemence had
impressed him, and he lowered the whip.

The man spoke quickly. "I'll make a clean breast of everything and you
shall judge for yourself. I'm completely in your hands and I know it
will pay me to speak the truth. Yes, I poisoned your dog, but it was not
to get to your fowls." He nodded impressively. "I was after the best
part of fifty thousand pounds."

Hardacre frowned incredulously, but for the moment his rage had been
submerged in his curiosity. "Who are you?" he asked curtly.

"My name's Werrick," said the man, "James Werrick, and I'm a convict on
ticket-of-leave." He nodded. "Oh, yes, I'm going to keep nothing back.
I'm not a common man although I last worked as a tally-clerk in the
London Docks, but I got found out taking things and was given three
years' imprisonment. After a while I was put in the prison infirmary as
an attendant. Last year Royce Millington was brought into my ward very
sick with pneumonia, and he was one of the patients I was looking after
when he died." He dropped his voice almost to a whisper. "He talked when
he was delirious, and I picked up where he'd hidden all the money." He
clenched his fist in his excitement. "It's hidden in this mill and if
you agree to go halves with me I'll find it." His eyes gloated. "Fifty
thousand pounds good it must be, perhaps even more than that, for you
remember it could only be traced that he'd betted away five thousand
pounds."

"What on earth are you talking about?" demanded Hardacre. "What's all
this rigmarole? Who's this Royce Millington, anyhow?"

Werrick looked aghast. "Royce Millington who robbed the Consolidated
Bank in Lothbury of more than fifty thousand pounds!"

"Never heard of him," grunted Hardacre. "I believe you are making it all
up."

Werrick drew in a deep breath. "But it only happened three years ago!
The papers were full of it! It was such a scandal that a clerk had been
able to go on robbing his bank for so long before being found out. Why,
you must have heard of it."

"Well, I didn't," frowned Hardacre. "I was in America then." He eyed
Werrick doubtfully. "But how do I know you are not making it all up to
escape this thrashing? You look to me an out-and-out liar who would say
anything."

Werrick spoke angrily. "Well, I'll give you the proof I'm speaking the
truth now, anyhow." He unbuttoned the inner pocket of his jacket and,
from a carefully folded and tied-round piece of brown paper, after much
fumbling with the string because his hands were shaking badly, held out
a long newspaper cutting to Hardacre. "Here, this is the report of the
trial which I cut out from a copy of the Times."

As if reluctantly and still unbelieving, Hardacre took the cutting from
him, and then Werrick remarked jauntily: "And while you are reading it
will you please give me a cigarette?" He made a grimace. "My nerves are
still very upset from the shaking you gave me."

Hardacre swore at him for his impudence. "I'll give you nothing," he
added curtly, "unless it's that thrashing I promised you," and he cast
his eyes down upon the paper and commenced to read.

Werrick ground his teeth savagely and cursed his strained ankle once
again. The big knife was so handy and its point looked so very nice and
sharp.

A long silence followed and Hardacre read slowly and carefully. Rex
versus Edward Royce Millington was certainly a startling case. A trusted
officer of the bank for two years, so it was estimated, had been
systematically purloining bank-notes, never of a greater value than 20,
all of which notes had been in circulation, and none of the numbers of
which had been recorded. His method had been simple but so cunning that
it had escaped detection. 56,000 odd had been taken from the bank
reserves, and all of it had gone, so the accused averred, in gambling on
the Stock Exchange and in betting. But a bare 5,000 was all which had
been actually traced, and both the Prosecutor for the Crown and the
judge who tried the case had expressed their emphatic disbelief in the
prisoner's story as to what had become of the rest. He had been
sentenced to seven years' penal servitude.

"How did you get hold of this cutting?" asked Hardacre. "You couldn't
have been keeping it on the chance that you might one day meet the man."

"Certainly not," agreed Werrick. "I got it from the newspaper files in
the British Museum. Of course, with my record I knew I could never get a
ticket of admission to the Reading Room, but"--and for the first time
during the interview a smile came into his face--"I hung about the
entrance until I saw a likely-looking chap coming out and then I picked
his pocket as he was going home in the bus. I used his ticket, and in
the newspaper room cut out the paragraph, without being seen."

Hardacre was, apparently, still in two minds whether to believe the man
or not. "And you say," he asked, "that this thieving bank clerk told you
he'd got the money and had hidden it here?"

"No, no," exclaimed Werrick, "he didn't tell me anything. He only
babbled about it when he was delirious. He talked about what were seven
years in prison for a man who could live rich for the remainder of his
life and he kept saying that no rats in the old mill could get at the
notes to destroy them. He talked about the old mill so often that I
hoped it was the name of some place."

"But if this estate belonged to him," frowned Hardacre, "why didn't the
police search here to find the money?"

"It didn't belong to him," said Werrick, "and no one except me learnt he
had ever had anything to do with it." His expression was a triumphant
one. "I found it out after as smart a piece of detective work as was
ever done at Scotland Yard," and he at once proceeded to tell Hardacre
the whole story.

It was not until the bank officer had been dead nearly six months that
Werrick had been released on ticket-of-leave, and then he had set about
finding out all he could about the dead man. He had set about it, too,
with infinite patience and cunning.

First, he had trailed the commissionaire of the bank in Lothbury which
Royce Millington had robbed to his home in Waltham Green. He found his
hobby was chrysanthemums and, catching the man in the front garden of
his modest little house, stopped to admire his blooms. Then he suggested
a friendly glass of beer at a nearby public house and learnt the one the
commissionaire generally frequented of an evening. He hobnobbed with him
several times before drawing from him his occupation, and then it was an
easy matter to bring up Royce Millington and the shameful way he had
robbed the bank. He hazarded the opinion that the embezzler must have
been living very extravagantly in, probably, a very swanky house.

"No, he didn't," said the commissionaire. "At any rate he couldn't have
got rid of much of the money in that way. He had a cheap little flat in
Langham Mansions in West Kensington."

That had been quite enough for Werrick, and the talkative commissionaire
never set eyes on his new-found friend again. At Langham Mansions
Werrick palled up with the porter and, getting to know him pretty well,
soon pumped him dry about Millington. He learnt he was considered quite
a quiet young fellow, and that he had a little car and often went off
for weekends somewhere in the country, the porter didn't know where.
Fishing and a little rough shooting were his hobbies, not sea fishing
for it was only fresh-water fish he ever brought home, trout and perch
and an occasional eel. A few times he had shot some wild duck. He had no
particular friends, but was on very good terms with his aunt, an old
lady, Miss Matilda Hendry, who lived in Philbeach Gardens in Earl's
Court.

Off to this Miss Hendry's home Werrick went, intending to pitch a yarn
and invoke the old lady's sympathy by a pathetic story of how he had
nursed her nephew in his dying moments. To his dismay, however, he
learnt that Miss Hendry had died a year previously and no one seemed to
know what relations, besides the bank clerk, she had had.

Then a brain-wave seized Werrick and, proceeding to Somerset House, he
paid a shilling and inspected her will. He found she had left most of
her money to her brother, but a property, Benger's Green, near Great
Bromley in Essex had gone to a niece in Scotland.

That was enough for Werrick, and associating fresh-water fish with a
stream somewhere, and eels and wild duck with the muddy flats and lonely
places round the Essex coast, down to Great Bromley he had come at once.

"Then imagine my feelings, sir," he finished up, "when I saw there was a
mill on this property." He raised his hands in his excitement. "I am
certain the money is here and it must be hidden in the mill itself."

A long silence followed and then Hardacre asked sharply: "How old are
you? Thirty-three! Then how long have you been a criminal?"

Werrick appeared most indignant. "Only once, when I got those three
years for taking a pound of tobacco which I saw lying about. It was----"

Hardacre shook his head angrily. "No, no, it's no good you telling me
that. No judge would have given you three years for just taking a pound
of tobacco."

"Well, he did," asserted Werrick with some heat. Then, realizing that
Hardacre was no fool to be taken in easily, he recovered himself quickly
and added: "But it was not only for taking the tobacco I was sentenced.
I had injured the man who caught me. In my fright I had struck at him
with a spanner."

"Exactly, robbery with violence!" commented the trader dryly. "And I
don't take you either, for the innocent first offender you want to make
yourself out to be. You look like a hardened type to me." He nodded.
"So, I'm taking no chance. I shall lock you up to-night and consider
to-morrow what I shall do."

Werrick looked hurt. "Why I wouldn't hurt a soul, sir. It's not in my
nature to."

"Perhaps not," sneered Hardacre, "but for all that, you poisoned my dog,
and I have no wish to wake up in the night with my throat cut. So I
shall put you down in the cellar." A thought appeared to strike him.
"But are you acting alone in this, or have you any confederate prowling
about outside?"

"Certainly not!" cried Werrick emphatically. "I have never breathed a
word to any human being. No one knows I have come down here and no one
but yourself has seen me near this place. Everything now is between you
and me."

"Good," nodded Hardacre, "then I know how we stand. Well, down you go
into the cellar. You can sleep on some sacks, and in the morning we'll
have another talk."

So that night two men of no conscience or scruples whatsoever slept
within a few yards of each other, and neither would have felt easy in
his mind had he known what the other's thoughts were.

Werrick in the cellar was all out for murder--at its proper time. There
would be no sharing the notes if they found them, and he would knife
Hardacre like a sheep and load down his body with some of those rusty
chains he had noticed in the mill, and sink him in the stream. But he,
Werrick, must be careful for the man was of a suspicious nature, and he
must not let him get the ghost of an idea that his life might be
actually in danger. Still, with all his bullying, the big chap seemed a
bit of a softy, to be taken in easily when the right man came along.

Now the ex-convict had been many things in his life, a student in a
veterinary college--until he had been turned out for theft--a steward on
a P. & O. liner until he had deserted his ship in Bombay, taking with
him a passenger's wallet; a bookmaker's clerk until he had had to cut
and run for robbing again, a waiter in a shady night club in Soho, and a
pursuer of many occupations, several of which should have brought him
under notice of the police.

In all these callings he had fallen badly, mainly because he had been
always such a poor judge of character, and he had never misjudged anyone
more grossly than he was now misjudging his present captor. Hardacre was
anything but a softy. He was hard as hell and, in his present embittered
state of mind against authority and the law, would be as merciless and
as murderously inclined as any Thug on the plains of India.

So, that night, Hardacre was thinking of murder, too. If they found the
money--and he saw no reason now to doubt the ex-convict's story--there
would be no halving of it, and the little wretch in the cellar would not
get a penny. If he had his share, it would only mean that in a couple of
years or so he would have spent it all, and be tracking him, Hardacre,
down to blackmail for more. Hardacre knew his kind, a waster who had
been on the down grade all his life.

The trader smiled a cold, grim smile. He was in a reckless mood. If he
laid hands upon the money he would risk everything. He would go back
into the world and enjoy what years of health were left to him. He would
chance it that no one would ever recognize him. After all, the doctor
fellow had only seen him twice and, with the many patients who passed
through his hands, he would surely not be able to remember him for long.
At any rate the risk would be worth the taking.

As for the little devil who had come so strangely into his life, well,
the cellar or some other place like it would be his last home. He would
pistol him when the time came, and his small body would be easily tucked
away somewhere. All or nothing, that was going to be his, Hardacre's,
motto for the future.

The two evil men beneath that old time-worn roof fell asleep at last
and, surely, no guardian angels were watching over their slumber. They
were both beasts of the jungle and no one would have had pity for either
of them, whatever harm came.




CHAPTER III.--THE SECRET OF THE MILL STREAM.

THE following morning Hardacre was up and about early, and Werrick in
the cellar heard him moving in the kitchen above. Presently the cellar
flap was lifted and Werrick was ordered to come up. With some
difficulty, as his ankle was considerably swollen and most painful, he
climbed the steep steps. Hardacre frowned when he saw the condition of
the injured limb.

"Well, at any rate you won't be able to run away in a hurry," he
grunted. He nodded unpleasantly. "So if this hidden money turns out to be
all imagination, you can still have your thrashing before being handed
over to the police."

Werrick forced a smile to his face. "But the money's here," he said
confidently, "and it ought to be easy to find. Fifty thousand pounds in
bank-notes, even if they are all twenties, which they certainly are
not--will make quite a bulky parcel. I reckon at the very least there
should be three thousand bank-notes." He nodded. "I think we shall find
them in an air-tight tin box. Handling bank-notes all his life,
Millington would have known the importance of keeping the damp from
them."

Hardacre pretended not to be greatly interested. "Well, we won't look
for them for an hour or two, as I've got the fowls to see to first, and
it's the day the grocer comes and he's generally pretty early. So you
remain just where you are and don't let him catch sight of your ugly
face. If you hear him come just shut yourself in the scullery." He
nodded grimly. "I'm locking the passage door, so that you can't go into
the other part of the house."

"But, sir, I wouldn't touch anything," remonstrated Werrick with a
grieved expression on his face but with black rage in his heart. "You
can trust me, surely!"

"Aren't you a convicted thief," scowled Hardacre, "and don't you propose
to make one of me, too?" He spoke sharply. "Do you realize that if we
find this money it doesn't belong to us? It belongs to the bank."

"But banks are robbers," protested Werrick hotly. "They are only part of
that Society which preys on us poor men. Banks and big companies and the
Government all get their money from us poor folks and then keep most of
it for themselves in fat salaries, while pretending to be the pillars of
morality." He let himself go in his bitterness. "To hell with Society, I
say."

Hardacre pretended to consider and then nodded slowly. "Perhaps you're
right," he said. "They're down on everyone they can." He smiled his
unpleasant smile again. "But while I don't trust you, how is it you
are prepared to trust me?"

Werrick grinned. "Oh, I'm quite safe here. If you cut up nasty, I'd go
and tell the police about the money and then, at any rate, there'll be a
good reward coming to me from the bank." He nodded confidently. "No, we
sink or swim together and we can't do without each other."

Realizing that the man, by his own admission, was of a violent criminal
nature, Hardacre thought it safest not to rile him any more, and so
spoke more amicably.

"Well, of course, we'll keep the money if we find it," he said, "and
share out equally"--he grinned--"as honest thieves." He passed his hand
over his forehead and went on: "But the sleep I lost in sitting up to
catch you has made me feel a bit low and so, when I've fed the fowls and
the grocer man has been and gone, we'll have a bottle of champagne to
drink to our success."

He left the house and, for some minutes through the window, Werrick
watched him among the fowls. Then, his interest wandering, he began to
take stock of things in the room. There were several cupboards and the
two big-sized wooden chests. Limping uncomfortably with his bruised
ankle, he moved over and peeped into the cupboards.

"Whew, all good-class stuff!" he whispered. "Those tinned tongues cost
him five and six if they cost a penny!" He licked his own tongue against
the roof of his mouth. "Tinned asparagus, oysters, curry and cripes--a
jar of pate de foi gras! Gosh, this fellow does himself well!" He
nodded. "I'll bet he's got more money than any ordinary poultry-farmer,
and I shouldn't be at all surprised if he'd not got a tidy bit of it
somewhere in the house. That's why he's been locking all the doors." He
grinned. "Well, that'll be more pickings for me when I've tickled him in
the back."

He screwed up his eyes. "But I wonder who the devil he is and where he's
come from! He's not been in the poultry line long, for one thing,
because his hands have not coarsened enough. Of course, with that
complexion of his he's been in some hot country. Those tins of curry
make one think that, too."

He lifted the lid of one of the big chests and exposed to view quite a
considerable amount of fishing gear. "That's a good rod," he whispered,
"and cost a bit of money, too! No expense spared anywhere!" He picked up
a knife with a fixed handle which Hardacre had used for gutting fish
when at Burnham, and his eyes gleamed as he felt the sharpness of its
point. "The very thing!" he ejaculated. "Now dare I risk taking it?"

After a few moments' hesitation, he thought he dared and, looking round
for a cork and finding one in the kitchen dresser' drawer, he put it on
to protect the point, and then thrust the knife into his breast pocket.

His ankle gave him a spasm of pain. "But, I say, I say," he exclaimed,
looking very worried, "I can't cut off for a day or two! People would be
sure to remember a limping man!"

His cogitations were interrupted by the sound of a motor outside, and he
guessed rightly that the grocer had arrived in his van. Unable to resist
his curiosity, he pressed his face close against the window to see if he
could get a sideways look. Half a minute later he wished he hadn't, for
the grocer came right by the window and caught him looking before he had
time to move away. He cursed himself for being such a careless fool.

"Anyhow," he consoled himself, as he bobbed down quickly, "he's not
likely to remember me from that one look."

To Hardacre's annoyance, the grocer was in no hurry to go that morning.
There had been a fire in the village church the previous evening, and he
insisted on telling him all about it. However, he was got rid of at last
and, after the promised bottle of champagne, the two men entered the
mill to commence the search for the hidden bank-notes.

They were both excited, though the ex-convict showed it more than did
Hardacre. The latter's feelings were deeply moved, and he was bracing
himself up not only for the surprise of finding the notes but, also, for
dealing promptly with the ex-convict the moment the discovery of the
money was assured. He was determined to finish with him immediately. If
possible he would strike him with the crowbar he used for opening
packing-cases, and which was lying handy beside some sacks. If that was
not possible, he would snatch the automatic pistol from his pocket and
give him one in the forehead. He was all prepared, too, to deal with the
body. He would wind one of those big chains round him and sink it in the
mill stream. It would soon be eaten by the eels.

So both men, although neither of them was aware of it, moved under the
shadow of impending death. And whether that death came to them or not,
all depended upon the finding of some bundles of crackling paper, tucked
away, probably, in an old biscuit tin.

Both of them were all ready for a dreadful crime, but neither would
carry it out until he was certain the risk was worth the running. With
no bank-notes found, there would be no murder done.

Werrick spoke with a voice which shook in his excitement. "Now how long
is it since you came here, sir?" he asked.

"Oh, a long time," replied Hardacre evasively. Then, realizing that he
could not easily take in his quick-witted little companion and sure the
latter must have noticed the poultry sheds were new and from their
appearance could not have been put up very long, he added quickly: "Some
nine months or so."

"Then was the floor of this room all clear then? I mean were any of
these sacks lying here when you came?"

"All except a few which I've added to them," nodded Hardacre. "The place
was exactly like it is now, full of rubbish and dust. I only use it for
storing the poultry food."'

"Then there's a good chance," said the ex-convict, "that he's pulled up
one of these boards and has got the hiding-place underneath."

The two began energetically to clear up the old sacks, with Werrick, in
spite of his bad ankle, appearing to work as feverishly as Hardacre. As
they proceeded, they scrutinized the floor most carefully for any sign
of interference with the floor-boards as each one came into view.

It was Hardacre who found out something first. "Hullo," he called out,
and he did not attempt to hide his excitement now, "this board's been
prised up since it was first laid down. Look where a screwdriver or
something has been pushed in!"

Werrick was by his side in an instant. "Yes, and that looks like a
gimlet hole there," he shouted. "They screwed in a gimlet to lift it up.
Have you got one handy, sir?"

As quickly as possible, for he did not like to leave the man alone for
one instant now, Hardacre ran into the house and returned with a gimlet.
Then he himself screwed it into the board, and a few breathless moments
followed before the board came up. The adjoining boards on either side
were pulled up, too, both coming up without difficulty as if they had
been often manipulated in that way before. A few inches below, a large
oblong box, about four feet in length, came into view. It was covered
over thickly with dust, and Hardacre hoisted it quickly on to the floor.

The box had no lock to it, but the lid was fastened down with a stout
hasp. The hasp was stiff and, to get a good purchase, Hardacre knelt
down, with Werrick just behind him, looking over his shoulder.

The ex-convict's eyes gleamed. The trader was in an ideal position for
the fatal thrust just below the shoulder blade which would transfix his
heart. Werrick's hand darted like lightning to the fish-gutting knife in
his breast pocket, but in doing so he altered his position and pressed
heavily upon his injured ankle. The agony made him wince and, with a
deep curse, he remembered just in time. No, he dared not strike yet!
When he put paid to this fool poultry-farmer he must be fit and strong
to vanish like a ghost from the scene of the crime! It would mean a
dreadful journey across country in the darkness of the night, avoiding
all villages and towns until he was so many miles away that he could
slink unnoticed into some populous district. No one must ever remember
having seen a stranger about. And how could he travel quickly with a
foot which hung upon him like a lump of lead? No, he must bide his time!
He was playing for high stake and he had all the best cards in his hand!

Half a minute later, he realized into what an awful mistake he had so
nearly fallen. There were no bank-notes in the box!

Hardacre laughed derisively. "Hell, what a fortune we've found!" he
exclaimed as he rose to his feet. "Half a bottle of whisky," he went on,
enumerating the contents of the box, "two tins of corned beef, an old
fishing rod, some carpentry and odd motor tools and a rusty old
shot-gun! Hell, we shall be rich men now!"

"But wait a moment, sir," said Werrick, choking back his disappointment.
"There may be other things down there besides this box," and, snatching
up Hardacre's torch, he lay down and flashed it in every direction under
the flooring.

Nothing, however, rewarded his efforts and he rose to face Hardacre's
sneering smile. "A mare's nest, my thieving friend," said the trader
sourly, "and all your grand detective work goes phut. It isn't likely
your fellow convict has ever been within miles of here."

Savage in his bitter disappointment, Werrick dropped his eyes to hide
the fury which the sneering words had evoked. Then, suddenly, he
started, the whole expression of his face altered and he looked up at
Hardacre with a triumphant grin.

"You're hard to convince, Partner," he said with offensive familiarity,
"but we're on the right track, sure enough. There's another hiding-place
somewhere, and all we've got to do is to find it. Millington wasn't a
fool and upon second thoughts I believe he wouldn't have hidden all that
money where he hid these unimportant things which he would have known
could be found easily if anyone actually came to look for them. Why,
everyone would look under the floor-boards as the very first
hiding-place, just as we have done!"

"But there isn't a shred of evidence to show that he ever came here,"
snarled Hardacre, savage, too, in his disappointment.

The ex-convict quietly picked up the gun and held it out to Hardacre for
inspection. He made his voice as careless as he could. "See those rough
initials on the stock, E.R.M.," he said. His voice rose triumphantly.
"They stand for Edward Royce Millington, sir, and nobody else, and prove
he has been here."

Hardacre's eyes bulged. The angry sneering look passed from his face and
he whistled. "Whew, my lad," he exclaimed delightedly, "then you really
did score a bull's-eye after all!" He patted Werrick on the shoulder.
"You're not such a simpleton as I took you to be."

"Not half," grinned Werrick. "I've knocked about the world a lot and
picked up quite a few good ideas."

"Well, where shall we look now?" asked Hardacre. He laughed. "Somewhere
where no one else would look!"

But it was at once evident that Werrick was going to do no more looking
round for a while, as his face suddenly became white as a sheet, and he
slumped down weakly on to a pile of sacks. "It's my damned foot," he
said faintly. "I gave it a knock just now and it hurts terribly." He
shook his head. "I'm tarnation sorry, but I must give it a rest."

Seeing there was no help for it and that Werrick was upon the very point
of collapsing altogether, Hardacre helped him back into the kitchen and
propped him in a chair. In a way he was not sorry Werrick was out of
action for a time, as it would mean he would be able to carry on the
search alone. "And, by cripes," he told himself, "if I find the stuff, I
won't let the little devil know!"

He assumed a sympathetic air and examined the ankle critically. The
ankle was very swollen, and the skin had assumed an ugly colour. He
shook his head. "No, you certainly mustn't put it to the ground, perhaps
for as long as three or four days, but I tell you what I'll do. There's
an old sofa in one of the other I rooms. It was here when I bought the
place. I'll bring it into the kitchen and you can have it for a bed."

For three days Werrick lay on the sofa before his ankle began to show
any sign of getting better, and then for another three he dared not move
about much. At first, he was worried that Hardacre might discover the
hiding-place, but he soon comforted himself with the reflection that, if
any discovery were made, he would know it at once by the
poultry-farmer's manner. He was sure the latter would not be subtle
enough to hide his feelings. Besides, he was certain Hardacre had not
enough imagination to search in other than most ordinary places, places
which a man of the proved cunning and ingenuity of the bank clerk would
never have decided upon using.

For the first couple of days Hardacre went tapping everywhere for hollow
sounds and prising up boards all over the mill. But his naturally
impatient nature would not allow him to continue for very long, and
eventually he became disheartened and in a morose temper again.

"But granted," he scowled to Werrick on the night of the third day of
his unsuccessful search, "that the fellow was in the habit of coming
here, we have no proof that he had any money to hide. He may have been
speaking the actual truth when he said he had lost everything in
betting."

"But nearly fifty thousand pounds, sir," argued Werrick, "and all lost
in less than two years! How could he have done all that in in
ready-money betting on the racecourse? Remember, he said all his
transactions had been cash ones, and the few bookmakers whose names he
gave did not remember him as a heavy better. Certainly, some of them
admitted they had got to know him by sight as a moderate better, but
they all denied he had ever had a bet bigger than twenty pounds with
them."

"Well," went on Hardacre in part convinced, "are you certain that when
he talked in his delirium he was meaning he had hidden the notes in the
mill, not buried them somewhere outside?"

"I'm certain he meant the mill," replied Werrick emphatically, "and
nowhere else. Why should he have kept on saying that rats wouldn't get
at the notes if he hadn't meant inside the mill? Rats wouldn't go
burrowing after things with no smell, buried outside in a field."

"What sort of man was he to look at?" asked Hardacre. "Did he look a
sharp sort of fellow?"

Werrick laughed. "Sharp! Why, he was as sharp and cunning as the devil
and looked it, too! Here, give me a pencil and I'll show you what he was
like. I'm pretty good at sketches and often think I'd have made a lot of
money at them, if I'd been properly trained."

Hardacre produced a pencil and an old exercise book and, to his
surprise, at once saw the ex-convict had been no boaster when he said he
could draw. A few rapid strokes of the pencil and Werrick had produced a
clear-cut portrait of a man, intellectual-looking and refined, but whose
expression was quite spoilt by its cunning.

"Well, if he was anything like that," grunted Hardacre, "I wonder they
trusted him."

"Oh, they trusted him, right enough," smiled Werrick, "or he wouldn't
have got the opportunities of pinching all he did." He regarded the
sketch admiringly. "Yes, and he'd just got that look about him of
thinking himself a toff and superior to everybody else."

"But how do I know it's like him?" went on Hardacre, by nature never
willing to give praise. "It may be only a copy of some other sketch you
remember."

"Well, I'll draw you," grinned the ex-convict, "and you shall see
exactly what you're like."

So he proceeded to sketch Hardacre and certainly did not flatter him in
doing so. He portrayed his heavy and arrogant expression, and gave him
the look of a bored and disappointed man.

"And I look like that, do I?" frowned Hardacre. He nodded. "Well,
anyhow, that's how I feel, fed-up with everything." A grim smile came
into his face. "Half of those fifty thousand quid will come in handy to
give me a nice change."

Then, to keep his host in a good humour, Werrick made a lot of other
sketches of people associated with his prison days; the Governor of the
prison, a stern and haughty martinet, the doctor, kindly featured and
always sympathetically inclined towards the convicts, the big stout
chaplain, very important and solemn-looking, seemingly nourished upon
plenty of good rich food, and warders and fellow-convicts in their
uniforms and prison clothes.

After that, chiefly for his own amusement, Werrick occupied his time in
drawing a lot of other people, with Hardacre's interest greatly stirred
by the sketch of a noted film star getting into her bath. She was
delicate and small, and he thought with a sigh of Winna Mee and the
delightful times he had had with her.

Werrick, however, made other sketches, some of which he did not show
Hardacre, but pushed under the torn upholstery of the old sofa directly
the latter appeared. One was of Hardacre himself being hanged from a
high beam in the old mill, his face black and his tongue protruding, and
it was not a pleasant sight. Another was of Hardacre as a
vicious-looking cockerel chasing a small hen, and a third of Hardacre as
a slimy river rat. They gave the ex-convict great pleasure to draw them,
as a preliminary, he told himself, to what he was intending to do with
the gutting knife. His hatred towards his host was the more venomous
because Hardacre continued to lock the passage door every night.

And all this while Hardacre was chafing at the presence of his unwelcome
guest. But he knew it could not last for ever and, if after a certain
time the notes had not been discovered, he would pack him off, after a
good belting with the whip. Deep down in his heart, however, he believed
that the money would be found and found by the ex-convict, too. The
little beast possessed just that kind of rat-like instinct to smell out
things where a much finer nature would fail. So, Hardacre was biding his
time, still, as with Werrick, intending to murder in the end.

A week having passed, Werrick said that his ankle was nearly right, and,
with a broom as a crutch and one of Hardacre's carpet slippers, well
stuffed with paper to make it something of a fit for the injured foot,
he limped into the mill and seated himself upon a heap of sacks. To
Hardacre's secret fury, he seemed to think it quite natural he should
take command of everything.

"Now I've been thinking a lot this week," he said impressively, between
puffs at one of Hardacre's fat Egyptian cigarettes, "and one idea has
come to me of what that bank fellow may have done. He had a flat wooden
box made, put the notes into it, nailed it up somewhere on to some roof
or wall and painted it over exactly the same colour as the place to
where it was nailed." He snapped his fingers together exultingly. "Now
what do you think of it? The damned thing may have been right under our
very eyes the whole time."

Hardacre had to admit it was a good suggestion and, accordingly, because
Werrick's foot would not yet allow him to be too active, spent a
fatiguing day lugging a heavy ladder round, closely scrutinizing every
inch of the ceilings and walls everywhere in the mill. Werrick made him
climb up outside on to the roof as well.

No discovery, however, was made, and the evening found them both most
depressed. "Still, I'm certain the money's here somewhere," reiterated
Werrick for the hundredth time, "and it only means patience for us to
find it."

They retired to bed early, but with little likelihood of either of them
falling to sleep for a long time. Hardacre had drunk more than half a
bottle of whisky since the evening meal, but had grudged the ex-convict
one lean two-finger spot. As usual, he had locked the latter away from
all but the kitchen part of the house.

Well after midnight, when Hardacre was at last beginning to feel sleepy,
there came a loud banging on the locked passage door.

"I want to speak to you," shouted Werrick shrilly. "I think I've got the
hang of everything at last. I know where that beggar hid the stuff. Come
out quick."

After a string of curses for being disturbed, Hardacre appeared in his
pyjamas, blinking frowningly in the glare of the big hanging lamp which
Werrick had relighted.

"Come over here," cried the latter excitedly, pointing to some marks of
burning on the draining-board of the kitchen sink. "Now were those marks
like that when you came to the house?"

"Yes, they were," growled Hardacre, "but what the devil----"

"Don't you see," went on Werrick, interrupting him with no ceremony,
"that someone's been soldering here and those are the markings the hot
iron left when he laid it down." His eyes bulged. "Then, wasn't there a
soldering iron among those odd things we saw in Millington's box? Of
course, you remember it? Then it was Millington who was soldering here
and he was soldering on the lid of some tin after he put the notes
inside. He was making it air-tight, water-tight, and rat-tight. Oh, it's
all as plain as daylight to me!"

"But that doesn't help us," commented Hardacre frowningly. "We've come
across no soldered-up tin."

"No, no, not yet," continued the ex-convict, as excitedly as before,
"but what else did we see among those odds and ends in that box?" He
raised his hand impressively. "Why, a good length of unused lead gas
pipe!"

"From which he'd made sinkers," snarled Hardacre, "for those fishing
lines that were there, too."

Werrick almost danced in his triumph. "No, no, no!" He calmed down and,
with an effort, spoke very quietly. "That bank clerk, sir, had brought
with him a length of lead piping, perhaps eight or ten feet long, and he
soldered one end round that tin because"--he hesitated
tantalizingly--"because lead doesn't rust in water and he was going to
lower the whole thing into the mill stream."

For a long minute Hardacre considered. Then he nodded. "Gad, you may be
right! He expected to be away a long time and he knew an iron wire round
the tin would have rusted to pieces when he came to pull it up."

"That's it," nodded back Werrick. "He knew he'd get at least five years
if none of the money was recovered and so he took all precautions. He
was a calculating fellow, that bank clerk."

The next morning, apparently on the most friendly terms, they went out
to renew their search, and it was Hardacre who scored a bull's-eye this
time. "I reckon," he said, "that if it was of the old mill the fellow
was babbling, then he sank the tin close up to the mill and not down in
the stream anywhere else. So what about his having hooked his lead pipe
somewhere on to the mill wheel?"

And sure enough, when he climbed on to the wheel and, baring his arm to
the shoulder, groped down as far as he could reach along the flanges of
the wheel well below the surface of the water, almost at once he gave an
excited shout. "Here it is!" he cried triumphantly. "There's lead piping
twisted round down here," and he commenced to pull hard. "But it won't
give," he went on after a minute's straining. "It seems to have caught
somewhere."

"Then, blast you, don't pull on it," shrieked Werrick in consternation,
"or you'll break it away and we may never be able to get the tin! You
let me come."

So he climbed on to the wheel beside Hardacre and, feeling for the
piping, pulled much more gently than the latter had done. "No, it's
caught right enough," he exclaimed, "and it seems a devil of a way down.
We must try and turn the wheel round and, perhaps, it'll come up that
way."

But many years of disuse had well rusted the axle of the wheel in its
housing and, with all their efforts, it would not budge a fraction of an
inch. No hammer heavy enough being on the place, Hardacre fetched a big
axe and with fierce blows tried to shake the wheel in any direction. But
it was all to no purpose and, puffing and blowing with his exertions, he
ultimately gave it up.

"Then I'll dive for it," said Werrick, nothing daunted. "I'll go down
and see what's happened." He grinned. "Oh, I'll get hold of it quick
enough! I can dive like an otter."

In a trice he had stripped off his clothes and plunged into the water,
with Hardacre following the movements of his slim white body with
excited and bulging eyes. The ex-convict's head bobbed up to the surface
very quickly. "It's there," he said breathlessly. "I can see it quite
plainly. It's caught under the wheel, but I know where to go now and
I'll get it next time."

Down he went again and he was much longer below now, but up he came at
last with a big black object clutched tightly in his arms. He turned
over on to his back and kicked vigorously towards the bank of the
stream. So for the moment the ex-convict was in possession of what were
to him enormous riches. It was only for a few seconds, however, for upon
his reaching the bank and turning to pick up his clothes after he had
handed over his precious burden to Hardacre, he received a murderous
blow from the big axe upon the back of his head. The violence of the
blow was so great that it almost clove his skull in two and drove his
face deep into the muddy ground.

He died instantaneously.

The trader from Hoichow stood over him, ready, if necessary, for another
blow. He looked murder incarnate. His mouth was gaping and he was
breathing hard. His eyes glared like a madman's and were suffused with
blood. Sweat stood out in little beads upon his forehead. Well, he had
done it as he had intended to! With that secret between them, the world
was not big enough for them both and the weaker of them had died!

Then it came to him in a flash and, indeed, as if he were only just
realizing for the first time, that if he were found out it would mean
much more than only just a sentence of imprisonment. It would mean death
in a most horrible form, preceded by the long-drawn-out agonies of a
trial for murder. Great God! there would be weeks and weeks of
nerve-racking anticipation before he was finally hanged by the neck
until he was dead!

In a lightning movement he crouched down as if he were expecting a blow,
and his eyes darted round and round in every direction. There was not a
soul in sight and not a sound to be heard save the murmuring of the mill
stream.

He awoke to instant action and, seizing the big axe, hurled it into the
middle of the stream. Then, as if someone were furiously pursuing him,
he raced back into the mill to reappear in a few seconds dragging behind
him one of the big mill chains. In feverish haste he wound it round and
round Werrick's naked body, tucking in the ends as best he could so that
the chain should not become loose. Then, carrying his heavy burden some
fifty yards up the stream, he heaved it into the water as far away from
the bank as he could. He wiped his hands with an expression of disgust,
upon the grass of the meadow.

Apparently satisfied that, at any rate for the moment, all danger of
discovery was over, he turned his attention to the object that the dead
man had retrieved and found, as they had both expected it would be, that
it was a tin box, heavily painted over, however, before it had been
immersed in the water. It showed no signs of rust.

His heart beginning to beat painfully again, he hastened with it into
the house and quickly was at work with a chisel and hammer. Inside the
painted tin was an inner and only slightly smaller tin, painted over as
thickly as the outer one had been. He tore off the lid and, some wads of
brown paper being removed, his eyes fell upon what he was certain no one
could have ever seen before, hundreds and hundreds of bundles of Bank of
England notes, all wedged tightly together in so humble a receptacle
that it might perhaps at one time even have contained dog biscuits.

The bundles were all neatly folded, with their contents held together
with an elastic band. Pulling out one haphazardly, he saw they were all
twenty-pounders and it looked as if there would be fifty of them in the
bundle! His heart pounded like a sledgehammer. He was holding 1,000 in
his hand! And, according to that newspaper report of the trial, there
should be many more than forty more thousands in the tin!

What a good time he could now have if his health stood up! And his
health would stand up, for his life would be just as he wanted it. He
would deny himself nothing! He would have pretty girls, he would--ah,
but he must tread carefully, for he had now three secrets to hide, his
malady, how he had come into this money and what he had done to the
convict man! Still, he would take every precaution, he would never make
a false step, he would cover all his tracks, he would--oh, hell, he had
left the dead man's clothes on the bank of the mill stream, exactly
where they had been taken off!

The sweat burst out again upon his forehead, and his eyes stood out in
terror. He ran out at his greatest speed to the mill stream and, panting
and puffing, returned the clothes bundled up under his arm. He must get
rid of them at once! He would make a big bonfire outside and burn them
until not a shred of evidence was left!

Then, as he was thrusting them under the sofa so that they should be out
of sight until the bonfire was ready, he saw what looked like his own
knife drop out of one of the pockets. He picked it up with a puzzled
frown and noted the little cork upon its sharp point. He stared hard,
and then his face grew grey and sickly-looking. "He was intending that
for me!" he gasped. "Oh, what damned luck I locked the passage door
every night, and yet I kept it up more to annoy him than for anything
else!"

Something of the intense excitement of the moment now passing, he could
think more clearly and, with no hesitation, he made up his mind what he
would do. He would start off on his new life at once, almost in a few
hours, and he would leave in such a way that, whatever happened, no one
would be able to follow his tracks. The poultry-farmer of Benger's Flat
would vanish, leaving not one single trace to point to where he had
gone.

At once setting about carrying his plans into execution, with some
feelings of trepidation he hid the bank-notes under some old sacks in an
outhouse and bicycled into Mannington to interview the agent who had
sold him the property. He told him he was shutting up the house and
going abroad, for how long he did not know. It might be for a year and
it might be for longer. He did not expect any letters, except perhaps
some circulars from the firms with which he had been dealing, but he was
advising the post office in Great Bromley to send on all communications
which might arrive, to him, the agent, and he wanted him to hold them
until he returned. He also wanted him to pay any rates which might fall
due, and for that purpose he was depositing with him 20 which would
cover all liabilities for a long time.

The agent was quite agreeable. "I shall be very pleased to do anything I
can, Mr. Holt," he said. Hardacre was Charles Holt to him, for the same
reason that he'd been known as Clive Hall in Burnham, because the
initials C.H. had been on his two leather trunks, and he had not wanted
to excite any speculation that the names he had been going under were
not his real ones.

The next morning, when the grocer called, the man was most surprised
when told not to call any more. "I'm going away," said Hardacre
brusquely, "and I may be absent for some time. I'll let you know when I
want you again."

"But, Mr. Holt," exclaimed the grocer, "what about these beautiful birds
you've got here? Who's going to look after them?"

"I've sold them all," said Hardacre. "They'll be going away to-day."

"And may I ask to whom?" said the grocer.

"A clergyman in Ingatestone," replied Hardacre, saying the first thing
which came into his mind, but instantly regretting his words when the
grocer commented: "Oh, that Reverend Owen! Well, he's lucky to get them,
for they might have beaten him at the poultry shows."

Directly the grocer had gone, Hardacre started to dig a pit a few yards
from the poultry sheds. He had intended it to be a deep one, but the
unaccustomed digging soon began to tire him and it ended in the pit
being quite a shallow one, not much more than two feet down.

Then he ruthlessly set about wringing the necks of every bird he had and
tossing the carcasses anyhow into the pit. He cursed many times there
were so many of them to kill, but with no feelings of compunction that
he was destroying valuable birds, quite a number of which had cost him
five guineas a head.

The slaughter over and having jumped on the birds to make them lie flat,
he threw back the earth on top of them, confident that in a few weeks at
most the weeds would be hiding all traces of their interment.

Next, in the yard behind the house he made a big bonfire and threw on to
it nearly everything he had brought with him when he first came to the
Old Mill, almost all his clothes, his spare boots and hats, his books,
his bedding and his leather trunks. The only personal thing he was
intending to keep back he would pack in the one small suitcase he was
taking away with him and which he would be able to carry on his bicycle.
He frowned in vexation at having to burn so many good things, but he
impressed upon himself he could not be too thorough in destroying every
vestige of his past identities.

Still, at the last moment, he kept back a favourite old leather shooting
jacket. He had had it many years and, superstitiously, had always
believed it brought him luck when out upon his shooting expeditions on
Hainan Island. It was too bulky to take with him now, but he had not the
heart to burn it and so put it away in the hiding-place they had found
under the boards in the mill, with the hazy idea that, if in times to
come he ever happened to find himself in the neighbourhood again, he
might perhaps pick it up.

The burning was all over in the late afternoon and he had raked the
ashes a little distance away and dumped a few spadesful of earth over
them. Exhausted with his exertions and the excitement, he returned to
the house to await the coming of darkness. Refreshing himself with some
stiff tots of brandy, he was soon feeling heavy and drowsy, and cursed
when, dusk beginning to fall, it was time for him to start getting away.
Intending to bicycle into Chelmsford, some five and twenty miles away,
he was not looking forward to the journey with a heavy well-filled
suitcase on the carrier of his machine.

Taking a last look round before leaving the house, to make sure he had
forgotten nothing, to his disgust his eyes fell upon an odd boot just
peeping out from under the sofa. It was the one which the ex-convict had
discarded for the carpet slipper he had lent him because of his injured
foot.

He cursed again, this time for his own carelessness and, snatching up
the boot, ran out through the back door and tossed it into the long
grass, on the other side of a thick hedge bounding his property. Then,
running back rather unsteadily, he tripped over a big stone in his way
and, in saving himself, gave his knee a nasty jar. More cursing followed
and, what with his rage and the effects of the brandy he'd had, after he
had banged-to the back door he forgot to lock it.

As he had expected, the twenty-five-mile ride was most exhausting. A
mile or so from Chelmsford he dumped his bicycle into a ditch, not
caring who found it, and arrived at the railway station just in time to
catch the last train to London.

Sitting back comfortably in a first-class carriage, his fatigue was
speedily forgotten in his delight at having left his old life behind for
ever. As he gave his mind up to considering everything, two main ideas
were now obsessing him. One, at all risks he was going to enjoy himself,
and, two, if ever the opportunity should come to him he would get his
revenge upon Dr. Monk. He, Hardacre, would never forgive or forget what
he was pleased to call the doctor's vicious persecution of him.

Then, suddenly, he remembered something and scowled in his vexation.
There was a small pocket-book in the pocket of the leather jacket he had
left hidden in the mill and it contained four 5 notes. He had quite
forgotten until that moment they were there.

       *       *       *       *       *

Now in their week's association together Jim Werrick had told Hardacre
many lies, but he had never told a bigger one than when he had said he
had not breathed a single word to anyone either about the bank-notes or
his coming down to Benger's Flat to find them.

He had told his twin-brother, Tom, everything.

The ex-convict had made out to Hardacre that his father had been a
Nonconformist Minister. That had been a lie, too, for he and Tom were
the sons of a disreputable East End horse-dealer, who had been in the
hands of the police several times for trafficking in stolen animals.
Ultimately, their unregretted parent had met an untimely end in a
drunken brawl in Whitechapel.

Certainly, Jim had not been badly educated and, sharp as a needle at
school, he had won an entrance scholarship to the London Veterinary
Hospital. He would have got on well in life, but for the inherent
criminal taint which would not be kept under and which was constantly
asserting itself.

Tom was of quite a different type of character from Jim, dull, rather
stupid and quite content to earn a poor but honest living as a
third-rate boot repairer in a little tumble-down shop in a side-street
off the Mile End Road. He had few interests in life, with never courage
enough to go wrong and pit himself against the law. With a dog-like
devotion for his brother, he was very proud of the confidences the
latter often gave him. He thought him wonderfully clever.

So when Jim had served his time in prison and turned at once to his
brother for a temporary home, the latter listened wide-eyed to the
wonderful tale he unfolded of the riches which were to come to both of
them if he could only find where the old mill was.

"And I am almost certain," he told Tom later, when his long
detective-like inquiries were over and he was preparing to leave for
Essex, "that I shall find the money at this Benger's Flat. So you look
out for me, my lad, coming back in a couple of days or so with enough
fivers and tenners to paste over the wall of every room in this blasted
little house. I should be back here at the end of the week."

But he was not back at the end of that week, nor at the end of the next
week either, and, no letter coming to explain his extended absence, Tom
began to get anxious.

Longer than a fortnight having passed, Tom resolved to go down to Great
Bromley and try to find out what had happened. So he started off upon a
bicycle very early one morning and before midday was inquiring of a
woman in a little shop in the village the whereabouts of a place called
Benger's Fiat.

The woman directed him. "But I don't think you'll find anyone there,"
she added, "as Mr. Holt has gone away. Still, you can go and make
certain. Anyhow you can't miss the place, for you'll see an old mill in
the distance, long before you get there. The old mill is on Benger's
Flat."

Tom's heart beat like a sledge-hammer. An old mill! cripes, what a
wonderful chap Jim was! He'd hit the nail on the head right enough!

A few minutes later he was in sight of the mill and its adjoining house,
but thought it best to approach the place warily until he found if his
brother were there. So he laid his bicycle upon the ground, and crept up
to a tall hedge to look through to see who was about. Incidentally he
was very afraid of dogs, and he had noticed a big kennel just by the
mill.

