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

Produced by: Maurie Mulcahy

Project Gutenberg Australia eBooks are created from printed editions
which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice
is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular
paper edition.

Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the
copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this
file.

This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online at
http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html

Valid HTML 4.01 Transitional

GO TO Project Gutenberg Australia HOME PAGE





THE DARK MILL STREAM

BY

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.
CHAPTER II.—THE OLD MILL.
CHAPTER III.—THE SECRET OF THE MILL STREAM.
CHAPTER IV.—DEEPER IN CRIME.
CHAPTER V.—LAROSE TAKES A HAND.
CHAPTER VI.—AN OLD DOG FOR THE TRAIL.
CHAPTER VII.—THE TRAIL OF MURDER.
CHAPTER VIII.—A THIEF IN THE NIGHT.
CHAPTER IX.—THE PERIL OF LAROSE.
CHAPTER X.—THE SPIRITS OF THE DEAD.
CHAPTER 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.