When close to the hedge his foot kicked against something in the tall
grass and, looking down to see what it was, he saw it was a boot. He
frowned in a puzzled sort of way, wondering as a boot-repairer why
anybody should have thrown away a boot in such a good condition as this
one appeared to be. Then, suddenly, he started, and snatched up the boot
excitedly for a closer inspection.

He could hardly get his breath in his consternation! It was his
brother's boot, one of the only pair he'd got! He knew it by a patch,
the size of a shilling, on the very top of the toe-cap. Only the day
before his brother had left him, when the former's wet boots were drying
before the kitchen fire, a cinder had jumped out and burnt a little
round hole before they had noticed it, and so a patch had been put in to
make it all right. Then Jim was here, but what on earth did it mean,
that he had thrown away one of his boots?

A dreadful fear filled Tom and, giving no thought now to any dog, he ran
round the hedge and went up to the house. Although Hardacre had been
gone only a few clays, to the anxious boot repairer an air of desolation
seemed to be hanging about the place. The blinds of the house were
drawn, the doors of the poultry houses gaped wide, and a number of crows
rose up, squawking, as he approached.

He knocked upon the front door, at first timidly, but, his fears
increasing every moment, in a minute or so loudly and long. Getting no
reply, he ran round all the sheds and banged upon the big mill door.
Nothing happening, he stood still and for some minutes considered what
he must do.

There was no help for it! He must go and tell the police! He was sure
harm had come to his brother and he could do nothing by himself! So he
bicycled back at a great pace to the village, and to his great
thankfulness found the village policeman at home.

He pitched him a tale that more than a fortnight previously his brother
had gone to work with a Mr. Holt at Benger's Flat and he had not heard a
word of him since. He knew he had arrived there, because he had just
been to the house and, although it was all shut up and the blinds were
drawn, he had found one of his boots in the backyard. He was perfectly
sure it was his brother's boot, because he was a boot-repairer and had
patched the boot the very day before his brother had left him. In the
ordinary way he would have had several letters from him, as they were
the greatest of friends and his brother had promised to write regularly.
He was frightened something had happened to him.

The village constable, a homely and good-natured man, was sympathetic,
and impressed by his distress.

"But what do you want me to do, my son?" he asked. "Circulate his
description and find out if anyone has seen him?"

"No, no," replied Tom. "I want you to go back with me and look round."
His voice choked. "I believe some accident has happened to him and he is
lying dead somewhere."

The constable considered. Things were a bit slack and he had nothing
particular to do. Apart from that, he was curious, as indeed everyone
else in the village was, about this mysterious Mr. Holt whom no one but
the grocer had ever seen. The latter's tales about the cases of wines
and spirits and hampers from London he had, so often, been taking up had
been of great interest to the villagers, and many had speculated how a
small poultry-farmer could be affording them.

"All right, I'll come," said the constable, and so, followed by a
mongrel terrier, his inseparable companion, he cycled off with Tom.

"Now, I can't break into the house," announced the constable judicially,
when they had got off their bicycles and propped them up against the
wall. "I should have to get an order before doing that." He looked at
Tom sternly. "You haven't been trying that, have you?"

"No, of course, I haven't," replied Tom. "I've only knocked at the door.
I don't even know whether it's locked."

"Well, we'll soon find out," nodded the constable, and he turned the
handle of the front door. "No, that's locked all right, and I expect
it'll be the same with the one at the back."

They went round to the other side of the house and the constable began
to sniff vigorously. "A stale old smell here!" he remarked. "See,
there's been a lot of burning done, and the smell seems to me like burnt
leather." A few moments later, to his surprise, he found the back door
unlocked. "But that's funny," he went on, "to be going away for a long
time and only half lock up." He nodded. "Well, we can go inside now." He
threw out his chest. "In fact, it's my duty to."

Treading softly, as if awed by the premonition that some dreadful
tragedy was about to come to light, they proceeded to go through the
house, but to Tom's intense relief did not come upon, as he had been
fully expecting, the dead body of his brother. In fact, they found
nothing suspicious, just rooms from which all the personal belongings of
the last tenant had been taken, but with the furniture still there.

"Do you see anything belonging to your brother?" frowned the constable.
"No, then he's probably not been here. You've made a mistake about the
boot."

They were in the kitchen when the constable spoke and Tom, overcome by
his emotions, had slumped down on to the sofa and was wiping over his
damp forehead with the sleeve of his coat. Dropping his arm again, his
hand fell upon the big slit in the upholstery of the sofa and he felt
something hard underneath. Subconsciously he pushed his hand in to see
what it was and drew out the exercise book in which his brother had made
the sketches to amuse Hardacre.

He opened the book idly, but after one glance gave a startled cry.
"Look, look, my brother drew these! He was always making sketches.
See--there are his initials J.W. under that one." His voice rose to a
shout. "Oh, yes, this proves that he's been here."

The constable took the book from him and with some interest looked at
the sketches. He turned several pages over and his face puckered into a
frown. Suddenly he raised his eyes and regarded Tom very sternly.
"What's your brother's occupation? Oh, he was a clerk in Leadenhall
Market, was he?" He tapped the exercise book significantly. "Well, he's
been in prison anyhow!"

Tom's face flushed scarlet. "Oh, nothing like that! He was a very good
chap and----"

"Don't tell me," grunted the constable. "Why, a lot of these sketches
are of prison life, men in their convict clothes, warders in uniform
and, if I'm not very much mistaken, this"--he tapped the book
again--"this sketch here is one of Colonel Rumford, the Governor of
Wakehurst Prison. Now then, speak the truth."

Tom was a bad actor and he realized it was no good going on denying it.
"Yes," he faltered, "he injured a man in a fight and got put away for
two years."

"I thought so," nodded the constable. "Well, how long's he been out?
Only two months! Then he is on ticket of leave! Well, what was he doing
down here?"

"He had been engaged by Mr. Holt to work for him," replied Tom shakily.
"He saw an advertisement in a newspaper and answered it and Mr. Holt
wrote to him to come down."

The constable accepted the explanation. "Well, I don't know what's
happened," he said, shaking his head. "Mr. Holt went away last week, and
your brother may have been passed over to the gent who bought the fowls
and been too busy to write to you. Come on, we've done all we can.
There's nothing more to find out now."

But there was something more to be found out and they soon realized it
when they went outside for the constable's dog was scratching vigorously
on what they saw at once was a newly-turned big patch of soil. They
walked over to the animal and at once the constable began sniffing hard
again. "Nasty smell, isn't it?" he ejaculated. "Something's been buried
here."

"Oh, it's a grave!" wailed Tom, with his eyes fixed upon the broken
earth. "Perhaps my brother is under there!"

"More likely Mr. Holt," grunted the constable, "after what you've told
me of your relation. Anyhow, we'll soon see if we can find anything to
poke up the earth with."

Searching quickly round, they came upon a broken gardening fork in one
of the sheds, and the constable started to dig vigorously at one corner
of the recently turned-up patch of earth. He had not, however, to dig
long, as Hardacre's pit had been very shallow for all the bodies of the
buried fowls, and, swollen now in putrefaction, they had in part pushed
up the soil. With his third effort with the fork up came a leg of one of
the big roosters.

"Here," he grinned to Tom, "is that part of your brother, do you think?"
His grin, however, passed quickly to a frown, when jerking up the smelly
bird, he saw there were others underneath. A few more digs with the fork
and he realized what had happened. The poultry-farmer had ruthlessly
wrung the necks of dozens upon dozens of magnificent prize birds!

He looked significantly at his companion. "And he told Wilson--that's
the grocer who used to call here--that he'd sold them all to another
fancier, a clergyman, in Ingatestone." He shook his head frowningly.
"There's something fishy here. These birds were worth a lot of money,
and this fellow Holt has pushed off, all in a minute so to speak,
burying and burning before he went." He threw down the fork. "Here, you
come along with me. You shall tell your tale to the Superintendent at
Manningtree." He spoke very sternly. "But no lies to him, my lad. You'll
have to make a clean breast of everything."

So the Superintendent at Manningtree heard the whole story and, somewhat
impressed, a little party of police at once proceeded to the Old Mill
and made as thorough an investigation as they could. They were certainly
mystified, for the remains of the bonfire in the back yard, so casually
raked away, revealed, from the many buttons found, that quite a quantity
of clothing must have been burned. Also, it was surmised that several
pairs of boots and shoes had met the same fate, as well as at least,
from the brass fittings found, two good-sized leather trunks.

They got into the mill through the window of the loft and the mystery
deepened, for it was obvious to everyone that something had been
happening there. There was chaos everywhere. Full sacks and empty sacks
were scattered about anyhow. Some of the boards had been taken up and
not put down again too carefully. Also the wainscoting had been pulled
away in places and even not pushed back at all.

"Now what does it all mean?" asked the Superintendent with some
irritation, after some hours of intensive search for what they did not
know. "This chap spent a lot of money upon his fowls and fitting up the
place, and then, after only a few months here, he suddenly wantonly
destroys everything and clears off. Why?" He shrugged his shoulders.
"The only explanation I can give is that he had gone dotty from living
here alone."

No one could offer any suggestion and shortly afterwards they all went
away, the police retaining, however, the odd boot which Tom was
pretending now he was not quite so certain had belonged to his brother.
"We'll keep it," had nodded the Superintendent, "and the sketches too,
in case any thing more comes to light."

Tom could have said a lot, but he was too frightened to speak. Up to a
certain point he thought he knew what had happened. His brother had
found the poultry-farmer in possession of the Old Mill and had had to
confide to him the secrets of the hidden bank-notes. They had searched
for them and--found them. Then what had happened Tom could only guess,
and, every time he thought about it, he went cold in fear. He believed
that one of them had killed the other and, knowing his brother as he
did, he thought it was the poultry-farmer whose body might now be hidden
somewhere not very far away. He had been terrified when the police had
gone tramping round the meadow about the house, in case they should come
upon more newly-turned earth, and every moment he had been afraid one of
them would suggest dragging the mill stream.

Returning home that night, he hoped against hope that he would learn his
brother was back and had been inquiring for him. No such good news,
however, was awaiting him. The dead do not return, and Jim's body was
already starting to disintegrate in its last home, the placid
slowly-flowing mill stream. The water-rats knew where it was, and in due
time they would see to it that most of it would disappear.




CHAPTER IV.--DEEPER IN CRIME.

FOR some months following upon his precipitous flight from the Old Mill,
Hardacre had no permanent place of residence, passing most of the time
at different hotels in the West of England. To the man he had killed and
thrown into the mill stream at Benger's Flat he no longer gave even a
moment's passing thought and, quite confident the trouble in Hoichow had
blown over, he was no longer worrying about that. He was sure, too, from
his now so greatly altered appearance, even if he chanced to run up
against them, which was not likely, none of his old China acquaintances
would recognize him.

Thus, throwing off all his anxieties, his health quickly improved and,
to his unbounded relief, the marks upon his shins had gradually faded
right away. To be on the safe side, however, he always kept plenty of
iodide of potassium tablets by him ready upon the slightest feelings of
returning malaise to have recourse to them again at once.

Still, in his own mind he was sure he had never been infected with
leprosy and, whenever he thought of the specialist, he cursed him
deeply, not only because of the mistake in diagnosis he had made, but
also because of his insistence that it was a case for segregation in a
leper colony.

Tiring at length of hotel life and, intending as he always had, to
establish himself as a country gentleman, he bought the property of St.
Michael's Manor in Norfolk, an old-world house standing in extensive
grounds close to the pretty little village of St. Michael, about twelve
miles from Norwich.

The house was much bigger than he needed but, intending to mix with the
county people, he was sure its possession would at once give him a good
standing among them. Furnishing it well and in excellent taste, his
domestic staff consisted of two maids and a chauffeur-gardener, the last
having his own cottage in the grounds, but taking his meals with the
other servants.

Now passing himself off as Clement Hatherleigh, he let it be known he
had been a traveller in many distant parts of the world, but was now
settling down to devote himself to his hobby of painting. Certainly, he
could paint with far more than average amateur ability and he told
himself he would never be ashamed to show his work to any new friends
and acquaintances.

He was soon to realize, however, that new friends, and even
acquaintances, were going to be hard to make in so conservative a county
as Norfolk. The social class were by no means ready to take up a man who
had come among them with no introductions, and about whom nothing was
known.

So, for a considerable time, to his intense mortification, he seemed to
be making no progress at all and then, in a most unusual way, and in one
that in bygone days he would have laughed to derision, he found himself
beginning to be received in the best circles.

It commenced almost at once after he had taken to being a regular
attendant at the village church and present at the two services every
Sunday.

This is the way it had happened. One morning, when he had gone into the
village to post a letter, he saw a young girl in the street, whom he
thought instantly was the most lovely creature he had ever seen. He had
judged her to be about eighteen or nineteen and her loveliness was of
the typical English kind, beautiful colouring, faultless complexion and
large, deep blue eyes. Her profile was charming and her figure well
proportioned. He told himself she looked the very perfection of virginal
sweetness.

She made such an impression on him that, after he returned home, he
simply could not get her out of his mind and his thoughts kept reverting
to her all that day. More and more as he recalled her appearance, she
appealed to him as the embodiment of all that was desirable in
womanhood.

The following morning, therefore, in the hope of meeting her again and
finding out who she was, he went into the village once more and hung
about for quite a long time. He saw nothing of her, however, and a
dismay filled him that, perhaps, she might have been only a stranger
passing through and he would never see her again.

Still, every day now he took his walk into the village and one
afternoon, to his immense joy, saw her coming out of the village general
shop. He was so overwhelmed that he dared to give her only the most
fleeting of glances, but he went into the shop immediately and, making
some trifling purchase, at once found out all about her from the
talkative woman who served him.

The girl was Dorothy Bannister, the only child of the clergyman of the
village, an elderly widower. She managed all the household affairs at
the Rectory. They were not too well-off, as the living was a poor one,
but there were some very well-to-do people among the congregation and
they always saw to it that the Rector's Easter Offering was a
substantial one. Of course, as the Rector's daughter Dorothy moved among
the best people, and of course again with her good looks, she had many
admirers, but she was not engaged and, at any rate as far as was known,
had no particular fancy for anyone.

Returning home in some jubilation, Hardacre smiled gloatingly. He might
be a sceptic about matters of religion, but was certainly not one where
flesh and blood was concerned, and there and then, on the instant, he
formed the resolution of getting her for his wife.

Strangely enough, there seemed nothing extraordinary to him about this
decision. It seemed the natural thing, for not only would he then
gratify his passion, but also he would settle down to a restful family
life. The knowledge that he was supposed to have once been tainted with
a dreadful malady did not in the least detract from his determination,
nor the fact that he must be quite five and twenty years older than she
was. He just wanted her, and for the moment that was all he thought
about.

But while his consuming passion blinded him to the vileness of his
intentions, his common sense soon made him awake to the understanding
that it would be no easy matter for him to gain his ends. His age would
be a great handicap, for there were many chances against a young girl in
all the romance of budding womanhood being swept off her feet by the
attentions of a man old enough to be her father.

So, he told himself, he must be very tactful and approach her warily. He
must get to know her and, at first, just establish an acquaintanceship
which should merge later into the friendship which would give him the
opportunities he wanted. To begin with there should be no undue
attentions on his part; just the respectful admiration of a
well-travelled and experienced man of the world.

Having considered the best way to get to know her, he opened his
campaign the following Sunday by attending the morning service at the
village church, and a mild sensation occurred when, tall and
distinguished-looking, he walked up the aisle and was ushered by the
verger into the front pew of the lady chapel. Facing sideways to the
general congregation in the main body of the church, had he dared, he
could have feasted his eyes the whole service long upon Dorothy, who, in
the Rectory pew, was only a few yards away from him. However, after one
quick glance at her, when their eyes held each other's for a fleeting
second, he looked only in her direction through his fingers when he was
kneeling down. His heart beat painfully as he took in how really lovely
she was.

As the service proceeded, his demeanour was most reverent and attentive,
and no one there in that sacred edifice would have dreamed the evil life
he had lived and how wicked his real thoughts were.

After the service, he was one of the last of the congregation to leave,
hoping the Rector would overtake him in the churchyard and speak to him.
Nothing, however, happened and with a sigh he resigned himself to
waiting another week before he saw Dorothy again.

The next day, however, the Rector called at the Manor with many
apologies that he had not come before, explaining that, at the time
Hardacre had arrived in the neighbourhood, he had been recovering from a
severe attack of pneumonia, and when, after many weeks, he had got well
again, the matter had quite slipped his memory. He was most cordial, and
Hardacre took him into the room he had fitted up as a studio and showed
him the picture he was painting. The reverend gentleman knew nothing
about art, but could well appreciate the cheque for 20 which Hardacre
immediately wrote out when, the conversation turning to music, he
mentioned how greatly the church was needing a new organ.

That same week Hardacre went to dinner at the Rectory and was
introduced, among others present, not only to the lovely Dorothy, but
also to old General Westaway who was one of the churchwardens. The
ex-trader made an excellent impression and, well-travelled as he was,
and a good raconteur, he made himself so interesting that everyone was
of opinion he was going to be an acquisition to the neighbourhood.

An invitation to dinner and cards at the General's followed, and, most
proficient at all card games, Hardacre undoubtedly stood out as the star
guest of the evening. After that he made plenty of acquaintances and,
taking up golf, was generally regarded as a good fellow. In due time,
sponsored by the General whose approval carried a considerable weight
with everyone, he was made a member of the exclusive Norwich Club and
his standing as a country gentleman seemed quite assured. His friendship
with Dorothy and her father progressed favourably too, and he was soon
on the familiar footing of dropping in now and then at the Rectory
without invitation, for afternoon tea. With some effort, he continued to
refrain from all appearance of passion for the girl and played his part
exactly as he had intended he would. He was the deferential admirer and
that was all, apparently seeking nothing more than an ordinary
friendship. There was nothing of the suitor about him.

So things were for some months and then, all in a few seconds and
without the slightest warning, all his confidence and serenity of mind
crashed heavily.

He came face to face with a young fellow he had known well in Hoichow,
and the recognition was almost instantly mutual.

It happened that his gardener-chauffeur was leaving and, having
advertised for another, the very morning that the advertisement had
appeared, he was in his studio when Jane, the parlourmaid, knocked at
the door and entered. "A young man has come about the place, sir," she
said. "He's bicycled in from Norwich."

"Show him in," nodded Hardacre, and a young fellow about one or two and
twenty came into the studio. He was a nice-looking boy but, thin and
white-faced, appeared by no means in the best of health.

"I've come about the situation, sir," began the boy, when a violent fit
of coughing interrupted what he had been going to say.

Hardacre frowned, and in his own mind ticked him off at once as no good.
He didn't look strong enough. Then his frown deepened, for some uneasy
chord of memory was stirred in him. The boy's face seemed somehow
vaguely familiar.

His cough over, the boy went on: "I saw your advertisement in this
morning's paper, sir, and came at once. I can do gardening and am good
at cars. Up to a few weeks ago I'd been living abroad for some years
and----" But he suddenly stopped speaking and stared at Hardacre with
his mouth open and his eyes very wide.

"The place is filled," snapped Hardacre, anxious for some reason he did
not stop to analyse to get rid of him at once. "I engaged someone
yesterday and----"

But the young fellow broke in in great excitement. "Why, you are Mr.
Hardacre, sir! I didn't recognize you at first because of the beard.
Don't you remember me, sir? I worked at the club at Hoichow. I'm Harold,
sir."

A dreadful shiver ran down Hardacre's spine, and he felt a hard and
gripping pain at his heart. If he had had anything in his hand he was
sure that in his dismay he would have struck the boy down where he
stood.

The young fellow was smiling now and his eyes roved round the room and
lighted upon the big silver cigarette-case on the table. "And there's
the cigarette-case that you won at the bridge tournament with your
initials on it. Don't you remember losing it, sir, and I found it for
you, by the swimming pool?" He rubbed his hands together pleasurably. "I
was so glad you got away all right."

For the moment Hardacre was quite incapable of speech, and moistened
over his dry lips with his tongue. He was in a terrible predicament. Of
course, he remembered the boy, and he realized the hopelessness of
denying it. Harold Smith had been one of the under-stewards at the club,
one of the most obliging, and well-liked by everyone, though his one
great failing had been that he always wanted to talk to the members and
was inclined to be too familiar.

Harold went on smilingly: "Yes, sir, I was delighted you escaped and so,
I am sure, were most of us."

With a great effort Hardacre pulled himself together and tried to look
unconcerned. For the moment he could form no definite plan of action,
but he realized painfully that the situation needed the most delicate
handling. He spoke as carelessly as he could.

"There was no question of escaping or getting away as you call it," he
said coldly. "After that accident I had no wish to remain in Hoichow any
longer."

"Of course not, sir," nodded the boy. "It might have ended most
unpleasantly."

"And there was no difficulty at all about my leaving," frowned Hardacre.
"No one tried to prevent me."

"Not exactly, sir," said Harold hesitatingly, "but the superintendent of
the prison was dismissed because you had got away and, because they
thought he was being unfairly treated, the gentlemen at the club got up
a subscription for him. I think it was over two hundred pounds."

Hardacre cursed angrily under his breath. It was just like the boy to
have ferreted out everything. It was common knowledge he picked up every
bit of tittle-tattle, and broadcast it to everyone. He was of the kind
who couldn't keep anything to himself. A terrible talker, he was the
very worst person now to be in possession of his, Hardacre's, secret.

A long moment's silence followed and then the ex-trader asked sharply:
"But how do you come to be back here in England?"

Harold cut short another hacking cough. "My chest, sir," he replied
miserably. "The doctors said I must leave the East at once or I should
get consumption. They said, too, I must take to an open-air life."

"Do your people live near here?" asked Hardacre.

"No, sir, up in Birmingham, but it was much too cold and foggy for me
there, and I am to have country air. I came to Norwich a fortnight ago
and have been living in lodgings looking out for a job. I am all by
myself."

Hardacre considered, but not for long. Whatever he would do later, at
any rate for the time being at all costs he must keep the boy under his
sight to make sure he held his tongue. Even then there was the dreadful
risk he would talk to the two servants. He must frighten him. He must
terrify him into silence.

"When did you last see a doctor?" he asked frowningly.

"Not since I left Hoichow, sir. I stayed with my stepsister, the only
relation I have, up in Birmingham for a little while, and she thought I
ought to go to one, but I knew all I wanted was good food and fresh air
and so I wouldn't go to the expense." He looked uncomfortable. "My
stepsister and I didn't get on too well together and we had a quarrel.
So I left her and came down this way. I know Norfolk pretty well."

"Do you think you are getting better?" asked Hardacre.

The boy shook his head. "No, sir, I don't believe I am as yet. My cough
is worse and I feel a little weaker." His face brightened. "But I think
that is only because I have been worrying about not being able to find a
job and not getting enough food either. I have very little money left
and have had to think of every penny."

Hardacre looked most serious. "I tell you frankly you look a very sick
boy to me, and, if you're not fed properly I'm sure you'll not last
long."

The boy looked very frightened. "Does it really strike you like that,
sir?" he asked anxiously.

Hardacre nodded. "Yes, it does, though at your age plenty of good food
and fresh air should put you quite all right again in time. Now, I tell
you what I'll do. I'll give you the job here and make the work as light
as possible until you get back your strength. You shall live in the
cottage in my grounds and I'll pay you two pounds a week, with you
taking all your meals, too, in the house. I'll be a friend to you. You
understand?"

The boy's white face flushed. "It's most kind of you, sir, and I'm----"

"But only on one condition," interrupted Hardacre sharply. "On only one
condition, and that is"--he spoke with the utmost sternness--"that you
never mention to anyone you've known me before."

"Oh, I won't say a word, sir," said Harold. "Of course, I won't. I
wouldn't think of it."

"And if you do," went on Hardacre menacingly, "I'll not only turn you
out neck and crop without a moment's notice, but also I'll give you the
damnedest horsewhipping any boy ever had--for meddling in other people's
affairs." He gave a final warning. "Mind you--I shall find out at once
from the maids if you've said anything, in a way I'll not explain to you
now."

But the boy was most emphatic in his protestations of secrecy and, for
the moment at all events, Hardacre was confident he had frightened him
into silence. He would almost certainly say nothing until his fright had
worn off.

So Harold Smith was taken into the service of the popular Clement
Hatherleigh and there was no doubt the boy was at once in high favour
with the maids. Most kind-hearted, they were I soon making a great fuss
of him and doing everything they could to make his situation a happy and
easy one. Seeing how ill he looked, they were prepared to do most of the
car cleaning for him and help him in the garden as well. The boy was
most grateful and seemed delighted he had found so happy a home. Indeed,
they were now a merry little party in the kitchen.

Hardacre, however, was anything but happy and merry. He was most
worried, and every hour tormented with his thoughts as to how it was all
going to end. He knew there could never be any peace for him with all
his safety and security depending upon the silence of one who was by
nature a born chatterer and would have the greatest difficulty in
holding his tongue.

Already dreadful thoughts had come into the ex-trader's mind and they
boded no good for the new member of his household. Harold would have to
be got rid of! There was no help for it! He would have to be silenced
for good in some way! No, there would be no downright mysterious murder
as that would be far too risky a card to play! The boy must meet with
some fatal accident. He would be knocked down by the car and it would be
made certain he was killed outright! Or, he would be shot whilst out
rabbit shooting! One of these ways should certainly be able to be
managed, but everything must be foreseen and every precaution taken so
that the death should appear as nothing but accidental.

These murderous thoughts were now uppermost in Hardacre's mind, even to
the exclusion of Dorothy Bannister and then, all suddenly, the
realization came to him one morning that Harold could be disposed of in
quite a natural way.

It was about a week after the boy had arrived at the Manor, and Jane,
the parlourmaid, the elder of the two maids, had served Hardacre with
his breakfast, but then, instead of leaving the room at once in the
usual way, she stopped to speak to him.

"Excuse me for speaking to you about it, sir," she said nervously, "but
I am afraid Harold has got consumption."

Hardacre lifted up his eyebrows. "Then have you been studying medicine,
Jane?" he asked with heavy sarcasm.

"No, sir," replied the girl, "but I had a sister once who died of
consumption and she was just like Harold is now--only two months before
she passed away."

Hardacre was interested. "But the boy's not really ill!" he exclaimed
frowningly.

"Oh, yes, he is, sir," said Jane. "Some days he says he feels so weak
that he can hardly lift his arms up and every step he takes is a
trouble. Then, when I make his bed in the mornings, his sheets are
soaking wet from perspiration. He tells us he often feels cold and
clammy all night, but I am sure every evening his temperature has gone
up. That's how my sister was, but we didn't take much notice of it until
she became so ill and we had to call in the doctor. Then he said we had
fetched him too late, though if he had come only two months earlier she
could have been saved."

Hardacre's heart gave a big jump. Gad, there might be something in it
and what an easy escape from all his troubles! He smiled kindly at the
girl. "Don't you worry, Jane, it's not as bad as you think. That
perspiring is quite natural with anyone who has recently come from hot
countries. I used to get it myself for nearly a year after I left South
America. It's just a sort of after effect of the malaria which we've
both had. Anyhow, I'll take Harold's temperature to-night and see what
it is."

That evening he found the boy's temperature was nearly up to a hundred
and the next morning it had dropped to below ninety-six. Knowing the
extreme variation was a bad sign, he was greatly elated, but he told the
girls everything was quite normal and as it should be. "You feed him
up," he said. "That's all he wants and you'll see that in a few weeks
he'll be a different chap altogether. Don't you worry. I'll look after
him and, if a doctor becomes necessary, I'll get the best one in
Norwich. I've taken a liking to the boy and will see he gets quite
well."

Hardacre's plan of campaign was now perfectly simple and all mapped out.
Knowing the boy's only chance of recovery was treatment in a proper
hospital, he was intending to put it off and off until he was certain it
would come too late. Then, at the last moment, when Harold would be too
weak and ill to be likely "to talk", he would rush him into some
hospital, a hundred and more miles away, to die.

He dare not take him away before he was really very ill, because he knew
the boy was weak-willed and unless he, Hardacre, were by him to rub in
every day that he must hold his tongue, he was positive that, if only
for the sake of talking, sooner or later, he would open his heart to
someone.

Then a dreadful catastrophe might follow, for who being let into the
secret that a country gentleman of good standing had been wanted for
homicide abroad--of course they would call it murder--would not be
likely to pass it on? Then, in time, it would be bound to come to the
ears of the police. Inquiries would be made, the whole trouble would be
revived, and then one day, without a minute's warning, he might be
arrested for extradition and trial.

Hardacre shuddered every time at the very thought.

In the meantime, with his passion for Dorothy Bannister as consuming as
ever, he had nevertheless proceeded very slowly in his effort to merge
the now well-recognized friendship between them into something warmer
and more intimate. Though he had prided himself he had been all along
most tactful, yet almost from the very beginning he had never been quite
sure that he was wholly deceiving her and that she had not instinctively
sensed what his ultimate intentions were. With others present when he
met her, either in the Rectory itself or about the church or in the
village, she always gave him a warm and friendly smile as he approached.
Her manner then was natural and without the slightest trace of any
embarrassment, and she could not be nicer. When, however, he happened to
catch her alone, things always seemed to him very different. Her manner,
then, he thought, was colder, and every time she was apparently in a
great hurry, with something very important to do. It was exactly as if
she were on the defensive.

Still, he comforted himself that she was more than ordinarily interested
in him, and he believed he stood with her as one whose colourful life
had made him a strong man of resolute and fearless character.

Another thing in his favour, too--he was sure she was as yet quite
heartwhole, and that he had no definite rival. He had been introduced to
quite a number of people at the Rectory and met them afterwards at their
own houses and, though all the young fellows were anxious to make a fuss
of her, as far as he could make out not one of them seemed to consider
he had any proprietary interest.

As the time passed by there came a day when he thought he might,
reasonably, make a step forward and try to get on closer terms. So one
day, in the presence of her father, he asked her if she would let him
paint her portrait.

"Of course," he laughed lightly, "I know I shall not be able to do you
justice, but I'd like to try."

She shook her head smilingly. "No, I wouldn't let you waste your time. I
wouldn't think of it for a moment."

Her refusal was so instantaneous and so emphatic that, in spite of all
his self-control, he showed his annoyance. "But why not?" he asked
sharply. "Don't you think I could make any sort of job of it?"

"You might," she retorted, "and you might not. You might make me
conceited, or in the opposite way you might make me out so plain that I
should become self-conscious." She nodded towards her father and smiled
again. "Paint Dad, and see what you make of him," and she tripped out of
the room.

Inwardly, Hardacre was furious. He knew quite well he was no portrait
painter and, indeed, he had not thought that he would ever complete any
painting of her. All he wanted from her sittings for him was to be alone
with her and touch her continually under the pretence of keeping her in
the right position. Also, he was sure that, being so much together as
they would be, a deeper intimacy between them would speedily eventuate.

He left the Rectory in a very bad temper for, as it happened, he had
then more than Dorothy's refusal to let him paint her to irritate him.
Harold Smith had now been with him for longer than three months and, day
by day, was obviously getting weaker. The maids were anxious, and
pressing he should be taken to a doctor with no more delay.

Only that morning Jane had spoken about it in so firm a manner that, if
he had dared, he would have rated her soundly for her interference. She
had said she was sure the boy was now very ill and something ought to be
done for him at once.

She had pressed him so hard to call in a doctor that he thought it
wisest to say he would if, within the next few days, Harold did not show
a distinct improvement. However, he was still intending to put it off
for at least a little while longer.

He was thinking of all this when, as he approached the entrance to the
drive leading up to the house, to his amazement he saw a car which he
recognized as that of Dr. Johnson, the doctor in the village, pass in
between the gates a couple of hundred yards or so before him. He was
furious with rage. Then the girls, taking advantage of his absence from
the house that afternoon, had dared to call in the doctor without his
permission! Hell, whatever the consequences he would dismiss them at
once!

He speeded up his car and drew up behind the doctor's just as it stopped
outside the gardener's cottage. Jane had been on the look-out on the
door-step and, luckily for Hardacre, before he could start making a
scene got in her say first.

"Oh, Master," she cried, looking white and scared, "Harold was half
fainting this afternoon and I thought I ought to call in Dr. Johnson at
once."

Hardacre ignored her, and the doctor, coming forward to greet him
smilingly, he choked down his fury and shook hands.

"I'm sorry I've been a bit long in getting here," said the doctor, "but
I was out and only got the message a few minutes ago. Now what's the
trouble? Someone fainted, did he?"

"Yes, Doctor, our gardener," began Jane, "and----"

But Hardacre interrupted sharply. "You needn't wait, Jane," he said, and
he waved her towards the house. "Now Dr. Johnson's here we shall get on
all right," and, most reluctantly, after seeing them enter the cottage,
the girl walked slowly away.

Hardacre had picked up his cue and was now all kindly sympathy as he and
the doctor approached the bed upon which Harold was lying, looking very
ill.

"How are you feeling now, my boy?" asked Hardacre. "A little better!
That's good! So you had a bit of a faint, did you? Well, Doctor's here
and now you'll be all right."

The doctor's face became very grave as he examined the boy. He asked him
a lot of questions and then, with an inclination of his head to
Hardacre, drew the latter out of the room.

"Look here, Mr. Hatherleigh," he said sharply, "there's no doubt
whatever that this boy's got T.B. badly and I can't understand how it's
been allowed to go on for so long."

"But he's been saying lately he felt better," lied Hardacre. He put on
an anxious look. "But is he really consumptive?"

"Most certainly he is," nodded the doctor, "and without any testing, I
can see the trouble is pretty far advanced."

"Won't he get better?" asked Hardacre with a well-simulated catch in his
breath.

"Oh, I wouldn't say that," said the doctor. "He may get well if he goes
into a sanatorium at once."

"And go he shall," said Hardacre emphatically. "A relative of mine has
interests in one in London and I'll ring him up at once."

The doctor taking his leave, Hardacre went into the kitchen to speak to
the maids. Uncertain how he was going to take their having rung up the
doctor without waiting for his permission, they both looked rather
frightened. Hardacre, however, beamed smilingly at them. "You did quite
right, Jane," he said, "and it was a good thing you called the doctor
in. He says Harold is not going to die, but he must go into a hospital
to be properly treated. So I'm going to find one for him to-morrow."

The girls looked greatly relieved, but their relief would have been
turned to horror had they known what was passing in their master's mind.
Guilty already of two deaths, he was now definitely contemplating a
third, and there would be delay only until he was certain exactly how to
bring it about with safety.

His first idea had been to give the boy an overdose of sleeping tablets
and let him be found dead one morning in the cottage, but he had judged
the doctor's character accurately enough to realize he was no fool, and
moreover just the very type of man who, standing in awe of no one, and
if only for the good name of the profession, would demand an inquest if
he were in the least doubtful about anything. So another plan was
forming in his mind and he was just thinking it over until he had
elaborated it.

The very next day, however, he was forced to an immediate decision, for
another alarming situation arose. He met Dr. Monk at a garden party near
Norwich and was by no means certain the Cavendish Square specialist had
not recognized him.

Drawn like a moth to the candle, he had gone to the party solely because
he had known Dorothy was going to be there, and he had soon caught sight
of her, realizing with a hungry pang how lovely she looked, all pink and
white and just the very ideal of budding womanhood. Waiting his
opportunity when there were not too many people around, he went up to
speak to her. She received him very nicely, giving him the usual
friendly smile. Then, when they were talking together with his eyes
devouring the beauty of her piquante face, he sensed rather than saw
that a man close near them was staring hard at him. The man was so near
that he must have been able to hear everything that was being said.

As if compelled by some hypnotic influence, after a few moments he
reluctantly withdrew his eyes from Dorothy and glanced round. It was
only a quick glance he gave, and then he turned back again. Who on earth
was the man? he asked himself, and a few seconds later his heart gave a
big jump and his mouth went very dry. He knew who he was! He was the Dr.
Monk who had treated him so vilely! He was the blackguard who had tried
to get him herded into a leper colony!

Fortunately, at that moment it was Dorothy who was doing all the
talking, and consequently he had time to take a good grip of himself
before it was his turn to speak. He believed he played his part well.
His voice was steady and he laughed merrily, as if he had not a care in
all the world. Then, when others came up and, for the moment, he dropped
out of the conversation, he turned unconcernedly round again and let his
glance wander on and pass the doctor, as if the latter were not of the
slightest interest to him. He noted, uneasily, however, that the doctor
was still staring at him.

Presently Dorothy nodded a smiling good-bye to the little group who had
gathered round her and moved away, but Hardacre remained where he was,
chatting to two men friends. Later he did not hurry to get away from the
garden party, but walked round to talk to some of the other people he
knew. He passed the doctor several times and, indeed, was only a few
yards from him when having tea in the refreshment tent. Several times he
caught him looking in his direction, but was relieved to see he was
still looking very puzzled and frowning hard.

"He can't place me," he told himself hopefully, "and I'm quite safe. He
just thinks he's seen someone like me somewhere, but he can't remember
who it was and it annoys him. Of course, he won't be recognizing me
after all this time and especially as I've got this beard now." He
frowned. "I wonder how the devil it is he comes to be here."

However, he soon got to learn that, for the doctor, coming into view
when he, Hardacre, was talking to an old lady who seemed to know
everybody present, he drew her attention to him, remarking casually what
a clever face he'd got.

"Oh, that ugly little man!" she smiled. "Yes, he's supposed to be very
clever. He's a London doctor, Dr. Monk," and then, rather to his
consternation, Hardacre learnt the doctor had a country home on Hickling
Broad, not a dozen miles from his own place.

"But we don't see much of him, socially," went on the old lady, "for he
keeps very much to himself. I expect he's only come out to-day to see
the roses here. His great hobby is growing roses and he takes lots of
prizes at the shows."

Hardacre's complacent frame of mind that the doctor would not give him
another thought had quite passed by the time he was driving home in his
car. He was sure Dr. Monk had been inquiring about him, for just before
he had left the garden party he had seen him in close conversation with
a man who often came to the Norwich Club and both had been looking in
his direction.

So there was some suspicion in the doctor's mind and he had been
asking about him and who he was! Then--suppose he came calling at the
Manor to see if that suspicion were well-founded or not! Well, he would
show him what a fool he'd been about that diagnosis! He'd make him
feel--ah, but he daren't! What if that nephew had recognized him and
told about the killing of that man at Hoichow? God, what a danger he'd
be in! No, if he came he would refuse to see him! Directly he got home
he would give orders to the maid that if any stranger came asking for
him they were to say he'd gone away.

And it would be best for him to go away for a few weeks, to clear out so
that the doctor should not be able to become certain he was the Charles
Henson who had consulted him, for with any delay his interest might die
down.

Ah, but he could not go away and leave that damned boy with the maids!
Alone with them, he would soon start talking and----He gritted his teeth
together. He would get rid of him with no more delay. He would give him
an overdose of sleeping tablets and put him under the sand floor of his
fishing shed at Salthouse! He would do it at once, to-morrow, and it
would be an act of mercy as the boy was suffering!

Reaching the Manor, he went in to see Harold straightaway "Now, my boy,"
he said briskly, "it's all arranged and tomorrow, first thing, I am
taking you up to London to see a doctor friend of mine who knows all
about chests, and you'll go at once into a home. But we shall have to
leave here very early, and you must be all ready by six o'clock. I'm to
give you a good dose of something to make you sleep to-night."

And certainly it was a good dose of the something that he gave him, for
Harold slept heavily and in the morning was feeling so dopey that he
could eat none of the nice breakfast Jane had brought in for him.

"Never mind about that," said Hardacre, "and perhaps it'll be all the
better and the jolting of the car will not make him feel sick."

Just before starting Hardacre gave him another dose of the sleeping
tablets, nearly half the contents of the bottle this time, in a stiff
brandy and water, it being his intention that by the time they arrived
at the fishing shed the boy would be so drugged that he would take in
nothing of the place to which he had been brought.

Keeping to the by-roads as much as possible, but proceeding at a good
pace, they met few people at that early hour, and the twelve or thirteen
miles to the shed were soon covered. On a lonely and desolate part of
the coast, it was a big, derelict-looking barn-like wood and iron
structure, standing just off an unfrequented track running behind a line
of high sandhills. Once used by fishermen to store their nets and boats,
it had been untenanted for a long while until Hardacre rented it for a
few pounds a year. He had slept there several times to get a shot at the
wild duck which flew over night and morning.

Glancing round furtively in every direction to make certain no one had
seen him arrive, Hardacre unlocked the padlock on the big door of the
shed and, opening the door wide, drove the car in, closing the door
again behind him. To all appearances now the shed was as untenanted and
deserted as before. Then, for a long minute he stood still to let his
eyes get accustomed to the gloom, relieved only by the few rays of light
filtering in through the cracks of the tarred wooden walls.

All at once his forehead burst out in a profuse perspiration and his
heart began to beat violently. It was as if he were now realizing the
awful risk he might be running. He was murdering in cold blood, and
intending to bury the body only a few feet below the shed floor, there
to be for anyone who came upon it a damnable evidence of his crime.

Of course, later on, inquiries might be made about the boy and, he asked
himself, was the tale he was intending to tell good enough to sound
true! He was going to say that at the last moment Harold had decided to
go back to his stepsister and, accordingly, he had been put into a
Birmingham train. That was the last he, Hardacre, had seen of him.

Then would people believe that story? But why shouldn't they? What
suspicion could they have that he had ever wanted to get rid of him?
Why--none at all! No, he had only to tell his story and no one would
doubt it!

He lifted the boy from the back seat of the car where he had been lying
and laid him upon some sacks on a camp bed, noticing with satisfaction
that he was no longer conscious and breathing very shallowly.

Grabbing up a big galvanized iron pail, with furious strokes he started
to scoop out a trench in the sand near one of the corners of the shed
farthest from the door. The sand was soft and powdery, but it was heavy
work and several times he had to stop for a minute or two to get back
his breath. At last, however, he judged he had got it deep enough and,
turning again to Harold, found he was just breathing and that was all.

He glanced at his wrist watch and scowled. He couldn't be there for
ever. He must be miles away from the neighbourhood before traffic began
to appear upon the roads. His heart beat violently and the perspiration
bursting again upon his forehead was not now all due to his exertions.
He bent down over the unconscious boy. Yes, he was practically dead and
would feel and know nothing of what had happened to him now! He began to
strip off his clothes.

A few moments later it was all over. The trench had been filled in and
the sand well trampled down until the surface appeared no different from
that of any other part of the floor of the shed. Then Hardacre was upon
the point of opening the shed door to get away as quickly as he could
when, to his terror, he heard the sounds of a car stopping and laughter
and merry voices just outside.

Almost choking in his consternation, he sprang up upon an old barrel in
a corner of the shed and peered through a crack in the wall. He saw a
lorry with four men and four girls and, from the things they had got
with them, they were evidently a picnic party which had come to spend
the day there. To his fury he saw the men start to set up a small tent
on the level stretch of sand running a hundred yards or so between the
sandhills down to the sea, while the girls lifted off cooking utensils,
rugs and deck-chairs from the lorry and began to prepare a camp.

He literally shook with rage. He was trapped for the whole livelong day!
He would not dare to drive out his car while they were about, as it
would look so queer to see it appearing suddenly from an apparently
disused shed. Besides, it was quite in the cards, too, that he might
even be recognized as among the picnickers might be one who actually
came from St. Michael village, only such a few miles away.

Another thought, too, struck him, and it was horrible in its
possibilities. He could not lock the shed door, as it could only be
padlocked from outside, and at any moment it might be pulled open if
anyone strolled over, curious enough to want to know what the shed
contained. Damnation, then how extraordinary it would look to find a man
hiding himself there! Certainly, if they came near, he might shout to
them not to come in, but how surprised they would be! Of course, they
would talk about it when they got home, and, any day later on, someone
might come to have a look round. Then, what if he had not buried the
body deep enough, and it had begun to putrefy and they smelt it!

With glaring eyes he watched the tent go up, a fire lit and a kettle put
on to boil. Then, hour after hour, he was a scowling spectator of
everything that went on. The picnickers had a meal, they paddled and
gathered shells, they bathed and then had another meal. Later, they
separated into courting couples and, only a little way apart, stretched
themselves out upon the sands, with their arms shamelessly around each
other's necks.

The long day dragged slowly on, with Hardacre's legs aching terribly
from his long vigil upon the barrel. It was the only place, however,
from which he could watch the picnickers outside, and he dared not get
down, for every moment he must be on the alert against the chance of
their coming near. The day seemed endless, but at last dusk began to
fall and the revellers broke up their camp, lazily piling their goods
back upon the lorry. Finally they drove off, laughing and shouting
merrily, all oblivious that all day long they had been within a few
yards of a just-murdered man.

Stiff and sore, Hardacre stepped down painfully from the barrel and,
waiting only a bare few minutes, ran out his car and started to drive
London-wards, his one thought now being to fill himself up with brandy
at the first hotel he came to where it was not likely he would be known.
He had no wish that anyone should remember having seen his car that
night, and so for the first fifty to sixty miles kept as far as possible
to the little by-roads. Into the middle of a pond by a lonely lane, tied
round in a piece of sacking and well weighted down with stones, he threw
everything that had come with Harold Smith from the Manor--small
suitcase, clothes, boots and all.

Reaching the City in the small hours of the morning, he put up at his
usual hotel and, well doped with plenty of alcohol, dropped off to sleep
at once. Getting up later, he was in good spirits and quite confident he
had got over an awkward hurdle.

As for Dr. Monk, he was now of the opinion that he had been worrying
himself unnecessarily. Of course, it was all imagination that the doctor
had recognized him!

After lunch he rang up home and told Jane, who answered the phone, that
Harold had stood the journey to Town very well, but at the last moment
had changed his mind and gone up to his stepsister in Birmingham. He
added the boy had said he would feel less lonely in a hospital near his
own people.

"And that'll settle her," he chuckled as he came away from the phone.
"She can think what she likes, and wonder why the boy does not write to
her. Still, that'll be nothing to do with me."

He remained in Town longer than at first had been his intention,
enjoying himself without the slightest remorse for the dreadful crime he
had just committed. Starting back for home on the Saturday after an
early lunch, the sudden idea came to him that, as it would not be much
out of his way, he would go and see where Dr. Monk lived. Accordingly,
coming to Hickling Broad, he pulled up his car to inquire of two
giggling girls, who were picking blackberries on the roadside, where the
doctor lived.

The bungalow pointed out to him being about a mile away, he drove on
again, but, about a couple of hundred yards or so before reaching it,
turned into a by-road and, when out of sight of anyone passing along the
main road, stopped his car and got out, thinking it safest to make the
rest of his investigations on foot.

Entering a narrow lane which bounded one side of the bungalow garden, he
peered through the fence there, and his heart jumped as his eyes fell
upon the doctor himself, sitting reading in a deck-chair upon the
veranda.

He clenched his fists savagely and worked himself into a blind,
unreasoning rage. The man was his arch enemy, the cause of that dreadful
hunted life he had had to live for one long and dreary year! How he
would love to throttle him! If only he could get his hands about his
neck!

His eyes roamed round the well-kept little garden with its wealth of
beautiful flowers. So those were the roses the little wretch was so
proud of, were they? Well, one dark night he would come and slash them
all down! He would spite him somehow!

Tearing himself away with difficulty, he reached the Manor to learn that
all had been quiet and uneventful there. No police had come prying about
and no men from the Health Authorities to ask any questions about him.

Certainly, he had worried himself for nothing! Of course, after leaving
the garden party, the doctor had never given another thought to the man
whose face had puzzled him! He might not even have been asking any
questions of that fellow-guest to whom he, Hardacre, had seen him
talking. It was all fancy on his, Hardacre's, part that he had noticed
them both looking in his direction! That was the curse of having a
troublesome imagination! He had been a fool to worry himself over
nothing!

He treated himself to a couple of stiff brandies in his relief. No, with
the doctor so rarely appearing at any social functions and probably only
coming down to his bungalow at week-ends in the summer and upon his
holidays, it was hardly likely they would ever meet again. The man had
forgotten all about him and there was no danger at all from that
quarter.

The next morning he attended the service at the village church and, as
usual, took his seat in the front row of the lady chapel. He had arrived
rather late and, with the service just about to begin, the church was
fairly full. As he resumed his seat after a few moments of pretended
prayer, he let his eyes roam round upon the assembled congregation. Then
his heart almost stopped beating when they fell upon a man not twenty
feet away. The man was looking hard at him and he was Dr. Monk!




CHAPTER V.--LAROSE TAKES A HAND.

ONE morning Chief Inspector Stone was sitting in his room in Scotland
Yard, reading a newspaper. His big, good-natured face was puckered into
a frown. The article he was reading was headed: "What is Scotland Yard
doing?" and he made running comments to himself as he read along.

"So we don't appear to have much intelligence," he remarked grimly. "Of
course not, of course not! We shouldn't be policemen if we had! We
should be bishops, or Cabinet Ministers or editors of newspapers
instead! Murder in the Eastern Counties seems to be becoming quite a
regular thing! Why not, why not? The public like murders and they will
have them. They are part of the joy of life! To read about a good murder
is much more entertaining than to read about a good deed! The Yard has
failed again! The public is being let down! Of course they are! We are
not delivering the goods! Not enough black caps are being put on and the
hangings this year are shockingly below their proper quota! We are----"

But there was a knock upon the door and a constable entered. "Mr.
Gilbert Larose to see you, sir. He says you are expecting him," and he
ushered in a good-looking, well-dressed man.

Larose, himself at one time an Inspector of the Criminal Investigation
Department, was now in the late thirties, and for ten years had been the
husband of the wealthy widow of Sir Charles Ardane. It was evident that
life had prospered with him, for he was happy and smiling-looking, and
carried himself with the air of a man who was very sure of everything
and had not a care in all the world.

"Hullo, Charlie," he exclaimed gaily, coming forward to shake hands,
"how are you? Busy?"

The stout Inspector seemed rather surprised at the question.

"No, no, Gilbert, of course I'm not!" he exclaimed. "I haven't done a
stroke of work since I was made Inspector, just loafed about and drawn
my screw." He shook his head solemnly. "You ought to know we don't work
here." He held up the newspaper he had been reading. "My boy, don't you
ever read the Cry? It's telling everyone this morning what we do. It
says that beer and women are our hobbies here at the Yard, and we make
them our work, too." He tapped the newspaper. "It says----"

Larose laughed merrily. "No, Charlie, it doesn't say that. It just
points out that you are in a little bit of difficulty and want me to
give you a leg over the stile."

The Inspector spoke sharply: "But why haven't you come to see me before,
Gilbert?" He shrugged his shoulders. "Crime, so to speak, on your very
doorstep and you've not smelt the smell of blood! I said to Inspector
Carter only last week: 'What's Gilbert up to that he's not come to poke
his nose in?' Why, with murder done in your own county, only twenty
miles away, and----"

"Twenty-four to be exact, Charlie," interrupted Larose, "or within a
furlong or so." He smiled. "I haven't been to see you before, simply
because I've been abroad for the last month. I've been on a cruise in
the Mediterranean with my two boys. I only got back to London last night
and, a letter from my wife, which I found waiting for me at my hotel,
gave me the first news. I looked up a file of newspapers at my club and
picked up all I could. I phoned you first thing this morning." He
frowned. "Of course, I'm interested. I knew the man, and my wife says
his daughter's been to see her to ask if I would give them some help."

The Inspector sighed. "I don't think you can, Gilbert. There are
absolutely no clues and, except that we are pretty sure it was a crime
of premeditation, we are no wiser than we were the first day when the
Yard was called in."

Larose lighted a cigarette and settled himself comfortably in his chair.
"Well, tell me all about it. It will be like old times, hearing you tell
the tale."

Stone gave a deep sigh of mock resignation. "It's not much I can say,
Gilbert, and I'll say it in a few words." He glanced at the calendar
upon his desk. "Dr. Monk was murdered twenty-two days ago, three weeks
last Sunday. He was shot through the open window, when he was having his
supper in his own dining-room. The killer used a twenty-two repeating
rifle, and he fired from the lawn, about ten yards away from the window.
He fired two shots, the first just missing the doctor, and the second
hitting him in the forehead. The killer was a big man, but he was not
seen that night, though he was heard getting back over the fence. He had
got a bicycle parked in the lane, and he just rode away and that was the
end of him."

"How do you know he was a big man?" asked Larose.

"Firstly, because he left two big heel-marks in the earth near where he
had jumped back over the fence and, secondly, because a woman and two
boys had seen a big man in the lane, looking through the fence about the
same spot, just after five o'clock on the afternoon of the day before."

"Can't they describe him more than that?"

"No, they were too far away and only glanced at him as they were passing
the end of the lane. The woman did say she thought he looked a
gentleman, meaning, of course, that she didn't think he was wearing the
clothes of a working man. As for him being big, we have good reason to
think he must have been strong as well, for, after getting over into the
garden before shooting the doctor, he carried--mind you, carried, not
dragged--a heavy garden seat close up to the fence, placing it there so
that he could mount upon it afterwards and climb over to make a
lightning getaway. Of one other thing we are pretty sure, too. The
surroundings of the bungalow were strange to him, because not a dozen
yards farther down the lane from where he climbed over there is a little
wicket gate which is never locked and he could have got into the garden
without any trouble had he known it was there."

"How do you know he fired from the lawn?"

"Because an empty cartridge shell was picked up there, the one he
ejected from the rifle to fire his second shot."

"Is it certain he came on a bicycle on the night of the murder, the
Sunday night?"

"Quite certain! The Norwich police picked up the wheel tracks on the
lane, both coming and going, right up to the very spot where he got over
the fence. Unfortunately, they didn't find them until a fairly heavy
shower of rain had washed away the pattern of the tyres. They traced the
wheel marks on to the Cromer road about a mile away."

"Was he using a bicycle on the Saturday afternoon, too?"

"That we don't know. The woman and the boys happened to glance up the
lane just as they were walking past the end of it, and a bicycle might
have been propped up somewhere out of sight. At any rate they didn't
notice one. He may have come in a car and parked it a little distance
away. There are plenty of small by-roads in the neighbourhood where a
car could have been left without being seen."

"And, except for what the woman told you, you can learn nothing of any
particular stranger, either on foot or on a bicycle or in a car, having
been seen at any time near the bungalow?"

"Nothing whatever, and it is quite understandable as there are hordes of
holiday-makers about the Broads in the summertime, particularly so at
week-ends."

"And that's all you know?" asked Larose after a pause.

The Inspector sighed. "Absolutely! All the rest is conjecture and
surmise. For instance, we can argue the murder was one of deliberate
premeditation. The killer inspected the surroundings of the bungalow on
the Saturday afternoon, no doubt to see how the murder could be done,
and on the Sunday night he carried it out. Obviously, he didn't come
prepared on the Saturday or he would have done it there and then with no
trouble, for when he looked through the fence he must have seen the
doctor, close near, right before his very eyes. The doctor was reading
on the veranda all the afternoon."

"How soon was the Yard called in?"

"On the Tuesday. Dr. Monk was an important man in the medical world, and
the strings were pulled at once. He's got a cousin, too, who's a Member
of Parliament, and I expect that had something to do with it."

Quite a long silence followed and then Larose asked frowningly: "Well,
Charlie, have you formed any ideas?"

The Inspector nodded. "One, that it was not the act of a madman just out
to kill someone, as Miss Monk being closer to the window would have been
much easier to hit. Both shots, however, were aimed at the doctor. No,
it was revenge, of course. That was the motive. Someone had a grudge
against the doctor, a heavy grudge, and I was hoping we should be able
to single out something the doctor had done in the few days just
previous to his murder which had made his murderer take his revenge.
Unhappily, however, we can't find anything. The doctor was taking his
usual month's summer holiday, he had had a fortnight of it when he was
killed, and during that time he had certainly been doing nothing which
could have given anyone any cause for offence. He had been spending the
days among his flowers, doing a little fishing on the Broad, going for
short motor drives, and attending a garden party in Norwich. There's
nothing whatsoever to help us."

"The idea is good, Charlie," nodded Larose, "but just a conjecture,
isn't it? The murderer may, of course, have been nursing his idea of
revenge for a long time, for months, perhaps years."

"I know that," agreed Stone readily, "but the murder was carried out
with such little delay after it had been determined upon that I can't
help thinking some quite recent event had created or stirred up the urge
in the killer to make him act at once. One day he was looking for a way
to kill the doctor, and the next day he did it. If, as you suggest, he
had been waiting for months or years for an opportunity, why hadn't he
tried to find one before? According to what we know now he could have
found one any time he wanted it."

"There's a lot in what you say," commented Larose thoughtfully, "but now
tell me--no one is known to have threatened him? He had no enemies?"

They talked on for some time and then the Inspector asked smilingly:
"Well, Gilbert, are you going to take it up?" His smile became grim. "Is
it easy enough for you?"

"Oh, it's easy enough, Charlie!" grinned Larose. "We've only to look
among some forty odd million people for a big strong man who can lift
garden seats and ride a bicycle." His face sobered down. "Yes, I think
I'll look into it. I've nothing particular to do just now and, besides,
I know the daughter slightly. She's a bit old-maidish, but quite a nice
girl. I'll go and talk to her this afternoon."

Miss Monk was overjoyed to see Larose when he drove up in his car. A few
years over thirty, she was not exactly pretty, but very fresh and
wholesome-looking. She was most intelligent, too, with blue eyes and a
determined chin.

"I'm bitter, Mr. Larose," she said. "I'd give all I have in the world to
get my father's murderer hanged. Poor Father, he was such an inoffensive
man and lived only for his profession and his flowers." Her voice
trembled. "We lost Mother ten years ago and I've looked after him ever
since. He was like a big child to me."

Larose nodded sympathetically. "Well, we'll see what we can do, Miss
Monk, with the help you give us." He spoke impressively. "Everything
depends on you. You are all we have to rely upon."

"But how can I help you?" asked the girl despairingly. "Inspector Stone
is so sure that something happened while Father was down here upon his
holiday to make the wretch murder him, but I can't think of the very
slightest thing. The days were so quiet and uneventful then."

"Have you got a good memory?" asked Larose. "I mean for little things?"

"Yes, quite; besides, I keep a diary and that's a great help."

"Oh, that's splendid!" exclaimed Larose. "Has Inspector Stone seen it?"
and his face fell a little when he learnt the Inspector had. "Well, let
me have a look, too," he added. "I may find something he missed."

So the diary was produced and Larose ran quickly through the fortnight
preceding the doctor's death. "Well, your father doesn't seem to have
done much," he remarked after a minute or two, "just staying at home, a
couple of afternoons fishing, one garden party and a few motor rides.
About these rides, did you go visiting anyone?"

"No, Father wasn't fond of society. We nearly always went somewhere
where we could get down to the sea. We would stroll along the shore and,
as often as not, I had a bathe. I don't remember that we talked to
anyone."

Larose tapped the diary he was holding in his hand. "But I see that
twice you didn't go in the car with your father and that he went alone."

The girl corrected him. "No, not alone. Webber, our chauffeur who is
also the gardener, drove him. Father never drove a car."

"Then where did they go?"

"Nowhere in particular that I know of, but I expect it was somewhere to
the sea. Father didn't say anything, but Webber can tell you. He's in
the garden now."

"Good," nodded Larose, "then I'll ask him presently. Now about the
garden party of Mrs. Fraser's in Norwich, or the Monday before the
doctor was--before everything happened. Whom did you meet there?"

Miss Monk laughed. "Sixty or seventy people, but I only knew a few of
them, because, as I've told you, we don't go much into society round
here and Father wouldn't have gone then, except that he'd heard Mrs.
Fraser had some very lovely roses and he wanted to compare them with
his."

"Then you don't know whom your father talked to?"

"No, we separated. I went about with some girl friends I met, and Father
was introduced to a lot of people by Mrs. Fraser. Whenever I saw him, he
was talking to someone. People seemed to be making a great fuss of him."

"And did he tell you afterwards about anyone in particular to whom he'd
been talking?"

"No, he didn't mention anyone, but he was very quiet during the drive
home, so quiet, in fact, that I asked him if he'd got a headache. He
said no, he was just tired."

"And he didn't talk about the garden party later in the evening?"

"Very little. He just said how beautiful the flowers were and how
energetic our hostess had been. After tea, we dine in the middle of the
day when we're here, he got out some of his casebooks and went through
them, and I knitted. There was very little conversation that evening."

Larose frowned. "What exactly do you mean by his casebooks?"

"Oh, the records he kept about his patients. He was very thorough about
his records and, when in Town, every night wrote up about every patient
he'd seen during the day." The girl smiled sadly. "His case-books were
very precious to him. He often went through them."

"But surely not when on his holiday?" asked Larose.

Miss Monk hesitated. "No-o, but he did that evening."

Larose spoke sharply. "Well, you may have told me something very
important. Mayn't he have met some one-time patient of his at the garden
party and refreshed his memory about his case when he got home?"

"But what if he had?" asked the girl rather scornfully. "The patient
wouldn't have wanted to murder him!"

"For the matter of that, why should anyone have wanted to?" retorted
Larose. He spoke very solemnly. "Yet, someone did." He shook his head.
"No, Miss Monk, we must not regard this matter in the ordinary way. It
is very much out of the ordinary, and if someone suddenly took it into
his head to kill your poor father, it is just as likely to have been a
patient as anybody else. Now tell me. Your father specialized in
tropical diseases, didn't he? Well, among that crowd at the garden
party, did you notice anyone who looked as if he had lived much abroad?
I mean dark and bronzed, with that unmistakable appearance of having
been in hot climates?"

Miss Monk shrugged her shoulders. "I didn't notice anybody,
particularly, at the time, but there must have been some. There are
plenty of retired army officers and Government officials who have places
round here. Some of them may have been stationed abroad, and had
tropical complaints, Colonel Maltravers, for instance. I know he was
twenty years in India."

They talked on for some time and then went into the garden for Larose to
speak to the chauffeur.

"Now, I understand, Mr. Webber," began the ex-detective, "that you drove
the doctor out twice in the week before this sad affair, on the Tuesday
and Sunday. Where did you take him?"

The chauffeur did not seem too intelligent and had to think hard before
he answered. "On the Tuesday," he replied slowly, "we went to
Sheringham, and on the Sunday we went into the country as far as East
Dereham."

"Did the doctor pull up to talk to any friends?" asked Larose. "Did he
meet anyone he knew?"

The man shook his head. "No, sir, we didn't pull up for anyone. We just
went out and came home and Master hardly spoke a word even to me." It
seemed that he suddenly remembered something and he went on rather more
quickly now. "Oh, I forgot, sir, we stopped once while Master went into
a church. That was on the morning of the very day he was killed--the
Sunday morning."

"Went into a church?" queried Miss Monk, as if very surprised.

"Yes, Miss, we were going through St. Michael's village and just before
we got to the church Master told me to pull up and wait for him. The
bells had nearly stopped ringing when I saw Master go into the church.
He came out again in about half an hour and then we drove on."

Larose asked a few more questions and, rather disappointed, returned
with the girl into the house. Then, to his astonishment, directly they
had re-entered the room where they had been having their previous
conversation, she closed the door carefully and said solemnly: "Well,
Mr. Larose, I really do believe you've found out something." She held
his eyes with hers. "I've never known Father go into a church before
except for a wedding or a funeral, and there must have been some reason
for it. I believe now he took that ride, purposely, in the morning, so
that I should not come with him, as he knew I should be busy about the
house. I remember now, too, that after breakfast he had been looking
through a road map and, subconsciously, I wondered why."

"You can't think of any reason why he went to the church?" asked Larose,
very interested.

She shook her head. "No, I haven't the remotest idea, but it was most
unusual on his part, for he was an out-and-out sceptic. I feel sure now
he must have had some special purpose." Her face fell. "But what could
it have had to do with the garden party? The garden party had been on
the Monday, six days before."

"That's nothing," said Larose hopefully. "It was the first Sunday
following and he might have been expecting to see the party he wanted in
church, then."

"But he couldn't have spoken to him," objected the girl, "as he didn't
wait until the end of the service."

"Perhaps he didn't want to speak to him," said Larose, "or, perhaps,
again, the man he wanted wasn't there." He nodded. "At any rate it's
worth following up. Now tell me, do you know if any St. Michael's people
were at Mrs. Fraser's party that afternoon?"

"Several may have been, for Mrs. Fraser seems to know everyone about
Norwich. I only remember Colonel and Mrs. Westaway and Dorothy
Bannister. I don't know Miss Bannister, but she's the daughter of the
Rector of St. Michael's and a very lovely girl. All the men were
crowding round her at Mrs. Fraser's."

"One question more, Miss Monk," said Larose. "Wouldn't your father, in
the ordinary way, have mentioned to you that he'd been into the church?"

Miss Monk hesitated. "Ye-es, I think he would." She looked troubled.
"Now you've put all these ideas into my mind, I remember I thought he
was very quiet the rest of that day, but I put it down to one of his
teeth hurting him. He said at dinner that he might have to run up to
Town the next day to see his dentist, but he shouldn't decide until he
found how he was the next morning."

"Oh, oh, that may have meant something!" exclaimed Larose. "It may have
had to do with a man he saw, first at the garden party, and afterwards
in the church. You see I'm groping everywhere to pick up an idea,
clutching at any straw I can get hold of." He smiled. "I shall hope to
hear of something, almost in the very whispering of the wind."

They talked on for some time and then Larose bade her goodbye, and,
learning where the little village of St. Michael's was, drove over to
interview, if possible, the Rector's daughter.

His good fortune was in, for, driving into the Rectory garden, he saw an
uncommonly pretty-looking girl picking some flowers there. He jumped out
of his car at once and, approaching her, raised his hat. He had got a
tale all well-prepared.

"Miss Bannister?" he queried smilingly. "I thought so. Well, my name is
French and I wonder if you'd be kind enough to help me. I met an old
friend whom I had not seen for many years at a garden party in Norwich
about three weeks or so back and she told me she lived in the
neighbourhood. We chatted for a few minutes and I said I would come and
see her but, absent-mindedly, I forgot to get her address. I come to you
now, because, knowing her to be a zealous church-goer, if she lives
anywhere near you are sure to know her. Her name is Mullion, Mrs.
Mullion."

Rather to his surprise, the Rector's daughter seemed to be amused. She
shook her head smilingly. "No, I know of no one of that name."

"Thank you so much," said Larose. "Then, of course, I must try somewhere
else." He regarded her searchingly. "But, I say, didn't I see you at
that garden party, too, at Mrs. Fraser's, three weeks ago last Monday?"

The girl's smile broadened. "No, you didn't see me there. I am quite
sure of that." She broke suddenly into a rippling laugh. "You didn't see
me, because"--she paused a long moment--"you were not there
yourself"--and she bowed mockingly--"Mr. Gilbert Larose."

Larose's face went red as fire. Then he, too, broke into a hearty laugh.
"Serve me right!" he exclaimed. "I ought to have come openly to you." He
frowned. "But how did you know who I was?"

"I saw you last year at the Wymondham Horse Show," she replied. "You
were pointed out to me and I was very interested. You were a detective
at Scotland Yard once, and Father and I love detective stories." Her
face sobered down. "But who is the Mrs. Mullion you want? Is there
really such a person?"

"No, there isn't," replied Larose instantly. "It was only a ruse to get
some information out of you." He spoke earnestly. "Look here, Miss
Bannister. You seem a young lady I can trust. Well, I'm a friend of Miss
Monk, the daughter of that poor Dr. Monk who was murdered and I'm
helping to find the wretch who killed him."

"Oh, wasn't it dreadful!" exclaimed Miss Bannister. "And he was at that
garden party, too! I don't remember him, because I didn't know him even
by sight." She spoke sharply. "Now tell me, what it is you really want
to know."

"It's like this," said Larose. "He may have been killed by someone who
was half crazy, and we are wondering if he offended anybody that
afternoon, the last time he went out in public. So, as a sort of forlorn
hope, I'm trying to run through all the men who were at that garden
party. There were some, I know, who came from about here and I thought
your father, as the Rector, would know all about them and tell me, on
the quiet. It was your father I really wanted to see."

"He's not in just at the moment," said the girl, "but, anyhow, I don't
think he could have told you anything to help you." She considered. "Let
me think. Colonel Westaway was there, Mr. Hatherleigh and old Major
Brown." She shook her head. "None of them crazy and, it happens, they
all attend our church."

"But tell me about them," said Larose. "Now I've taken the trouble to
come here, I may as well get my money's worth."

"Well, it couldn't have been Colonel Westaway," she said, "for he's been
ill in bed the last three Sundays. I know that for certain, because he's
one of our churchwardens and has been down with pneumonia and is only
just getting convalescent. Then Major Brown is old and very gouty and he
couldn't have ridden away on that bicycle the police say the murderer
used." She smiled as if very amused. "So that leaves only Mr.
Hatherleigh and there's nothing crazy about him. He's an artist and a
very clever man. He lives at the Manor, just outside the village."

"An artist!" exclaimed Larose. "Then does he make a living with his
paintings?"

"No, he doesn't sell them. He has no need to. He's very well-to-do, and
most generous to our church, though he's not been here long."

"Is he married? No. Then how old is he?"

"About forty, I think. You would like him. He's a very interesting man,
because he's travelled all over the world. He's done a lot of exploring.
He and Father are great friends, and he often comes here."

Larose regarded her admiringly. He thought he could quite understand any
bachelor, no matter what his age, coming often to a house where the
daughter was so charming and attractive.

The girl may have sensed something of what he was thinking for she
blushed slightly and then, as if to cover her confusion, went on
quickly: "If you want to know what he is like you can see him any Sunday
at morning or evening service. He has a seat in the front row of the
lady chapel. So you'll pick him out at once." Then, seeing that Larose
made a half sort of grimace, she added smilingly: "Or if you think my
father's sermons would be too boring for you, you could meet him most
afternoons at the County Club at Norwich. I hear he's a great poker
player." She nodded banteringly. "As the master of Carmel Abbey and one
of Norfolk's prominent men, you are sure to be a member of the club."

"I'm a member all right," laughed Larose, "though I don't often go
there. As for being the master of Carmel Abbey, it's my wife's, not
mine. I'm only there on sufferance, and if I behave myself properly." He
spoke solemnly. "Now I can depend upon you, Miss Bannister, to tell no
one what I've been asking you, can't I? You won't let it get back to
these gentlemen, will you?"

"No, I should be ashamed if it did!" she exclaimed hotly. "Fancy
suspecting one of our congregation of being the murderer!"

"Oh, but I'm not suspecting him!" he retorted instantly. "It's just a
matter of routine and I'm going through everyone. So make your mind easy
there." He smiled. "As for thinking I might get bored with your father's
sermons, well, really, I think I must come one day and give them a
trial. Do you get many strangers at your services?"

"No, very few, and when some do come they're often very rude. We had
one, a Sunday or two back, a man, and he got up and left directly Father
started to go into the pulpit. Father was most annoyed. It looked so
pointed."

"I should think it did," agreed Larose and, believing the stranger
might, perhaps, have been Dr. Monk, he controlled the interest he felt
as he asked: "Do you know who he was?"

"No, he had been sitting behind me and I didn't see him. I don't think
anyone recognized him."

Larose broke off the conversation with regret, the girl was so pretty to
look at and was so charming to talk to. He tore himself away, however,
at last and, disappointed that things did not look at all promising, was
half-minded not to pursue his investigations any farther in that
particular direction, but, most painstaking by nature, he thought he
might as well call in at the County Club in Norwich on his way home, on
the chance of meeting this Mr. Hatherleigh.

Arriving there and going into the card-room, however, he did not see any
strange faces at the tables, but in the lounge, getting into
conversation with a man he knew pretty well, he remarked casually: "I
hear we've got a new member who's a fine poker player."

His friend nodded. "By Jove, yes," he exclaimed. "Of course you mean
Hatherleigh? Yes, he's a bold player and often takes us down with very
poor hands, but then he's a real gambler and takes big risks in
everything. He's deuced lucky, too. Did you hear what happened at
Yarmouth Races last week?"

"No, did he lose a pot of money?"

"Lose, no gad, no! Why, they say he won a small fortune when Blue Eyes
won the Handicap." He laughed merrily. "It was really very funny! Old
Macaulay here had got the mare all bottled up for the race and the old
devil made out he didn't think she had much chance. All the same, he was
backing her heavily away from the course, hoping the stalling price
would be about twenty to one. But Hatherleigh, of course, was at the
races and he started to back it wherever he could get the money on. He
went from bookmaker to bookmaker with his fivers and his tenners,
getting even thirty-threes at first. But they soon tumbled to it that
something was up and, in the end, the price was shortened to four to
one. The mare won easily."

"But had this chap, Hatherleigh, got any inside information?" asked
Larose.

"He says not. He declares he just went into the paddock, liked the look
of the mare and backed it on his own. At any rate, the owner and the
stable were furious as Hatherleigh had skimmed all the cream off the
milk, and I believe Macaulay would have had the mare pulled, had he
dared!"

"Hatherleigh must be a funny combination," smiled Larose, "for I hear
he's an ardent supporter of the church in the village where he fives."

Larose's friend looked very knowing. "Ah, but there's a good reason for
that, my boy, at least everyone thinks so. The Rector there has a deuced
pretty daughter and Hatherleigh's got his eye on her."

"Where does he come from? Do you know?"

"From somewhere in India, I think. Colonel Westaway got him in here, on
the strength, I'm quite certain, of his having given some nice fat
cheques to the church in St. Michael's. The Colonel is one of the
churchwardens there and thinks Hatherleigh's a very fine fellow."

"Well, don't you, too?" asked Larose with a grin.

His friend hesitated. "I don't know. I'm not certain. At any rate I
shouldn't like him to marry my daughter. He's presentable and all that,
besides having a pot of money, but he strikes me as a ruthless sort of
devil who would get everything he wanted, at whatever price, and not be
too kind at any time to his womenfolk."

As Larose drove off on his way home, he congratulated himself he had
troubled to call in at the club. Clutching at straws, as he had told the
doctor's daughter he was, this mysterious Hatherleigh seemed quite a
likely sort of fellow for any adventure carried out in a bold and
enterprising manner.




CHAPTER VI.--AN OLD DOG FOR THE TRAIL.

FROM the very moment Larose first set eyes on Hardacre, or Clement
Hatherleigh as he was now known, he was strongly of opinion that if he
could unearth any reason for causing him to have regarded Dr. Monk as
his enemy, then no one would better fill the bill of murderer of the
dead man than he.

The star poker player of the Norwich County Club looked the embodiment
of determination and courage and one who, to attain his ends, would
embark with no hesitation at all upon any seemingly reckless adventure.
He would have no shred of remorse, either, for any wrong he had done,
and, once having rendered himself safe from discovery, would dismiss the
whole thing from his mind as a matter of no consequence. His conscience
would never trouble him.

He looked all over such a seasoned and hard-bitten man of the world, one
who all his life had drunk deep of every cup of pleasure he had been
able to fill, and the ex-detective shuddered as he thought of the
unsullied girlish beauty of Dorothy Bannister being given over to him,
if even in the sacred bonds of matrimony. He would treat her like his
slave and her life would be a most unhappy one.

Still, Larose had to admit to himself that in many respects Hatherleigh
was quite a likeable man. Undoubtedly, he came of good stock, his
manners were good and he showed a generous tolerance of other people's
opinions, however much he disagreed with them. Also, he kept what was
probably a violent temper under good control. He never grumbled either
about bad luck when he lost at cards, paying up cheerfully as if amused
to write out quite substantial cheques, and with Larose now coming
frequently to the club that occasionally happened.

Larose was every bit as bold a player as he was and not seldom, to the
great delight of the other players, the game often resolved itself into
a duel between the two, with Fortune holding the scale pretty evenly. A
gambler himself to his finger-tips, Larose enjoyed the play as much as
anybody, but he never forgot his purpose in seeking Hatherleigh's
society and was always on the watch to find out something about him.

There was, however, a difficulty, for Hatherleigh was most reserved to
everybody about his private affairs and, so obviously, not the kind of
man of whom one could ask personal questions. All anyone seemed to know
about him was that he had come from abroad a year previously, bought St.
Michael's Manor, and had been sponsored into society by General
Westaway, whose judgement, it was universally held, could be entirely
relied upon.

Still, Larose was quite certain that, given a little time, he would be
able to single out something, perhaps very small and insignificant in
itself, which would, however, set him at the beginning of a trail and,
in the end, enable him to find out at any rate a little of the man's
past. Then, and only then, would he be able to weigh up the
probabilities of his path having at one time crossed that of the
specialist.

During the first few days of his acquaintanceship with Hatherleigh he,
many times, asked himself if he were not on a fool's errand and giving
himself all his trouble for nothing. Had he the slightest reason for
believing Dr. Monk had been interested in Hatherleigh? Then, every time
he answered himself, he had.

There had been the presence of them both at that garden party, the
noticeable quiet and thoughtful demeanour of the doctor as he had been
driven home, and his poring over his casebooks at once after the evening
meal. Then on the Sunday had followed the secret visit of the doctor to
the church service at St. Michael's--secret because he had gone to it
when he knew his daughter would not be able to accompany him and had
told her nothing of his having been there, afterwards.

Garden party, looking through case-books, and attending church service!
Surely taking them altogether they could only have meant that he had
come unexpectedly upon someone whom he thought he had recognized as a
one-time patient, was peculiarly interested in him for some reason and
had gone to the church expecting to get another look at him.

But, granted all these speculations were correct and that the doctor had
thought he had recognized an old patient at that garden party, why
should he have wanted to follow the matter up?

Had the patient run up a big bill and gone away without paying? That
certainly was possible, but, for the money to have been a large sum and
worth recovering, it must have meant the doctor had seen his patient
many times and in that case there would surely have been no doubt about
the recognition at once! Besides, the doctor was well-to-do and, of the
highest reputation in his profession, it was hardly likely he would be
vindictive about collecting money due to him, from a patient who
couldn't or even wouldn't pay.

Also, was it likely any patient would murder his medical man to avoid
payment of fees due? The idea was ridiculous.

Larose was very puzzled, but still, he told himself, he would not give
up the trail until he had at least found out something about
Hatherleigh: where he came from and who he was. For any motive for the
crime, however, he knew he must find the certain trails of Dr. Monk and
this Clement Hatherleigh crossing somewhere.

A few weeks after he had made his acquaintance, Larose was greatly
elated when Hatherleigh asked him to come to dinner, along with some
other members of the club, and have an evening of poker afterwards. He
accepted readily, expecting at last to pick up the clue he wanted.

He found the Manor well and tastefully furnished, evidently with no
expense having been spared anywhere. The dinner was a good one and the
wines were of the best quality. They were waited upon efficiently by a
smart parlourmaid.

All eyes and ears and letting nothing escape him, during the whole
course of the meal the ex-detective was straining every nerve to notice
something among his surroundings which would give him some idea to
follow up. Everything in the room, however, was so new and so obviously
recently purchased, that it had no story to tell him. There was
practically nothing to indicate what Hatherleigh had been or from where
he had come when he had bought the Manor less than a year before. The
only thing not new that Larose could notice was a rather battered pocket
spirit flask on the mantelshelf and the now familiar big cigarette-case
which Hatherleigh had always had with him at the Norwich Club. Both were
of silver and initialled C.H.

And it was the same when they went into another room to have their
cards, nothing to give the slightest hint as to his host's former life.
Even the very books looked as if they had just come off the shelves of a
shop and, glancing at their titles through the glass doors of the
bookcase, all they went to show was the catholic taste of their
possessor. Their subjects were art, history, travel, and the
masterpieces of some of the great writers of fiction.

Larose sighed heavily. No grist was coming to his mill that night and
Hatherleigh would remain as inscrutable to him as ever! Just before
midnight, however, something happened and Larose's hopes went soaring
high, for he was sure he had at last got the clue he wanted.

It came about in this way. All the evening long Hatherleigh had been
smoking his own special brand of cigarettes, fat and big Egyptians. "El
Azzar" was printed on their paper, and a large tin box of them had been
passed round. Most of the guests, however, had found them too strongly
scented and, after smoking one or two of them, had gone back to their
own. Hatherleigh, however, had gone on smoking them, one after another,
until the big ash tray in front of him was piled high with the stubs.

"I say, Hatherleigh," exclaimed one of his guests reprovingly, "you'll
get a devilish bad heart one day if you go on smoking strong cigarettes
like those, as heavily as you do. How many do you get through in a day?"

Hardacre laughed. "Thirty to forty," he replied, "and a thousand last me
just about a month. I buy two thousand at a time."

"Good Heavens!" exclaimed the other. "Then do you get them at wholesale
rates?"

"Pretty well. I get them in Town and they give me a ten per cent rebate.
They suit me and I've been smoking them for a long time now. In fact I
can't smoke anything else. They cost me quite a bit, even so."

"'El Azzar'," remarked his guest, picking up one of the cigarettes and
regarding it curiously. "I've never come across them before."

Hardacre shook his head. "No, I've never met anyone who smoked them,
either. I saw them advertised in the Field a long time ago. I sent
for a box and, as I say, have smoked nothing else since."

Larose lowered his eyes in his excitement. The beginning of the trail at
last! As with his fellow-guest who had remonstrated with their host for
smoking so heavily, he had never seen an "El Azzar" cigarette until he
had met Hatherleigh, and a man who bought two thousand of such an
unusual brand should be easily picked up, even among the immense number
of shops selling tobacco in London.

Always a quick worker, early the following morning saw Larose driving
London-wards, and by eleven o'clock he was inquiring at a high-class
tobacconist in New Bond Street for "El Azzar" cigarettes.

"I am sorry, sir," said the man who had come forward to serve him, "but
we don't stock them. We are so seldom asked for them." He was most
obliging. "But I think, sir, you'll be able to get them at Ramunsen's in
Piccadilly, but that'll be about the only place in London."

Larose proceeded at once to Ramunsen's, feeling very elated that his
search was probably going to be narrowed down to one shop. Arriving
there, he was told they did keep the cigarettes.

He bought a box and then, as the man was wrapping them up, remarked
casually: "I was recommended to come here by Mr. Hatherleigh of St.
Michael's Manor in Norfolk. He told me he always bought two thousand of
these cigarettes at a time."

The man looked puzzled. "Mr. Hatherleigh, sir!" he exclaimed. "But I
don't seem to remember the name."

Larose's heart went down into his boots. "But surely you haven't many
customers who buy two thousand at one hit."

"Certainly not, sir," agreed the man, "indeed, we only have one." His
face brightened. "But does this gentleman you mention happen to drive a
green car, a Bentley, I think?"

"Yes, he does," replied Larose, his hopes instantly beginning to soar
again, "a green Bentley with a silver horse on the cap of the radiator."

"Oh, then we know him well, sir," exclaimed the man, now all smiles,
"but we have never learnt his name. He's a tall, very bronzed-faced
gentleman, isn't he? Oh, yes, he comes here quite a lot for the
cigarettes and we often wonder if he smokes them all himself? He was in
only the week before last."

"But who did you think he was then?" smiled Larose, wondering with an
uneasy pang how far his good fortune was going to take him.

"Oh, we always thought he was a Mr. Holt from Great Bromley, sir,
although that gentleman is not known to us, personally. You see at one
time we used to mail a Mr. Holt there a thousand of these cigarettes
about once a month. Then all at once we stopped getting orders from him,
and this new customer appeared, instead. He calls in his car about every
two months, taking, as you say, two thousand each time. So with him
smoking about the same number of the cigarettes, we thought, naturally,
it was the same gentleman!"

"Of course you would," nodded Larose. "It was a strange coincidence." He
appeared to consider. "Let me see, isn't Bromley in Kent?"

"Yes, sir, Bromley is, but that Mr. Holt lived in Great Bromley, not far
from Manningtree, in Essex, nearly fifty miles out of Town."

Still uncertain as to whether he had found a mare's nest or was upon the
point of making some very important discovery, early that same afternoon
Larose pulled up his car in front of the post office of the little
village of Great Bromley and inquired from the postmistress where Mr.
Holt lived. He thought at once that the woman eyed him rather strangely.

"His place is Benger's Flat, a little more than two miles away from
here," she replied, "but he's not there now and the place has been shut
up for some time."

"Do you know where he's gone?" asked Larose, and again he thought she
gave him that strange look.

She shook her head. "No, no one does, but I've sent on a few letters
which have come for him to Mr. Raines, the land agent in Manningtree.
Perhaps he'll be able to tell you." Then she added curiously: "Are you a
friend of Mr. Holt?"

Larose sensed somehow a certain feeling of hostility in the way she
asked the question and accordingly picked up his cue at once. "Oh, no,"
he replied, "I've never seen him. I wanted to sell him a gramophone."

The woman shook her head smilingly. "He wouldn't have bought one. He
wasn't that kind of man."

"What was his occupation?"

"A poultry-farmer, but he was only here a few months and then he left
very suddenly."

"Oh, was he sold up?" asked Larose.

"No, nothing like that. He just gave up and went away. That was
all"--she spoke angrily--"after killing and burying all his beautiful
birds. A wicked shame, I say."

"Killing his birds!" exclaimed Larose. "Why did he do that?"

She shrugged her shoulders. "No one knows. It was a mystery to everyone
and caused a lot of talk. The police from Manningtree came over to see
what it meant, but they found out nothing and were no wiser when they
went away."

"But to kill all his fowls!" exclaimed Larose. "What an extraordinary
thing! Had he got many?"

"Some hundred, I believe," nodded the woman, "and they were all prize
birds which he had bought full grown, too. Mr. Wilson, our grocer here
who used to call at his place twice a week, was the only one who saw
them alive and he says some of the cock birds were worth five pounds a
head. He keeps a good strain himself and knows a lot about fowls."

Larose whistled incredulously. "He must have gone mad," he said. Then he
put the question upon which so much depended. "What was he like to look
at?"

The woman shrugged her shoulders. "I don't really know. I never saw him.
He never came off his place the whole time he was there, just as if he
was hiding away. But Mr. Wilson says he was a tall, big man about forty
and very dark. We believe he drank a lot, because Mr. Wilson was always
taking up cases of bottles to him which had come from London."

Larose's heart was beating quickly. Gad, it was a sure thing! The
poultry-farmer was Hatherleigh without the shadow of a doubt!

The woman went on: "Still, if you want to know more about his killing
all those birds, just go and have a talk with Mr. Bone, our constable
here. He was the one who dug them up." She pointed through the window to
just over the road. "He lives in that house with the white railings
there."

Thanking the woman for her information, Larose proceeded to interview
the village constable, whom he found in his garden. At first the latter
was not inclined to be too communicative, but, upon Larose disclosing
who he was, he smiled most amiably and expressed his willingness to tell
him all he could. He finished up by relating about Tom Werrick having
come to him in great distress, fearing that something had happened to
his brother and he was dead, how he had persuaded him, the constable, to
go up to the Old Mill, what they had discovered there and how the police
from Manningtree had found themselves at a dead end.

"Of course, sir," he commented, "as far as we could make out, this
poultry-farmer had done nothing criminal and so there was no call for us
to try and find out where he had gone. Still, it was very mysterious for
a man to kill and bury his own fowls, though there was nothing unlawful
about it." He shrugged his shoulders. "We let the matter drop."

"But what about this man Werrick?" asked Larose. "What did you make of
his story about his brother?"

"Didn't believe it at first, but from a bit of information I picked up
later, I think some part of it at all events was true. After saying
nothing about it for a week, Wilson, the grocer here, suddenly
remembered he'd seen a man up at Holt's place once, and when he came to
think about it, he was inclined to think the man had not wanted to be
noticed. Wilson had caught a glimpse of him through the kitchen window
and the chap had immediately ducked back out of sight, as Wilson puts
it, like a rabbit bolting back into its hole. Wilson says it was about a
week before Holt told him not to call any more, as he was going away. He
told us, too, the man must have been staying at the house, for that week
Holt took more bread than usual."

Larose considered for a few moments and then asked: "Is there anyone up
at the place now?"

The constable shook his head violently. "No, and it's all going to wrack
and ruin." His eyes opened very wide. "That's the funny thing. Holt gave
express orders to the estate agent in Manningtree that although he might
be away for, perhaps, years, the place was not to be let to anybody, but
was to be left as it was." He nodded mysteriously. "Just as if there was
some secret and he didn't want anybody to live there and, perhaps, find
it out."

Larose digested this piece of information and then remarked briskly:
"Well, I'll go and have a look at the place if you'll kindly tell me
which way to go."

"I'll come with you, sir, if you'd like me to," said the constable
instantly. "We can't go into the house, because the agent's locked that
back door, but we can look round, and you'll see what a state everything
is in."

"Splendid," exclaimed Larose, "and then I'll go and have a talk with the
Superintendent in Manningtree. I'd like to have a look at those sketches
he's got."

The following morning Larose was back in London and interviewing his
friend, Chief Inspector Stone. The latter smiled as Larose shook hands
with him. "Back again, Gilbert," he exclaimed banteringly, "and I
suppose you've got the doctor's murderer for us all ready to hand over?"

Larose smiled back. "I'm not certain about that yet, Charlie," he
replied, "but at any rate I've got a devilish queer fish in my net and
expect to be soon handing him over to you for something or other." He
shook his head. "No, I can't give you any details yet, but it won't be
long before I put you wise to everything." He took a piece of paper out
of his pocket. "Now, to save time, I want you to give me all the
information about this chap whose name I've got down here, James
Werrick, ticket-of-leave man." He nodded. "But I'd like to bet any money
he's not reported himself at any police station lately. Let me see a
photograph if you can."

Less than an hour later Larose was pushing open the shop door of Tom
Werrick's little boot-repairing shop, just off the Mile End Road. "Mr.
Werrick?" he asked. "Good, then I want a few words with you about your
brother, Jim."

Tom's face went as white as a sheet and Larose added quickly: "No, no,
don't you be frightened. I've nothing to do with the police, although
once I used to be an Inspector at Scotland Yard. My name's Gilbert
Larose. Oh, I didn't think you'd have heard of me. I was a bit before
your time."

"But what have you come to me for, sir?" asked Tom, moistening his lips
with the tip of his tongue. His voice trembled as he asked: "Have you
seen my brother?"

Larose shook his head. "No, that's what I've come about." He eyed Tom
intently. "Have you seen him?"

Tom's face showed his relief and he shook his head in turn. "No, sir,
but I've heard from him several times," he said, averting his eyes
furtively.

"Splendid!" exclaimed Larose. He was sure Tom was lying, but went on
carelessly: "Oh, then where is he?"

"Up north when he last wrote, in Newcastle," replied Tom. He frowned
uneasily. "But why do you want to know, sir?"

Larose ignored his question. "Your brother doing well up north?" he
asked. "That's right! Got plenty of money? Good, I'm sure he deserved
it." He nodded emphatically. "That poultry-farmer your brother went down
into Essex to work for has got plenty of money now, too--since he left
the Old Mill. He's got a big house near Norwich, and keeps menservants
and maidservants and lives like a real gentleman. Must have got quite a
good whack of money, I should say."

Tom's face was a study. Amazement, anger and a dreadful fear were all,
in turn, struggling for the mastery. His eyes bored at Larose like
gimlets and he kept opening and shutting his mouth and swallowing hard.

Larose smiled a stern grim smile and, suddenly reaching across the
narrow counter, gripped Tom firmly by the shoulder. "Look here, my fine
fellow," he said brusquely, "no more lying. Let's have the truth." He
released his shoulder as suddenly as he had gripped it and went on:
"You've not heard the slightest thing of your brother since that morning
when he said good-bye to you to go down into Essex, because"--he spoke
very solemnly--"it is possible your brother is no longer alive."

Tom's eyes filled with tears and he leant back limply in his chair. "Why
do you say that, sir?" he asked hoarsely. "What happened to him, do you
think?"

"I think a lot," replied Larose sharply, "and I've come to you because I
believe you can tell me something which will make me certain as to
whether what I think is right or not." He dropped his voice almost to a
whisper. "Tom, I have found out that that poultry-farmer, for whom you
told the police your brother had gone down to work, thinks nothing of
killing a man, and so it is quite likely he may have killed your
brother, Jim."

Tom gave an exclamation of horror and, try hard as he did to prevent
them, the tears welled into his eyes.

"Now you listen to me, lad," said Larose kindly. "If anything happened
to your brother we'll find out what it is and whoever's done him harm
shall be well punished for it. That's the party I'm going after--not
your brother. I promise you I mean your brother no harm. It's the other
fellow I'm now inquiring about, and I tell you I'm devilish suspicious
about him, without your telling me a word."

He seated himself on a corner of the counter and went on: "You listen
carefully. I've been down to Great Bromley and heard from that village
policeman you called upon all about your coming there and what happened
afterwards. He took me to the Old Mill and I tell you it looked a
ghastly place to me and"--he made a pretence of shuddering--"just the
very spot to be hiding the secret of some dreadful crime. It was so
lonely and so desolate that a hundred bodies might have been buried
there and never found."

He stopped speaking for a few moments and regarded Tom intently. He
wanted to frighten him and he was pleased to see that he was doing it.
He went on: "Yes, I heard the story that you told the police and some of
it was quite true. Your brother did go down there and that was his
boot you found. It came out later that the grocer saw him when he was
calling at the house. He only saw him for a few seconds, through the
kitchen window, for your brother darted back quickly as if he didn't
want to be seen. Still, he described him as a smallish man, very
narrow-headed, which he was, very much like you. I've just come from
Scotland Yard and seen his photograph. Another thing, that morning when
the grocer saw him was a Wednesday, a few days after the day you told
the police he had left to go down there. By the by, what day of the week
was it your brother said good-bye to you?"

Tom spoke with an effort. "On a Saturday," he replied hoarsely, "on a
Saturday morning before the Monday Bank Holiday."

Larose nodded. "Well, as I say, he got there all right, and it appears
he must have become quite friendly with that poultry-farmer, for he
stayed in the house with him for some days. The grocer remembers more
bread was taken by the man that week. Another thing again, all those
sketches your brother made in that exercise book were not done in a few
minutes, and that also suggests he was staying in the house for quite a
little time. Ah, while I remember it, one of those sketches turns out to
be that of the poultry-farmer himself. Both the grocer and the
Manningtree estate agent say it is exactly like him, and I recognized it
at once as that of the man I'm suspicious about for other reasons, the
chap who lives in the big, fine house I've told you about, and who is
spending such a pot of money."

"Where is he?" demanded Tom, stirred to a fierce burst of anger. "I'd
like to get my hands on him. I'd throttle him if I could."

"That's it," exclaimed Larose heartily, "that's the spirit. We'll get
the brute hanged between us." He shook his head. "Never you mind where
he is. That'll wait for a while, but you shall see him one day, I
promise you, and perhaps it'll be when he's in the dock, with the old
judge putting on the black cap."

"Well, what is it you want of me?" asked Tom scowlingly, with his fists
clenched tightly in his emotion.

"You know," said Larose sternly, "and don't try to make out you don't."
He spoke solemnly. "I know all your brother's history and, as sure as
you're standing there now, he went down to that poultry farm on more
crook business, crook business which went badly for him this time, as
he's never reported to the police since." He nodded. "You know there's
been a warrant out for him for all these months for his breaking his
ticket."

Tom made no answer and Larose went on: "Now, I don't pretend to have the
remotest idea of what took your brother to the Old Mill, but I want you
to tell me straight if that poultry-farmer could have had any reason for
wanting to get rid of him. No, no, don't stop to think of any lie. For
poor Jim's sake speak the truth now. If the man killed him, what did he
do it for?"

For a few moments Tom hesitated, only a few moments, and then his words
came with a savage rush. "Because they had found the fifty thousand
pounds which was hidden in the Old Mill and the devil did not mean to
share it with him."

Then, to Larose's almost incredulous amazement, Tom unfolded the story
of the missing bank-notes, how his brother had listened to the babbling
of the dying bank clerk, the clues Jim had followed up, and how certain
he had been that the money would be found hidden somewhere in an old
mill near Great Bromley, in Essex.

"And they found it, sir," he finished up with a choking voice. "Of
course, they found it! I guessed that when I saw how the place had been
pulled about, but I was afraid to tell the police, because"--he
hesitated painfully--"because, if they dug up everywhere I did not
know----" and he stopped speaking altogether.

"Whose body might be found!" supplemented Larose. He nodded grimly.
"Yes, knowing your brother's record, you would, naturally, be worried
there. As it was, the police, not being aware of what a strong
inducement one of them would have had to murder the other, there was no
broadcast made for either of the missing men." He frowned. "But see
here, Tom, whatever we both of us suspect, there may have been no murder
done at all. Fifty thousand pounds is a nice big sum and they may have
been contented to divide it. Then, with your brother on ticket-of-leave
and knowing he couldn't properly enjoy his share of the money when
continually under the eye of the police of this country, he just bolted
abroad. So----"

"No, no, sir," protested Tom vehemently, "Jim would never have done
that. No matter how he's served other folk, he's always been good and
kind to me." His voice choked. "If Jim were alive, he would have come to
see me or sent me a message, somehow. I'm certain of that. He always
trusted me so much."

A long silence followed, and then Larose nodded in agreement. "I'm
afraid you're right, Tom," he said, "particularly so because this fellow
is living more like a fifty-thousand-pound man than a
twenty-five-thousand one. Besides, I'm pretty sure, too, he's
responsible for another job quite as dirty as killing your brother." He
nodded again. "Once a murderer, always one if the necessity arises."

"But what can we do?" asked Tom miserably. "Should I go and tell the
police?"

Larose shook his head. "Not at present. We've not a scrap of proof." He
looked round the little shop. "Now can you leave this place and come
down with me to the Old Mill? I want you to show me exactly where you
found the boot and between us both we may perhaps find out something."

"Yes, I'll come, sir," replied Tom instantly. "It's a horrible business,
but I'd go through anything to pay that brute out if he killed my
brother"--he shuddered--"which I'm sure now he did."

Driving down into Essex Larose felt pretty hopeful, but, upon arriving
at the Old Mill and letting his eyes wander round and considering where
a body might have been hidden, his hopes fell at once to zero.

"An almost hopeless job, Tom," he sighed, "now that such a long time had
gone by. Your brother was a small chap and if this man killed him"--he
waved his arm round--"he may have carried him a mile and more away
before he buried him. Anyhow, you show me exactly where you found that
boot."

He sighed again when Tom led him round the boundary hedge and, pointing
to a thick mass of undergrowth, said: "Somewhere in there, sir, I
think."

They looked about underneath for any sign of any long-ago disturbance of
the ground, but Larose very soon gave it up as waste of time. "No good,"
he exclaimed, "quite useless, as I say, after so long. The only thing
the finding of that boot suggests is that, if your brother's body is
anywhere here, he is buried without his clothes, which makes it more
difficult than ever to locate the spot, because his body would take up
so little room."

"But mayn't he have been thrown into the stream, sir?" said Tom. "Isn't
that the first place any murderer here would think of?"

Larose nodded grimly. "Yes, and the first thing the police would have
thought of, too, if they had been looking for a body. That
poultry-farmer would have guessed the stream would be dragged at once.
No, I don't think for a moment he would have done that, for, remember,
he had plenty of time to get rid of the body in a much safer way. He
wasn't in a very desperate hurry to leave the place as we know he went
into that estate agent's at Manningtree one day, and the next was still
here when the grocer called. It was then he told the man he was going
away. He had at least two days to make everything safe."

"So you don't think you have any chance of catching him, sir," said Tom
despondently.

"Oh, I don't say that," snapped Larose. "I'll nail him for another dirty
business if I can't on this." He patted Tom on the shoulder. "At any
rate, my boy, you've helped me a lot. We know from where he got his
money now, and that's a great step forward." He walked towards his car.
"But come on now, I'll either put you on the train at Manningtree or
else drive you back to Town. I'm not quite certain what I'm going to do
next. It all depends upon a little talk I'm going to have with that
grocer in the village here."

Driving into Great Bromley, Larose proceeded to interview the grocer.
Another idea had now come to him. He introduced himself and found the
grocer more than willing to talk, the latter, indeed, being intensely
curious as to why any inquiries were now being made when so long a time
had elapsed. To satisfy him, after binding him to secrecy, Larose gave
the explanation that the poultry-farmer had owed a good sum of money to
a friend of his and they were trying to find out where he had gone.

"Now, going back to that day," he said presently, "the last time you saw
the fellow, Holt--did he seem to you quite well? Was he in his usual
health?"

The grocer considered. "Oh, I think so, sir! He was just the same as
usual when I was talking to him, smoking cigarettes all the time." He
smiled. "That's generally a sign of feeling well, at any rate it is with
me."

"But had he always been looking well every time you went to his place?"
went on Larose. He explained. "I want to find out if he'd had to go away
any time to consult a doctor. You see, he'd lived abroad a lot and he
might have suffered from malaria. He might have looked feverish and
shaky, and been well wrapped up, even on a hot day."

The grocer laughed. "No, sir, I never saw anything like that. He looked
a strong, healthy chap to me, as if he'd never had any illness in his
life. I don't think he could ever once have left the place from the day
the Manningtree carrier plumped him down there to when he went away.
Besides my usual days of calling, Wednesdays and Saturdays, I was often
up there with parcels and boxes at odd times when he didn't know I was
coming, and I always found him at home. Except for his dealings with me,
he did all his shopping by post and everything came addressed to him,
care of me, here. He paid me well to bring up everything at once." He
shook his head. "No, I don't think he ever left the place. Certainly,
he'd got a bicycle, which he kept in the passage, but, whenever I saw
it, it had got its tyres flat as if it were never being used."

"But that last morning--did he seem upset? Was he excited?"

"Not a bit! Just as surly as usual, in fact I think he was surlier than
ever then, for when he told me he had sold all his birds, it annoyed him
when I asked him who to."

"Did he tell you?" asked Larose.

"Pretended to," nodded the grocer. "He said a man in Ingatestone had
brought them and when I said, 'The Reverend Owen,' he nodded and
scowled. I thought at the time I was putting his back up by inquiring
into his private affairs."

"But how did you know it was the Reverend Owen?" asked Larose.

"I didn't know. I guessed. This clergyman in Ingatestone is a noted
breeder of Game birds and known all over the country, and I thought
instantly he must be the man, for Mr. Holt's birds were all Game ones,
too, and of a very high quality."

"Did he buy them from this clergyman in the first instance?" asked
Larose eagerly, scenting perhaps another trail to follow.

The grocer shook his head. "I don't know, but I shouldn't think so. Old
Owen's said to be a very queer man. He's got about the best lot of Game
birds in England, and refuses to sell a bird or a fertile egg, so that
he can keep the strain all to himself. He's hardly ever beaten at the
shows. He takes nearly all the first prizes."

Realizing there was nothing more to be learnt from the grocer, Larose
thanked him for the information he had given and proceeded to leave the
shop. There being no customer waiting to be served, the grocer followed
him outside, interested in what car he might be driving. Tom was sitting
waiting in the car, and the instant the grocer clapped eyes on him he
gave a startled exclamation.

"But surely, sir," he whispered to Larose, "surely--isn't that the man I
saw in Mr. Holt's kitchen that morning? He's exactly like him."

"You think so?" queried Larose sharply, startled that the coming of Jim
Werrick to the Old Mill should now be confirmed so strongly. "But I
thought you only saw him for a few seconds, because he bobbed back so
quickly away from the window."

"Yes, that's true, sir," nodded the grocer, "but for all that, I carried
away the recollection of a very unusually-shaped head and face--just
like that gentleman's there. I'd never seen one quite like it before, so
thin and narrow."

"No, heads of that shape are rare," agreed Larose, "but still, it's a
shape well-known to scientific men and they've got a special label for
it." He smiled. "Yes, you're not far wrong in the likeness. This man's a
brother of the one you saw."

"Your luck's in, Tom," said Larose as they drove away. "I shall be able
to see you home. I'm driving back now, but I shall stop for a few
minutes at Ingatestone."

They pulled up in Manningtree for some refreshment in a cafe there, and
Larose found he was taking quite an interest in the convict's brother.
He was so different from what his brother must have been. Apparently he
had no vice in him and in some ways was as simple and harmless as a
little child. He did not seem to have many interests in life and, as far
as Larose could make out, his only hobby was playing draughts.

"How was it your brother went wrong?" asked Larose when they had
finished their meal and were back again in the car. "You must have known
he was a really out-and-out bad one. Now wasn't he?"

"Yes, sir," agreed Tom sadly, "he was always wild, but I think it was
only adventure he was after. As a little boy even, if he had money in
his pocket, he'd rather pinch what he wanted than buy it. Somehow he was
made that way." A note of pride came into his tones. "But he was very
brave, my brother, and nothing frightened him. Though he was small, like
me, he was always fighting someone. He'd take on anyone, no matter how
big they were."

"And you say he was fond of you?" asked Larose.

"Oh, yes, sir! He'd never do me a dirty turn. And that's why I'm so
certain he'd have come to me if he was alive."

"But this morning," said Larose, "when I first came into your shop,
don't forget you tried to make out you knew where he was and that he was
quite all right."

"I know that, sir," said Tom without the slightest sense of
embarrassment, "but I wasn't going to give Jim away. Besides, though I
knew it wasn't coming true, I always tried to make myself think he'd had
to hide for some reason and would turn, up some day." He spoke
viciously. "But when you went on to tell me, sir, about that man with
the fowls being so rich now--then I knew at once what had happened." He
lowered his voice darkly. "Jim's lights had been put out."

A long silence followed, until just as they were running into
Ingatestone Tom asked suddenly: "Do you believe in ghosts, sir?"

Larose laughed merrily. "No, I don't, Tom. Do you?"

Tom looked very serious. "Yes, sir, I do, and I believe if I went down
to that Old Mill and stayed the night there my brother might come and
show me where his body is hidden."

"Then why don't you go," smiled Larose, "and then we could put the
handcuffs on that poultry-farmer at once."

Tom shook his head. "But I should have to have someone with me who could
raise ghosts and I don't know where to find the man I want."

"I should think not," agreed Larose with a grin. "Chaps like that must
be very hard to get."

"Ah, but there is one I know of and I've seen him," exclaimed Tom
sharply. "Sometimes he comes into my shop to have his boots repaired,
but he hasn't come lately and I don't know where he lives. When he comes
in next time I shall speak to him."

"That's right," said Larose encouragingly. "Have a bob's worth."

"A bob's worth!" exclaimed Tom in horrified tones. "Why, I have heard he
charges a guinea! He gives you what he calls sittings, and dead people
come and talk to you then."

But Larose was no longer listening. He had stopped to inquire of a man
mending the road where the Reverend Mr. Owen lived. The man pointed up a
side road. "That's the vicarage, just past the church there." He guessed
Larose was a stranger and added with a grin: "You can't mistake it for
you'll hear the noise of his fowls in the field behind. He's got
thousands of them." Then just as Larose was moving off he added: "But
you'll find him in the church now. He's got the evening service on."

So Larose pulled up just opposite to the church and, thinking they might
just as well wait inside, went in. Upon his suggestion, Tom had followed
him. There were only three people in the church, the clergyman and two
old women. The clergyman was a big, stout man of commanding presence,
with a large face, closely cropped hair and a head which came straight
off his massive shoulders.

Larose had been fearing the service would take some time, but he was
soon realizing there would be no occasion to worry there, as the
reverend gentleman rattled through everything at such an express speed
that what he was saying, although declaimed in a big booming voice, was
quite inarticulate to his congregation, half of whom, at all events,
were intensely interested in the proceedings. Psalms followed prayers
like an avalanche sweeping down a mountain-side, the lessons telescoped
into the psalms like one train running into another, more prayers were
boomed at breakneck speed, and the final benediction seemed to take
little longer than the flicking of an eyelid.

Larose thought it a truly wonderful performance and, when the reverend
gentleman had whisked himself out of sight into the vestry, judged it
inadvisable to give him more than a bare sixty seconds to disrobe,
before catching him at the church door. Even then the sixty seconds
turned out to have been a bad error of judgement, as the clergyman left
the vestry through a private door and, upon reaching the churchyard, all
Larose saw of him was a flying figure in the distance, with the tails of
a cassock flapping behind it like the beating wings of a bird.

"Goodness gracious!" he exclaimed to Tom, "if I don't overtake him in
two minutes, he'll have vanished into the middle of next week. Really, I
never saw a quicker worker in all my life."

Jumping into his car, he drove quickly up to the vicarage gate, about a
hundred yards away. Then, having failed to overtake the clergyman and
seeing no sign of him anywhere about, he proceeded up the garden path
and rang the front-door bell of the house, waiting, however, quite a
long time before he heard anyone coming to answer it. The noise from the
nearby fowl runs was almost deafening.

A very prim-looking maid in cap and uniform at last opened the door,
and, upon Larose shouting that he wanted to see the Reverend Owen, she
shouted back: "Do you come about the contract for taking the fowl
manure?" and upon Larose nodding an assent, although he really had not
caught a word of what she said, she came outside into the drive and,
after carefully closing the door behind her, proceeded round the corner
of the house, beckoning him to follow her.

Arriving at a small door in a high fence, studded liberally at the top
with big ugly-looking spikes, she took a key out of her apron pocket
and, opening the door, made room for Larose to pass through before her.
"We've always kept it locked since the robbery," she called out above
the din of the cackling birds. "It's Master's strict orders."

Larose found himself in a big enclosure, which he judged must be several
acres in extent, and upon all sides were rows of beautifully built
poultry sheds, stretching everywhere to the high fence which surrounded
them. To the noise of the birds was now added the loud barking of three
big and fierce-looking Alsatian dogs. Larose was relieved to notice the
animals were chained.

The maid led the way to a little group of four men before one of the
sheds, two of them were holding huge baskets to be filled with the eggs
waiting to be collected from the nest-boxes, a third was in charge of a
big hand-trolley, and the fourth stood ready with pencil and note-book
to count each egg as it was handed up. This last was the reverend
gentleman himself.

Larose stared in surprise. The clergyman had effected a remarkably quick
change, being now clad from neck to foot in long overalls, with only the
rim of his clerical collar showing at the top.

"The man to see you about the contract for the manure, Master," said the
maid briskly, and, her duty accomplished, she turned instantly and made
herself scarce, as if quickness both of action and speech were the rule
of life in the vicarage household.

Larose thought the clergyman was bigger and more massive even than he
had appeared in the church, and, if he had looked bull-necked there, to
that bovine characteristic was now added a pair of huge ox-like eyes.
His face was frowning and his expression was very stern. He boomed out
at once: "See here, my man, if I am a clergyman, for all that I'm not
quite a fool, and your offer was pounds less a ton than I would ever
accept. You tell your employers my birds are fed on the best meal and
their droppings are of far more value than the paltry sum they offer. I
will take nothing less than----"

But Larose, who had at last realized what had happened, interrupted
quickly: "I am sorry, sir," he said, "but a mistake has been made. I
have nothing to do with any"--he hesitated--"poultry side-lines. I came
on quite a different matter," and, producing his card-case, he handed
the clergyman one of his cards.

The reverend gentleman, however, was not to be so easily satisfied and,
just glancing down at the card for the fraction of a second, demanded
angrily: "Then you gained access here under false pretences. You told my
maid that----"

"Not at all," said Larose sharply. "I didn't catch what she said and she
made a mistake." Then realizing that to get any information out of the
irascible cleric he must adopt a more conciliatory manner, he went on
with a smile: "I've been one of your congregation this evening, in that
beautiful old church, and I just want to ask you a couple of questions."

"About poultry?" queried the clergyman.

Larose laughed. "Good gracious, no! Why I should hardly know the wing of
a fowl from its leg unless I saw it on a plate with gravy and bread
sauce. I'm----"

"I've no sense of humour," broke in the clergyman rudely, "and I'm a
busy man, too. What is it you want?"

Larose choked back his annoyance at the other's manner and replied quite
meekly: "It's just this. I understand you are the biggest authority on
Game birds in the country, and I have a friend a great Game fancier,
too. He used to live at Great Bromley near Manningtree, but he moved
from there some time ago and I can't find out where he's gone. I wonder
if you know anything about him. His name is Holt, Charles Holt."

"Don't know him," snapped the clergyman. "Never heard of him."

"But didn't you sell someone in Great Bromley some birds," persisted
Larose, "the year before last?"

"Certainly not!" thundered the clergyman. "I have never sold a single
wing. No bird leaves this place alive, except it is travelling to be put
on exhibition at a show." He waved his arm round majestically. "This is
the pure Owen strain and it shall never be debased by any crossing with
meaner quality."

Larose was nettled by the man's boastfulness. "But my friend had birds
as good as any here," he retorted, looking round, "at any rate so they
seemed to me."

"A-ah," exclaimed the Reverend Owen with an ugly look, "then, perhaps,
they were the ones stolen from me." His eyes gleamed fiercely. "Didn't
you say that missing friend of yours was called Bolt?"

"No, Holt," replied Larose. "H-O-L-T."

"A-ah," exclaimed the clergyman significantly again, "Holt and Bolt
sound pretty much the same, don't they?" He nodded viciously. "And last
year I had an insulting letter from a fellow, Bolt, of Burnham, abusing
me like a pickpocket because I wouldn't sell him a sitting of eggs"--his
arm shot out accusingly--"not very long before my roosts were robbed."

"You don't say," exclaimed Larose, really surprised, "that someone broke
in here and stole your birds, in spite of this high fence and those
fierce dogs!"

"I hadn't got the dogs then," snapped the clergyman, "and the fence
wasn't as high as it is now. All that expense I've been put to because
some miserable wretch has seemingly never heard of the eighth
commandment, or else is defying his Maker by not observing it." He
glared at Larose as if he were the thief and boomed: "Yes, sir, and to
the theft he added sacrilege, for the robbery took place one Sabbath
evening while I was conducting Divine Service in my church."

Larose tut-tutted several times with becoming gravity at the enormity of
the crime, but then observing that one of the men behind his master was
making a violent effort not to laugh, he could not for the life of him
prevent a ghost of a smile flitting across his own face, too. The
clergyman saw it and his eyes blazed with wrath. "It amuses you, does
it?" he shouted, and, grabbing one of the attendants by the arm, he made
a motion towards the gate. "Show the fellow out!" he thundered, pointing
to Larose, "and if you ever set eyes upon him again anywhere about here,
tell me instantly and I'll notify the police. I believe he's only come
here to spy things out."

Although greatly amused, Larose was glad to get away and, driving back
into the main road, pulled up at the first hotel he came to to get Tom
and himself a drink. Starting a conversation with the barman who served
them, he soon brought the conversation round to the Vicar.

"Very eccentric man, that parson you've got here," he remarked, "isn't
he?"

The barman nodded. "He is that, sir, as peculiar as they make 'em." He
eyed Larose curiously. "Does he happen to be a friend of yours, sir, may
I ask?"

"No, no," replied Larose, "I've never seen him before to-day"--he
smiled--"and I shan't be sorry if I don't see him again. I've just been
looking at his fowls."

The barman raised his eyebrows. "Oh, he let you in, did he? Then you
were favoured. Since someone pinched a few of them some time back he's
been mighty particular about who goes inside that big fence."

"Oh, I was there on business," said Larose. He sighed. "But I didn't
bring anything off."

"He's a bad man to deal with," commented the barman, "and all he lives
for is his blessed fowls. He neglects the parish and is most unpopular.
Everyone wonders why the bishop has not been down on him long ago." He
bent confidingly over the bar. "Do you know, sir, the Sunday after that
thief raided his sheds, he put up a special prayer in church that the
malefactor, as he called him, might get caught, and when he came to the
commandment about not stealing, he stopped for quite a minute and glared
round at the congregation as if he was certain the chap was among them
there. Oh, yes, he's a rum chap this Reverend Nathaniel Owen!"

Larose took Tom back to his little shop and, in parting, pressed upon
him two one-pound notes. "No, you take them," he insisted. "I've kept
you from your work to-day and it's only right I should make up to you
for it." He laughed. "Have a guinea's worth with that spook chap and if
he tells you anything, let me know. You've got my address, haven't you?"

"But one moment, please, sir," said Tom. "You say you know the man who
was the poultry-farmer. Well, tell me what he's like."

"What do you want to know for?" asked Larose.

"Because, sir, if I get that spirit man to look into his crystal and see
him, I shall want to be able to tell if he's describing him correctly."

Larose kept a serious face. "He's a tall, good-looking man," he said,
"with a very bronzed complexion from having lived so much in the sun.
He's got bushy eyebrows and big, blue eyes. His nose is big and nicely
shaped, and he keeps his lips tightly pressed together." He had to allow
himself a bit of a smile, as he added: "And he drives a big green car,
with a silver horse on the cap of his radiator for a mascot. So you'll
be able to tell at once if the spirit man is delivering the right
goods."

"Thank you, sir," said Tom. "I'll write and tell you what happens."

The following morning Larose was in Burnham, devoutly hoping that as the
insulting letter-writer there was, apparently, a breeder of Game fowls,
too, he might by chance have heard of Hatherleigh when the latter was at
the Old Mill. Indeed, it might be by no means an impossible coincidence
that Hatherleigh, in the first instance, had bought his birds from him.
Specialists in Game birds could, surely, not be so common that they were
to be found in every corner of Essex!

Mr. Bolt was soon located, but he at once disclaimed all knowledge of
any brother fancier called Holt who had lived at Great Bromley, and he
knew of no poultry-farmer who was good-looking, tall and of a very dark
complexion.

"Really, besides myself, I know of only two men who specialize in Indian
Game," he said, "an old man in Epping and a clergyman in Ingatestone."

"The Reverend Mr. Owen," nodded Larose. "I saw him yesterday, and,
indeed, it was from him I heard of you." He smiled. "I understand some
correspondence passed between him and you last year."

Mr. Bolt smiled back. "Yes, and we were both pretty rude to each other.
I wrote him I wanted to buy a sitting of eggs, and he sent me what I
considered a most insulting letter saying he wasn't going to let every
Tom, Dick and Harry reap the benefit of his years of patient scientific
breeding. So, in return, I let him have it hot and strong, telling him
he was a lowdown fellow and ought to be ashamed of himself for being so
selfish."

"Yes," laughed Larose, "he told me you had insulted him and, after the
rude way he was treating me, I was very glad to hear it."

"And the amusing thing was," went on Mr. Bolt, "that very soon after our
letters he had about thirty of his best birds taken. Then he had the
damnation impudence to send two detectives here to see if I'd got them.
If the men hadn't been very decent fellows I'd have kicked them off the
place, but they were as amused as I was and we all had a good laugh."

"They never found any trace of the thief, did they?" asked Larose.

"No, not a sign of him," replied Mr. Bolt, "and everyone was delighted."
He frowned. "But, you know, at the back of my mind I've always got a
sort of hunch that I know who the thief was. He was a chap who came to
stay here in Burnham for some months, getting on now for about two years
ago. I got to know him pretty well, and he became very interested in my
birds, thinking he might one day take up poultry-farming himself. I told
him what a pig this clergyman was, and how he pricked all the eggs he
sold so that they were useless for hatching, and he said he ought to be
shot. This chap I'm telling you of always struck me as a bold, reckless
fellow, and, if he wanted that parson's fowls and he wouldn't sell
them--then he was just the very one who'd have gone and taken them
himself. He'd lived a very adventurous life and didn't seem to know what
fear was."

Then suddenly a startled expression came upon Mr. Bolt's face. "Ah," he
exclaimed sharply, nodding vigorously, "and this man answers to the very
description of the one you want. He was tall, fine-looking, and he was
burnt a deep brown from being in the East. He told me he had recently
come from South America only a few days before he arrived here in
Burnham."

Larose's heart gave an exultant bound. "What did he call himself here?"
he asked quickly, and he was so excited that he could hardly get his
words out.

"Hall," replied Mr. Bolt. "I don't know his Christian name, but it
commenced with C because I saw C.H. on a silver cigarette-case he always
had with him." He smiled. "He smoked cigarette after cigarette almost
all day long."

"God," murmured Larose under his breath. "C. Hall here, Charles Holt at
the Old Mill, and Clement Hatherleigh at St. Michael's Manor, always
C.H. and all, perhaps, because of that cigarette-case. The old, old
story of the smartest crook making his one great mistake."

Then he heard the whole tale of the quiet, taciturn man descending one
evening from nowhere upon the little town, the secluded life he had led
at the little inn, his apparent reluctance to be seen by anyone, and,
finally, his going away, where no one knew, at less than an hour's
notice.

Half an hour later the same story was being dragged out in more detail
from the landlord of the Pilot Inn, dragged out not because of the man's
unwillingness to tell everything he knew, but because he was naturally
slow of thought and had to think a lot before he answered any question.

Presently Larose asked: "And when did this Mr. Hall come to stop with
you? Can you find out for me the exact date?"

After a few moments' consideration the innkeeper's face took a sudden
brightening up. "Oh, yes, sir, I can tell you that right off," he
replied, "without looking at any of my books. He arrived here two years
ago on September the fifteenth. I remember the date exactly because it
was my birthday, and I said to the missus that night what a nice
birthday present it was, a gent, perhaps coming to board with us for the
whole winter. It was a Saturday evening, too, I recollect, because I had
driven two young fellows to the station, whose holiday was up. Then,
when the train comes in, out jumped Mr. Hall right in front of me and,
to my amazement, asked me to drive him to my place here. He stopped with
us all through the winter."

"And when did he leave?" asked Larose.

"Easter Bank Holiday. I remember that, too, because we thought it an
awkward day for him to be travelling, with the trains all altered and at
sixes and sevens. He didn't give us any warning he was going to leave
us. He just came into the kitchen at six o'clock that morning and said
he must catch the seven-twenty to London."

At that moment the landlord's wife came in and, explaining that he
wanted to find out all he could about this Mr. Hall, and finding her
much more intelligent than her husband, Larose at once transferred his
questions to her.

"And he never left you for a single day, you say," he asked, "the whole
time he was here?"

"Only to go for a ride on his bicycle," replied the woman, "and that was
only not very long before he went away."

"Did he seem to you quite well?" was Larose's next question. "I mean, do
you think he'd been under a doctor's care lately?"

The woman hesitated. "He seemed all right, sir, upon first seeing him
that night, but the next morning we both thought he looked very haggard
and drawn. Although the weather was very mild, he had a big fire going
all day long and never left it. He told us he had recently come from
abroad and felt the cold terribly."

"Was he taking any medicine, do you know," asked Larose at once thinking
of malaria, "a powdered stuff, like quinine?"

"Oh, he was always taking medicine, sir," nodded the woman, "but of
course I don't know what it was. He took little white tablets the whole
time he was with us and, after he'd left, we threw away a whole heap of
empty bottles."

"Where had the bottles come from, from which chemist, I mean?" asked
Larose sharply.

She shook her head. "I don't know. I don't remember the name on the
bottles, but they used to come to him by post from somewhere in London."

And that was all Larose could learn, enough, however, for him to drive
Norfolk-wards in a very exultant frame of mind. Jove, what a lot he had
found out in the past twenty-four hours! He had got upon the so-called
Hatherleigh's trail with a vengeance, and already knew him to be a
receiver of stolen money, if not a murderer as well.

Now, all he, Larose, had to do was to connect him up with Dr. Monk, and
that he felt confident he would be able to manage through the latter's
case-book. If his, Larose's, theorizing were correct, he would have
consulted the doctor just prior to that Saturday, September the
fifteenth, two years ago. No matter what name he had given the doctor,
he would almost certainly have given his correct age, about forty, and
with the age of every patient always recorded in the book, that would
help a lot in picking him out. If necessary, every patient in the
case-book about that time would be checked up.

Larose frowned here. But what the devil could Dr. Monk have done to make
it necessary for his patient to murder him, just because he thought he
had recognized him at that garden party?

Arriving at Hickling Broad early that afternoon, Larose was soon in
possession of the case-books, but, upon opening the one recording about
all the patients attended during the year two years back, he could
hardly suppress a cry of bitter disappointment.

To his great mortification there were no records at all for the months
of August and September. The doctor had been away upon a long holiday.




CHAPTER VII.--THE TRAIL OF MURDER.

THAT night, returning home to Carmel Abbey, Larose was in a decidedly
downcast frame of mind. He was almost certain that in the so-called
Hatherleigh he had a most dangerous criminal to deal with, and a man who
in all probability was responsible for one, if not two, murders. Yet he
was equally certain he had not the very slightest proof of the
committing of either crime which would carry conviction in any court of
law.

Of course, Hatherleigh's trail back to the little town of Burnham on the
Grouch through the Old Mill at Great Bromley was quite clear now, but
there it stopped and nothing absolutely certain was to be picked up on
the way. Who would believe the seemingly fantastic story of the Mile End
Road boot repairer about his brother having located the hiding-place of
the 50,000, stolen those years ago by the now dead Lothbury bank clerk?
Who would believe it without definite proof, and how was that proof to
be forthcoming?

Of course, it was most suspicious the way in which the Benger's Flat
poultry-farmer had come to leave the Old Mill and, if Tom Werrick's
story was true, Jim Werrick's silence after all these months had a most
sinister aspect. But what good were suspicion and conjecture, without
any proof to substantiate them? Why, no good at all!

Larose, however, was possessed of infinite patience, a patience which
upon so many occasions in his adventurous career had enabled him to
triumph in the end, and so there was to be no slackening in his
determination to continue his investigations, however profitless they
might turn out to be.

Accordingly, the following afternoon he was back again at the Norwich
Club, greeting Hardacre as if he were one of the most agreeable fellows
to know. In the ensuing fortnight, too, he cultivated his society quite
a lot, going a second time to the Manor for an evening of poker and, one
Saturday, accompanying him to a race-meeting at Sandown Park, and
remaining with him for the night in Town.

Of express purpose, he let him arrange everything, putting up at the
hotel he suggested, the Hotel Splendide, just off Piccadilly. "I always
stop here," explained Hardacre, "and they look after me very well."

At the races Hardacre plunged heavily, coming out a substantial winner.
Larose noticed he appeared to be well-known to several of the big
book-makers, some of them addressing him by name.

"Good," nodded Larose to himself, "then he's only been betting in a big
way since he became Clement Hatherleigh. Another pointer that he got his
hands on that money."

After dinner Hardacre suggested they should go to a certain night-club
he knew of. "I'm six hundred to the good over this afternoon," he said,
"and with any luck to-night I'll make it up to a thousand. You can play
as heavily as you like where I'll take you to."

Wanting to learn everything of the man's way of life he could, Larose
agreed at once, and so, under Hardacre's direction, a taxi took them to
what looked quite a respectable good-class house, in the best part of
Earl's Court. Upon ringing the bell, the door was opened by an
athletic-looking man who was not unlike a prizefighter in appearance.
His inquiring frown at once changed into a smile as he recognized
Hardacre and he led them to the end of a long passage where a brief
inspection was gone through before they were admitted to a large and
sumptuously furnished room, containing between thirty and forty people
gathered round a roulette table. Upon a buffet were spread out
refreshments on a lavish scale, including spirits and champagne.
Apparently, everything was supplied free.

The place was evidently a popular gambling hell, and there were quite as
many women present as men. Everyone was well dressed, and, apparently,
there was plenty of money available to play with, the lowest stake
allowed being a pound. Hardacre plunged at once into the play, and
making lucky ventures was quickly up about 50. Larose risked a few
pounds but with no success, and he soon stopped, being much more
interested in the people than the play.

"A lot of pigeons to be plucked here," he told himself, "and quite a
good sprinkling of crooks to pluck them. Gad, but this Hatherleigh has
the devil's luck!"

Presently, he thought he felt his elbow gently nudged, but imagined the
nudging to have been quite accidental. He turned slightly, however, to
see who was pressing him so closely and saw he was a tall
military-looking man. The latter was looking straight before him,
apparently intent only on watching the play. Then, to his amazement,
Larose heard himself being addressed by name. The military-looking man
was speaking in low tones, between lips which made no movement.

"Don't start, don't look round," said the man, "but I believe you are
Mr. Larose. Then clear out of this as quickly as you can. It won't be
healthy here in a few minutes. I'm from the C.I.D. I remember you at the
Yard ten years ago. I was a youngster then."

"Good God!" exclaimed Larose, keeping his lips perfectly still, too.
"What's up, a raid?"

"Yes, and timed for eleven-five," replied the man. "So you be quick, for
it's just on eleven now. Take that party who came in with you, too,
unless you want him caught." Then he added sharply: "Is he a friend of
yours?"

"No, only an acquaintance," whispered back Larose.

"Then mind your steps," was the stern injunction. "We think him a bad
egg. He's often here and a great goer with the flash women. Now cut off,
quick. I'm here to see they don't bar that door. It's steel lined to
make breaking-in hard, and we're not certain how many exits they've got.
My name's Travers if you ever want to contact me at the Yard."

Larose sidled up to Hardacre, and, ignoring his frowning face, drew him
out of the crowd round the table. He panted and simulated being in great
distress.

"Here, take me out of this," he whispered hoarsely. "I'm going to have a
heart attack. I'm subject to them. You must run me into the Earl's Court
hospital. It's close here and they'll give me a morphia injection.
Quick, or I may peg out in this hot room. Get me into the open air."

Hardacre cursed savagely under his breath. His luck was in at the table
and he didn't want to leave. On the other hand, he was scared by the
look of agony on Larose's face. What a scandal if the fellow died there!
Of course an inquest would follow and it would be in all the papers that
he, Hardacre, had been with him in a gambling hell at the moment of his
death! Gad, it would mean the end of all the church business at St.
Michael's, and Dorothy Bannister would be lost to him for good!

So, supporting Larose, who leant heavily on him, they were soon out of
the house and driving away in a taxi. The cool air had, apparently, done
a lot to revive Larose and he now said he would prefer to go back to the
hotel.

A silence ensued until they were well on the way to their destination
and then, to Hardacre's amazement, Larose burst into a hearty laugh.

"Sorry to frighten you, my dear chap," he exclaimed, "but I had to play
the goat or I shouldn't have got you away in time. That place was going
to be raided in five minutes. A detective there gave me the office," and
he related everything which had happened.

"You'll see the account of the raid in Monday's papers," he added, "with
the names of everybody there, set out in full, and we'll be deuced
thankful ours are not among them."

"But what the devil made the detective tell you?" asked Hardacre,
aghast. "How is it he knew you?"

"Why, he was at Scotland Yard when I was there!" replied Larose, and
then, seeing the bewilderment in Hardacre's face, he exclaimed with a
beaming smile: "What, didn't you know I was in the Criminal
Investigation Department before I married? Great Scot, I was certain
someone would have told you at the club!"

"But they hadn't," said Hardacre slowly, with a most unpleasant feeling
in the pit of his stomach. "I thought Carmel Abbey had always belonged
to you."

"Not a bit of it," laughed Larose, "and it isn't mine now. It all
belongs to my wife." He called down the speaking tube for the driver to
stop. "Here, let's walk the rest of the way," he went on to Hardacre,
"and in a few minutes you shall hear something very funny."

Hardacre got out of the taxi as meek as a lamb. He was too stupefied as
yet with the disclosure Larose had made to him to think coherently. For
a few minutes they walked on without speaking, and then Larose said
briskly: "Here's a telephone box and I'll ring up the place for a joke
to see what's happened. It's twenty-five past eleven now and raids like
that are always punctual. So everything will be all over. What's the
number of that place?"

Hardacre gave it with a scowl and the manager's name, too. Larose put
his pennies in the slot and in a few seconds got through. A gruff voice
asked: "Who is it?"

"Is that the White Swan Club?" asked Larose in a high-pitched tone of
voice. "Well, I want to speak to Mr. Pelham, the manager."

"You can't," was the reply, "he's engaged."

"Well, put me on to the secretary," said Larose.

"He's engaged, too."

Larose handed the telephone to Hardacre, who was in the box with him and
the latter demanded: "Put me on to one of the staff at once. Quick now!"

"Who are you?" came the voice. "Give me your name."

"Damn you," swore Hardacre savagely. "I'm the Archbishop of Canterbury
and you can go to hell," and he hung up the receiver with a jerk. "You
were told the truth all right," he nodded to Larose, "for if ever I've
heard a damn policeman speaking, that was one. He had got big feet all
over his voice."

That night, before either of them had dropped off to sleep, both Larose
and Hardacre were disturbed with uneasy thoughts. Larose was worried
because he had unwittingly told Hardacre of his one-time association
with the C.I.D., which otherwise the latter might never have come to
learn, and Hardacre, because, with the several criminal secrets he had
now to hide, he did not much relish a close association with a man whose
one-time calling it had been to deal with crime. Still, in the end
Hardacre comforted himself with the thought that Larose had nothing to
do with Scotland Yard now, and even when there might not have been much
of a detective. The man, he told himself, was an easy-going,
pleasure-loving fellow, and would certainly never put himself to any
trouble he could avoid. The very fact that now, married to a wealthy
woman, he was content to live an idle life proved it without doubt.

The following Monday afternoon, however, Hardacre got something of a
shock when making what he thought were discreet inquiries about Larose
from another member of the Norwich Club. The latter was most
enthusiastic about him and his triumphs in bygone days.

"Oh, yes, he was a star performer, right enough," he told Hardacre,
"and, they say, about the finest detective Scotland Yard ever had. He
could pick up clues where no one else could, and it was a sort of
tradition among his brother sleuths that, when a murder had been
committed somewhere, if he was taken to the place he could see the very
shadow which the murderer had left upon the wall."

"Rot!" exclaimed Hardacre, his mouth going dry.

"Of course, it was," laughed the other, "but the idea only shows what a
lot he was thought of." He nodded. "Yes, and it's well-known, too, he's
often consulted, even now, by the Heads of the C.I.D. on very special
cases." He lowered his voice mysteriously. "I wonder he's not been
nosing into the murder of Dr. Monk. I know he had a slight acquaintance
with the doctor."

Hardacre felt more than ordinarily uneasy and made up his mind that, in
future, he would have as little as possible to do with Larose. The
latter at once sensed this strained feeling and, though putting it down
to the right cause, was confident he would speedily be able to restore
things to the old friendly footing. So, he was just as affable and
friendly as ever, and one day invited Hardacre to Carmel Abbey to dine.
He seemed genuinely disappointed when Hardacre declined on the plea that
he was not feeling quite up to the mark with a slight attack of
sciatica.

A fortnight passing, with Hardacre continuing to be distant and
unapproachable, Larose determined on a bold move. Somehow, by hook or by
crook, he must get into the Manor and have a look round. In particular
he wanted to find out if Hardacre had a small .22 rifle, a rifle such as
that which had fired the bullet with which Dr. Monk had been killed. He
quite expected, however, it would be hidden away somewhere and not to be
laid hands upon at first sight. Also, he wanted to learn if Hardacre
were still taking those tablets. If there were a chemist's label upon
the bottles, then in that way he might be able to trace back the doctor
who had given the prescription. He was still inclined to think it would
prove to be Dr. Monk.

He considered everything most carefully and thought his chances of
getting into the house unobserved by no means bad. He could be fairly
certain Hardacre would not be found at home any afternoon after three
o'clock, and he felt pretty confident the outer hall door would be
propped open and the inner glass one unlocked. Then, with the house
being a large one, with the servants' regions all at the back, he did
not think the maids were likely to trouble him. He knew there were only
two of them, and he reckoned that by about four o'clock in the afternoon
they would have finished all the housework, and be sitting down in their
own quarters.

Directly he had made up his mind, he proceeded to put his plan into
operation that very day, and was at once of opinion that fortune was
favouring him when, coming in sight of the entrance to the drive leading
up to the Manor, he saw a woman with a shopping bag in her hand come out
into the road and proceed to walk quickly in the direction of the
village. "Good," he told himself, "then there'll be only one of them
about the house! The better chance of getting in unobserved."

He parked his car in the bend of the drive, just out of view of the
house. As he had expected, he found the outer hall door propped wide
open and the inner one unlocked. Tiptoeing quietly into the house, he
heard someone singing in the direction of where he guessed the kitchen
was, and so knew that for the moment, at all events, he would be quite
safe and not likely to be interrupted.

He went straight into the study where they had had their cards on the
evening of the party, for he had noticed a safe there and was wondering
if its lock would be easy to pick. He bent down and examined it
carefully, but not a single minute had gone by before, to his
consternation, he heard the singing which had been going on all the
time, coming nearer. He had purposely left the door of the room ajar and
there could be no doubt the singer was approaching the lounge hall.

He looked round. There was no possible place where he could conceal
himself, and so, in case the singer should be coming where he was, he
threw himself down into an arm-chair and assumed the smiling and
confident air of a man who had every right to be where he was.

The singing came nearer and nearer, the door was pushed wider open and
the elder of the two maids who had waited upon them when he had dined
there, entered the room with two highly polished candlesticks in her
hands. Her jaw dropped and her eyes opened wide in startled surprise as
she caught sight of Larose.

"It's all right," he said smilingly, "I'm just waiting for your master.
I couldn't get any answer to my ring, so I walked in." He nodded. "You
remember me, don't you? I was dining here a little while ago."

The woman's face flushed in her relief. "Oh, yes, sir," she exclaimed,
"but you did give me a start!" She shook her head. "But Master's out and
I don't suppose he'll be home until his usual time, about half-past
seven."

"All right, then," said Larose, rising to his feet. "I suppose I'll
catch him at his club. If I don't happen to meet him there, just tell
him, will you, please, that I called. I'm Mr. Larose."

The woman was now all smiles. "Oh, I know who you are, sir," she said.
"I've often heard of you. You were a London detective once, weren't
you?" and when Larose nodded, she went on nervously: "Well, I wonder,
sir, if I might ask you a question?"

"Certainly, a hundred if you like!" replied Larose. "But what is it you
want to know?"

The woman hesitated. "Er--er--but I don't know whether I ought to ask
you, sir. Master mightn't like it."

"Oh, I needn't tell him," laughed Larose. "I've kept thousands of
secrets in my time and never told them to a soul. So you can trust me
not to tell yours, now."

The woman still hesitated. "But you're a great friend of Master's,
aren't you, sir?" she stammered, and again, as once before with the
postmistress of Great Bromley, Larose sensed a certain feeling of
hostility in the question.

"No, no," he replied quickly, "I'm not a great friend of your master.
We're just acquaintances. I've only known him a few weeks." He laughed
lightly. "We detectives must know a man much longer than that before we
call him a friend, let alone a great friend." He spoke confidingly. "Now
what is it you want to ask me? I promise you it shan't get back to Mr.
Hatherleigh."

The woman seemed quite assured. "Well, sir, it's like this," she began
quickly. "My sister, that's the other girl who works here, and me are
very worried about a young fellow who used to be here and we got very
fond of. He was becoming very ill and Master took him away suddenly. He
promised to write, but we've never had a line from him, and we feel
certain that there's something strange," and then the whole story of
Harold Smith's coming to the Manor was unfolded to Larose's interested
ears.

She related how the boy had been taken on as the gardener-chauffeur when
he had been obviously not fit enough to do the work, how his health and
dreadful cough had got gradually worse, with her master all the time
refusing to call in a doctor to find out what was really the matter with
him, how she herself, making out Harold had had a fainting fit, had rung
up the doctor one afternoon when Hardacre was away and then, how barely
thirty-six hours later Harold had been whisked away in the very early
morning, so confused with some medicine that he had been given that he
had left behind his watch, as well as his Post Office Savings Bank book
which showed a credit of 31.

"But he has never written for the book, sir," she went on, "and though
all these weeks have passed, not a word has come from him. And that is
not like Harold, as he is a nice-natured boy, and I am sure he was
grateful for what my sister and I did for him." She nodded emphatically.
"No, something has happened to him and we are anxious to find out what
it is."

Listening intently to her story, Larose had formed a good opinion of
her. She was kind and motherly and would, he was sure, be staunch to
those for whom she had any affection.

"But what is it you want to ask me?" he said when she had finished
speaking. "How can I help you in any way?"

"By telling us how we can find out about him," she replied. "How we can
start doing it." She burst out impulsively: "To be honest with you, sir,
we are sure Master did not tell us the truth. We don't believe the boy
ever went back to Birmingham as Master says, for his stepsister had been
very unkind to him and practically turned him out of the house."

Larose looked puzzled. "But what reason could Mr. Hatherleigh have had,"
he asked, "for not wanting you to know where the boy had gone?"

"I don't know, sir," replied Jane unhappily. She lowered her voice to a
whisper. "But I do know there was some secret between them and that
Harold had known the master before he came here that morning about the
situation. They had met before."

Larose started. Great Scot, then here was coming information from a
source he had never expected! Just by chance, as it were, he might now
learn what with all his trouble he had hitherto failed to find out--who
had Clement Hatherleigh been before Charles Holt and Clive Hall!

Masking his intense interest with a smile he asked lightly: "Then where
had they met?"

"I am almost sure it must have been in China, sir," replied Jane, "at a
place called Hoichow, because Harold had been living there for seven
years and he had only been back in England about three weeks before he
came to see Master that morning."

"But didn't he tell you definitely?" asked Larose with a frown.

"No, sir, and he was very frightened when I asked him. It was like this.
Only a little while after he had come here--it couldn't have been much
more than a week--I was passing the garage where he and Master were, and
through the open window I heard Master ask him if he was sure he'd kept
his promise about something and not breathed a word about it to us, and
Harold said he hadn't. Later in the day, I told him in fun what I'd
heard them saying and he was so terrified Master would know I had been
listening that I was sure it must have been about something very
serious. He said he'd like to tell me but he daren't, and if Master ever
knew I'd overheard he would be furious and perhaps send him away at
once."

Larose looked very grave. "Then it does almost seem as if Mr.
Hatherleigh is deliberately keeping from you where Harold has gone. But
can't you write to this stepsister of his? Don't you know where she
lives?"

"In Birmingham, sir, but I don't know the address or even her name. I
asked Master about it when he came back, so that I could write to
Harold--I didn't mention anything about the Savings Bank book or the
watch--but he said he didn't know either."

Larose considered. "Then I don't see what you can do," he said. He
frowned. "The whole thing seems very strange to me."

"And so it seems to us, sir," nodded the girl. "Everything is so
mysterious. On that Monday morning Master had made no arrangements, as
the doctor had ordered, for Harold to go to some hospital and then, on
the afternoon of that same day when he had come back from a garden
party, he went straight in to Harold and----"

"From a garden party," exclaimed Larose, his eyes opening wide, "from
Mrs. Fraser's in Norwich?"

"Yes, sir," was the reply, "that was where he had been. When the Norwich
paper came at the end of the week we saw his name among those present
and----"

But Larose was no longer listening. It was as if a mighty thunderclap
had burst in his ears and, for the moment, completely stunned him.

God, that garden party again! Another trail starting from there! Then he
had been right after all and it was there the doctor had been marked
down for death! But what about this boy and how had he come to be
dragged into the ghastly business?

He turned back to the girl and interrupted what she was saying. "Now
listen," he said sharply. "There's something rather frightening about
this business and it must be seen into. I don't like the look of it, at
all. But first, what's your name? Oh, Jane Nicolls!" He smiled. "Now,
Jane, you're prepared to trust me, aren't you?"

"Oh, yes, sir," exclaimed the girl, "I'd trust you in anything. That's
why I spoke to you now, I'm not a person who takes to everyone. Besides,
I had an uncle in the City Police--he's dead now or I might have gone to
him--and he always said what a good, straight man you were."

Larose nodded. "Well, if you can trust me"--his face became very grave
and very stern--"can I trust you? I mean, can you hold your tongue?"

Jane looked hurt. "Oh, yes, sir! I promise not to say a word. I won't
even tell my sister if you don't want me to."

"Good!" nodded Larose. "Then tell me, do you like your master?"

She shook her head. "I don't think anyone he employs would like him,
sir. We don't dislike him, for he doesn't bother us much and he pays
well. But he's never friendly and never says a word more to us than he
can help, not even good morning or good night. He just ignores us and
we've never seen him smile unless he's had visitors here."

"Was he kind to this sick boy?"

Jane hesitated. "We were puzzled there, sir. He was kind in taking him
on here when everyone could have seen he was not strong enough to do the
work, and he was kind in talking to him far more than he did to us. But
he wasn't kind in refusing to let him see a doctor, and we've often had
the horrid thought that he was doing it on purpose, so that Harold might
die."

"Perhaps he was," nodded Larose--he eyed the girl intently--"if Harold
knew some secret about him which he didn't want to come out."

"Oh, how awful, sir, it seems even to think of!" exclaimed Jane
tremulously. "But where could he have taken him to, do you think?"

"Haven't the remotest idea," replied Larose, "but that's what we've got
to find out. Now about that morning when Harold went away. Did he seem
in a fit enough condition to make the long journey to London, to where
Mr. Hatherleigh said he was taking him?"

"No, sir, he didn't. He looked downright ill, and Master had to give him
a big drink of brandy before I helped him into the car. I think, too,
Master put something else in the brandy to brace him up, as he was
stirring it round with a spoon as he brought it in."

"And the left before six," frowned Larose, "a ghastly hour for an
invalid to begin a long journey."

"Yes, sir, at a quarter to."

"And when did your master come back?"

"Not until the Saturday evening, sir."

"And you know he had actually been to London?"

"Oh, yes, sir, as the trunk call came from there the next afternoon,"
replied Jane. "He rang us up then to say Harold had gone on to
Birmingham. Yes, he went to London right enough." She seemed to remember
something and went on thoughtfully: "But he'd been somewhere else,
besides London, somewhere by the sea. We knew that because of the sand
in his clothes."

Larose frowned again. "Oh, sand in his clothes!" he exclaimed.

"Yes, sir, in the turn-ups of his trousers and in his jacket pockets,
even more sand than we usually find in them when he's been away duck
shooting."

"Ah," exclaimed Larose. "I want to ask you about that shooting in a
minute, but first, let's see if there's anything among Mr. Hatherleigh's
letters or papers which will help us to find out where he took that boy.
What about that desk there?"

"It's always left open, sir, and I don't think you'll find anything
except receipts and bills. Everything important is always kept locked up
in that big safe, which is the only thing locked in the house."

And a brief search round everywhere soon made it quite clear that Jane
was right. After a few moments of hesitating, upon his request, she took
Larose up to her master's bedroom, too, and he went quickly through the
cupboards there, but nothing of interest was found.

Pointing to a bottle on the mantelshelf labelled "Sleeping Tablets.
Poison", the girl said nervously: "Those are what Master gave Harold the
night before he went away to make him sleep. I saw him with the bottle
in his hand." She looked rather scared. "I wonder if it was some more of
them he was stirring in that glass of brandy he gave him the next
morning!"

"If so," commented Larose very gravely, "then it could only have
meant----" but he checked himself sharply and after a moment went on:
"Well, that's what we'll find out some day." He turned the conversation.
"Now about your master going shooting. Where does he keep the guns?"

She led him to a small room at the back of the house and Larose's heart
beat a little quicker. Was he to find there the little .22 rifle with
which Dr. Monk had been shot?

The room was very small, little bigger than a large cupboard. Two
gun-cases were upon a table and, in one corner, a rifle was leaning up
against the wall. One glance at the rifle, however, was sufficient. It
took a .303 cartridge and not a .22.

"But is that the only rifle he's got?" he asked in great disappointment.
"Didn't he ever have a shot at the rooks in those trees?"

"Oh, yes, sir, we've had rook pie several times."

"Well, what did he shoot them with?" snapped Larose. "Surely not with a
gun! The noise of one shot with a gun would have driven them all away!"

"Then he didn't use a gun, sir," said the girl. "We watched him shooting
once, and saw the young rooks come down one by one."

"Well, has he got another rifle, smaller than this one?"

The girl shook her head. "I don't know, sir. I never used to come in
here. It was Harold who used to clean the guns, and the other gardener
before him. I know nothing about guns or shooting."

Opening a small cupboard over the table, Larose found a number of boxes
of cartridges there, and his eyes gleamed when, among them, he saw one
half full of those for a .22 rifle. "See, these are the cartridges for
the rifle I want to find," he said, "and it must be somewhere about. Now
where can he have put it."

But the girl could not help him in any way and a search through the
sheds and outhouses gave no result.

"Now, one thing more," said Larose. "Where does your master go when he's
out shooting?"

"I don't know, sir. He never tells us. It's only by chance we learn
anything he does. He purposely keeps us in the dark about everything.
For instance, the other morning he came into the kitchen and told us two
guests were coming to dinner that night, and he made a great fuss about
what they were to have. From the preparation we had to make we thought
they would be very important people, but when they arrived they were
only the Rector and Miss Bannister."

Larose smiled. "Well, isn't Miss Bannister good-looking enough to be an
important person anywhere?"

Jane smiled back. "Yes, sir, she is." She nodded vigorously. "I think,
by the way he looks at her, Master would like to make her the mistress
here, but I don't believe he'll ever get her. She's much too sensible a
girl to fall in love with him, though I shouldn't wonder if Mr.
Bannister would be pleased about it." She dropped her voice to a
whisper. "He's been here several times lately and we rather believe
Master's been lending him money, as my sister Ellen, she's the cook
here, heard him thank Master for something the other day as they were
passing the kitchen window, and say it wouldn't be for long. It might
have been for money, as Mr. Bannister is known to be extravagant and
he's not well off."

Larose scowled angrily to himself. It was unthinkable so lovely a girl
as Dorothy should be the wife of the dreadful man he knew the so-called
Clement Hatherleigh to be.

He spoke very solemnly. "Now, Jane, we are partners in finding out what
has become of this boy, and must trust each other implicitly. You
understand, don't you, perfect trust between us?"

"Oh, yes, sir," she replied earnestly, "and you can trust my sister,
too. She's as fond of the boy as I am, and we'll neither of us breathe a
word about you."

"All right then," said Larose. "Now I'm going up to London to-morrow and
I may be able to learn something at the hotel where your master always
stays. I'll either ring you up or come and see you again. By the by,
what was the boy like?"

"He's quite short, sir, and rather slim. He's clean-shaven and very
fair, with his hair almost of a silver colour. He wears it rather long.
He's got blue eyes and a lovely set of teeth."

Larose drove off, fairly pleased with his interview with Jane, but,
thinking of the boy, his face darkened. "Some devilry there," he told
himself, "and, knowing what I do about this brute, if he had reason for
wanting to get rid of him--then--good God, anything may have happened!"

The following day Larose went up to Town and, calling upon Inspector
Stone, asked him to send a plain-clothes man to inspect the register at
the Hotel Splendide, and find out if one, Clement Hatherleigh, had been
staying there from Tuesday, August the fifteenth to the following
Saturday morning, and as much more about him as he was able without
letting the hotel people know he, Hatherleigh, was the particular party
being inquired about.

"No, I can't tell you anything yet, Charlie," he added, "and please
don't try to find out. I promise you, however, that you shall soon have
those big paws of yours upon this gentleman, upon one charge or
another."

"Dear me, dear me!" tut-tutted the Inspector in mock surprise. "Then is
he as versatile as all that?"

"Certainly," laughed Larose, "a receiver of stolen goods, with, perhaps,
two or three homicides as a side-line."

"All right, my boy," nodded the Inspector, "I'll send a good man round
to the Splendide and you shall have his report this afternoon at your
hotel."

At four o'clock Larose was perusing the report. As far as it went, it
was thorough and included both an inspection of the hotel register and
the day-book of the hotel garage. Hatherleigh had not arrived upon the
Tuesday, but had booked in at 1.45 a.m. on the Wednesday morning and had
been received by the night porter. He had remained at the hotel until
the Saturday morning, taking his car away at twelve-ten. He had not used
his car at all during the week and nothing, apparently, had been done to
it, as he had only paid garaging charges.

For a long while Larose considered the report. What did it mean,
Hatherleigh leaving the Manor before six on that Tuesday morning and not
arriving at his hotel until nearly twenty hours afterwards? What had he
been doing all that time and where could he have taken the boy? What
connection had there been between Hatherleigh's having been to that
garden party and his sudden resolution, so quickly put into effect, to
get the boy away from the Manor without an hour's unnecessary delay?

Of course the boy had known something of Hatherleigh's past life and
what he had known must have been of a disgraceful nature, or Hatherleigh
would not have considered it so vital a matter that it must not come
out!

But how did that concern Dr. Monk? How did anything to do with
Hatherleigh concern the doctor?

Larose scowled disgustedly. Oh, if only he could see how it was possible
for Hatherleigh to have consulted Dr. Monk just previous to his going
down to Burnham! Seemingly, however, that was impossible as Hatherleigh
had told them at the inn he had only just a few days previously, arrived
from abroad and the condition of his two big leather trunks went to
prove that. The innkeeper's wife had said they smelt horribly musty,
which would be explained by their having been for some weeks deep down
among the not wanted baggage on board a ship.

But Hatherleigh had arrived at Burnham on that Saturday, September the
fifteenth, a fortnight before Dr. Monk had returned from abroad and gone
up again to his consulting room. Thus, with Hatherleigh at Burnham the
whole time and never once having been long enough away from the inn to
have got up to Town, it was quite impossible he----

Ah, wait a moment! There was something wrong there! The innkeeper said
he distinctly remembered September the fifteenth being a Saturday, but
how could that be as he, Larose, remembered seeing quite as distinctly
in the case-book that, when the doctor had returned to his practice on
October the first, the day he had been seeing patients had been a
Wednesday. If October the first had been on a Wednesday, then September
fifteenth would have been on a Monday.

Larose was in the lounge of his hotel as he was reading the
plain-clothes man's report and, very puzzled, he walked over to the
reception clerk at the desk.

"Can you tell me, please," he asked, "upon what day of the week
September the fifteenth the year before last was? Was it on a Saturday?"

The clerk turned back the pages of the big hotel register and after
about half a minute replied: "No, sir, the fifteenth of September was on
a Monday."

Larose snapped his fingers exultingly, and at once put through a phone
call to the Pilot Inn in Burnham. The wife of the innkeeper answered it.

"It is I who was inquiring the other day about that Mr. Hall who was
staying with you two years ago," he said. "Well, your husband told me he
first arrived on his birthday and it was----"

"No, sir, not his birthday," interrupted the woman, "it was on
mine, on October the third. Yes, sir, he made a mistake when he told
you it was his birthday on September the fifteenth. He remembered it,
afterwards. Oh, I'm quite sure about it, because we remarked to each
other what a nice birthday present for me it was to have a gent coming
for the winter. My husband said I could go into Chelmsford and buy a new
dress because of it."

Larose hung up the receiver with a scowl. "And all that trouble because
the man was such a fool!" he muttered. His face broke into an exultant
smile. "But now for those case-books once again."

He lost no time in ringing up the bungalow in Hickling Broad, intending
to ask Miss Monk to be sure to mail the particular case-book he wanted,
that night. He learnt, however, from a woman left in charge there that
only two days previously Miss Monk had removed for the winter to her
Hampstead house. He at once got in touch with Miss Monk who, to his
great joy, told him she had brought the case-books to Town with her. As
quickly as a taxi would take him he was at her house. She was busy
entertaining some friends, but the book he wanted was put into his hands
immediately.

Then he got what he always considered one of the minor shocks of his
life for, recognizing Clement Hatherleigh at once in the Charles Henson
who had consulted the doctor on the first and third days of October--he
read that he was a leper.

Everything was set down in detail; Charles Henson's address, his age,
the symptoms of his malady, the finding of the culture, and the
treatment which had been prescribed for him. In a foot-note had been
added, later, that the patient had taken himself off from the coffee
palace before the Health Authorities had been able to get in touch with
him and, accordingly, the order for segregation had never been put in
force.

"Good God!" exclaimed the horrified Larose, "and he is courting Dorothy
Bannister! What a vile beast! That's worse than any murder!" He
whistled. "But was the diagnosis correct? How can a man, two years after
he's been certified as a leper, be going about as Hatherleigh is and
leading the life of one, apparently, in the best of health?" He could
hardly get his breath in his excitement. "But how clear-cut his motive
for murdering the doctor now stands out. Dr. Monk thought he recognized
him at the garden party, but could not be quite certain, and so, having
made inquiries about him, went to that church on the Sunday morning to
have another look. The devil saw him and realized the game was up unless
he could prevent the doctor speaking. So he didn't lose an hour, but
shot him that same night."

He made a grimace. "But what proof have I, what proof that will satisfy
a jury when he is on trial for his life? He may deny that he recognized
the doctor at the garden party and had no thought that he was in danger
of being found out. He may say, too, that he had no grudge at all
against the doctor, and only feelings of gratitude towards him because
the treatment he had prescribed had been so effective."

Larose shrugged his shoulders. "No, no, Gilbert, your case is not
complete yet. You've got to be quite certain he will not be able to
escape, before you pull in the net. Patience, my lad, and you'll get him
in the end."

Taking a last look at the entry to impress everything upon his mind, his
eyes suddenly fell upon a rather faint pencilled word against the entry
and with some difficulty he made out the word to be "Gerald", with a
note of interrogation after it.

What the devil did that mean, he asked himself. Who was Gerald? It meant
something and he must find out, anyhow.

Just at that moment he heard Miss Monk bidding her goodbyes to her
friends and, almost immediately, she came into the room. With some
exultation he told her what he had discovered and how hot the trail was
getting now. Then he asked if she knew who Gerald was and delight was
heaped upon delight when she told him he was her cousin, working at the
Foreign Office and living with his father, Sir Geoffrey Burton, in
Chelsea.

Young Burton was soon being interviewed but, upon being shown his name
in the case-book against the entry of Charles Henson, could not explain
it in any way.

"But this Henson," persisted Larose, "is a tall, good-looking man about
forty, rather distinguished in an unpleasant masterful sort of way, not
the kind of man you would forget if you'd met him a few times."

Burton shook his head. "But I can't recall to my mind having had
anything to do with such a party. Certainly, I remember calling upon my
uncle about that time as I had just then returned from Hoichow in China
and----"

"Hoichow!" exclaimed Larose in some excitement. "Then did you ever know
a young fellow called Harold Smith there? He was a steward at some
club."

"There was certainly a steward in my club called Harold," said Burton
slowly, "but I don't remember if his surname was Smith."

"A very fair boy," said Larose, "with his hair of a silver shade."

"That was the chap," nodded Burton, "a nice-looking boy."

"Then it's almost certain," said Larose, "that you knew this patient who
came to your uncle as Charles Henson, as well. He knew this boy
Harold, and so was most likely a member of your club." He pressed home
his questions. "Can't you remember this big, dark man who was probably
always smoking cigarettes which he took from a big, fat, silver
cigarette-case, marked with the initials C.H.?"

A light seemed to break on Burton's face. "Oh, yes, I know whom you
mean," he exclaimed, "but if I was right the man's name was not Henson!
He was a Chester Hardacre and had had the biggest store in Hoichow." He
frowned. "He was a bad egg this Hardacre and killed another member of
the club. We had to get him smuggled out of jail and right away from the
island to save the scandal of a white man being put on trial for
murder." He snapped his fingers together exultingly. "Oh, and I
understand now why my uncle put my name against his record in that book!
I thought I recognized him on my uncle's door-step and told Uncle so,"
and he proceeded to relate the whole story of everything that had
happened in Hoichow.

Larose was thrilled at the recital, but his delight was somewhat damped
when the young man finished up by stating that though he was fairly
confident he had recognized Hardacre that morning, yet he could not be
absolutely certain.

"You see," he said, "I got such a fleeting glimpse of the man as I was
on the door-step, and he had got his cap well pulled down over his eyes.
Though for the moment I was quite confident, thinking it all over
afterwards, I was not nearly so certain."

Larose's sleep was very broken that night, for, always most painstaking
in all his investigations, he was thinking out how to make the case
against this so-called Hatherleigh as convincing as possible.

The next morning, provided with an introduction, he called upon another
specialist in tropical diseases, a Professor Andrews, in Portland Place.
The professor was quite as eminent as Dr. Monk had been, though a much
younger man in the early forties.

"Now, Professor," he said, "I want to ask you something very important.
Is it possible for a man who just over two years ago was certified as
suffering from leprosy to be now in perfect health and with not a mark
of the dreadful disease upon him?"

The professor considered. "You mean that two years ago this man was
certified by a responsible physician as being infected with leprosy, and
now has been given a clean bill of health by that same physician?"

"No, I don't say that," said Larose quickly, "for, as far as I know,
this man I have in mind has paid no second visit to any physician. But I
meet him often, he appears to be in the very pink of condition and, when
I have seen him in the swimming-pool, his body appears to be perfectly
all right."

The professor considered again. "It is not very probable, but it is
possible, as there are authentic cases of the disease having cleared
itself up, almost, so to speak, spontaneously. You must realize that,
contrary to popular belief, leprosy is very rarely a fatal disease and,
with proper treatment, can be held in abeyance for many, many years,
until it has worked itself out, and the patient ultimately dies from
something else."

"Then this particular man I am referring to," said Larose, "may be quite
all right now, and if he were examined to-day no one would be able to
prove he had ever been infected at all!"

The professor smiled. "In giving you an answer there I should first want
to know if it were certain he had ever been infected. A mistaken
diagnosis might quite easily have been made, for sometimes the leprae
bacilli are very hard to detect with absolute certainty. Was it a
specialist this man went to?"

Larose nodded. "And as this doctor is dead there can be no harm in
saying who he was. He was the late Dr. Monk."

"A very clever man," nodded the professor--he shrugged his
shoulders--"but with his limitations, in fact, between ourselves, we did
not consider him a great authority on leprosy. His strong suits were
malaria and elephantiasis. There he had done excellent work and fully
deserved the reputation he had got. A bit impetuous, though, as he grew
older, and most intolerant of anyone else's opinion. In fact he was a
very obstinate man. By the by, was this patient under his observation
for some time?"

"No, only three days," replied Larose. "He went to him one day, and then
two days later when the culture had been made."

"Too quick, too quick," frowned the professor. "I know Dr. Monk had his
own special ways, but I cannot ever obtain a definite culture of the
bacilli under five days." He smiled. "No, Mr. Larose, if, as you tell
me, this patient is in perfect health and without blemish to-day, then,
speaking off-hand, I should say he had never had true leprosy."

Bidding good-bye to the professor, Larose was certainly rather upset
with the information he had just received, for, if Hardacre were now
quite leprosy free, he might easily deny he had ever consulted Dr. Monk,
and that he had might be impossible to prove. In that event, no reason
could be put forward why he should have had any animus against the
doctor and wished him harm. The whole case then might seem to fall
through.

Still, Larose comforted himself with the thought that he had yet other
cards to play and, driving back post-haste towards Norfolk, he summed up
everything as it now stood.

There were two persons whose disclosures would have done Hardacre
incalculable harm. If one of them, indeed, could have disclosed he was
wanted for segregation because of a dreadful malady, both of them could
have broadcast the story that he was wanted by the Hoichow authorities
for having killed a man. One of them might actually have been an
eye-witness of the killing and, at any rate, could have given chapter
and verse in detail.

Well, this danger to him had passed, for both of these men were dead.
One was known to have been brutally murdered, and the other had
disappeared in so mysterious and sinister a fashion that there could be
little doubt he had met the same fate. The proof there, however, for the
moment was lacking.

Now what exactly had happened that day when Hardacre had driven off so
early with Harold Smith? They had left St. Michael's Manor together
before six o'clock in the morning and Hardacre had booked into his hotel
in Town--alone--at one-forty-five the next morning, and there was
something very sinister about the timing of this journey. On the very
face of it, in its furtiveness and secrecy it suggested criminal intent,
and as if Hardacre had been arranging his hours of travel so that his
car should not be seen when many people were upon the roads.

Then if that supposition were correct, while he had had nearly four
hours of darkness to cover his journey to London, at night--in the early
morning he had had only a bare one hour to get off the roads before the
usual daily traffic would begin to appear. Then, in that case, his
journey in the early morning had been a very short one, probably less
than a score of miles or so from the Manor, and it had almost certainly
been to somewhere on the sea-shore, because of the sand that had been
found later in his clothes.

Good, then he, Larose, would go and have another talk with that
parlour-maid! She might be able to tell him now!

Ringing up from a call-office in Norwich, Jane told him her master was
away for the day and that the coast was quite clear. Accordingly, in
less than half an hour Larose was at the Manor.

Alarming her as little as he could, he nevertheless told the maid that
he did not at all like the look of things and believed her master, for
some purpose of his own, had got Harold hidden away somewhere in the
neighbourhood.

"Now about those wild duck which you told me your master shot last
winter," he said, "where did he go to get them? You have no idea! Well,
has he got a bungalow anywhere on the coast?"

"I don't know whether it's a bungalow, sir," said Jane, "but he's got
some place where he goes to. It isn't furnished, because, besides his
food, he used always to take a lot of things with him every time,
plates, a knife and fork, a tumbler, and, of course, his bedding. He
always had four blankets and two pillows with him."

"Did he sleep in his car?"

"I don't think so, sir, because when he brought the blankets home I
always had to shake a lot of sand out of them. We should have thought he
slept on the sands somewhere, except that he never took a ground-sheet
to put under him."

"How long was he away at a time?"

"Never more than one night, sir. He would go one afternoon and be back
the next."

"And how often used he to go away?"

"Oh, I should think about six or seven times last winter, sir. It's many
months since he's been now."

"Did he ever bring home any fish?"

"No, sir, and never very many birds. About a dozen duck were the most
he's ever brought home, and two wild geese. They were all kept in the
refrigerator and he'd have them at every meal until they were gone."

"I suppose he doesn't keep any record of what birds he's shot?" asked
Larose. "So many shooters do, and they put down where they've shot them,
too. You haven't seen a little memorandum book lying about anywhere? You
see, it's in my mind he may have got a small shooting box on the coast
and, perhaps, as I say, have taken Harold there. No--well, let's go and
have another look in that little room where he keeps those guns."

But, going over everything again, he could get no pointer in any
direction until he came across a small bottle of lubricating oil for the
guns. It bore the label of a well-known London firm of gunsmiths, but
upon it had been superimposed with a rubber stamp, "Cooper, Ironmonger,
Wells." He took heart at once, for Wells was a small town right up in
the north of Norfolk and very near to the sea-shore and long stretches
of lonely salt marshes.

"Buying this oil at Wells should surely mean," he told himself, "that he
does his shooting somewhere near there, and those marshes between
Waybourne and Wells are about the best places for duck and Solan geese
in Norfolk. So, if this ironmonger doesn't know him, someone else may."

The next morning he started his inquiries at the ironmonger's in the
little town of Wells. He was afraid to mention Hatherleigh's name in
case it should get back to him that someone had been asking about him.
So, instead, he said to the ironmonger that he understood a Mr.
Browning, a tall dark gentleman, had got a small shooting bungalow to
let close near, and he wanted to find out where it was. He had come to
him, the ironmonger, because he knew for certain this gentleman had once
bought some gun oil at his shop, and he was hoping that perhaps he could
recall him. The ironmonger, however, after a lot of thinking, shook his
head and said he could not remember any tall, very dark man, who came
shooting in the neighbourhood.

Nothing daunted, Larose proceeded nearer the marshes and inquired at
Blakeney. There he met with the same result, but at Cley-next-the-Sea,
to his great delight, he heard of such a man who was renting a big
disused fishing shed on a spot of land on the seaward side of Cley
channel.

"You can't mistake it, sir," said the man of whom he had inquired. "When
you get out of the village, turn to the left along a narrow track you'll
find leading down to the sea. It's about a mile away and between the two
last sandhills. You won't see it until you get right up to it." Then he
added dubiously: "But the gent who rents it is not called Browning. He's
a Mr. Hatherleigh and comes from St. Michael's."

"Not an old man about sixty?" queried Larose, as if very disappointed,
but with his heart really jumping with joy.

"Oh, no, sir, not a day above forty," replied the man, "but he's tall
and dark."

"Then he's not the gentleman I want," smiled Larose. "Mr. Browning is
well over sixty and looks his age, too. Still, thank you for your
information all the same," and, tipping the man a shilling, he drove
away.

"Now for it," he told himself as he turned up the narrow track the man
had indicated. "It's a long shot, but then I've been making long shots
all along and hitting the bull's-eye every time."

He soon came upon the shed, the large rackety-looking structure with the
great big padlocked door. At one time, he saw, it had been well tarred
over, but now it was showing the ravages of wind and rain, badly. He
noted that though it lay some yards off the track, right on the sand,
two heavy broad planks had been stretched parallel across, apparently so
that a motor car could be driven inside. "Gad," he exclaimed frowningly,
"he could have put his car in there and lain hidden the whole day long!"

He examined the big padlock on the door and realized at once that he
could not pick it. He reckoned, however, that some of the boards forming
the walls of the shed looked pretty rotten and could be easily prised
out, allowing him to get inside that way. He had no idea what exactly he
was hoping to find, but thought it just possible the missing rifle might
be there.

He looked round furtively, but there was no one in sight. His range of
view, however, was very limited, for with the shed in the hollow between
two sandhills, the winding track along which he had come was only
visible for little more than a hundred yards.

A chilling east wind was blowing up the sand and it stung like a
thousand needles against his face.

"And if he came here," he muttered, "I don't wonder he got plenty in his
clothes. Mine will be in the devil of a state if I stay here long."

Scouting round the back of the shed, he found two boards which he
thought could be easily prised away, but he must do the job carefully,
he told himself, so as to leave no traces that anyone had been there.
Then, realizing it would appear suspicious if anyone happened to pass by
and note an empty car in front of the locked-up shed, he decided to
drive his car round to the back of the shed where it would be out of
sight. So, with a grimace of annoyance at the thought of having later to
blow them up again, he let the wind out of his tyres and got the car
round to where he wanted it. Then, with the help of a tyre-lever, he
soon got the boards out and squeezed himself into the shed.

Although he had a torch with him, he did not switch it on at first,
letting his eyes become gradually accustomed to the dimness. Quite a
little light was filtering in from the cracks in the shed walls.

Soon being able to pick things out, he saw a small rowing boat in one
corner and, at the farther end of the shed, a camp-bed, a chair and a
small deal table. Upon the table were a Primus stove, a good oil lamp
and a few kitchen utensils. Underneath was a big galvanized-iron pail.
Near the door were a dozen or so of big flat paving-like stones laid
down, evidently, to run a car over them when it was garaged in the shed.
The air was close, with a dank, heavy smell.

Now flashing his torch, his eyes at once fell upon a patch of oil on one
of the paving stones.

"And that girl said he'd not been out shooting since the winter months,"
he nodded, "but I'll swear that oil has not been there that time. So
he's been here much later than that," and his interest quickened at once
with the thought of what it might mean.

Seating himself down upon the camp-bed, he let his eyes roam round
everywhere, hoping that his life's training would enable him to pick out
something that needed some unusual explanation.

And pick out something he very soon did--quite a good-sized area of the
sand towards the far end of the shed was of a different shade from that
of the sand elsewhere. It looked whiter and cleaner. Striding over to it
at once, the impression was lost directly he approached near, with the
sand then looking no different from anywhere else, and he had to go back
to the other end of the shed again to note exactly where it was.

Stirring over the surface vigorously with his foot, quite a number of
sand-beetles at once came to light. He bent down close and smelt hard,
but in an instant had straightened himself up again and, with a slightly
quickened beating at his heart, was looking round for a board or shovel
with which to rake up the sand. He had smelt a tainted smell, as if
something was buried there. There was no doubt about it. The smell was
quite strong.

His eyes fell at once upon the big iron pail, but, snatching it up, he
whistled as he held it suspended in mid-air. The top rim of the pail was
highly polished, and with scratches all the way round, quite different
from the lower end and the inside.

Great Scot, then the pail had already been used for the very purpose he
himself was now going to put it to!

Taking off his coat, he began to scoop vigorously in the middle of the
patch of cleaner sand, and with almost every scoop he made there was
stronger evidence that something was buried there. The taint soon became
nauseous.

Quite certain now as to what he was going to find, the expression upon
his face was grim and hard, and the quickened beating of his heart was
not all due to his exertions.

What a devil this Hatherleigh was! The taking of human life was nothing
to him now, and if he had been intending to get rid of the boy, burying
him here might be one of the safest things to do, for who would imagine
any murderer daring to hide the body of his victim upon his own
premises? Yet, Hatherleigh would dare, for his courage was of the
reckless kind which would take any risk, however dreadful, in its
stride. He was a gambler in everything he did.

After a few minutes of hard scooping, Larose felt the pail knock up
against something and, with all his life's training among gruesome
things, a thrill of horror stirred in him as a human foot came into
view.

Giving himself a short spell to prepare for what would follow, he began
clearing away the sand much more carefully now, and soon came upon the
upper part of the body and the head. It was not a pleasant sight, but
the dryness of the sand had, in part, had a mummifying effect, and the
shrivelled features were quite recognizable. He had not the slightest
doubt he was looking at Harold Smith, as the hair was long and
silver-shaded as the maid had described.

Then a blazing anger surged through him, as he saw there was a scarf
wound tightly round the neck.

"God, he was strangled," he exclaimed chokingly. He spat on the ground.
"And I have shaken hands with and eaten at the table of the
black-hearted devil who did it!"

A fierce desire for a full and speedy vengeance surged through him and
he made up his mind, instantly, what he would do. Without a moment's
unnecessary delay, Hatherleigh should be taken into custody. He should
be arrested that very day and charged with murder. The investigation
into the death of the doctor, however, should still go on and, with
Hatherleigh out of the way, an intensive search should be made all round
the Manor for the missing rifle. With that in possession of the
authorities, a ballistic expert would be able to verify without any
shadow of doubt that from that rifle had been fired the bullet which had
been taken from Dr. Monk's head.

Leaving everything exactly as he found it, a few minutes later he was
speeding with all haste to Norwich. The Chief Constable of Norfolk,
Major Battey, was a personal friend of his and he thought it best to
approach him, rather than Scotland Yard, so that there would be no delay
in apprehending Hatherleigh. No risk must be run of his learning that
his shed had been visited and his ghastly secret discovered.

The Chief Constable, however, was hard to locate and it was not until
nearly three o'clock that Larose had been able to run him to earth.

He listened with almost incredulous amazement to the story Larose had to
tell. He knew Hatherleigh, personally, and meeting him often at the
County Club, at first could not credit such a good fellow and one of
such nice appearance as being a callous murderer.

"But we must be very certain of everything, Mr. Larose," he said
warningly, "and I must be perfectly sure of all your facts before I
issue a warrant. The scandal would be terrific if it turns out you have
made a mistake." He smiled. "You see, you are a free-lance and stand to
lose nothing, while I am in a very responsible position and a false step
would mean ruin to me."

"I know that, sir," nodded Larose, "but with this last crime the
evidence is happily much more than circumstantial. This shed is leased
by Hatherleigh, the maids at his house will identify the body there as
that of Harold Smith he took away with him that early morning in August
last and the scarf twisted round the corpse's neck is conclusive proof
that the boy was murdered. Mr. Gerald Burton of the Foreign Office will
also be able to identify the boy and give evidence that the latter was
employed at the club in Hoichow where this Hatherleigh was a member."

"All right, then," said the Chief Constable, "we'll start off for that
shed at once."

So, in a very few minutes, Larose, with the Chief Constable sitting next
to him and two plain-clothes men in the back seat, was leading the way
in his own car, followed by a police ambulance, close behind. There was
little conversation and very soon they were passing over the Cley
marshes and upon the winding track among the sandhills.

"It's not a quarter of a mile away now," said Larose cheerfully, "but
you won't see the shed until we're almost on it. It's just round that
sandhill there."

"But what a smell of burning," remarked the Chief Constable. He frowned.
"I should have thought any sort of bonfire would be dangerous with this
strong wind blowing." He looked round and, taking in the desolate
surroundings, added shudderingly: "What an ideal spot for any murder!"

They rounded the bend in the track and then Larose gave a startled cry.
The shed was no longer there, but in its place a blackened mass of
smouldering ruins. "Damnation," he exclaimed furiously, "it's been burnt
to the ground!"

He pulled up the car with a jerk. Two men were standing on the track.
"What's happened?" he asked them, breathlessly. "Who set this alight?"

"We don't know, sir," replied one of the men. He jerked his head back.
"We're from the coastguard station there and we've only just arrived. We
only noticed the smoke a few minutes ago and came at once to see what it
was."

"But you must have dropped a lighted match," said the frowning Chief
Constable to Larose.

"No, no, I didn't," retorted Larose instantly. "I didn't strike one the
whole time I was here. Besides, it is nearly four hours since I left,
and this fire's not been going as long as that."

"No, that it hasn't," agreed the coastguard who had spoken before. "I
gave it half an hour and not a minute more. The wood of that old shed
was as dry as tinder and with all that tar on it it would have burnt
like hell in this wind."

"Never mind, Major," said Larose sharply, turning to the Chief
Constable. "We'll find what we want." He nodded significantly. "The fire
won't have burnt that. It was a good three feet down in the sand."

Snatching up pieces of charred wood which had escaped destruction, they
all began energetically to scrape away the still glowing embers in order
to expose the sand underneath. The trench Larose had dug was uncovered
almost immediately, but Larose's face blanched in consternation when he
saw that the end of it where the body had lain had been made wider still
and that no sign of any body was now to be seen.

With the now much blackened pail he scooped on furiously in every
direction, only desisting when he had cleared a space wide enough to
have held half a dozen bodies.

He rose shakily to his feet and turned to the Chief Constable with a
face that was tense and white in its fury.

"I've been beaten, sir," he said quietly. "The body has been taken
away!"




CHAPTER VIII.--A THIEF IN THE NIGHT.

LAROSE turned to the puzzled coastguards, puzzled because of an
ambulance having been brought there and, also, because four members of
the little party had all the smack of plainclothes men about them.

"This shed was set on fire intentionally," he scowled. "Did you notice
any car coming this way?"

The coastguards shook their heads. "No, sir, and we shouldn't have
noticed one if it had come," replied one of them. "Our station is more
than a mile away, right at the end of the spit, and what road there is
stops where we are." He looked doubtful. "And if the party who started
this fire came in a car and didn't want to be seen, I reckon he'd have
driven down one of the side roads where he wouldn't have met anybody."

"Who does the shed belong to?" asked the Chief Constable.

"Tom Baddock, the fisherman," was the reply, "but he moved off to
Yarmouth three or four years ago and the shed's not been used until last
winter when a gent hired it for the duck shooting. I don't know who the
gent is. I've never seen him."

They drove back to Norwich a very silent little party, Larose most
dejected, the Chief Constable hiding under a grim smile the doubt as to
whether Larose were becoming the subject of hallucinations, and the
plain-clothes men not knowing what to make of it at all. These last,
although having been told very little, had been expecting something very
much out of the ordinary and were disappointed in consequence.

Having got rid of his passengers with the promise of calling upon the
Chief Constable later in the day, Larose proceeded to the club, with no
expectation that Hatherleigh would be found in the card-room, or,
indeed, anywhere upon the premises.

To his great surprise, however, there was Hatherleigh, as large as life
and with the inevitable fat cigarette between his lips, at one of the
card-tables in all the thrills of an exciting game of poker. He looked
up as Larose entered and, with a half wink and a jerk over his shoulder,
invited him to come and stand behind to look at the hand he was holding.

For the life of him, Larose could not restrain an almost friendly smile
as he complied. The wretch was so full of courage and was putting up
such a bold face upon what must have been for him a most terrible shock!

"But it was all a big bluff," said Larose, when a couple of hours later
he was talking to the Chief Constable and telling him how merry and
lively Hatherleigh had appeared. "Of course it was he who had taken away
the boy's body and fired the shed. I didn't dare to ask, in case it got
back to him, but I could guess he hadn't been at the club long, for
there were only three cigarette butts in the ashtray in front of him,
and I reckon that meant about half an hour. Besides, this afternoon he
was different from his usual self in several ways and, for one, he took
his drinks much quicker as if he needed them badly after some great
mental stress. Also, I am sure it was his relief at having escaped a
dreadful danger which made him appear so happy and good-tempered."

"Where do you suggest he would have taken the body?" asked the Chief
Constable in a tone as if he were not too certain about anything.

Larose shrugged his shoulders. "A thousand places, everything was so
easy for him. Trussed up in some of that sacking I saw in the shed he
could have taken it twenty or thirty miles away and dropped it, weighted
with stones, into some quiet stream where we can never find it now!"

The Chief Constable frowned. "See here, Mr. Larose," he said sharply,
going off on quite a different track, "I'm going to be quite frank with
you. I am not convinced Hatherleigh is that patient who consulted Dr.
Monk two years ago. You've got nothing like a strong enough case to
prove it there."

"You don't think so?" queried Larose, hiding his annoyance under a ready
smile.

"No, I don't, and until you can prove those tablets Hatherleigh was
taking when in Burnham-on-Crouch came from a prescription given by that
doctor, or bring witnesses who can identify Hatherleigh as the Charles
Henson who consulted him, we are certain of nothing. You tell me the
nurse whom Dr. Monk had at that time is now in Australia, and that no
one at the coffee palace has any recollection of what the George Hunter
who stayed there is like."

"That is so, sir," agreed Larose. "I can produce no one who remembers
him." He sighed heavily and rose to his feet. "Well, leave it at that. I
may be coming back to you in a few days with something more certain to
go upon," and he left the room, annoyed that the Chief Constable was so
hard to convince, and yet relieved that no move was to be made in
Hatherleigh's direction, which would cause him to find out he was under
suspicion of anything.

That night Hardacre drank deeply both at dinner and afterwards before he
went to bed. He realized he had escaped from a desperate situation only
by the very skin of his teeth, as it had been just by chance he had gone
to the shed that morning, the first time he had been there since he had
buried Harold Smith under the sand.

He had had no reason at all for going there, but something had impelled
him to see if everything were all right. Then, when he had discovered
what had happened, his terror had been even beyond oaths. He had just
stood gaping and gaping, with his body drenched in a cold and clammy
sweat.

However, he had quickly recovered himself, and then his movements had
been like lightning, and yet with every step carried out with extreme
care. With no difficulty, for the body had been emaciated and light, it
had been a simple matter to cram it into two of the large sacks upon the
camp-bed, one being pulled down over the other, and yet leave plenty of
room for a generous enough allowance of sand to make it sink down to the
bottom of whatever stream or pond in which he was going to throw it.

Lumping his now heavy burden into the back of his car, he proceeded to
fire the shed with the help of the oil in the container of the lamp.
Waiting a bare couple of minutes to make certain the shed would blaze up
well, and propping the big doors open to ensure a good draught of air,
he had driven off quickly, making his way at first, as the coastguard
had surmised, along one of the many little by-roads leading off from the
coast.

He had no idea as to where he was going to hide the sacks, for the
moment his foremost thought being to get away as quickly as possible
from the neighbourhood of the shed, and in so doing avoid passing
through any town and as many of the little villages as he could. His
reasoning powers were in part numbed by the dreadful shock he had
received, and he contented himself with concentrating upon his driving,
a concentration which was most necessary in view of the pace he was
travelling along the narrow winding lanes.

Presently, however, having put several miles between himself and the
shed and meeting with no dreaded police car filled with stern-faced
accusing men, his pulses began to slow down, his breathing was no longer
jerky and, finally, he smiled a cold, grim smile.

Gad, what an escape! Perhaps another ten minutes--maybe even five--and
the police would have caught him red-handed tumbling the body into the
sack, for of course whoever had seen it there in the sand would have
rushed off to them at once to tell his tale. But how the hell had the
body come to be found at all? How the hell----But for the moment he
stopped considering that, realizing what he had to do now was to make
himself perfectly safe by putting the sacks and their contents where
they would never be likely to be found.

Again he smiled, his smile, however, now being a contemptuous one. Would
he drop it over a bridge into some stream? That's what the police would
think of at once and it would not be beyond them to drag in the water
below every little bridge within a radius of twenty miles. No, there
would be nothing as clumsy as that for him! Instead, he'd do something
very different. He would drive deep into the Fens, forty miles would
take him into their very heart, and he would dump the sacks into one of
the many thousands of drains there. And he would not choose a big or a
deep one, either. He would throw it into one of the smaller ones where
the current was sluggish and there were plenty of eels. He knew of just
such a drain, for he had once gone spearing there and had obtained quite
a good number of the slimy fish. Also, he would cut slits in the sacks,
so that the eels could get in easily and finish with the flesh long
before the sacks had had time to rot.

So, less than an hour later, all that remained of Harold Smith was lying
deep in the ooze of a narrow drain in a lonely part of the Methwold
Fens, and the eels, as Hardacre had surmised they would, were already
mustering for a banquet.

As he drove away, convinced that no human eye could have been following
any of his movements, Hardacre took stock of his position, and his
confidence that he was now quite safe became the stronger with every
mile he covered. There was absolutely nothing against him and he could
defy all the police in the world to find out anything.

How did it concern him if by some extraordinary chance someone had
uncovered that body in the shed? He would say that he had not been near
the place for seven or eight months and no one would be able to prove
the contrary. Cutting through those by-roads, as he had done when he had
taken the boy there in the very early hours of that morning, he had not
met a soul for the last five or six miles of his journey, and it had
been the same a couple of hours back, this very day. There had been no
one to make a note of his car passing, even when it had crossed the main
Holt-Cromer road, the only place where he might reasonably have expected
to meet someone.

So he was quite safe, he told himself, because whatever evidence there
had been that some crime might have been committed he had snatched away
as if it had never had any existence at all. If there had been that
frantic rushing off to the police, as he supposed, then the teller of
the tale must now be about as discredited a party as it was possible to
imagine. Who would believe his story and how could he ever explain
satisfactorily how he came to be violating another person's private
property when he had found the body?

He frowned here. But how did it come about that anyone had gone into
that lonely shed and, above all, started digging in the sand? The only
explanation he, Hardacre, could think of was that some tramp, finding
the shed untenanted and in a lonely situation, had broken in for shelter
or to see what he could steal. Then, he might have had a dog with him,
and the animal, smelling the putrefying body under the sand, had made
his master curious as to what was there. So, to his amazement uncovering
a corpse, the tramp, no doubt in the expectation of getting some reward,
would not have lost a minute in making known his discovery.

Well, what would happen now? Finding no body, the police might dismiss
the whole matter or, perhaps, as a matter of routine, start making a few
inquiries. If they came to him, of course, he would appear as astonished
as anyone, but as far as he was concerned the matter would end there.
Probably it would end there, too, with the police. He drew in a deep
breath. But what a narrow escape he had had and how equally chance had
balanced the scales! It had been by chance only that the body had been
discovered and by chance only that he had happened to go to the shed
that morning in the very nick of time!

Hardacre's next move was well in accord with his resolute and,
naturally, bold and defiant nature. He drove straight to the Norwich
Club for his usual afternoon's game of poker, as if nothing at all had
happened to disturb his peace of mind.

As Larose had rightly surmised from the few cigarette butts in the
ashtray, he had not been there long before he saw Larose come into the
room and, while a pang of uneasiness stirred in him at the sight of the
one man above all others he was most anxious not to come in close
contact with, the several whiskies he had already consumed upon an empty
stomach made him, at once, dismiss the matter lightly. Of course Larose
had had nothing to do with the finding of the body, and he comforted
himself once again that its discovery had been chance, and chance only!

This happy frame of mind continued for some hours, indeed until after he
had finished the excellent dinner he had partaken of by himself at home.
Then a horrible recollection stirred in him, for he remembered suddenly
that when Larose, at his invitation, had come and stood behind him to
look over the good hand of cards he was holding, the latter's clothes
had smelt of burning! Yes, exactly as if he had just come from near some
bonfire! Then Larose had been searching among the embers of that
burnt-out shed! Hell, it seemed probable! God! What did it mean?

It was many hours before he got to sleep that night and for a long while
his thoughts would give him no rest. One moment he was terror-struck
that Larose had somehow got upon his track, and the next he was cursing
himself for being such an imaginative fool. It was impossible, he told
himself, over and over again, that he had left any trail behind him
which even the shrewdest detective could uncover! Every step he had
taken he had made himself secure, and yet--what did that smell of
burning about Larose's clothes mean?

The next morning, however, after only a few hours of troubled slumber,
he dismissed the whole thing as nonsense, and a pint of champagne with
his breakfast made him his old confident self again. So, when the
Yarmouth fisherman from whom he had been renting the shed rang up to say
it had been burnt down and asked him rather rudely if it had happened
through anything he had done, he was quite polite in explaining it
couldn't be, as he had not been near the place since the preceding
February.

"So it could hardly have been anything to do with me, could it?" he
laughed, and then he asked: "Who told you about it?"

"The police have been round to me," was the reply. "I think the
coastguards had rung them up. It happened yesterday afternoon."

"Well, that finishes that," said Hardacre, preparing to hang up. "At any
rate I wasn't going to keep the shed on after the year was up. I've only
used it about half a dozen times and it wasn't worth the money I was
paying you."

He remained at home much later than usual that afternoon, in case the
police should come to make any inquiries, but, to his relief, nothing
happened, and determined to carry on just as usual he drove into Norwich
to the club. Later in the evening he went, by invitation, to the
Rectory, and Dorothy played for him. He thought she was looking so
wonderfully pretty that, when they happened to be alone for a few
minutes, it was only with an effort that he restrained himself from
seizing hold of her and kissing her.

About eleven o'clock he bade them good night with great reluctance and,
when he had gone, the Rector said thoughtfully to his daughter: "You
know, dear, I believe Mr. Hatherleigh thinks quite a lot of you, and if
you wanted----"

"But I don't want," snapped Dorothy, crimsoning up warmly. "I like him
well enough, but there'll never be anything beyond that." She spoke
sharply. "So don't you encourage him, Dad. I think you do."

The Rector pursed up his lips. "But you might do very much worse,
Dorothy. He's a fine fellow, quite well-to-do, and a good churchman. I'm
sure he'd be very kind to you."

She turned on him in a flash. "Has he been lending you money, Dad?" she
asked peremptorily. She nodded. "I believe he has."

It was now the Rector's turn to get red. "Just a little, Dorothy," he
replied uncomfortably, "just enough to help us get our new car and pay
off those few bills I had."

"But I don't like it," she said, looking most disturbed. "It puts us
under an obligation to him and will make him think I've got to be nice
to him in consequence. I noticed to-night he seemed as if he thought he
had some right to make me do what he wanted when he asked me to play for
him. He gave me what I took to be quite a possessive smile."

"Nonsense!" commented her father irritably. "Mr. Hatherleigh's not that
kind of man. He'd never take an inch more than you allowed him."

"I'm not so sure of that," retorted Dorothy. "At any rate I'm a bit
afraid of him."

"Well, don't be," frowned the Rector, "and realize I should be quite
pleased to have him for a son-in-law."

The next morning Dorothy went into Norwich to do some shopping, and
quite by chance Larose was passing in his car and saw her going into a
florist's. As Hardacre had done the previous evening, he thought how
pretty she looked, and a sharp pang of horror stabbed him as he
visualized her in Hatherleigh's arms. She must be warned somehow, and he
pulled up his car to the kerb and, alighting, waited for her to come out
of the shop.

"Good morning, Miss Bannister," he smiled, when at length he saw her.
"You haven't forgotten our little talk, have you?"

"Certainly not," she replied, and the smile died from her face to be
replaced by a pretty frown, as she asked: "How are you getting on with
your inquiry?"

"Oh, not too badly," said Larose. "I'll get to the end of it one day."

"Any more suspects?" she asked.

"Lots more," laughed Larose, "dozens of them." His face sobered down.
"Ah, that reminds me. There's something very important I'd like you to
tell me and it's lucky we met like this." He nodded in the direction of
a cafe across the road. "What about us going in there and having a cup
of coffee?" Then, as she looked at her watch and hesitated, he added
earnestly: "Do please come, Miss Bannister, as it's very important and I
promise you that, afterwards, you'll be glad you did." He nodded. "Yes,
I really mean it. It's Fate that I've run into you here."

She hesitated no longer and, following him into the cafe, they sat down
in a corner where they would not be overheard. For a couple of minutes
or so they talked of general matters and then the girl asked sharply:
"Well, what is it you want to tell me?"

"Forgive my questioning you," said Larose, coming to the point as
quickly as she had, "but do you happen to be engaged to Mr.
Hatherleigh?"

She flushed, as if indignant that the question had been put to her.
"Certainly not!" she replied. "He's just a friend, nothing more." Her
eyes flashed. "But why do you want to know? What's that to do with you?"

"Only that I'd hate to see a girl like you tied up to a man like him,"
replied Larose quickly. He spoke very solemnly. "I tell you he's not a
nice man."

"You didn't know it the other day," she countered instantly. "You had
never heard of him until I told you about him. Then have you found out
anything since?"

Larose nodded. "Yes, and it's not to his credit." He spoke quickly.
"Look here, Miss Bannister, always be very careful about middle-aged men
who are bachelors and have lived a lot in the East--unless you know
everything about them. You understand?"

"No, I don't," she said sharply, and then she added a little more
gently, "but I'm sure you mean well."

"I do," said Larose, "and I see I'll have to put it more plainly." He
spoke emphatically. "I mean he's an out-and-out scoundrel with a
criminal record behind him."

She looked rather frightened. "Then, thank you for telling me. I'll be
on my guard." She frowned as if suddenly remembering something. "But he
comes regularly to our church every Sunday."

"To see you," smiled Larose, "and I don't wonder." His voice hardened.
"He's a loathsome hypocrite and I promise you shall have proof of it
before very long."

Her breath came quickly. "Can I warn Father?"

"No, no, please don't," he pleaded earnestly. "If you do, you may spoil
everything, besides getting me into dreadful trouble. I'm running a
great risk in warning you now, and if Mr. Hatherleigh gets to hear of it
he may try to get his revenge upon me in a terrible way. He's capable of
anything. Now promise me you won't say a word to a single soul."

The girl sighed. "All right, Mr. Larose. I promise you I won't speak."
She looked very troubled. "But how am I to meet him after this?"

"Oh, just do a bit of acting," smiled Larose. "I'm sure you'll be equal
to it." He frowned. "Avoid him as much as possible. But it won't have to
be for long. I promise you everybody will know everything very soon."

She heaved another sigh and then smiled back. "Well, let's talk about
something else while we finish our coffee. It's a pity to waste it."

They parted in a few minutes and, though not a little shocked at the
warning which had been given her, the girl felt she ought to be grateful
to Larose for having spoken to her. She was not doubting the truth of
what he had said.

Then the last thing she or Larose would have wished happened, for
Hardacre saw them as they were saying good-bye. He had come into Norwich
to have some small adjustments made to his car, and had just come out of
the garage when he caught sight of them on the pavement, not ten yards
away. Neither of them had noticed him, but, for some reason he did not
attempt to analyse then, he darted back instantly, to see them, however,
shake hands and immediately go off in different ways.

He scowled angrily. He had had no idea they had ever met and yet there
they had been smiling at each other as if they were quite old friends.
All his fears of Larose surged back, with the greater fear now that the
ex-detective might put the girl against him. He clenched his hands
tightly together. Gad, if only he could get his hands on the fellow's
neck!

The following afternoon Larose went into a small newsagent's and
tobacconist's shop in Hoxton and addressed himself smilingly to the
plump little man behind the counter.

"Remember me, Bert?" he asked.

The man screwed up his small piggy eyes. "No, sir, I don't.'"

"Oh, come now," laughed Larose. "What about those jewels you got from
that safe in Wadham Court and the seven years you got after? Think
again."

The man's jaw dropped, his round moon-like face went pale and he broke
into a nervous laugh. "Of course, of course, I remember you now, sir.
You're Inspector Larose."

"No, not now," said Larose. "You forget how time flies. Why, I've been
away from the Yard for longer than nine years and it must have been
about a year before that when you met with your little spot of trouble."

"So it was, sir, so it was," nodded the man. "It's ten years ago last
March." He lowered his voice. "I've been out three years."

"And how's trade?" asked Larose.

"Not bad." He shrugged his shoulders and made a grimace round the little
shop. "Just jogging along. That's all." He grinned a little sheepishly.
"Things are not so exciting as they used to be."

"Going straight?" asked Larose.

He looked indignant. "Oh yes, sir, of course!"

Larose eyed him intently. "Well, would you like to earn ten pounds?" He
spoke sharply. "Ten pounds to do a little job for me and keep your mouth
shut afterwards."

The man's piggy eyes blinked. "What sort of job?" he asked.

"Open a safe. Quite an easy job and won't take you ten minutes. The safe
looks an old-fashioned one and shouldn't give you any trouble. It's
almost certain to be a cylinder lock."

"Your safe?" asked the man frowningly.

Larose shook his head. "No, someone else's whom I know quite well, and
so there'll be no pinching anything. I just want to find out if this
man's got some papers which he won't tell me about. Nothing will be
touched. One look to see if the papers are there and that will be all."

The man whistled in surprise. "Whew, you want me to break in somewhere?"

"Not at all," laughed Larose. "The man will be away, the hall door will
be open and the servants won't hear a sound. Still, if they did I could
easily square them." He spoke emphatically. "Any trouble and I'll take
all the blame. We'll go into the house together to do the job."

"When do you want me?" asked the man.

"Now, straightaway. It's in the country and a good way from Town. If we
start at once you'll be able to come back by train so that you'll be
home about midnight. Can you leave the shop? Then get what you think
you'll want and come at once. I've got my car a little way up the
street."

The one-time convict was quite agreeable and, in a few minutes, they
were on their way to St. Michael's for Larose to have a good look inside
Hatherleigh's safe. It was quite probable Hatherleigh might still have
some of those white tablets there, the ones he had been taking for the
supposed malady at Burnham, keeping them handy in case he ever had some
sort of relapse. If that were so, the chemist's label would certainly be
on the bottle and, from the number of the prescription, positive proof
would be forthcoming that Dr. Monk had given it. Also, there was just a
chance the missing rifle might be in the safe, too.

He had no trust, however, in the man he was taking with him to open the
safe, rightly judging him to be of that criminal type which can never
break wholly with unlawful ways. He had no intention of letting him
learn where he was being taken and, accordingly, when they had passed
through Norwich, made a detour of at least a dozen miles, through many
little by-roads, before they reached St. Michael's.

He pulled up his car in a lane some couple of hundred yards or so from
the Manor and motioned to Bert to follow him. He was quite confident
they would not be interrupted, as he knew Hatherleigh was going to be
away that evening at a club dinner, and he had arranged with Jane for
her and her sister to keep well out of the way. He had told the former
what he was intending to do and, though a little frightened, she was so
incensed with her master for his secrecy about the boy to whom they had
become so attached, that she was quite prepared to do everything asked
of her.

They found the front door unlocked and with no delay tiptoed into the
study. "Now one thing, first," whispered Larose. "We'll have a safe way
of clearing out if we're interrupted," and, very softly, he slipped the
bolt at the bottom of the big french window and left the window just
ajar. After a quick glance at the safe, Bert took a few things out of
his pocket and, kneeling down before the door, prepared for action.

A great surprise, however, awaited them. The door of the safe was not
shut, but only just pushed to, and all the ex-convict had to do was to
pull it open!

"Great Scot!" exclaimed Larose, looking most annoyed, "and I've brought
you down all this way for nothing."

"But I'll get my ten quid, won't I?" asked Bert anxiously. "I was ready
here to do the job, wasn't I?"

"Of course you'll have the money," nodded Larose and then, noting a
little wad of bank-notes upon the floor of the safe right in front of
everything, he ordered Bert peremptorily to stand back. "Here, you go
and sit in that chair over there and don't walk about the room. Your
work's done and we'll be off again in two minutes."

Very reluctantly Bert did as he was told, for his natural curiosity was
strong and, apart from that, he, too, had caught sight of the wad of
bank-notes. He smacked his lips enviously, wondering how many fivers
would be there.

Then, at once, Larose's eyes fell upon a large bottle nearly full of
small white tablets, with the label of a well-known Regent Street
chemist upon it. Underneath he read: "Iodide of Potassium. 10 grains.
1,000 tablets. Mr. C. Henson. To be taken as directed M.H. 2404."

His eyes glistened. He had the number of the prescription and it would
be quite easy to learn by what doctor and when it had been given.

He had a quick look through a number of documents, but there was nothing
of interest to him, and he pushed to the safe door softly, leaving it as
they had found it. Then, preceded by Bert, they tiptoed from the room
and the house.

"Now," said Larose as they were driving away, "I'll take you into
Norwich and you'll be able to catch the eight-twenty-five. If we miss
that, there's the last one at eleven-twenty. Have a cigarette?"

Bert was quite agreeable but, when it came to lighting it, there was
some delay as Larose could not find his silver match-box anywhere in his
pocket and his companion had no matches on him. However, Larose
eventually found some in one of the pockets of the car. A minute or two
later Bert's hand came into contact with a small object, smooth and
hard, upon the seat between them and, realizing it must be the missing
match-box, said nothing and slipped it into his own pocket. From the
feel of it he guessed it would probably be a silver one, and he thought,
with a grin, that it would be a nice little memento of his adventure
with the one-time great Inspector of Scotland Yard.

Depositing him at the railway station in Norwich, Larose gave Bert the
promised ten pounds and added one pound to cover his fare back to Town,
bidding good-bye to him, quite confident that the man had no idea as to
where he had been taken and would not be able to find out.

In the last supposition, however, he was very much mistaken for, while
sitting in the chair as Larose was going through the contents of the
safe, Bert's sharp and cunning little eyes had fallen upon an envelope
upon the mantelpiece addressed to Clement Hatherleigh, Esq., The Manor,
St. Michael's, and all the drive back into Norwich he had been thinking
hard.

What an opportunity was awaiting him! A front door unlocked, a safe open
and a bundle of good, crisp bank-notes only waiting to be taken! Larose,
too, had told him the master of the house would not be returning until
well after midnight and that the coast was quite clear until then. Yes,
the chance was much too good to be missed!

So, when Larose had left him, giving no thought to the eight-twenty-five
train, he walked quickly out of the railway station into the street. The
first thing to find out was where this village of St. Michael's was, and
he learnt it with the first inquiry he made.

"Here, sonny," he said to a boy selling papers, "where's a place called
St. Michael's?"

"Ten miles out on the Holt road," replied the boy. He pointed across the
street. "That bus there will take you. It goes right through and it is
just going to start."

So in less than a couple of minutes Bert was tucked inside the bus and
was speeding through the city. Then good fortune still continued to
favour him for, just before the bus pulled up in St. Michael's, he
recognized the two white pillars at the entrance to the drive of the
Manor, between which he had passed with Larose less than an hour
previously.

"Gosh, what a bit of luck!" he murmured. "Why, the whole thing's been
arranged for me."

To his great joy, he found the front door still unlocked, and, in a few
moments, by the light of a new moon, was creeping through the hall into
the study. The study was in complete darkness, but he chuckled in
amusement at the way things were all shaping for him as he struck a
match from Larose's silver box to locate the position of the electric
light switch. The door of the safe was still only pushed to and, very
quickly, he pocketed the bundle of notes and was rummaging through the
other things the safe contained. But there was no jewellery and nothing
he thought he could make use of.

So in a minute or two he desisted from his searching and pushed to the
safe door again. Then for a few moments he stood hesitating. Should he
leave the door as he had found it or shut it properly? He decided to
shut it, arguing that most probably the owner of the safe was not aware
how careless he had been, and so, when he came home, if he happened to
look at the safe and saw it looked all right, he was not likely to open
it and look inside until he had some reason for going to it again. In
that case it might be even some days before he would discover the loss
of the bank-notes.

He closed the door as gently as he could, with only a faintly audible
click, and left the house without a second's delay. Then, to his great
joy, not ten minutes later a Norwich-bound bus overtook him, and,
arriving in the city in plenty of time to catch the last train for
London, he reached home without event in the small hours of the morning.
He had counted the notes and there was 215 in the wad.

Hardacre arrived home soon after midnight and put himself to bed at
once. He was not feeling too bright after a very worrying day. Although
he kept on reassuring himself that he was quite safe and had absolutely
nothing to fear, yet nevertheless he had been continually going over
everything again and again. How was it someone had come to take the
trouble to scoop up all that sand, indeed how was it anyone, in the
first instance, had come to go into the shed? Then how was it no one
from the police had come to him and repeated the tale the finder of
Harold's body must have told them, on the chance the tale were true and
that he, Hardacre, could throw light upon someone who might have been
making use of the shed?

He, Hardacre, had been all prepared to meet any detective in a breezy
hearty manner and, while expressing great surprise, pretend to be
greatly amused and to throw doubt upon the whole matter.

But the police had not come, nothing had happened and the very silence
had been disquieting. It was just as if he were ringed round with
enemies, betraying no sign of their presence and yet, perhaps, working
feverishly to close in upon him.

He slept very badly and soon after five woke up and could not drop into
a doze again. Presently, he thought he would be all the better for a
brandy and soda, added to which he would take a good dose of his iodide
of potassium tablets. They always seemed to steady his nerves.

He put on his dressing-gown and went downstairs. He heard no sound of
movement in the house, but did not expect any, as it was much too early
for the servants to be about. Proceeding into the study, where he always
kept some good liqueur brandy in a cupboard, he switched on the light
and then his half blinking eyes fell upon an object on the carpet at his
feet. He picked it up and saw it was a silver match-box. He frowned,
wondering how it had come there. Then his frown deepened until his
eyebrows almost came together and his mouth gaped wide. Surely, he
recognized it? It was of an unusual shape and had he not seen it often,
lying on the table when they had been playing poker at the Norwich Club?
It had the letters G.L. engraved upon it! He scowled. Yes, it must be
the one belonging to Gilbert Larose!

Dumbfounded in his astonishment, for a long minute he stood staring at
the match-box in his hand, and then his eyes wandered round the room,
almost as if expecting to see the owner of it there, too. The long
curtain before the french window stirred and, the draught fanning his
face, with a sharp exclamation, he strode over and pulled the curtain
aside. The window was open!

For the moment not associating everything together, he put the match-box
on the mantelshelf and, going to the cupboard, proceeded to mix himself
a stiff brandy and soda. Then, remembering the tablets he was intending
to take, he took the bunch of keys he had brought down with him in the
pocket of his dressing-gown and opened the safe.

He reached for the big bottle of tablets automatically and was actually
about to unscrew the stopper before he realized the disorder in the
contents of the safe. They were not as he had left them and his papers
had been pushed about everywhere. What the devil did it mean?

A startled expression froze upon his face and he almost choked in
consternation. He rapped out a fierce oath and, dropping the bottle of
tablets upon the carpet in his haste, began searching feverishly for the
bundle of bank-notes he knew should be there.

"They've gone!" he exclaimed hoarsely. "The safe's been rifled!" and a
wave of terror surged through him as he added: "It's that devil,
Larose!"

Some few minutes later he was lying back heavily in his big arm-chair
and, with a second brandy and soda in his shaking hand, putting
everything, as he thought, together.

During the night Larose had broken into his house through the french
window, opened his safe and stolen more than 200 in Bank of England
notes! His match-box had dropped out of his pocket and, unknowingly, he
had left it behind him!

All that was evident and there could be no question about it. Then,
however, came the mystery, and even in his fury Hardacre sweated with
fear. Larose was upon his track! Why and what for? Why had Larose broken
into the house and opened the safe?

It had certainly not been for the money, because he could not have known
it would be there. That was just blind chance and, in a way, Hardacre
thought he could understand it. Perhaps, with all Larose's bounce and
swank at being considered by everyone as the master of a fine property
like Carmel Abbey, his flash wife kept him short of ready money and,
having mixed all his life with thieves and pick-pockets, he had become
as light-fingered as any of them and prepared to snatch at anything that
came his way.

Still, if he had certainly not come after the money, what had he come
for? Why was he interfering in his, Hardacre's, affairs at all, and what
had he been hoping to find in the safe? Even if he had been the one to
discover Harold's body and he, Hardacre, could not yet bring himself to
believe that was undoubtedly the case, surely by no stretch of
imagination could he have been expecting to come upon anything there to
help him make good the discredited story he might have told the police?

Sick with apprehension and with a bad headache, he switched off the
light and returned upstairs. Then, thinking it would do him good, he got
himself a very hot bath. Soothed by the warmth, his head became easier
and then, all suddenly, his courage came back and he made up his mind to
take the boldest course, which so often was the best.

Larose had nothing against him, he couldn't have, but he had something
against Larose and, by hell, he would show him up. He would go straight
to Major Battey and lay everything before him. The Chief Constable had
always been most friendly when they met at the club and, apart from
that, would have to take notice of what he told him.

No, he would not actually lay a charge against Larose. The police would
do that and Larose would be asked to explain where he was during the
night. That would be a nasty snag for him. Of course, he had broken into
the house, after he, Hardacre, had come in, and that would have been
after midnight, and perhaps well on into the small hours of the morning.
The servants were always late ones to go to bed and Larose would not
have dared to start while any of the lights in the house were burning.

Hardacre lay a long time in the bath, gloating over the humiliation in
store for Larose and then, dressing leisurely, proceeded downstairs. It
was daylight now and he could hear movements in the kitchen. Going into
the study, he examined the bolt of the long french window and saw, as he
had expected, that the bolt could easily have been manipulated from
outside by anyone with the proper tools.

Then, he remembered he had left the match-box on the mantelshelf and
turned round to examine it again and put it away safely in his pocket.
But to his amazement he could not see it anywhere, and his face broke
into a puzzled frown. He was quite certain he had put it on the
mantelshelf. He remembered most distinctly. He looked everywhere, but it
was nowhere to be seen, and he hurried up to his bedroom to make sure he
had not slipped it in the pocket of his pyjamas. But it was not there or
anywhere in the room.

He almost ran downstairs into the kitchen where Ellen was lighting the
kitchen fire. "Where have you put that silver match-box that was on the
mantelshelf in the study?" he asked peremptorily.

The girl looked blank. "I haven't touched any match-box, sir," she
replied. "I haven't seen one."

He regarded her scowlingly. "But you must have moved it. It was there
half an hour ago."

"But I haven't been in the study this morning, sir."

"What about Jane? Where's she?"

"She's in bed, sir. She's not got up yet. She's got one of her sick
headaches."

So Hardacre went back into the study for another search, but to his
increasing anger and amazement with no success. He strode back into the
kitchen again. "Look here, what time did you go upstairs last night?
Half-past eleven? Then did anyone call after I left yesterday afternoon?
And the front door was never opened? Then did you hear me come in?"

"Yes, sir, the closing of the door woke me up. I am a light sleeper."

"And you heard no other movements in the night?"

The girl seemed surprised. "No, sir, nothing at all until I heard you go
downstairs very early this morning. Then I went off to sleep again."

Hardacre could tell she was speaking the truth. She was a simple-minded
girl and not of the kind who could carry on any deception, without
showing it. He turned and left the kitchen without another word, cursing
savagely under his breath. So that damned Larose had discovered he had
left his match-box behind and had actually had the nerve to come back
and get it! It was almost unbelievable! Of course, he had got it when
he, Hardacre, had been having his bath. He gnashed his teeth together.
No matter, he would get even with him in another and more direct manner.

But if Hardacre were furious because the evidence he had had against
Larose had been snatched from him, he would have been much more furious,
and even terror-struck, too, if he had only known what had really
happened.

Jane, knowing her sister's timid disposition, had told her nothing of
Larose's intention to come in and open the safe. So, it had been she
who had opened the front door directly it had become dark and closed it
again, as arranged with Larose, after eleven o'clock. Then, passing a
worried and wakeful night, she had heard her master moving about very
early that morning and, later, giving himself a bath.

Unable to explain his getting up so early and uneasy as to what he had
been doing in the study, without waking her sister, she had crept
downstairs while Hardacre was in the bathroom to see if anything about
the house looked as if it had been disturbed. Then almost the first
thing her eyes had fallen upon in the study had been the silver
match-box and, having once seen Larose light a cigarette with it, she
had instantly recognized it as his. She had snatched it up and, creeping
back to bed, hidden it under her pillow. Later, she had had difficulty
in suppressing a good laugh when her sister told her of the hard
questioning she had been put through by her master.




CHAPTER IX.--THE PERIL OF LAROSE.

THE ensuing few days were most unpleasant ones for the one-time trader
of Hoichow. He was allowing his temper to get the better of him, and it
was upsetting him both mentally and physically. He had an almost
constant headache and was sleeping very badly.

He was furious with Larose and it galled him most intensely that he
could think of no way of punishing him. That the ex-detective was
interfering in his affairs there could now be not the slightest doubt,
though what was causing him to do so he could not for the life of him
make out. He was not worrying, however, that Larose could have found out
anything, for he was supremely confident, no matter what the latter was
suspecting, he would not be able to bring anything home to him. It was
his insolent interference he was resenting so keenly and, added to that,
his colossal impudence in breaking into the house and taking that money
from the safe.

Why, the fellow was nothing but a common thief and yet there he was
going about a country gentleman of the best repute, mixing with the best
society people and, apparently, held in esteem by everyone! The devil of
it was he, Hardacre, could not make any move against him. He dare not
even inform the police he had been robbed, for that would mean them
coming to question the servants and then, damnation, he did not know
what they might find out. The maids might so easily come to mention about
Harold Smith having recently been an inmate of the Manor and, giving a
description of him, it might be realized it tallied with that of the man
whose body someone had made out he had dug up from under the sand in the
shed.

That would be most dangerous, as it would at once focus attention upon
him. The police would be bound to think it more than a coincidence that
he had rushed a very sick boy away under most peculiar circumstances,
and then that this boy's body was later alleged to have been seen,
buried upon property rented by him.

Another thing, too, was angering him. Time was going on and he was not
making the slightest headway with Dorothy Bannister. On the contrary, a
distinct barrier seemed to have risen up between them and, with Larose
apparently now having become friendly with the girl, things might go on
to be much worse.

Hardacre cursed his own foolishness here. Most probably he had made a
mistake about the girl. He had not gone after her in the right way.
Women, at bottom, were all the same. They liked to meet their master and
he should have dealt with her as he had dealt with Winna Mee. No
nonsense, but just taking things for granted, and she would quickly have
come round. He ought to have kissed her long ago. Well, he would lose no
more time now. He was sick of all this church-going and pretending
respect for her silly old father and lending him money and listening to
his prosy rotten stories. Yes, he would catch the girl alone; perhaps
one day when she was arranging the altar flowers in the church, and
straightaway put things to the test.

Then he remembered it was the Rector's "at home" day that afternoon and,
although he detested tea-parties, he made up his mind to be present and
dominate everyone there with his personality, as he was sure he would be
able to do. Probably, there would be only some frowsy old women calling,
and perhaps a few rheumatically worn-out old men. So he would shine
among them as one quite out of the ordinary and make the girl realize
she should be flattered by his attention to her.

His confident mood prevailed all that morning, but it got a bit of a jar
when, driving into the Rectory grounds about four o'clock, he recognized
Larose's car, along with two others, in the drive. Apart from what he
considered its big and vulgar silver kangaroo mascot, there could never
be any mistake about the Carmel Abbey car. It was of such a peculiar
sky-blue colour, with silver mountings and, whenever fine, winter and
summer, Larose always drove it with the hood down.

Hardacre cursed deeply and for the moment was half inclined to turn back
and go away. What was the damned policeman doing there? He had never
known him visit the Rectory before and neither the father nor daughter
had ever mentioned his name. Well, he, Hardacre, was not going to sit
down in the same room with him. He would--he would, oh, damn it, he
would go in and just bluff him out. He would play the game, too, and not
let him, Larose, dream he knew what a thieving blackguard he was.

So it was the usual self-possessed and smiling gentleman who was ushered
by the parlour-maid into the Rectory drawing-room. There were about a
dozen people present and, among them sitting next to Larose, he saw a
good-looking and distinguished woman whom he knew at once from what he
had heard about her must be Mrs. Larose. He was introduced to everyone
he did not know, and gave them a grave but smiling bow.

"So glad you've come, sir," nodded the Rector smilingly. "We've just
been talking about you and Mr. Larose was saying he must have been
causing you considerable financial loss, lately."

"Oh," exclaimed Hardacre, cursing, how true it was and yet so aghast at
the ex-detective's bare-faced effrontery that he could hardly get out
his words, "and pray in what way?"

"Well, I only meant," smiled Larose, "that, not having been to the club
lately, I've not had to write you any nice fat cheques for my losses at
poker. I was telling them here that I've not fancied myself nearly so
much as a poker player since I met you."

"Oh, that's it, is it?" frowned Hardacre. He forced his face to a grim
smile. "Still, all the same I should say you are always at your best
whenever there is any money about."

Larose felt himself getting red. He was uncertain as to whether it was
just a casual remark or a pointed reference to his having married a
wealthy widow. He was hesitating what to say when the Rector broke in
pompously. "But gambling in any form is wrong, it is unsocial and leads
to many crimes, still"--his face broke into a smile--"in this particular
case I am almost inclined to condone it, as our friend here"--he
indicated Hardacre--"contributes so liberally to the church funds."

Everyone laughed and Hardacre felt pleased that he'd made Larose look
uncomfortable. A moment later, however, he could with difficulty
suppress a vicious scowl as he saw Larose take out a cigarette and
proceed to light it with a wax vesta which he abstracted from a gold
match-box. "Damn him," he swore under his breath, "and I expect he
treated himself to that out of the money he stole from me, the thieving
brute!"

For a few minutes the conversation became general, but Hardacre
contented himself with watching Dorothy flitting about, and thinking
what a nice morsel she would make when he could get hold of her alone.
Then it suddenly came to him that she was avoiding him and, even with
all those people present, was keeping as far away from him as possible.
When he spoke to her, too, he was sure she purposely avoided looking at
him more than she could help and then her expression was a grave one.

Damn her, she had been put against him, he was certain, and of course,
the only person who would have done it had been Larose! A black rage
surged up into his heart as he realized how pointedly she was neglecting
him and hovering all the time round Larose and his wife.

Presently a short break in the general conversation ensued and then an
old gentleman remarked: "But I say, Mr. Larose, what's this I hear about
a wager you've made with Colonel Maitland that you'll bring down more
birds than he at Lord Ivor's shoot this week?"

"It's quite true," smiled Larose. "We're shooting at Ivor Park the day
after to-morrow, and I've bet the Colonel a tenner, to go to the Burnham
Cottage Hospital whoever has to pay, that my bag is bigger than his.
We're shooting from ten to four and we'll toss for choice of positions."

"Let me see," went on the other. "Ivor Park is close to your place, is
it not?"

"Fifteen miles by the main road from Carmel Abbey," replied Larose, "but
by going through Holkham village and cutting through a by-road from
there it knocks off a good three. The by-road brings me out only a
couple of hundred yards or so from my own gates."

A dreadful thought surged instantly through Hardacre's mind. A lonely
by-road and it would be dark when Larose was returning from the shoot!
Then it might be possible to put a bullet in him as he was coming home!
It was worth thinking about, for he, Hardacre, was willing now to take
almost any risk to prevent him doing any further mischief. He would
shoot him with no more compunction than he would a mad dog.

That night, he pored for a long while over a big Ordnance map of Norfolk
until he was certain he had worked out the exact way Larose would come.
Passing, as he had said he would do, through Holkham village, there
seemed to be only one by-road Larose could take and that, to Hardacre's
great satisfaction, appeared to be a lonely one with no village and only
a few scattered farmhouses near.

The weather, too, should be most favourable, for it looked as if it
would continue to be fine and settled. It would be quite dark as Larose
would be coming along, but with a half-moon rising at four o'clock and
with Larose driving, as he always did in fine weather, with the hood
down, he should present an easy target.

There was only one possible snag. Larose always drove at a fast pace and
it might not be possible to get him with the first shot. That, however,
was most essential, for the .303 rifle he, Hardacre, was intending to
use made considerable noise and, while one report would leave anyone who
heard it in some doubt as to which direction it had come from, two or
more reports would make them quite certain and add to the risk of his
getting away unseen.

Still, he would go over the ground thoroughly the next day and pick out
not only the most favourable spot for an ambush but also where to hide
away his own car while he was stalking his quarry.

Accordingly, the next morning he made his way to Holkham village and
picked out the by-road along which Larose would come. There was no
difficulty there, for only one road from the village ran in the
direction of Carmel Abbey. It was nearly four miles in length and,
narrow and winding, would not be able to be negotiated with safety at a
great speed. As he had gathered from his study of the map the preceding
evening, the road was very lonely and there were not a dozen habitations
along its whole length.

Driving slowly along it, and scrutinizing hard on either side to
determine where he could best hold up his intended victim, an exultant
smile came into his face when he thought he had found the very spot he
wanted. It was a shallow cutting running through a small hill, and at
the end of the cutting there was a sharp bend, almost of a hairpin
nature. Any approaching car would have to slow down almost to a walking
pace to negotiate the bend in safety.

Stopping his car and getting out, he climbed up the bank. There was a
small plantation of trees at the top and, crouching down among them, he
would be out of sight of anyone coming along the road. The only drawback
was, and he frowned here, there was a small farmhouse about three
hundred yards away, but he saw no dogs about and there were no men at
work in the surrounding fields.

His next move was to find a place where he would be able to hide his
car, and there again he was favoured, for less than a quarter of a mile
farther up the road he came upon a disused gravel pit. If he drove right
in, his car would be out of sight of anyone passing along the road.

Quite satisfied that he had got everything as he wanted it, he returned
home to await with what patience he could the coming of the following
day. One thing only he was regretting, and that was he would have to
part with his good rifle, at any rate for the time being. Still, he had
picked out a likely spot where he could bury it under some leaves and,
wrapped well round with an old mackintosh, he was thinking it would come
to no harm for a month or two. Then he would be able to recover it again
when all search for the killer of the ex-detective would have died down.

The following evening, just when dusk had fallen, he took up his
position among the trees above the bank of the cutting. He seated
himself down comfortably with his back against a tree. He had got his
rifle upon his knees and a good pair of binoculars upon the ground by
his side. He reckoned he would have plenty of warning of the car's
approach, as he would be able to pick up the headlights upon a stretch
of higher ground about a couple of miles away.

He was pleased that he did not feel in the slightest degree nervous and,
a sure shot, he had no misgiving that he would not be able to get Larose
with one bullet. He was in such a favourable position that he could wait
until Larose was absolutely level with him and then shoot him in the
head. It would be only a matter of ten yards or so and he could not
possibly miss. He would fire lying prone and his hands would be steady
as a rock.

The evening was fine and cold and with a nip of frost in the air.
Everything stood out as clear as day. There were no sounds coming from
the direction of the farmhouse behind him and he was almost thinking it
must be uninhabited until, turning round to look, he saw a light in one
of the windows. He frowned uneasily, but then, after a moment's thought,
told himself it didn't matter, as two minutes after he had done with
Larose he would be well on his way to the gravel pit where he had left
his car, and five minutes after that would be driving quickly away.

Half an hour went by, an hour, and he began to feel stiff and chilled.
He cursed, as he knew it might mean a bout of malaria for him. Then he
sneezed violently and in the stillness all around him it sounded like a
veritable explosion.

Then almost immediately he saw a faint light in the sky far away in the
direction he was expecting Larose to come and guessed at once it was
that of his car. He picked up the binoculars and focused them carefully
upon the stretch of road where he would first catch sight of the car.

It appeared quickly and one glance told him it was that of Larose. As he
had been expecting he would, the latter was driving with the hood down.
He stretched himself prone and, cocking the rifle, got it in the exact
position he wanted. Certainly it would be an easy shot, for the car
would have to be going so very slowly in order to take the turn.

The car momentarily disappeared from view on the lower stretch of road,
but he could hear it plainly now, and he moistened his lips in
anticipation.

What a fine revenge it would be to shoot the blackguard so near to his
very home! No doubt his purse-proud, red-haired wife would be waiting
for him, looking forward to hearing how he had got on with the
pheasants. Of course, there would be a comfortable fire burning in the
lounge, and in the kitchen a nice dinner would be in preparation.
Perhaps the butler would already have brought up a bottle of that fine
old Burgundy for which the Carmel Abbey cellars were so famed, in order
that it might be at just the correct temperature to be served with the
meal.

Perhaps, too, Larose's children would be waiting to greet their father
and, even now, be listening for the sound of his car coming up the
drive. A pretty domestic picture, he sneered, and he was going to spoil
it all! The car would be brought home blood-bespattered over the
driver's seat, the children would never see their father alive again,
the dinner would never be eaten and the red-haired woman would go a
widow to her lonely bed that night!

The car came into view a couple of hundred yards or so away. It was
already beginning to slow down, for the master of Carmel Abbey was known
to be a careful driver and sparing with his brakes. Yes, it was Larose
sure enough and, proud of his hardiness, he was driving as usual without
a hat. He was smoking a cigar, all unmindful that he was within a few
seconds of a bloody death.

Only a hundred yards away, fifty now, and the car was almost at a crawl.
Hardacre could even see Larose knock the ashes off his cigar over the
side of the car.

With a brain as cold as ice and with hands perfectly steady, Hardacre
pointed the rifle and prepared to press the trigger the split second
when Larose drew level.

Then it was as if the hand of God gripped him, or a thunderbolt came
hurtling out of the sky. Everything underwent a most startling change
and a curtain, black as night, fell between him and the man he was
intending to murder.

He heard a savage snarl behind him, a heavy weight impinged upon his
back, his right arm was tugged away and he felt sharp teeth biting into
the flesh. It was so sudden that he was bereft even of an oath. His
rifle slid out of his hands, he rolled on to his side, and, as his arm
was let go, he realized a big snarling beast was muzzling for his
throat.

He awoke fiercely to self-protection and, striking wildly at the animal,
struggled to rise to his feet.

Then he heard a harsh voice shouting. "Come off, you brute," it roared.
"Come off, I tell you," and he rose shakily to find himself confronted
by three men, one of whom was tugging at the collar of a big dog.

For a few moments he was too dazed to take in what had happened, but the
smarting of his bitten arm went a long way towards bringing him to his
senses, and he started to swear savagely at the man he presumed to be
the owner of the dog.

"Damn you," he shouted, "what do you mean by setting that dog on to me?
I'm badly bitten and I'll have the law on you." He made a move to pick
up his rifle. "I'll shoot the brute."

But the man pushed him roughly away. "No you don't, my fine fellow.
We'll have none of that. You leave that gun of yours alone or we'll give
you the father of a thrashing before handing you over to the police." He
nodded darkly. "You're up to no good here. We've been watching you for
quite a long time."

The man lied here, as his panting breath might have told Hardacre had
the latter been in a state to be more observant. He had only just run
up, and how it had happened that he and his men had arrived so
unexpectedly upon the scene had come about in this way.

When Hardacre had sneezed he had had an audience. A few minutes
previously the farmer's small son had crept up with his air rifle to a
rabbit burrow just beyond the clump of trees where Hardacre was lying in
wait. He was hoping to shoot a rabbit, and sitting perfectly still, was
waiting for one to appear. He was as unconscious of Hardacre's proximity
as Hardacre was unconscious of his. Then to his consternation he had
heard someone sneeze close by him and, turning round, to his terror had
seen the figure of a man among the trees. He had scuttled back like
lightning to the house and told his father. Thereupon, taking his two
men with him and accompanied by their dog, the little party had raced
off to the plantation to find out what the trespasser was doing there.
The dog had already tackled Hardacre when they came up, and they were
just too late to notice Larose and his car disappear round the bend in
the road. Convinced that the stranger had come after the pheasants, the
farmer was now regarding him with menacing eyes.

"Yes, you've come poaching," he went on sternly, "and we've caught you
right enough. What have you got to say?"

Hardacre was now himself again and, though furious that Larose had
escaped him, yet was collected enough to realize he was in an awkward
situation. He was prepared to bluff it out.

"Don't be a fool," he exclaimed angrily. "That's a rifle and not a
shot-gun. What would I come shooting for with a heavy rifle like that?
Why, it would be heard miles away! I was out for a stroll and just
sitting down here for a rest."

"Where do you come from," demanded the farmer, "and who are you? You
don't belong to these parts!"

"Certainly not," retorted Hardacre. "And as to who I am and where I come
from, that's nothing to do with you."

"But you were trespassing," scowled the farmer. "You've no business to
be on my land."

Hardacre shrugged his shoulders contemptuously. "But what harm have I
done?" he asked. "What damage have I caused?" His arm hurt him and he
went on angrily: "It would serve you right if I shot your dog."

The farmer picked up the rifle. "Gosh, it's at full cock!" he exclaimed.
He eyed Hardacre most suspiciously. "What does that mean?"

"I saw a fox on the road," explained Hardacre calmly, "and, if you
hadn't interfered, in another minute would have got rid of a pest for
you and probably saved some of your fowls."

The farmer let down the trigger carefully and, backing away from
Hardacre, proceeded to empty the contents of the magazine methodically
on to the ground. Then he tossed the rifle towards Hardacre. "There you
are," he said scornfully. "Take it and get off quick. I don't believe a
word you say, but Boxer's given you a good fright and I'll have to be
content with that. Go on, get off, or I'll set the dog on to you again."

Hardacre ground his teeth with rage, and with the rifle as a weapon in
his hands, for the moment was half inclined to put up a fight, but, with
the dog straining to get at him and the farmer and his men all
burly-looking fellows, he thought better of it, and with an oath turned
and walked down on to the road.

The three men watched him out of sight and then with a chuckle the
farmer picked up the binoculars which he had, purposely, let him go
without. "A nice little souvenir," he remarked as he noticed with
satisfaction what a good pair they were, "and I'll bet any money he
won't dare to come back to claim them." He nodded to one of the men.
"Pick up those cartridges, Jim, and make sure you get every one. We
don't want him to come sneaking round and putting a bullet into Boxer
for that bite he gave him." He shook his head frowningly. "But I'd give
a couple of pounds to know what that fine gentleman was waiting here
for. It's quite beyond me."

In the meantime, all unconscious of the dreadful fate he had so narrowly
escaped, Larose proceeded blithely home. As his would-be murderer had
gloatingly surmised, his handsome red-haired wife was waiting with a
smile and a kiss for him, and his children were all ready to run to the
door when they heard his car approaching. There were the bright fire and
the good dinner, too. The only thing where Hardacre was wrong was about
what Larose drank at the meal. It was not Burgundy, but champagne, for
he had won his bet about the pheasants and beaten Colonel Maitland by a
brace and a half. It had been such an exciting win that Larose thought a
bottle of sparkling wine was quite justified under the circumstances.

Just when the meal was ending the butler came in to say Larose was
wanted on the phone. "A trunk call from London, sir," he added. "And the
gentleman says the matter is urgent."

It was Inspector Stone speaking from Scotland Yard, and he asked
sharply: "Well, Gilbert, have you finished that little matter you were
investigating?"

"Now don't be sarcastic, Charlie," laughed Larose. "Of course I haven't,
or I'd have come up to you at once. I've marked down my bird right
enough, but I daren't shoot because I've not got a good enough cartridge
in my gun. To be frank with you, I'm at a bit of a dead end."

"Well, you come up and see me at once," commented Stone, "and I think
together we'll be able to make the feathers fly." He spoke reprovingly.
"The trouble with you, Gilbert, always has been that you're too cocky
and want to do everything on your own. If you were a little bit more
humble it would be better for everyone. Now, can you come up to-morrow?"

Larose pretended to sigh. "All right, Grandpapa. I suppose I must if you
want me. Yes, I'll be with you at twelve o'clock, and we'll go out to
lunch together."

The following morning the Inspector was all ready waiting, and he
unburdened himself with what was on his mind without any preliminary.
"Now that man Hatherleigh," he asked, "whom you suspect of something,
and about whom you got us to make some inquiries at his hotel, is he a
man who always thinks he's someone important and goes about with a grand
frown? Oh, that's pretty like him, is it?" He picked up a paper from his
desk and, glancing down at it, went on: "And he's a tall, big fellow,
dark-complexioned and drives a dark green limousine?"

"That's the man," nodded Larose. "What do you know about him?"

Stone looked very grim. "Only that on Saturday, August the nineteenth
last, the day before Dr. Monk was shot, a man of that description and in
a car of that colour pulled up in the road about half a mile from
Hickling Broad and asked two young women who were blackberrying close by
if they could tell him where the doctor lived. So, undoubtedly, he was
the man spying out the land that afternoon and the killer of the next
day."

"Good God," exclaimed Larose, his face aghast, "when did you learn
that?"

"Only yesterday morning," replied Stone solemnly, "and I spoke to the
girls in the afternoon. They seem very reliable witnesses and are sure
they will be able to recognize him again. They happen to remember him
distinctly because they say he is exactly like one of the foremen in the
factory where they work. They declare he might be his own brother and,
in fact, for the moment, thought it was the foreman himself, decked up
in fine clothes."

"But why on earth haven't they come forward before?" asked Larose.
"To-day is October the twenty-eighth, and from August the nineteenth
practically ten weeks have gone by."

Stone looked glum. "The two are Norfolk girls and sisters working in
Poplar, and last August they were home upon a holiday, not a mile from
Hickling Broad. Their holiday ended the next day, on the Sunday, and
they came back to Town. They didn't read the newspapers and they say
they didn't hear of the murder until nearly a month later when their
mother happened to write to them and refer to it in her letter. Then,
they didn't think it important enough to mention to anyone about the man
who had questioned them. But last week one of them went to the pictures
with a Poplar policeman with whom she has lately become friendly and,
seeing a murder upon the screen, she mentioned casually about the murder
of the doctor in Norfolk and told about the man who had been inquiring
where he lived. The policeman told his super and the super rang me at
once. Within a couple of hours I had got in touch with the girls." He
eyed Larose anxiously. "Now does it help on matters at all?"

"Help on matters!" exclaimed Larose, drawing a deep breath. "Why,
goodness gracious, I should think it does! It will clinch everything if
we can prove this Hatherleigh was the man who was looking over Dr.
Monk's fence that Saturday afternoon." He smiled exultantly. "Now, you
just listen to me, Charlie. I'll tell you an extraordinary tale," and
then, to the amazed and profoundly interested Inspector, he proceeded to
relate all he had found out about Hatherleigh from the day the latter
had first consulted Dr. Monk, to his, Larose's, seeing the bottle of
potassium iodide tablets in the safe.

"Gad, it's almost an epic," exclaimed Stone enthusiastically when he had
finished, "even among the many good jobs you've done. Now if we can get
these two girls to identify the man we can have a warrant issued at
once." He raised his hand warningly. "One moment, though. Let's think if
there's any link missing in the chain as it affects Dr. Monk." He
checked off the points on his fingers. "A--you've seen the tablets this
Hardacre has been getting from that Regent Street chemist on and off for
two years, and the chemist has told you the prescription was given by
Dr. Monk; B--you have found out from the doctor's case-books that he
certified Hardacre as a leper and that the latter bolted to escape
segregation; C--you can prove that the doctor and Hardacre were both
present at that garden party and that the consequences would have been
very grave for the latter if the doctor had recognized him; D--then I
hope to prove that Hardacre was the man who went spying over the fence
of the doctor's house that Saturday afternoon; and E--we all know the
doctor was killed the next night by an individual who climbed the fence
at exactly the same spot." He nodded as if quite satisfied. "Good, then,
once these two girls have identified him as the man who spoke to them on
that Saturday, we have a strong case and are justified in arresting him
at once." He frowned. "But where can these girls see him when he won't
see them?"

"Oh, that's easy," said Larose. "He's almost sure to go to his club in
Norwich this afternoon and they can be watching for him to come out
about half-past six. We can get them there in plenty of time."

So, at six o'clock the two girls were waiting in two separate cars
parked in the street within good view of the entrance to the Norwich
Club. They were purposely being kept apart from each other so that they
should each recognize Hardacre separately and with no prompting from the
other. Larose was quite confident they would pick him out at once, for
he had seen the factory foreman whom they had said resembled him and had
been astonished at the likeness. The foreman was exactly of the same
build, dark complexion and shape of face, and might easily have passed
for Hardacre's own brother.

Larose was keeping well out of the way, about a couple of hundred yards
up the street. He would, however, be able to see Hardacre come out of
the club, and when the cars containing the girls had moved off would
follow them to the police station where they were going to be taken.

Everything went off satisfactorily. Just after half-past six Hardacre
came down the steps of the club along with two other members. They stood
chatting for a minute or so on the pavement and then separated, but not
before the cars containing the girls had driven off. The recognition had
been instantaneous.

A consultation was held at the police station and it was arranged to
arrest Hardacre about eight o'clock. He would then be having his dinner
and not likely to have any automatic near him. Stone himself,
accompanied by two plain-clothes men, was to effect the arrest, and
Larose impressed upon him he would be dealing with a desperate man.

"You must rush him," he said, "and not give him the slightest warning.
Go round the back and through the kitchen. You're sure to find the door
open. Then go straight up the passage into the lounge, and the
dining-room is the second door on the left. Here, I'll draw you a rough
plan, so that you can't make any mistake."

The Chief Constable of Norfolk was present at the consultation and very
relieved that all responsibility for the arrest was being taken by
Scotland Yard. A man of rather stubborn disposition where his own
opinions were concerned, he was still not certain a ghastly mistake was
not being made. He had spoken to Hardacre only that very afternoon and
could not bring himself to believe he was the callous murderer Larose
was making him out to be. He was the more inclined to this view because
he was resenting the interference of Larose. The latter was always
irritating him with his confident assurance of believing he could find
out things where others couldn't. Certainly he did not deny the one-time
detective's undoubted ability, but he thought him much too theatrical
and believed he was always looking for effect. He was remembering now
with a secret chuckle the thud Larose had come when, with the audience
gathered round him, he had failed to produce any body in that shed.

It was fated, however, that the Chief Constable was to come a nasty thud
himself and that at the very moment when Larose was present to be a
witness of it, for while the consultation between Larose and the
detectives was still in progress a sergeant of police came in and
announced that his superior was wanted on the phone.

"A call from Methwold, sir," he whispered, "and they say it's very
urgent."

The Chief Constable was gone five minutes and then he returned to the
room and approached Larose with a wry smile upon his face. "Here's
something to interest you, Mr. Larose," he said. "A message has just
come through from Methwold. A man who has been spearing eels in one of
the drains there this afternoon brought in a body which he had dragged
up in a sack. The body is very decomposed, but there are all signs it
has not been in the drain very long."

Larose showed no elation. He just nodded to Inspector Stone and remarked
grimly: "Gad, how all the tricks are falling to us all at once!"

In the meantime, all unconscious of the dreadful forces which were
gathering against him, Hardacre had returned home in an unpleasant frame
of mind. Several things were upsetting him. He was still raging
furiously over his misadventure of the previous evening and his arm was
very sore where the dog had bitten him. Then, too, the valuable
binoculars he had left behind him were a dead loss of nearly 40, for he
realized it would be far too dangerous for him to go back and claim
them. When anything happened to Larose, later, and he was still
determined to put a bullet through him, it would never do for the farmer
to have seen him, Hardacre, by daylight, remembering the suspicious
circumstances under which they had met at night.

Added to these grievances there was the minor one that that afternoon
luck at the club had been all against him, and he had dropped more than
20. He was the more annoyed there because he had been bluffed by an
innocent and meek-looking little solicitor, whom he would have never
dreamed had got a bluff in him.

He was just about to sit down to dinner when the telephone rang and the
house-parlourmaid came in to say the Rector wanted to speak to him.

"Curse the old fool," he muttered under his breath. "How he ever came to
have a daughter like Dorothy I can't imagine! His wife must have had a
lover, of course."

He went scowlingly to the phone and it was a good thing the Rector could
not see his face. "Hullo, Hatherleigh, my boy, is that you?" called out
the reverend gentleman. "Well, I've just rung the Lord Bishop and he
says he'll be over to give us a sermon on Sunday and I thought you'd
like to meet him. Of course, he'll be staying to lunch and Dorothy is
sure you'd like to join us. It was her suggestion."

The latter statement was pure fabrication on the Rector's part and none
guessed it better than Hardacre. Still he mumbled his thanks and then
the Rector went on:

"Oh, a most singular thing happened just now and, though I expect I
oughtn't to mention it, I feel I must tell you. When I was trying to get
through to his lordship my wire crossed someone else's, that belonging
to the police, I imagine. I think it was two policemen talking to each
other, and what do you think I heard? Of course, I know I oughtn't to
have listened but I was so amazed that I had to. You'll be amazed, too,
when I tell you they've caught the murderer of Dr. Monk."

Hardacre's heart gave a fearful bump. "What," he ejaculated, "they've
caught the man who killed him?"

"Well, not exactly caught him yet," went on the Rector, "but they know
who he is and they're going to arrest him to-night, in fact in a few
minutes. It seems Dr. Monk knew some dreadful secret about this man and
he was expecting he would tell the police. So he shot him before he had
time to speak. Yes, and our friend, Mr. Larose, has had something to do
with putting the police on to this man. He's been watching him for weeks
and his real name's Hardacre. I gathered he is in hiding not far from
Norwich. Oh, and they suspect him of another murder, too! They've hooked
up some body somewhere in a sack. Don't tell anyone I told you. Then, I
shall expect to see you at lunch on Sunday. Good night."

Hardacre hung up the receiver and literally gasped for breath. There was
a dreadful pain over his heart and he thought he was going to faint. His
agony of mind was too great even for an oath.

There was not the slightest doubt of it! They had found out everything
and he would hang for certain! There would be no loophole through which
he would be able to escape! Then his fury against Larose seemed to make
the blood course more freely through his arteries again and something of
his courage came back.

No, they should not take him alive and he would not die without a
dreadful vengeance upon those who came to take him! There were six
cartridges in his automatic and he would ambush the police when they
arrived and shoot them down like dogs! He would have the advantage of
surprise and if there were five of them then five of them would die. Oh,
if Larose were only among them, what a triumph it would be!

The last cartridge he would keep for himself, and he would not mind
dying, as death would give him a release from all his cares.

With firm and steady steps and with all trace of the threatened collapse
gone, he strode into the library and took his automatic out of the safe.
He made sure it was fully loaded and then, switching off the study
lights, opened the big french window and crept out into the drive. He
was minded to take up his position behind a thick rhododendron shrub and
open fire instantly if more than one person approached.

It was a beautiful, moonlit night and he drew in deep breaths of the
invigorating air. Then, suddenly, like a mighty wave, the love of life
surged through him and he asked himself why should he die. The very
thought came to him as a revelation. Yes, why should he not try to
escape? He could always shoot himself if he were cornered. He had always
that last card to play, but why play it before it was absolutely
necessary?

He thought like lightning. His car had been oiled and greased and his
tank filled that very afternoon in Norwich. With any luck he would catch
the midnight boat from Harwich and, once in Rotterdam, he knew a man
there who would be sure to befriend him. This man had been a customer of
his for many years and was under a great obligation to him. Once, in
Hoichow, he had got him out of an ugly scrape when he had killed a
native in a drunken brawl, and the man had been most grateful to him in
consequence.

In an instant he had made up his mind, and he darted over to the garage.
Then he stopped dead in his tracks. Hell, he had no money upon him or in
the house, at any rate less than two pounds! Like a damnation fool he
had paid that twenty odd pounds he had lost at the club that afternoon
in good Treasury notes. Hell again, how vital they would have been to
him now!

Then, as in a flash of lightning, he remembered the money he had
inadvertently left in the pocket of that old leather jacket he had
hidden under the flooring of the Old Mill. There was more than 20 in
the wallet and he would go and get it. It would not be much out of his
way in his rush to Harwich.

Then he took a risk, but he reckoned it was a good one. He ran back into
the house and into the kitchen. "See here," he said quite quietly to the
cook, "keep back my dinner for a little while. I've left something very
important behind at a house I called at on my way home and I must go and
get it. I expect I shall be back pretty quickly," and in two minutes he
was passing out of the drive. He met no one and shot across the main
road into a by one, confident now that at any rate for the time being he
was safe from pursuit.

As it happened, he had got away in plenty of time, for it was not until
nearly half an hour later that the servants of the Manor were startled
by the unceremonious appearance of Inspector Stone, accompanied by three
plain-clothes detectives, in the kitchen. The Inspector had not thought
there was any occasion for urgent haste and, as neither he nor his men
had had anything to eat since early morning, they had stopped in Norwich
to snatch a quick meal.

They had entered the kitchen very quietly and the Inspector immediately
held up a warning hand.

"Hush," he exclaimed, "don't make any noise! We're police and we want a
word with your master. Where is he? We'll go straight to him."

"But he's not in, sir," gasped the very frightened Jane. "He's gone out
for a few minutes. We expect him back any moment and we're keeping his
dinner hot for him."

"Then where's he gone?" grunted Stone, disappointed but in no wise
suspicious.

"I don't know, sir," replied the cook. "He said he'd forgotten something
at a friend's and he'd be back very soon."

"How long since he went?" asked Stone.

"Only a few minutes, sir, about twenty, I should say."

"Did he seem in a hurry when he went? I mean, did he go off in unusual
haste?"

"Oh, no, sir, he seemed in no hurry at all. He just came and spoke to us
and then we heard him get out his car."

"Very well, then," said Stone, "we'll wait here and neither of you young
ladies are to leave the kitchen. We shall be hearing his car, shan't we,
as it comes in?"

"Oh, yes, sir, it goes right by this window to the garage."

So the Inspector and his men sat down and made themselves comfortable.
They took out cigarettes and chatted good-naturedly with the girls. Half
an hour going by, however, Stone began to get uneasy.

"Here, I say," he asked of the cook, "what did your master do when he
came in? Tell me exactly."

"He went up to the bathroom and had a wash, sir, and was just sitting
down to dinner when he had to answer a call on the phone."

Stone pricked up his cars at once. "Answer a call on the phone!" he
exclaimed. "Who was it speaking?"

"The Reverend Bannister, our Rector, sir," replied Jane. "I went to the
phone first, and then went and fetched the master."

"Are you sure it was the Rector?" demanded Stone sharply.

"Oh, yes, sir, he often rings up and I know his voice very well."

The Inspector rose instantly to his feet. "Where's the phone and what's
his number?" he asked, and he put through a call with no delay. A man's
voice came from the other end. "Are you Mr. Bannister?" asked Stone.
"Well, I've been waiting here some time to speak to Mr. Hatherleigh.
He's gone out and not come in. I understand he spoke to you just before
he went out. Did you ring up to call him away? Oh, you didn't! Well,
what did you ring up about? It's important I should know."

There was a note of authority in the Inspector's tones and the Rector,
by nature a timid man, had no thought of declining to give the
information demanded.

"I rang up to ask him to come to lunch with us on Sunday," he replied.
"Our bishop is going to be here and I thought he'd like to meet him."

"And did he say he'd come?" grunted Stone.

"Certainly! He seemed very pleased to."

"You didn't talk of anything else?" demanded Stone.

The Rector's conscience pricked him and he felt suddenly most uneasy at
the peremptory questioning of this stern-voiced man. He prevaricated. "I
tell you," he replied, "I simply rang up to ask him to come to lunch on
Sunday. That was all."

Stone grunted again and hung up the receiver, but he had soon got it down
for the second time and was ringing up the Chief Constable in Norwich.
"See here, sir," he said. "I don't like the look of things here too
much. Our bird came home all right, but went out suddenly in his car
again, just when he should have been sitting down to his meal, and he's
not come back. He told the servants he would only be away a few minutes,
but he's been gone now longer than an hour. I think it would be wisest
to send out a call for all the main roads to be watched and his car
stopped if it's seen. You know what it's like. All right, sir. Thank
you. The precaution may be quite unnecessary but we can't be too careful
with a man like this."

The call, however, went out too late, for Hardacre had by then, after
passing through Ipswich, left the main road and was deep among the
little by ones leading to the Old Mill. The weather had changed and he
ran into a sharp shower.




CHAPTER X.--THE SPIRITS OF THE DEAD.

BUT we must now go back to Tom Werrick, the brother of the dead
ex-convict. The little boot-repairer had been in grim earnest when he
had told Larose he believed in ghosts and the raising of the spirits of
the dead. In his early boyhood days he had been brought up by an aunt
who, when not suffering from the effects of undue alcoholic refreshment,
had had her pious moments and, accordingly, had seen to it that Tom said
his prayers and attended Sunday School when the one and only decent suit
he possessed did not happen to be in pawn.

So Tom had learnt a lot of interesting and intriguing things. He knew
all about Moses making the Egyptian cows come out in boils, what a lot
of wives King Solomon had had, and how forty and two little children had
been eaten by she-bears for giving sauce to the prophet Elisha and
calling him an old bald-head.

Strangely enough, however, it was always the story of the Witch of Endor
which had impressed him most. He had never forgotten how the good lady
had recalled the spirit of poor Samuel from the dead and let it have
quite a long talk with Saul about some things that wicked gentleman so
much wanted to know. Then, Tom argued, and who will dare to say he was
not quite logical, that if such things happened in olden times, why
shouldn't they happen now? He was sure that, if they only knew it, some
people did possess these seemingly miraculous powers and, that being
so, it was only right and proper they should use them when necessity
required. A great believer in Fate, too, he was certain he would one day
come face to face with his brother's murderer and, to be ready for
anything which might then happen, he had bought a cheap pistol at a
second-hand shop near the Docks, with a box and a few cartridges all
complete.

So day after day he waited hopefully for the coming into his little shop
of the particular man of whom he had heard it stated that he did
possess this unusual power and whom he already knew as a casual customer
of his.

He was certain that the man would come eventually, and sure enough, one
day he did, and Tom learnt his name was Sleeker and that he lived and
worked quite close near him.

Christopher Sleeker, or Professor Sleeker as he liked to be called,
could hardly have been said even by his greatest admirers to be anything
like a professor to look at. He was always shabbily dressed and his
shoes were nearly always down at the heels. Out of business hours he
wore a very faded and shiny black frock coat, his trousers were baggy
and he sported a large one-time Trilby-shaped hat. To complete his
attire, his tie was always of a most violent red colour or, indeed, it
had been so upon the day of its purchase and before his dirty fingers
had imparted to it a somewhat sombre hue. His hands, with the fingers
well engrained in printer's ink, seldom looked as if they had been
washed lately. When times were flourishing he smelt of spirits all day
long, being then a good patron of the several public houses in the
neighbourhood where he lived.

For occupation and means of acquiring wealth, he ran a small two-roomed
printing business in a little shop in Commercial Road East, and he
described himself as a master printer. His speciality was handbills and
he would not only print them but, if need be, provide the reading matter
as well. Indeed, he had acquired quite a local reputation in that way,
and if any shopkeeper had a line of cheaply-bought damaged goods to get
rid of, then the Apollo Printing Works was the place to go to have it
boosted up. Very ordinary articles then became extraordinary ones of an
amazing quality and value, and urgent advice was proffered that even one
single hour's delay might entail disastrous consequences and snatch from
the would-be purchaser his golden opportunity. Quite small places of
business, too, were described as departmental stores or emporiums.

A bachelor in the late thirties, Sleeker prided himself upon being what
he called an intellectual. He had read a little, had got the gift of the
gab and was quite a plausible fellow. Undoubtedly he was clever in a
limited sort of way, but a student of physiognomy would have said that,
as his expression was such a cunning one, he was not a man to be trusted
very far, and in his dealings would probably always cheat whenever he
could.

In his busy and energetic life Sleeker had pursued many activities in
his spare time and managed to make most of them profitable ones. He had
been a Christian Scientist, a Natural Healer by the laying on of hands,
a reader of the stars, a crystal gazer and, when he met people credulous
enough to believe him, just a common or garden fortune-teller. Also, he
was quite a passable ventriloquist and could throw a good stomach voice.

Upon several occasions the police had tried to bring him to book, but he
had always been too clever for them and they had never been able to lay
any definite charge against him. They had never been able to catch him
with his crystal upon him, and a greasy pack of well-thumbed cards in
one of his side-pockets had been no evidence of any misdemeanour which
would entail unpleasant consequences in a court of law.

Of late years, however, Sleeker had been trying to flap his wings in
higher spheres and, as he believed, had at last found an ideal setting
for his imaginative powers and persuasive form of address. He had become
a spiritualist, and one of such zeal and ardour that he had eventually
convinced himself he had all the qualities necessary to blossom out as
one of the world's most famous mediums.

To his great disappointment, however, in the better-class spiritualist
circles he was everywhere frowned upon and given the cold shoulder. The
"heads" had no liking for such a seedy-looking individual who, to put it
mildly, could not always be said to be strictly sober. Added to that,
they were of opinion that, if the need arose, he would never be above
resorting to trickery.

So it ended in Sleeker forming a little East End coterie of his own
where more tolerant views of alcohol were held and where, with such
intellectual gifts as he possessed, he could be something of a big fish
swimming in a small pool.

To some extent Sleeker honestly believed that, as he progressed upwards
upon the spiritualistic way, he really would be able to call up
spirits from the dead. As he impressed upon his admirers, he felt great
powers developing in him and was gradually obtaining a mastery in the
occult world. Given the right subjects to work upon, he was sure he
would be able to raise not only the spirits of those dear to them but
also those of the illustrious dead from all down the ages.

So in a room above a fried fish shop belonging to a brother
spiritualist, when business was over below and the fish and chips were
sold, seances were held, with Sleeker, of course, as the star performer.
The one second in importance was Cookson, the proprietor of the shop.
This latter, though undoubtedly overawed by Sleeker's adroitness and
gifts of language in any discussion, was inclined to be very jealous of
him. As with Sleeker, he was part believer and part cheat, and in this
latter role was always agreeable, upon Sleeker's instructions, to help
him with the many little tricks resorted to to make the seances a
success. Indeed, it paid him to do so, as he shared equally with Sleeker
in the silver collection which always followed the seances.

Usually the seances were well attended, for, in some form or other,
Sleeker always managed to deliver the goods. Rappings and strange noises
would come from nowhere, the table would sway sideways and bob up and
down, heads would feel currents of air fanning them, as if the spirits
were moving round, and hoarse whispering would be heard. Sometimes,
indeed, if Sleeker were quite sure he had got the right audience, faint
voices would come announcing that they were "dear mother," "sister Mary"
or "brother John" and, spirit-wise, were present in the room.

Even if the results were scrappy and scant information was forthcoming
as to what the deceased relations were doing in the spirit world, the
whole business was thrilling to believers, and the subsequent collection
for Sleeker's honorarium and Cookson's expenses was never begrudged.

This, then, was the man who walked into Tom Werrick's little shop one
afternoon and plumped down upon the counter the pair of very dirty and
almost worn-out shoes he had been carrying, unwrapped, through the
streets.

"Soles and heels," he announced with a majestic air, "and make a good
job of them. No mouldy leather like you put in last time. I've hardly
worn these shoes at all, and look at the rotten state they're in. Must
have them back to-morrow. What'll the damage be?"

It was a few moments before Tom could speak. He was overcome in his
excitement and his heart was fluttering like a bird's. This--this was
the man he had been waiting for so anxiously, the man who could raise
spirits from the dead!

"Three bob," he mumbled at last in a shaking voice, but then, seeing a
scowl upon his customer's face and anxious above all things to
propitiate him, he added quickly: "At least that's my usual charge."

"Robbery!" commented Sleeker angrily. "Absolute extortion! A couple of
bob is all I'll pay or I'll take them somewhere else," and he made a
movement as if to pick up the shoes.

"Here, wait a moment!" called out Tom quickly. "Don't go. I might be
willing to do 'em for less." He moistened his lips with his tongue and
went on: "Aren't you the gent who can talk with blokes who are dead?"

Sleeker gave him a hard glare. He sensed ridicule in the way the
question had been put and was about to make a biting retort when Tom
went on quickly: "I mean, you can make dead people come into a dark room
and speak."

Sleeker's face relaxed. The boot-repairer was so palpably nervous that
he obviously had not been intending to sneer. He looked an ignorant man
and a very simple-minded one too. He, Sleeker, liked dealing with people
of that class, for there was often something to be got out of them. So
he nodded grandly. "You mean, of course, do I conduct spiritualistic
seances?" He spoke very solemnly. "Yes, I do."

Tom was at once all eagerness. "Then could I come to one one night?" he
asked. "I want to see what you do. Oh, I would pay all right! I don't
expect to come for nothing."

Sleeker scented profit. He threw a covert glance upon the little stock
of boots and shoes upon the bench waiting to be repaired, making the
mental comment that business must be brisk.

"Not expect to come for nothing!" he frowned. He spoke very sternly. "I
shouldn't think you would, indeed! Seances cost money and are a terrible
mental strain to me." He eyed Tom intently. "Do you mean you want to
join our society?"

"If I might," said Tom humbly. "I should like to join if I could."

Sleeker pretended to look doubtful. "We're very particular, you know.
Our society is very select." He raised his voice declaimingly. "We don't
admit doubters and scoffers. We won't have anyone who sneers at the
eternal truths."

"Oh, I'm not a scoffer," exclaimed Tom earnestly. "I want to learn. I
tell you I have a special reason. I'll be as earnest as anybody."

"You've lost someone dear to you," queried Sleeker gravely, "and you
want to hear him speak again? You honestly believe you will be able to?
Good, then you're the sort of man we want!" He appeared to consider for
quite a long moment and then spoke in a more friendly tone. "Yes, I dare
say you can join us. In fact, I'll propose you myself and see that the
election goes through." He coughed. "Entrance fee ten shillings,
subscription another five, and you can pay me now and become a member
straightaway. I'm both secretary and treasurer."

The money was at once handed over and Tom was greatly thrilled when
Sleeker added: "And, by Jove, you're lucky. We're meeting above
Cookson's Fish Restaurant in Snook Street to-night, and there'll be the
usual silver collection afterwards. You pay what you can afford. Most
people put in two shillings. Time, eleven-fifteen. We choose that hour
because the nearer midnight the more likely the spirits are to gather.
They are not so responsive earlier."

Preparing to leave the shop, he nodded in the direction of his dirty
shoes. "And I dare say," he said, "you would like to throw in the repair
of those for my getting you elected at once."

The delighted Tom at once expressed his willingness. "And I'll sew the
uppers, too," he said, regarding the dilapidated footwear with a
critical professional air, "and make a good job of them, so that the
stitches won't be giving out soon."

"Thank you," smiled Sleeker, "and I'm sure you won't regret having
joined us. We are very earnest, all of us, and get remarkable results
sometimes." Then he added as he was going out: "But don't mention
anything about yourself to the other members or tell them where you
live. Don't tell them, either, how long you've known me. Private matters
are disturbing when we're moving in the spirit world. Oh, and one thing
more! I'm known as Professor Sleeker to the society and they always
address me as such. So you might, please, do it, too."

Fingering over with pleasurable anticipation the crisp ten-shilling note
and rattling together the pieces of silver Tom had given him, the
professor walked jauntily along, intending to make his next port of call
"The Eagle" public house. "Properly handled," he smiled to himself,
"there'll be quite a nice little bit of sugar for me in that chap. But I
must keep him to myself. If Cookson gets hold of him he'll skin him for
all he's worth." He frowned. "Still, I'll have to get Cookson to help me
to-night, and, of course, he'll expect a bob or two out of it. He'll
want his little whack."

That night Sleeker went early to the place of meeting and buttonholed
the proprietor of the fried fish shop before any of the other members of
the society had arrived.

"Look here, Cooky," he said, with a great affectation of friendliness,
"I'm introducing a new chap to-night and, of course, we must give him a
little encouragement to start off with. So you'll have to flap the cloth
and do the whistling pretty good."

Cookson was a big, coarse man with big ears and a large florid face.
Year in and year out, sleeping and waking, he smelt of fish, and the oil
in which he fried the carcasses of these denizens of the deep was always
generously bespattered upon his clothing. As with Sleeker in
spiritualistic matters, he was half believer and half cheat. He was
certain there was "something in it," although at the same time he was
always willing to help on results with little trickeries and deceits.
Wearing an upper set of false teeth and, with the plate fitting very
badly, he could let it fall down on to his tongue and over the top of it
emit a fierce sibilant sound which nervous people, who had never heard
one, imagined must be like the hiss of a snake. This hiss came in very
handy at the seances.

His estimation of Sleeker was two-sided. Undoubtedly impressed by the
superior education and nimble mind of the inky-fingered printer, he
firmly believed Sleeker did possess spiritualistic powers and
actually did see some of the forms he declared he did when they were
seated round the table in the darkness. At the same time, however, he
was not inclined to trust Sleeker too far in his private capacity, being
quite sure that as the treasurer he juggled with the society's accounts,
even small and insignificant as they were.

Now he eyed his colleague with a dark look. "Yuss, and by gosh," he
commented scowlingly, "I'll count the collection, too, afore you divide
it up. Last time I'm certain I never got my proper dollop. I know there
was more than fifteen and six in the bag."

Sleeker gave him a disdainful look. "There wasn't," he said sharply.
"Fifteen and a tanner was all there was and you got your proper seven
and ninepence, every penny of your share."

"Well, I'll count the collection with you to-night," nodded Cookson
rudely, "and make sure there's no mistake." He went on grumblingly:
"Anyhow, tarnation, man, I ought to get more than half, paying as I do
for the damned room and the lighting and the fires, to say nothing of
the help I give you."

"But only think of the strain it is on me, Cooky," said Sleeker in a
conciliatory tone. "I feel a complete wreck the next morning, and, of
course"--he spoke impressively--"the few mean bob I get here don't
compensate me half enough. Why, I often get three guineas for acting as
a medium when I'm up in the West End!"

"Then buy a new suit," scoffed Cookson coarsely, "and I'll believe you.
I've never seen you out of this one since I've known you."

Sleeker thought it wisest to ignore the rudeness and, though they were
the only ones in the room, dropped his voice to an intense whisper. "Now
I'll tell you what I want you to do, and if you do it properly it's
quite likely old Mrs. Faggarty will push a half note into the bag. She
came to see me yesterday and sobbed how desperately anxious she was to
see her sailor son. I shall do my utmost to make him come and believe I
shall be able to, for my body is all of a quiver and that means I am
psychic to-night."

Cookson was duly impressed, as he always was when Sleeker used words he,
Cookson, couldn't spell and, accordingly, listened intently to Sleeker's
instructions. The latter was determined that the seance should be a
success and, with that end in view, had been making certain inquiries
about Mrs. Faggarty's son which he did not intend Cookson or anyone else
should know. He had found out that the boy had been twenty-two when he
died, had had red hair, a scar upon his forehead and had been drowned in
a storm off the African coast. Also that the boy had had a good voice
and could sing well.

Members began to dribble in and Tom, appearing all decked out in his
best clothes, which always made him feel very nervous, was introduced
all round.

"Another seeker after truth," announced Sleeker solemnly, "and we must
do the best for him we can. We should have a good seance to-night for
the elements are propitious. There is a storm brewing and I think there
is thunder in the air."

After a few minutes, to give time for any late members to arrive,
Sleeker locked the door and announced that the seance had begun. There
were nineteen persons present, twelve women and seven men and, in
varying degrees of excitement, they seated themselves round the table.
They were told to clasp one another's hands, spread out upon the table.
In that way everyone could be assured they would all be remaining in
their seats and not moving about the room.

Following the usual procedure, Sleeker indicated where everyone should
be placed, he taking his own seat between Cookson and an elderly, stout
woman. On the other side of Cookson was a shy and timid little man who
worked in a tailor's shop by day. This arrangement was ideal as far as
Sleeker and Cookson were concerned, making it easy for either of them to
leave their seats whenever they wanted to, for they knew the stout woman
always perspired freely in her excitement and would be continually
taking a hand off the table to mop her face. Also, the small man was so
nervous that he would often be spasmodically unclasping his hands. So,
when need be, it would happen the woman would be clutching to Cookson's
hand instead of Sleeker's and the small man Sleeker's instead of
Cookson's.

Just before the lights were turned out, Sleeker made his usual short
speech. He enjoined them all to remain in perfect quietness and not to
speak whatever happened. Also, they were to help him by concentrating
deeply upon the particular person whose spirit they desired to summon
back to earth. He promised nothing, but said everything was possible.
They might feel the spirits moving in the air above them and, perhaps,
might hear the loved ones speak, even they might see their shadowy
forms. On the other hand he, Sleeker, might be the only one actually to
see the spirit, because long years of meditation had brought to him
powers which it was not given to many to possess. In conclusion he
insisted there must be no coughing and everyone was to breathe quietly.

The lights were then extinguished and the seance began. For many minutes
nothing happened, just the blackness and the stillness and the awed and
dreadful waiting for the spirits to appear.

Tom literally shook with nervousness. It was as if a master hand was
leading him to the very verge of the dark and unfathomable abyss which
lay between the dead and living worlds. He felt as if his little soul
was struggling to leave his body so that it might mingle with the ghosts
of those who had gone before. He thought of his brother Jim and
shivered.

Presently, when Sleeker considered the silence had gone on long enough
and everyone's nerves were sufficiently strung up, he announced in a
hoarse whisper that certain spirits were now present in the room.
Whereupon Cookson, who had stealthily left his seat and was tiptoeing
about minus slippers and in very dirty socks, proceeded to wave a damp
cloth vigorously to and fro, so that distinct currents of air could be
felt all round. Then gentle rappings came on the windows and there were
sounds of scraping upon the wall. Then came Cookson's famous hissing
over his loose false teeth. It came spasmodically, rising and falling,
dying away and then coming again.

The disturbances went on for quite a long while and they were all very
awe-inspiring, but the great thrill came when Sleeker announced in a
dreadful whisper that he could see a vague form hovering above them all.

"It takes shape!" he breathed. "It takes shape! It is that of a man, a
very young man! It has red hair and there is a scar on its forehead. It
has----"

"My boy, my boy," wailed Mrs. Faggarty, breaking into tears, "it is my
Arthur! Oh, Arthur, speak to me! Your mother is here!"

"Hush, hush," warned Sleeker sternly, "or the spirit will fade and
disappear." He spoke from deep down in his stomach and a voice came as
from far away. "I am at peace, my mother. I am happy now. I sing in the
heavenly choir. I will come and speak to you and you shall see me in
your dreams."

Mrs. Faggarty was almost choking in her emotion and it was a couple of
minutes or so before she could restrain her sobs. Then silence once more
descended upon the shabby room above the fish-shop until Sleeker
announced suddenly and hissingly that the spirits were gathering again,
and a ghostly vapour beginning to take shape.

But it was no common or ordinary sailor-boy who was visiting them this
time, for as the form and features of the spirit became plain to him,
Sleeker gasped and hesitated and then gasped again. "It is a woman!" he
choked. "She is old and stern and has a commanding presence! Yes, yes, I
recognize her! I recognize her! She is Queen Victoria!"

A fierce thrill of exultation surged through the humble men and women
seated there. They were in the presence of royalty and it was
overwhelming to them that the spirit of the great queen had come among
them. Cookson was working at his hardest with the damp cloth and they
could distinctly feel those chilling airs which they had been told
always shrouded the spirits of the dead.

Sleeker tried to induce the great queen to speak, but he could get
nothing from her and he said she just looked at him with grave and
solemn eyes before she faded away.

It was different, however, with the next spirit who came from the other
world. He arrived after a long period of waiting when nothing had
happened except that the table had rocked violently and there had been
several bouts of Cookson's dreadful hiss. Then, suddenly, Sleeker
announced that more spirit vapour was taking definite shape, and Cookson
worked more vigorously than ever with the wet cloth to provide the
chilling air.

"It is a man!" whispered Sleeker, and there was a note of fear in his
tones. "I do not know him! He has a white and evil face! It is drawn and
thin and the eyes are staring! He holds his head in a peculiar crooked
way! Don't let him hear you breathing and I may be able to get him to
tell us who he is.

"Who are you?" demanded Sleeker sternly. "I command you to speak."

"I-am-a-sinner," very slowly came a deep sepulchral voice, "and I cannot
rest. I am Wilkins, the Hoxton murderer. I killed my wife and I was
hanged for my wicked crime."

In spite of Sleeker's admonition that they should make no sound, gasps
from some of the spiritualists were distinctly heard. Who did not know
of the Hoxton murderer who had cut his wife's throat and buried her in
the chicken run?

"Why do you return to earth?" demanded Sleeker and there was now both
loathing and horror in his tones.

"Because I am condemned to wander," replied the spirit in great sadness.
"Down all eternity I shall know no peace. I shall wander, wander----"
But the voice died away and once again silence filled the room.

Five minutes and more passed and then Sleeker called out weakly:
"Unclasp your hands. The seance is over. I can stand no more. Mr.
Cookson, put on the lights, please."

The lights went up and, when everyone had finished blinking their eyes,
a buzz of conversation ensued. The seance had certainly been a
magnificent success, for Mrs. Faggarty was plaintively emphatic that she
had seen her son quite plainly. He had looked at her lovingly and smiled
his old sweet smile. The nervous little tailor, too, stated he had seen
Queen Victoria most clearly, and said she looked exactly as she used to
when driving in processions through the streets. He had recognized her
at once, quite as quickly as Sleeker had done.

Sleeker was delighted and was more than ever convinced he had certainly
got "something in him," for if he did not actually see the spirits
himself he was capable of making others see them.

Cookson then brought in servings of fish and chips on pieces of paper on
a tray, at sixpence a head and all who wanted to partook of the delicacy
without fuss or bother and using fingers instead of knives and forks.
Altogether, everyone was happy and satisfied when they passed out
through the fish shop at nearly two o'clock in the morning. Cookson had
stood close to Sleeker's elbow when the money in the little collection
bag had been turned out upon the table and he had given his colleague a
hard and ugly look when the coins were seen to total up to twenty-eight
and sixpence.

"Wot I expected," he remarked coarsely as he grabbed at his share, "and
I've been a ruddy goat not to have thought of counting it with you
before."

Sleeker did not condescend to make any reply and, passing out into the
street, found Tom waiting for him on the pavement.

Tom suggested nervously that he would like him to bring round his
crystal one night to his, Tom's, back room and gaze in it for him. He
wanted to know if a brother of his were still alive.

"Certainly," replied Sleeker, "I'll come with pleasure." He spoke in a
business-like manner. "But it'll cost you ten bob." Then, when Tom
agreed so readily, he added quickly: "With another half-dollar for the
use of the crystal. They wear out quickly with the hard gazes I give
them."

Tom said he'd pay it and Sleeker nodded. "All right then, tomorrow night
at eight o'clock. Leave the shop door unlatched, so that I can hop in
quickly. Crystal gazing is against the law and one can never be certain
when the damned police are not about." He spoke grandly. "I am a marked
man, you know."

Tom was thrilled to his very marrow. Truly he was moving in dark and
wonderful circles!

Sleeker duly appeared the following night, but not before he had made a
few discreet inquiries about Tom and his brother. From a greengrocer
near by he had learnt that Tom's brother was called Jim and had "done
time." He was very like Tom in appearance, but a regular devil in
disposition. Then the man in the milkshop in the next street had
supplied the further information that Jim had always been in fights and
a regular nuisance to the neighbours. Everyone had been glad when the
cops had got him for knifing and robbing a man in a dark street. He was
a blooming little thug, the milk vendor said, and as ready with a knife
as a butcher cutting up chops. He had got seven years.

Fortified with these details of the little boot-repairer's relation,
Sleeker was confident the crystal gazing would be a great success and,
when he took out his glass ball, wrapped in a little square of black
velvet, from a dirty pocket handkerchief, Tom shivered thrillingly, and
thought so, too.

"It's like this, Professor Sleeker," he explained. "My brother Jim and
me were great pals and thought a deal of each other. He said good-bye to
me in this very room one morning a year ago last August. He was going
down to work for a poultry man in Essex and promised to write to me in
two or three days. But he's never wrote to me and he's never come back.
I've never heard anything of him since and I'm sure something's happened
to him."

"But didn't you write to this poultry-farmer?" asked Sleeker, wanting to
get as much information as possible out of Tom.

Tom shook his head. "No, but I did more than that. I went down to where
Jim had gone and found the house was all shut up." He shivered. "It was
a dreadful, lonely place." And then he related to the highly interested
Sleeker all that had happened, only keeping back the real reason why Jim
had gone down to the Old Mill and all mention of any hidden bank-notes.

Realizing he had got plenty to work upon, Sleeker proceeded at once to
business. He lit the two pieces of candle he had brought with him and
made Tom turn out the other light. Then he placed the glass ball upon
the square of black velvet draped over an inverted tea-cup and put the
two lighted candles on either side. In that position the ball was level
with the candle lights.

"Now not a sound," he whispered. "We'll both gaze intently at the crystal
and you must concentrate all your thoughts upon your brother. Then I'll
tell you what I see."

A long silence ensued and, hardly daring to breathe, Tom stared at the
glass ball and thought hard of Jim. He thought of him when they had been
boys together, when they had become grown men, and how he had looked
when they last said good-bye. Then he could not help it that his
thoughts harked back to when he had seen Jim in his convict clothes. He
had gone to the prison every visiting day when he had been allowed.

The minutes went on and on and then, as in a dream, he heard Sleeker
speaking in a low hushed tone. "I see," he whispered, "a small dark man
with a narrow face. He is pale and sad and his hair is closely cropped.
He is strangely clothed and he is in a bare stone room. The room is very
small. He is looking straight before him and he sighs."

Tom almost choked. That was poor Jim in prison! He was in his lonely
cell! Oh, how wonderful this crystal was!

Sleeker droned on. "I see him in a big square yard with many other men,
all clothed as strangely, too! The yard has high walls and the men walk
round and round, with officers in uniforms and holding rifles, standing
by! This man does not speak and he never smiles!"

Sleeker stopped speaking and Tom's thoughts ran on. He tried to picture
Jim down at the Old Mill, Jim among all the buttercups and daisies in
the fields of those hot August days when he had first gone into the
country, and then, as if in answer to his thoughts, the crystal-gazer
spoke again. "I see this man once more. He is sitting by a stream."

Tom started violently. How wonderful! How wonderful! He had said nothing
to Sleeker about a stream. Sleeker, however, knew that a mill would have
a stream, and was putting down his cards accordingly.

"He is sitting by a stream," went on Sleeker, "and he is looking into
the water. He is differently clothed now and is happy and smiling. I
see--I see, ah, but the crystal is getting blurred. A mist is rising and
the man fades away."

Another long silence followed, a hard tense silence with the sweat
bursting out on Tom's forehead. He was in agony for what would come
next.

At last Sleeker heaved a deep sigh and spoke in his ordinary tone of
voice. "That is all I can tell you. The crystal will give us no more
to-night."

"But what do you think?" asked Tom shakily.

Sleeker thought quite a lot. There was cash for him in a dead man but
nothing in one who was alive. Besides, from all Tom had told him he felt
sure the brother was no longer living. He gave his opinion without a
moment's hesitation.

"I think," he said gravely, "I think that your brother is dead. The
crystal would not have gone off like that if he had been alive. It would
not have stopped so suddenly."

"I knew it, I knew it," choked Tom. "I have been sure of it all along."
He spoke pleadingly. "But can't you raise his ghost and get it to lead
us to where he is buried? We might get his murderer hanged, then."

"You mean the poultry-farmer?" queried Sleeker. "But do you know where
he is now?"

"No, but the police would find him if we discovered Jim's body," replied
Tom. "As I told you, they wouldn't trouble to look for this poultry man
before, because they had nothing against him." He pleaded again:
"Couldn't you try to raise my brother's ghost?"

Sleeker considered for a long moment. Of course the little boot-repairer
had got a little bit of money tucked away somewhere, and there was no
reason why he, Sleeker, should not touch some of it.

"I might," he said thoughtfully, "but it would cost money, you know. I
should have to go down there with you to where he was last seen and that
would mean taking me away from very important work. Yes, it would cost a
few quid."

"And I'll pay them," said Tom eagerly. "The place is only about sixty
miles from London and about four miles from Thorrington, the nearest
railway station. We can easily walk that little way and I'll give
you--say four pounds."

Sleeker felt a warm glow of satisfaction surge through him, but
pretended to consider again. "Not enough," he said emphatically, "as I
should have to be away a night." He nodded. "Still, make it a fiver and
I'll come."

So ultimately it was arranged they should go down together to the Old
Mill on the following Friday, with Tom to give Sleeker five pounds,
thirty shillings at once on account, and pay all expenses. "There'll be
no one in the house," added Tom, "and, if I take one of my boot knives
with me, I'll be able to slip back the bolt of one of the windows and we
can get inside. Then we'll be quite comfortable and light a fire if it's
cold. The house is miles from anywhere and no one will see us." He was
thrilled at the prospect of the adventure and went on excitedly: "Yes,
and if you raise the ghost and it takes us to the grave, I'll spring
another fiver for you."

The following Friday afternoon, just before it began to get dusk, they
arrived at the Old Mill. Tom was carrying a good-sized basket of
provisions, with a box of candles, and Sleeker a bottle of whisky. The
whisky had come out of "expenses" as Sleeker had insisted he must have a
little stimulant for the exhausting work of raising a ghost.

"A devilish nasty-looking place," he remarked, taking in the desolate
nature of the surroundings, "and I'm not sure I don't smell murder,
already." Then, suddenly, he caught sight of the mill stream and
whistled in amazement. "Gosh," he exclaimed, with his eyes pretending to
bulge almost out of their sockets, "why, that's the very stream I saw in
the crystal!" He pointed with a shaking hand. "Look, look, that's the
spot where I saw your brother sitting, just by that clump of willows."

Tom shook and shivered too. "You must be right," he choked. "I never
told you about any stream and yet the glass ball showed you one was
there."

Sleeker winked grinningly to himself and then, returning to practical
matters, said they must get in the house before it got quite dark, and
make all preparations for the night. He went on: "You'll have to leave
me alone for a couple of hours, too, after we've had some grub, as I
must do some hard concentration before starting to raise the ghost." He
nodded darkly. "I shall concentrate not only on your brother, but on his
murderer, too. It is possible--it is possible, I may be able to compel
him to come back here to the scene of his crime." He spoke with the
utmost reverence. "There are endless possibilities of what may happen
when you move in the spirit world."

Tom was too overcome with awe to speak, but he clutched tightly to the
little pistol he had got in his pocket. He would make the murderer
confess everything, he told himself, if only the murderer came.

As Tom had surmised, they were able to get into the house without any
difficulty. It smelt damp and musty and they disturbed quite a lot of
rats as they went through the rooms. "Of course no one's come here for
months and months," whispered Sleeker. "The local people must know it's
haunted and they are afraid to come." He noted the old sofa in the
kitchen and, thinking it would be all right for a good snooze, ordered
Tom to make a fire to warm up the room. "This is where I'll
concentrate," he said, "and I must on no account get chilled or my mind
will not be able to work."

They saw there was plenty of oil in the glass container of a big lamp in
the kitchen and Sleeker ordered Tom to light it, at once, but as the
window-blind was torn and ragged and the lamplight would show much
farther than the candles, Tom did not want to take the risk. However,
Sleeker insisted and Tom gave in, comforting himself with the thought
that the window did not look out on the village but only on long
stretches of uninhabited marshland.

Tom was feeling too nervous to eat anything, but Sleeker made a hearty
meal, consuming a good half of the two pounds of corned beef they had
brought with them and more than half of the loaf. He washed it all down
with several stiff doses of the whisky. Then he announced he must be
left alone and, accordingly, Tom retired to another room, with the
arrangement that the ghost-raiser was not to be disturbed until ten
o'clock.

A couple of hours went by with poor Tom all the while sitting fidgeting
upon an uncomfortable broken chair, staring out into the darkness and
full of wondering as to what was going to happen soon. He had a most
implicit faith in Sleeker and believed it was quite possible, as the
latter had said, that the murderer might even now be being drawn as by a
magnet to the scene of his dreadful crime. If he did come, then he,
Tom, would recognize him instantly. Had not Mr. Larose said he was tall
and big and dark and handsome, with bushy eyebrows, and his lips kept
tightly closed? Did he not drive, too, a big green car with a horse on
the radiator?

Anyhow, Tom felt quite certain that the ghost would walk, and that they
would be led to where his brother's body had been buried. He had no
doubts, knowing how hard and long Sleeker was concentrating now.

In his simple, trusting mind, Tom did not for a moment dream that,
fatigued by his long walk from the station, and comforted and soothed by
his big meal and plenty of whisky, all Sleeker was then doing in the
adjoining room was just having a nice sleep. The world is full of such
men as Sleeker and Tom, and it is natural that the one should prey upon
the other. Down all the ages it has been destined that such things
should be.

At last, wearied of his inaction and seeing that the moon had now come
out from behind the clouds and was making things as light as day, Tom
thought he would go and look about inside the mill. He was curious to
see if it was in exactly the same state as it had been when he was last
there. He had noted when they had arrived those few hours ago that the
door was gaping wide open.

So, letting himself out of the house very quietly in order not to
disturb his companion's concentration, he tiptoed across the yard and
entered the mill.

And at that same moment the grocer of Great Bromley was reporting to the
village constable there that someone was in the Old Mill house as,
returning from a late round, he had seen a light in one of the windows.

Inside the mill Tom flashed his little torch round and rats scuttled off
in all directions. The place was in a state of dreadful desolation, with
the wainscoting all torn from the walls and the flooring covered almost
ankle deep in the debris of the hundreds of sacks which had been gnawed
by the rats into little pieces.

"And Jim helped to pull down that wainscoting," sighed Tom, "and every
minute of the searching brought him nearer to his dreadful death. He
told his secret to that evil man and in return the man killed him."

He sat down on one of several empty barrels there and, closing his eyes,
for a long time tried to visualize his brother moving about. Jim would
have been so energetic and so full of hope. He would have been so
unsuspecting, too, because, if they found the money, it was such a large
sum and surely enough for two to share. But poor Jim had been struck
down, perhaps at the very moment of their success, and his murderer had
thought he was quite safe when he had hidden the body. Still, he hadn't
been safe, his punishment had only been delayed and now----

But a sudden sound fell upon Tom's ears and he jerked up his head
sharply, first in bewilderment and then in consternation. A motor car
was somewhere about, and oh, oh, it was coming nearer!

For a few moments he sat on, stock-still in his terror, and then he
sprang to his feet and darted up the steep steps of the ladder leading
to the loft. From the little window there he would be able to see the
car as it passed round the house. But, with the car coming into view, it
did not pass round. Instead, it pulled up by the mill, right opposite
the window. In the bright moonlight everything was as plain as day and
Tom's knees shook under him as he saw the car had got a silver horse
upon the radiator and that the driver who jumped out of it so quickly
was big and tall and dark.

He sank down on to the floor of the loft, almost fainting in his
emotion. It was the murderer of his brother and he had been drawn
irresistibly to the scene of his crime!

But Tom had not been the only one to hear the car. Sleeker had heard it
as it broke through a heavy dream and, for the moment, he thought he was
back in Commercial Road. He could not, however, understand why it was he
had not got the splitting headache which he should have had when he had
gone to bed, as he undoubtedly had done, too fuddled to take off his
clothes or even his shoes. Then, opening his eyes, he realized he had
not been, as he thought, drunk the night before. He saw the lamp burning
and a strange room and, in a flash, realized where he was.

Hell, then what was a car doing here! It might be the owner had arrived
or--horrible thought--the police! He sprang off the sofa and, darting
along the passage, made for the best way of escape, the back door.

Yet a third and fourth party had heard the car, and these last, as well
as Tom, had seen it. They were the village constable and the grocer who
was accompanying him to find out what the light in the window of the
house meant.

Hardacre, for of course the man in the car was he, ran into the mill in
frenzied haste. His eyes were blood-shot and, panting like the hunted
animal he knew he was, he began furiously to clear the floor in the
corner where he remembered his hiding-place was. He did not see the
ghastly and frightened face, glaring down at him from the top of the
ladder in the loft above. Almost at once he found the particular board
he wanted and started to prise it up with his knife. The board, however,
was sticking tightly and the blade of his knife broke off sharp at the
handle. He cursed savagely. Precious moments were flying, but he must go
back to the car and get something stronger, like a screw-driver, to
raise up the board. He raced out of the mill as quickly as he had come
in.

A minute later there was the sharp crack of a pistol, and Constable Bone
and the grocer came round the corner to see Hardacre, with an upraised
pistol in his hand, only a few yards from a writhing figure upon the
ground.

"Hands up!" roared the constable and he sprang forward with his
truncheon ready. Terror, however, had robbed Hardacre of all judgement
and, turning quick as lightning, he jerked up his arm and fired
point-blank at the new-comer. But his hand was shaking so terribly that
his first two shots missed altogether. Then the third plugged a bullet
in the fleshy part of the grocer's arm and the latter, sure that he was
mortally wounded, emitted a fearful yell and dropped on to the ground.

The constable, however, had smelt cordite upon many a battlefield in the
Great War and charged boldly on to get to close quarters. Right at the
menacing point of the pistol he got in a fearful blow at Hardacre's head
and the latter went down like a stunned ox.

A piercing cry came from the direction of the mill. "Hold him, hold him,
Mr. Bone," shrieked Tom, tottering forward with badly shaking legs to
help hold Hardacre down. "He murdered my poor brother."

No help, however, was required, for Hardacre lay all huddled up and
still, and so attention was at once turned to the palpitating figure on
the ground. It was Sleeker and he was coughing violently and struggling
hard for breath. With each cough he brought up copious bloody froth. He
had been shot through the neck, with the bullet going in one side and
coming out through the other. He was bleeding internally and the blood,
pouring into his lungs, was suffocating him. The end came very quickly.
His eyes grew fixed and glazed, his jaw dropped, he heaved one long
bubbling sigh and he was dead.

So passed into his eternal sleep the crafty crystal-gazer, the man who
could raise spirits from the dead. One minute strong and lusty and
filled with the love of life, and the next--a poor wraith in that dark
world with whose mysteries he had so often juggled in blasphemies and
deceits.

The constable turned pantingly to Tom. "Who are you," he demanded in
fierce tones, "and how do you come to know my name?" His eyes opened
very wide. "The devil, you are that chap Werrick who came to see me
about your missing brother!"

"Yes, Mr. Bone," said Tom meekly. He pointed tremblingly to the dead
Sleeker. "And that's a man who came here with me this afternoon. He's
called Sleeker and he was going to help me find my brother's grave."

"And this fellow," demanded the constable, indicating Hardacre, "who is
he?"

"I don't know his name," began Tom falteringly, "but he's----"

The grocer broke in excitedly. He had found out he was not dead and was
now sitting up, clasping tightly to his injured arm. "I know who he is,"
he shouted. "He's that poultry-farmer who used to live here. He's that
man Holt, Mr. Bone."

The constable whistled. "God, what a mix up!" He nodded grimly in the
direction of Sleeker. "Well, he'll hang for that chap, now. That's a
sure thing."

He became practical and, first imprisoning Hardacre's wrists tightly
with the tie he tore from the latter's neck and knotting the laces of
his shoes together so that he would not be able to walk, next gave
first-aid to the grocer's arm.

"Very little damage there," he announced to the relieved provision man,
"and in a couple of weeks or so you'll be quite O.K. again." He nodded
grimly towards Sleeker. "Very different from that poor devil. He died a
nasty death." He took stock of the situation. "Now I'll just borrow this
fine gentleman's car and we'll all trek into the station at
Manningtree." He regarded Tom sternly. "You'll have to come, too, and no
nonsense."

"Oh, yes, I'll come," said Tom eagerly. "I shall be wanted to give
evidence."

The constable indicated Hardacre, who was now showing signs of returning
consciousness. "Well, help me get this fellow into the car. You'll have
to sit next to him at the back and give me warning if he tries to get up
to any tricks. He'll want watching directly he gets better." Then, with
a consideration that is so often seen in the roughest men, he covered
Sleeker's face over with the grocer's cap. "We'll leave him for the
ambulance to fetch."

Half an hour later the Superintendent at Manningtree received one of the
surprises of his life when he recognized the green car with the horse
upon its radiator as the one for which the urgent call had been sent
out, barely an hour previously. Telephone wires began jangling at once.
Colchester told Ipswich. Ipswich passed on the news to Norwich and
Inspector Stone learnt it immediately afterwards. His good-natured face
instantly lost all its weariness. "Gad, what a relief!" he exclaimed to
the Chief Constable who had rung him up. He chuckled delightedly. "I
say, sir, won't our friend Larose be delighted, this fellow Hardacre
bolting back to that Old Mill and so, himself, giving us the proof he
was the poultry-farmer who was there before. Whew, what a 'clevah
fellar' this Gilbert is!"

The Chief Constable hung up the receiver with a grimace which was half
amusement and yet half annoyance. He couldn't help it, but Larose always
irritated him.




CHAPTER XI.--THE VENGEANCE OF MAN.

THE trial of Chester Hardacre aroused tremendous interest in all parts
of the country. The circumstances surrounding it were so unusual with
the accused being arraigned upon no less than four charges, the murders
of James Werrick, Harold Smith, Andrew Monk and Christopher Sleeker. The
supposed crimes having been committed in different counties, it had been
thought best by the authorities that the trial should take place
centrally, in London at the Old Bailey.

Lord Witherington was to try the case and, with his cold, stern face and
reputation for impeccable impartiality, it was generally conceded the
scales of justice would be held to the balancing of a hair.

Peter Shearer, K.C., a silver-tongued orator and great artist in the
spinning of words, was to lead for the Crown, and Bampton Byles,
huge-framed and massive as an ox and the hero of a hundred battles in
the courts, was responsible for the defence. It was rumoured, and
probably not without truth, that the latter's brief had been marked two
thousand guineas.

Upon the morning of the opening day of the trial the Court was crowded
to its utmost capacity, and a somewhat irreverent young barrister
remarked dryly it was to be regretted there was not a like competition
among mortals for accommodation in the court of the Kingdom of Heaven.

When the judge had taken his seat and the prisoner stepped into the
dock, a flutter of almost incredulous surprise stirred the spectators,
for the accused was so unlike what they, most of them, had been
expecting. Well groomed and distinguished-looking and with his handsome
face perfectly calm and composed, it seemed incredible he could have
been capable of the dreadful crimes with which he was now being charged.
He let his glance roam round the crowded Court without the slightest
trace of nervousness or embarrassment.

"But he's not guilty," whispered Lady Carmichael impulsively to her
friend and neighbour, Mrs. Belton-Bevan, whose husband was a highly
popular bishop. "You'll see it'll turn out the police have made a
ghastly mistake." She nodded violently. "Why, he looks more of a
gentleman than even the old judge!"

A deep hush filled the Court, as Hardacre firmly but very quietly
pleaded not guilty to all four charges brought against him.

When Peter Shearer rose to his feet for his opening address his voice,
though quiet and even, could be heard with perfect distinctness by
everyone.

"My lord and gentlemen of the jury," he began solemnly--he indicated the
prisoner--"this man was once a leper"--he paused for a long moment--"and
I shall prove to you that not only was he physically inflicted with a
dreadful malady, but morally, also. As far as we can trace back into his
life he has left a trail of murder wherever he has been, and he is on
trial now for sending four fellow-men into eternity with a callousness
unsurpassed in all the dark annals of recorded crime."

"Let him prove it," snorted Lady Carmichael under her breath. "Just let
us wait and see," but the bishop's wife, whose first trial for murder it
was, fumbled in her bag for an aspirin and wished she hadn't come. She
felt her stomach turning over most uncomfortably.

The trial lasted ten days, but as an account of it will be so much less
tedious to the reader when given by a spectator who touches only on the
more interesting high-lights, we will make use of a letter the Chief
Constable wrote to his wife who was convalescing in a sanatorium in
Switzerland after a severe illness.

He gives an excellent epitome of the whole trial and, after a few
preliminary sentences expressing how relieved he had been to hear she
was getting on so well, his letter reads:

"Now, my dear wife, I know you will be on tenterhooks to hear all about
friend Hatherleigh's trial for those dreadful murders he was accused of
having done. I don't forget how enthusiastic you were about him that
night he took you in to dinner at old Colonel Bentley's and what an
interesting man you thought him. Of course, you will have heard the
result of the trial, but I don't expect the Swiss papers will have given
many details, so I'll do my best to make a good story of it, just as if
it came out of a book.

"Well, it was a most remarkable trial, and I am sure no one present had
ever experienced anything quite like it before. Peter Shearer was as
brilliant as ever, and old Bampton Byles a veritable tower of strength
for the defence. The murders were taken in the order they were said to
have been committed and the trial was expected to be a very long one. It
was not, however, for his lordship kept a tight and common-sense grip on
the proceedings and cut things as short as he could.

"For instance, when Peter Shearer was starting to bring forward a whole
string of witnesses to prove that Hatherleigh, or Hardacre as we now
know him to be, was the Charles Henson who had consulted Dr. Monk, the
Clive Hall at Burnham-on-Crouch, and the Charles Holt at the Old Mill,
he interrupted sharply and asked if it were really necessary.

"'You are not intending to dispute it, are you?' he demanded of Bampton
Byles.

"'Certainly not, my lord,' replied Byles instantly. 'The prisoner admits
all the identities.'

"So that cleared the ground, and saved a lot of time before the murder
of James Werrick came to be considered first. Now Peter Shearer had
given a most masterly opening address and I was really astonished at the
thorough work the police had put in. Of course, we could all see the
hand of Larose in it and I am sure the mill stream would not have been
dragged but for him. It was a great personal triumph for him when the
axe and two thigh bones and some ribs entangled in the big chain had
been brought up.

"Still, it was a great pity for his point of view that the skull was
never found, as it was quite reasonably supposed from the axe having
been thrown in the stream that it had been used to cleave it in. If the
skull had been found it might have shown the injury. However, it was
thought the skull might have slipped past the mill-wheel and, in the
many winding miles as the stream ran on to the sea, have got buried
somewhere under the banks or, perhaps, actually had been washed into the
sea itself.

"The real struggle began when Tom Werrick, the brother of the missing
James, went into the witness box and told his extraordinary story of the
bank-notes. Bampton did not attempt to discredit the story, for there
was Millington's gun, with his initials E.R.M. upon the stock, to make
it appear quite feasible. All he did in his cross-examination of this
Tom was to endeavour to show up in strong relief the despicable
character of his brother and to suggest he would certainly have been as
callous in his treatment of him as he had been callous in the treatment
of everyone else in his hardened and criminal career. We could see he
wanted to make out that because he had not had any communication with
Tom it did not necessarily mean he was not still alive.

"Then, next in order, Peter Shearer made a great point of the strong
motive Hardacre would have had for killing Harold Smith, the one-time
steward of the club in Hoichow. The boy knew that Hardacre was wanted by
the authorities for a murder in Hoichow and everything was hanging upon
his silence. When, however, it came to proving that young Smith had even
actually been murdered, everyone could see the Crown had a very weak
case, for the identity of the body found in the drain upon Methwold Fen
was by no means certain.

"The only witnesses there were Hardacre's two maids at the Manor and
they came in for a very bad time when Byles cross-examined them. You
see, the body found in the bag had been quite naked and so eaten away by
the eels that it was wholly unrecognizable. Yet the girls said they were
positive it was this Harold's body because of the teeth. At least they
said that at first, but after Byles had had them for a quarter of an
hour in the witness box, their being so positive was whittled down to
their 'thinking' it was Harold, being 'almost sure' but not 'certain
without the slightest doubt.'

"So the defence undoubtedly scored there, and the two girls each in turn
left the box rather discredited witnesses.

"Next came the murder of Dr. Monk and the first witness Peter Shearer
put in the box was the doctor's daughter. She showed herself to be an
almost ideal witness and her story was drawn from her, without the waste
of a single word. When Peter Shearer had finished, Byles rose instantly
to his feet.

"'Just two questions, if you please, Miss Monk,' he said, speaking in a
kindly and sympathetic tone. 'Now was your father a reticent man where
his patients were concerned? I mean, did he ever tell you anything about
his cases, of course not necessarily mentioning any names?'

"She shook her head. 'No, he never discussed patients or their ailments
with me. He always kept his professional life and his private one quite
apart.'

"Byles nodded as if he quite understood. 'And the second question. Of
course you will remember most of the things which happened in those last
days in your father's company?'

"'Oh, yes, quite clearly.'

"'Then that Saturday,' went on the ponderous K.C., speaking very
quietly, 'the day before the dreadful tragedy took place, you say you
can remember everything. Well, tell me now, first, exactly what your
father did that day.'

"Miss Monk considered carefully. 'He did not go out anywhere,' she
replied. 'He had his breakfast in bed and did not get up until about ten
o'clock. Then he read the morning newspaper and pottered about in the
garden until after our midday meal at half-past one. After that he sat
on the veranda in a deck-chair, reading, until about six o'clock. In the
evening he listened to the wireless.'

"'And you?'

"'All the morning I pottered about the house and helped the daily girl
who went home as usual at two o'clock. Then I lay down for an hour or so
for a rest, and afterwards went into the village to do some shopping,
returning home in time to get the tea.'

"'Thank you. That is all I wanted to prove, that you were away from the
house some time that afternoon,' said the K.C., and he resumed his seat.

"The matter of the murder of Dr. Monk over, that of Christopher Sleeker
began, and the first witness, the village constable of Great Bromley,
went into the box. After Peter Shearer had got all he wanted out of him,
Byles rose briskly to his feet. 'Now, constable,' he said, 'when you saw
that car go round the corner of the Old Mill just in front of you, of
course you were very eager to find out who was in it and what they had
come for at that time of night. You have just told us the car was being
driven at a furious pace and, naturally, that would have suggested to
you some very important matter?'

"'Yes, sir, it did,' nodded the constable. I couldn't make it out.'

"'And that being so,' smiled Byles, 'you would have been, to say the
least of it, at any rate a little bit excited?'

"'I might have been,' smiled back the constable. He nodded again.
'Certainly, I was a few seconds afterwards.'

"'And you tell us,' went on the K.C., 'that you and your companion, the
village grocer, after you had got off your bicycles, went running as
quickly as you both could round the corner of the mill. Now were you
running one behind the other, or both side by side, together?'

"The constable considered. 'Well, sir, we were almost together, but
perhaps Wilson was just a foot or two ahead of me.' He smiled again.
'You see, he's a bit of a younger man than me.'

"'Exactly,' nodded Byles, 'and when you came round the corner--I refer
particularly to you and not to the grocer--you saw the prisoner standing
just above a man lying on the ground. You did not actually see the shot
fired which had struck him, but you heard it a fraction of a second
before you came round the corner?'

"'That is so, sir,' agreed the constable.

"'Now you have just said,' went on Byles, 'that when you shouted to him
to hold up his hands, the prisoner turned instantly upon you and fired
four shots.' He spoke casually. 'Did you count the four?'

"The constable smiled. 'No, sir, all I was thinking of then was to get
at him as quickly as I could. He seemed to be spitting bullets at us as
fast as he could.'

"'But how, then, do you know he fired four shots at you?' persisted the
K.C.

"The constable shrugged his shoulders. 'Well, when we came to examine
his pistol afterwards, we found he had fired it five times, and so that
meant one for the man he killed and four for us.'

"'Then it would have been merely guess-work on your part,' smiled Byles,
'that he had fired four times at you if you hadn't been able to examine
his pistol afterwards?'

"The constable looked uncomfortable. 'I suppose so,' he replied
hesitatingly, 'if you put it that way.'

"'Thank you,' said Byles, and he at once resumed Iris seat."

The Chief Constable went on: "It was evident from their faces that the
spectators were very puzzled. They couldn't tell what Bampton Byles
meant by this peculiar line of cross-examination. However, they were
soon to learn that after the next witness had come into the Court and
been a few minutes in the witness-box. He was Wilson, the village
grocer, and, under Peter Shearer's questioning, he corroborated all that
the constable had said had taken place, stating he had come round the
corner as the former had done, and seen the prisoner standing with a
pistol in his hand over the figure on the ground. Then the prisoner had
blazed away like lightning at them both, missing Constable Bone
altogether but putting a bullet in his, Wilson's, arm.

"Then Byles, taking over the questioning, said with a most pleasant
smile: 'Of course, Mr. Wilson, you were most interested when, coming
home from your rounds that night, you saw from far away the light in
that lonely house?'

"Wilson smiled back. 'Yes, sir, anyone can bet I was. It was most
suspicious, for I knew no one had any business to be there.'

"Byles nodded as if he quite understood. 'And, naturally, you were a bit
excited when you were cycling up with Constable Bone to the house?'

"The grocer nodded. 'Oh, yes, very excited, especially when we saw the
car racing up to the mill, too. Then we couldn't pedal fast enough. We
wondered what the deuce was up.'

"Byles went on: 'And you caught sight of the prisoner just before
Constable Bone did? You came round the corner just before him?'

"The grocer hesitated a moment. 'Well, perhaps I did, sir,' he admitted,
'but we were practically both together.'

"Byles smiled pleasantly. 'Now I want to make a test of your memory, Mr.
Wilson,' he said. 'When you used to come on your rounds to the Old Mill
when the prisoner had his poultry there, sometimes, as a poultry fancier
yourself, you used to discuss your birds with him, didn't you?'

"Wilson smiled back. 'Yes, sir, it is difficult for poultry men to get
away from their pet subject, and he had beautiful birds.'

"'Then do you remember once telling him,' went on Byles in the same
conversational manner, 'that you had recently paid a guinea for a
sitting of eggs from someone and had had bad luck with them?'

"Wilson nodded. 'Yes, only three of them had hatched out and then a cat
got all of those.'

"'And you got the cat?' laughed Byles.

"'Oh, yes,' laughed back Wilson, 'I shot her with a pistol.'

"Byles looked puzzled. 'But how was it you happened to have a pistol?'

"The grocer looked important. 'Oh, I have to carry one, sir. I often
pick up quite a bit of money on my rounds and one is continually reading
in the newspapers about hold-ups in lonely places.' He nodded. 'So I was
always ready for anything, with my little pistol in my pocket.'

"'And, of course,' went on Byles casually, 'you had got it with you that
night when you accompanied Constable Bone to the Old Mill. You had seen
suspicious lights and, as you say, were always ready for anything.'

"Then, perhaps for the first time, the grocer suspected danger for his
answer did not come quite so promptly. 'Ye-es, I think I had got it with
me,' he said hesitatingly, after a long moment.

"Byles's voice rose sternly. 'You think, you mean you are sure! Ah, of
course, I knew you were!' Then in a lightning flash he unmasked his
guns. 'And not only that,' he thundered, 'but you made use of it. You
fired at the prisoner, but missed him and killed that fellow, Sleeker.
You were so excited that you did not know what you were doing.' He
raised his hand menacingly. 'Now then, admit it. No, don't stop to
think, but confess it like a man.'

"The grocer's face was ghastly white. He shook and shivered and looked
the very personification of guilt. He tried to speak, but his dry mouth
would not let him get out a word.

"Byles dropped his voice to kind, persuasive tones. 'Come now, Mr.
Wilson, we all know it was an accident. You saw, as you thought, the
prisoner threatening the other man and so you whipped out your pistol
and fired on the impulse. We shall all know it was not an intentional
crime.'

"Wilson found his voice at last and spoke stammeringly and with
difficulty controlling a sob. 'But I didn't do it, sir,' he answered. 'I
swear to you I didn't. I had forgotten I'd got the pistol with me, and
it never came out of my pocket the whole night.'

"Byles turned another tack. 'Think again, Mr. Wilson, think again.' His
voice was more persuasive than ever. 'You don't believe you fired it,
but you can't be quite sure. Now that's the position, is it not?'

"But the grocer had now recovered from the stunning effect of the
accusation and was inclined to be resentful for the fright which had
been given him. 'No, it isn't,' he said sharply. 'I know for certain I
didn't fire it.' He looked in the direction of Hardacre and nodded. 'It
was him who fired and he had just done it when I saw him. I heard the
sound just before I turned the corner.'

"And that was all Byles could get out of him. He couldn't shake him or
make him contradict himself in any way.

"The next and last witness was--who do you think? None other than our
friend, old Bannister, the Rector of St. Michael's, and I can tell you
he looked pretty sorry for himself. His evidence was a great surprise to
everyone, for I think only those 'in the know' were aware he had
unwittingly warned Hatherleigh, I mean Hardacre, and given him the
chance to escape.

"He said he had been trying to get the bishop on the phone that night
and, while he had been waiting at the instrument, his wire had crossed
someone else's and he had heard a voice saying that they had caught Dr.
Monk's murderer and his name was Hardacre. Then later, ringing up
Hardacre to invite him to meet the bishop on the following Sunday, he
had passed on what he had heard.

"You could see the old boy was very ashamed of himself because it was
really through him Hardacre had managed to escape only a few minutes
before Inspector Stone had arrived at the Manor to arrest him. But that
wasn't all, for the Inspector, very suspicious because Hardacre had
suddenly gone out in his car just before he should have been sitting
down to his dinner and, moreover, learning from the Manor servants that
this sudden bolt had followed directly after a phone talk with the
Rector, had rung up Bannister to know what he had been talking about to
him. Then Bannister, apparently frightened that he had been gossiping
about things he shouldn't, did not give the Inspector a truthful, or at
any rate a correct, answer, thus enabling Hardacre to get such a long
start and, arriving at the Old Mill, to be the cause of another dreadful
death.

"Yes, Bannister felt very ashamed, but no one rubbed it in because he
had come forward voluntarily and cleared up what had been a great
mystery to the police--how Hardacre had been warned.

"Well, the case for the Crown having been closed, Bampton Byles sprang
up to open for the defence, and it didn't take anyone in the Court half
a minute to see he was in his best form. His line of defence was
admitting a devil of a lot, but stopping each time just short of murder.

"His opening words were a sort of parody upon Peter Shearer's opening
ones. 'This man,' he declaimed melodramatically and indicating the
prisoner, 'is a human being'--he paused exactly as Peter Shearer had
done--'and it was his misfortune and not his fault if he were ever
infected with leprosy.' Then he thundered to the jury that they were not
trying the prisoner because he might have been a leper, or because he
had been selfish and anti-social enough to have avoided segregation.
They were not trying him, either, because he had, knowingly,
appropriated stolen money. They were trying him for murder and murder
alone, and they were not to allow his criminal acts in other ways to
prejudice them against him.

"He agreed that upon the surface things did not look too favourable for
the prisoner, and when the latter went into the box and gave his
explanation of what had happened, he, Bampton Byles, was sure the jury
would see everything in a very different light.

"In the presentation of his case, he said, his learned friend had relied
so largely upon conjecture that he had not once been able to press home
his contentions. He had not been able to show that the bones found in
the mill stream were those of the missing James Werrick or to make it
clear that Harold Smith was even dead. Then with regard to the killing
of Dr. Monk, no proof had been forthcoming that the prisoner had lately
had in his possession a rifle of the small calibre from which had been
fired the fatal shot.

"The prisoner would admit that James Werrick had come to the Old Mill
and that his apparently fantastic story of a sum of money being hidden
there had turned out to be quite true, and he would admit again that he
was the man who asked those two girls that Saturday afternoon where
Dr. Monk lived. He would, however, emphatically deny that it was the
bullet from his pistol which had killed Christopher Sleeker, and as
for Harold Smith, he had never laid a finger upon him and seen nothing
of him since he had put him in the train that morning en route for
Birmingham.

"Touching Sleeker's death, it might be wondered why a visit had not been
made at once to the village grocer, and his pistol impounded. But what
would have been the good of it when no bullet could be produced to show
from what pistol it had been fired? The bullet had not lodged in
Sleeker's neck, but passed right through, and all attempts to find it
somewhere on the ground had failed.

"So it had been thought wisest in the interests of the defence not to
give any warning to Wilson that it was known he possessed a pistol, but
to spring it upon him when he was in the witness-box, and, in his
surprise, attempt to draw from him the admission that it was he who had
fired the fatal shot.

"Yes, my dear wife, Byles's speech was very clever, making us all feel
at once that Hardacre's guilt was not by any means as certain as we had
all been thinking. And when Hardacre went into the witness box and,
happening by happening, Byles drew out his story from him, we were still
more than ever in doubt. Hardacre seemed to be so straightforward and
his version of everything was so plausible.

"He began that he had never been on anything but the friendliest terms
with Werrick, the ex-convict, all along. Certainly, at first he had not
believed his story, but they had searched together, and just after a
week found the money which had been lowered in a water-tight tin into
the mill stream. They had come upon it early one morning, but the sum
hadn't been anything like what Werrick had imagined it would be, for
only 8,000 in banknotes was in the tin. They had divided it equally and
had been so delighted that when Werrick suggested that they should
'celebrate' the occasion, he, Hardacre, had at once agreed.

"So the bicycle had been made rideable for Werrick and he had gone into
Manningtree to get two bottles of the best champagne. He had left the
Old Mill the next morning and that was the last Hardacre had seen of
him. Werrick had said he should leave for South America by the earliest
boat he could get, for as a ticket-of-leave man he would never be able
to enjoy his money in England, as the police would always be watching
him. If he was known to be spending money freely and enjoying himself,
then they would be wanting to know from where he had got the money and
he would not have been able to account for it.

"Hardacre went on that the next day he suddenly realized Werrick might,
perhaps, become a nuisance and, still worse, a source of great danger to
him. He was obviously a man of intemperate habits and in a drunken bout
he might boast of the money he had got, and it come to the ears of the
police. Then, as likely as not, they might get the whole story out of
him. Apart from that, when Werrick had spent his money, and he was of
just the very type to get rid of it recklessly and quickly, his first
thought would be to come to him, Hardacre, and blackmail him for more.

"So Hardacre said he got away from the Old Mill as quickly as possible,
in the circumstances known. He had changed his name again and started
attending race-meetings. He was very successful and in a few months,
wagering heavily, had won more than 40,000. He bought the Manor at St.
Michael's and settled down.

"Coming to Harold Smith, the contention of the prosecution that he had
been murdered was ridiculous, but he, Hardacre, was as much in the dark
as anyone as to what had happened to him.

"He had put him in the Birmingham train that morning and that was the
last he had seen of him. He liked the boy and had been on excellent
terms with him and there was no question of their sharing a dreadful
secret between them.

"Certainly there had been a most unhappy affair in Hoichow, but the
death of a fellow-member of the club had been quite accidental. There
had been a dispute over cards, a fight had ensued and a fatal blow had
been struck. Of course, had he remained in Hoichow he would have been
punished, but, at the worst, it would have meant a fine and social
ostracism. The authorities had, however, been quite agreeable to his
getting away, as they were anxious to save the white community from the
scandal of a public trial.

"As to any corpse having been buried in that shed he was renting, well,
if any corpse had been hidden there, which seemed to be a matter of
great doubt, he certainly knew nothing about it. He had not been near
the shed since February last. Certainly, he was aware, as Mr. Gilbert
Larose had shown, that the shed was an easy place to break into, as from
time to time several things of his had been stolen from there, including
a small .22 rifle, to which the .22 cartridges found in the gun-room of
the Manor belonged.

"Coming now to Dr. Monk, that Saturday afternoon he had called to see
him openly and with no attempt at secrecy. At the garden party the
previous Monday he had recognized the doctor and out of bravado had gone
up and spoken to him, intending to let him see how well he was and, in a
way, taunt him for the false diagnosis he had made. Recalling himself to
the doctor's recollection, the latter had, however, been most
conciliatory and, as a personal favour, had asked him to call upon him
one day so that they could discuss his case together. That he had done
at his earliest opportunity. He had gone straight up to him as he had
been sitting reading on the veranda. They had talked together for nearly
an hour and parted the best of friends.

"That was all he had to do with Dr. Monk. He had not shot him and,
indeed, had not left the Manor that Sunday evening after he had returned
from evening service at the village church.

"Coming to Christopher Sleeker, he had not shot him either. It was true
he, Hardacre, had drawn his pistol when he had been so startled by
suddenly seeing a man come creeping stealthily along towards him,
flattening himself against the house wall so that he should not be seen.
Then, before he could take in what was happening, he heard the report of
a pistol behind him and the man had crashed to the ground.

"Then he admitted that he, Hardacre, lost his head when he heard fierce
shouting and turned round to see two men charging at him, one pointing
at him with a pistol and the other brandishing a baton. He realized they
had already had no compunction in shooting down one man and he quite
thought they were intending to murder him. So, he had instantly blazed
away at them. He didn't know how many shots he fired, but he thought he
must almost have emptied his magazine. Then he was struck violently over
the head and he remembered nothing more.

"We had all listened with some sneaking admiration to Hardacre's story,
for there was no doubt it had been very cleverly and thoroughly thought
out. It was a most crafty attempt to slide out of one awkward situation
after another, and I must say, too, he had a ready and more or less
plausible answer to every question Peter Shearer went on to put to him,
in the ensuing cross-examination.

"He declared James Werrick's patched boot had been left behind because
the man had bought a new pair of shoes when he had cycled into
Manningtree to get that champagne. He did not know how the axe came to
have been thrown into the mill stream, but suggested it might have been
done by the same boys who had broken so many of the window panes in the
house.

"Asked why--if he were not guilty of any of these crimes--he had bolted
away so precipitously from St. Michael's upon receiving the Rector's
warning that the police were coming to arrest him, he gave a most
plausible explanation.

"He said it was not the charge of murdering Dr. Monk that was worrying
him, for he knew quite well he could easily clear himself there, but he
was terrified it might, perhaps, become public property that he had once
been certified as suffering from leprosy, and he wanted to see his
London lawyer instantly and before his arrest, so that an arrangement
might be made with the authorities to prevent any disclosure in that
direction.

"He considered that a vital matter for him as quite recently an
affection had sprung up between him and a young lady and they had been
about to announce their engagement.

"My dear, my dear, that was a spiteful one! Of course, everyone knew he
had been setting his cap at poor little Dorothy Bannister, but that she
had shown clearly she would have nothing to do with him. Yes, that was a
nasty bit of spite to get even with her. I'm sure it was.

"In conclusion he said he had not had the very faintest idea he was
going to be charged with so many crimes. From what the Rector had told
him over the phone, he imagined he was only going to be accused of
revenging himself upon Dr. Monk for some fancied injury the latter had
done him.

"Now I will pass over the closing speeches of the two King's Counsel.
They were just what you would imagine they would be. One made you think
Hardacre was guilty, and the other that he was an innocent and very
unlucky man. His lordship summed up very fairly, though I somehow think
he leaned rather to the side of the prosecution. That, of course, would
have been only natural, as the old boy could not have altogether put out
of his mind that Hardacre had admitted himself to be a man of most
unscrupulous character.

"The jury were locked up for two days and a night and we thought they
would never give their verdict. Then, as of course you have read, they
found Hardacre not guilty of murdering James Werrick, they could not
come to any agreement about Harold Smith or Dr. Monk, but their verdict
about the man Sleeker was a straight-out one of guilty. From the
expression upon their faces, it seemed to me they were relieved at being
able to get Hardacre on this last charge at any rate.

"Then came an extraordinary climax. When Hardacre heard the last
verdict, for a few moments he seemed stunned. Then he sprang to his feet
and, throwing back his head, burst into loud and hoarse peals of
laughter. In a lightning change, however, his face became contorted in
fury. 'You fools, you damned and idiotic fools!' he shouted fiercely.
'You ought to be in a lunatic asylum! Oh, you damned fools!'

"So--exit Hatherleigh, the master of St. Michael's Manor, the suitor of
the pretty Dorothy Bannister and the one-time star poker player of our
club. I understand the authorities will wait for the result of his
appeal against the one verdict of murder, before putting him on trial
again for the two where the jury disagreed. If the appeal goes against
him, of course the other two charges will be dropped. You can't hang a
man more than once."

So ended the Chief Constable's letter and his wife sighed as she put it
down. She could not bring herself to believe that the courtly gentleman
she had known as Clement Hatherleigh be as vile and criminal as had been
made out, and, secretly, she rather hoped he would yet get off. He had
been so charming to her that night at the dinner-party.

       *       *       *       *       *

One sunny morning in the following summer Larose was motoring along the
great Mile End Road when the idea came suddenly into his mind that he
would go and call on Tom Werrick. He had not seen him since the last day
of the trial, and was wondering with some amusement how he had got on
with the raising of his brother's spirit from the dead. He found the
little boot-repairer in his shop, looking just the same as ever, an
inoffensive, shy and nervous little man.

For a minute or two they talked about Hardacre and his being hanged some
months previously, and then Larose, repressing a smile, remarked
casually: "Well, Tom, how did you get on about your brother's ghost?
Have you seen it yet?"

Tom nodded gravely. "Oh, yes, sir, several times. Jim hasn't spoken to
me, but he's looked very happy and quite at peace."

Larose did not laugh. "Oh," he exclaimed as if very impressed, "then
those seances here are still carried on, though the professor has gone?"

Tom shook his head. "No, sir, I take part in real, proper seances now,
where we are all earnest people and there is no deceit. We meet every
other Sunday in Maida Vale and it cost me three guineas to join the
circle."

"And this other affair was closed down," asked Larose, "the one where
you told me you used to meet over the fried fish shop?"

Tom frowned angrily. "Yes, sir, and quite right it should have been
closed down, for the man who started to carry it on after Professor
Sleeker was killed turned out to be a scoundrel and nothing but a fraud.
He was Mr. Cookson, sir, who ran the fish shop downstairs and he was
found out and exposed at the first meeting."

"Good gracious, how did it happen?" asked Larose.

"Very simply, sir," nodded Tom. "That night Mrs. Faggarty brought her
husband who was an unbeliever, and he suddenly flashed a big torch in
the middle of the seance. Then, there was Cookson hopping about the room
in his socks, instead of, as we all supposed, sitting with us at the
table. He was flapping a wet cloth to make the cold air of the spirits
come, and making hisses over the top of his false teeth which were so
loose that they were almost falling out of his mouth."

Tom shook his head sadly. "Things became most unpleasant, for Mr.
Faggarty switched on the lights and gave Mr. Cookson a black eye. Then a
regular fight started between them and there was a lot of noise. Mr.
Matty, a little nervous fellow who is a tailor, got very frightened and
ran out and brought in a policeman, who was very rude and said at first
that we were all drunk."

Larose felt it would be all right to have a laugh now and indulged in a
good one. After a moment Tom joined in, too, but in a much more
restrained way.

"Then, sir, finding no beer about," went on Tom, "the policeman wanted
to make out we were dangerous anarchists and plotting something, but he
only said that because Mr. Cookson was wearing the red tie he had got in
a box of odds and ends when Professor Sleeker's things were sold up.
Then, seeing a lot of coppers and some thruppences and sixpences
scattered over the floor--they were Mr. Cookson's takings that night in
the fish shop and had fallen out of his pockets in the fight--the
policeman said we were running a gambling den and wanted to take all our
names and addresses."

Tom looked very pained at the recollection. "Yes, things looked as if
they were going to be very nasty for us, but we convinced him he was
wrong about the gambling by letting him smell the money so that he knew
it all belonged to Mr. Cookson. It smelt horribly of fish. Then Mr.
Cookson gave him five shillings and the policeman was persuaded to go
off." He sighed. "We went away, too, and I've never seen Mr. Cookson or
any of the other members since."

"And you don't want to," laughed Larose. "Don't have anything to do with
them."

"No, I shan't, sir," said Tom. He smiled. "I keep better company now."
Then suddenly he leant over across the bench and whispered very quietly:
"But I don't suppose you happen to remember what date it is to-day?" He
nodded darkly. "It seems to me most strange you should have come to see
me this morning."

"The date?" queried Larose, raising his eyebrows. "Why, it's August the
tenth! What about it?"

Tom spoke very solemnly. "It's three years ago to-day, sir, when that
wretch Hardacre said they found those bank-notes, and that means"--his
voice trembled--"it's the third anniversary of my poor brother's death."

"So it is," nodded Larose gravely. "I had forgotten that." His face
brightened. "Well, at any rate, Hardacre got his desserts, if he was not
actually hanged for the killing of your brother."

"You think he murdered him, sir?" asked Tom.

"I'm certain of it," replied Larose. "I haven't the slightest doubt."

"Then, will you keep a secret," went on Tom, "if I tell you something
very private?"

"Of course I will," nodded Larose. He was curious and added: "You can
trust me."

"Then I will tell you something that will astonish you," he said. His
voice dropped to a whisper again. "No one knows it except me, but that
man Hardacre was hanged because he murdered my brother. He was not
hanged for murdering anybody else, and it was me"--Tom gritted his teeth
ferociously together--"who sent him to the six-foot drop."

Larose frowned. "I don't understand you, Tom. What do you mean?"

Tom threw his chest out grandly. "I shot Christopher Sleeker and
Hardacre didn't shoot him at all." He went on quickly. "But it was an
accident, of course. It was Hardacre I aimed at, but I hit the poor
professor instead. You see, I was watching Hardacre from the mill-loft
when he tried to lift up that board below, and I was so close that I
could hear him cursing when he broke his knife. Then when he rushed out,
as I suspected to get something else from his car, I hopped down the
ladder and waited just inside the mill door for him to come round the
corner again. Then I let him have it, but, as I say, my bullet went
wrong and hit the other man."

Larose's face was the very picture of amazement and it was quite ten
seconds before he could even exclaim: "Well--I'm damned!" Then he asked
sharply: "Did you fire only one shot?"

Tom nodded. "Yes, I was so nervous that the pistol dropped out of my
hand, but I snatched it up again and hid it in my pocket." His face
broke into a broad and gratified smile. "And just think of it, Mr.
Larose, no one asked me a single question about having a pistol! At the
trial they all just looked upon me as a crazy fool because I had gone
down to the Old Mill to try to see poor Jim's ghost. You saw how they
sniggered and grinned all the time I was in the witness-box."

"Where's your pistol?" asked Larose. "Have you got it now?"

Tom smiled craftily. "No, I just haven't. I threw it into the river over
the Tower Bridge, that very night as I was going home."

They talked on for a few minutes, and then Larose, renewing his promise
not to give Tom's secret away, went off in his car.

"Fate, fate!" he murmured as he drove away. "How strangely are all our
ways ordained in this grim old world of ours! There at that trial,
probably not one of us was not awed by the cold and stern majesty of the
Law. We saw the judge in his ermined robe, the great King's Counsels in
their wigs and gowns, and the scores of officials going about their
duties in all the pomp and ritual of so many hundreds of years ago.
Yet--into the midst of the grandeur of it all--barges a common-looking
and uneducated little East End boot-repairer, a very nit-wit of a man,
and he throws a spanner into this wonderful machinery, making justice a
thing for mockery and a farce!"

A sudden thought leapt into his mind and he exclaimed excitedly: "Of
course, of course, I understand Hardacre's dreadful laugh now! He had
been found guilty of the only murder he had not committed and no wonder
he shouted at the jurymen that they were idiotic fools." He chuckled
delightedly. "And, after what Tom Werrick has just told me--so they
were, so they were!"


THE END.


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