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Title: The Phantom Car
Author: Fred M White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
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Language: English
Date first posted: July 2013
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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Phantom Car
Author: Fred M White

*

THE PHANTOM CAR
By
FRED M. WHITE.

*

Published in The Northern Star, Lismore, N.S.W. in serial form
commencing Friday 2 May, 1930.

*



CHAPTER I.--MORNING.

Margaret Ferris came down the broad stone steps leading from the house
into the garden and from thence into the serenity of that perfect May
morning. It was early yet with the dew on the grass, and in the lofty
elms around the house which, so to speak, christened it, the birds were
singing to the glory of the day. And in all that lovely garden there
was no fairer flower than Peggy Ferris herself.

She was tall and slim, a poem in white and gold, like her own Madonna
lilies which were blooming in the borders--in short, all that a
beautiful English girl might be. There was a filmy introspection in
those deep, violet eyes of hers and a faint suggestion of mysticism
which might have been inherited from some far off Eastern ancestors, a
dreaminess that was not one of the least of her charms.

She glanced round that fair domain of hers with a sense of pleasure
and happiness that is born of perfect health and youth at its best
and brightest. Because Peggy was young with all the world before her
and not even the shadow of a trouble in sight. Because Long Elms was
absolutely her own property and the princely income that went with
it was entirely in her own discretion. A lovely old house in its
green setting which was a part of Peggy's very being. Small wonder,
then, that she glanced about her with a certain innocent pride in the
knowledge that all this, and more, was hers.

It was early yet and Peggy had not breakfasted. She walked down between
the wide herbaceous borders, across the tennis lawn and thence to a
rose garden, beyond which stood a pair of hammered iron gates, leading
to the road. So far, there was nobody in sight, so that she had the
whole of the fair prospect to herself. Then, from somewhere outside
the great gates came the sound of wheels, and, a few moments later, an
invalid chair pulled up on the other side of the bars.

"You are early this morning, Mr. Wilde," Peggy cried.

The man in the chair looked up with a slow benevolent smile. He was
without a hat and his venerable grey hair that reached to his shoulders
and his flowing beard were slightly ruffled by the morning breeze. He
presented a fine picturesque figure as he leaned back in his invalid
chair and the long arms with which he had been propelling himself by
means of a pair of levers resting by his side. He might have been some
great statesman or ambassador, so striking was his personality, and a
natural dignity seemed to cling to his shoulders like a garment. For,
according to all accounts, Sebastian Wilde was a great man indeed.
Even the most critical would have been prepared to admit that, without
knowing more of Wilde than might have been gleaned from his personal
appearance. He seemed to be paralysed from his hips downwards, which,
indeed, was the case, though his arms were vigorous enough and his
affliction had not robbed him of the brightness of his eyes or blunted
the edge of his amazing intellect. He looked up now with a slow smile
dawning upon those striking features of his.

"Ah, Miss Peggy," he said, in a deep musical voice. "It does an old man
like me good to see youth and beauty greeting this perfect morn. May I
come inside?"

"Why, of course," Peggy cried. "But, tell me, Mr. Wilde, how do you
come to be about so early?"

"Because I came to see you," the great man smiled. "I came to bring
you those books I promised. I want you, one of these evenings, to come
over to my house and discuss the matter about which we have spoken more
than once. Not that there is any hurry. I am rather busy myself with a
treatise I am writing on occult influences. I have been working on that
ever since I came here two years ago."

"Then you have finished it?" Peggy asked.

"Well, not quite," Wilde said. "You see, there has been so much to do.
And when everything seemed to be going so smoothly, this unfortunate
trouble came upon me. That is why I had to abandon my scientific
investigations in South Africa and hasten back home. It is a great blow
to me, but I am getting resigned to it now. After all, I have a lot to
be thankful for. I can still work as well as ever."

There was a world of sympathy and pity in Peggy's eyes as she glanced
down at the stricken giant in the bath chair. Two years ago, Sebastian
Wilde had come into that neighbourhood looking for peace and quietness
and the placid atmosphere which was necessary to his recovery and,
since then, Peggy and her old aunt, who more or less acted as her
chaperone, had seen a great deal of the Anglo-American who had settled
down in what had once been an old priory, half a mile further along the
road. There he seemed to spend most of his time in strict seclusion,
together with his secretary, James Ebbsmith, and an elderly couple
called Brettle, who presided over his modest wants and took care of his
household.

Naturally enough, the neighbours had been rather curious when the
elderly man with the leonine face and noble head first came into the
locality and speculation had been aroused. But as time went on, all
that had been forgotten and now Sebastian Wilde was accepted as part
and parcel of the place. He had no friends and no visitors; he was
content, he said, to work quietly at the task of his lifetime and
perhaps, when that was finished, he might emerge from his obscurity and
take his proper place in the great world once more. Meanwhile, he was
content with his labours and an occasional visit to Long Elms, where he
could bask in the society of Peggy and that pleasant old aunt of hers
who was supposed to keep watch and ward over her.

Very dexterously, Wilde steered his chair through the gate and up
the drive till the house was reached. There he paused to make a few
scholarly and learned remarks on the subject of some late bulbs which
were flowering under the dining-room window. He was still discussing
these when the iron gates were flung open and a young man came up the
path.

"Cheerio, Peggy," he cried. "Am I too late or too early? What I mean
is, have you breakfasted?"

"No, I haven't, Trevor," Peggy smiled. "And I should be surprised to
hear that you have either. I was tempted outside by the loveliness of
the morning and wandered as far as the gate, when I found Mr. Wilde
making an early call."

"Ah, good morning, sir," Trevor Capner cried heartily. "What an example
to set us young people. Do you often get out in your chair as early as
this?"

"Very seldom," Wilde admitted. "But it was so perfect that I couldn't
sleep. You see, I can manage to dress myself and get about the ground
floor on two sticks. So I tumbled out of bed and--well--here I am. This
is one of the advantages of having a bedroom on the ground floor. Even
my man Ebbsmith has not the remotest notion that I have ventured out
this morning. But don't let me detain you, Miss Peggy."

"Oh, there is no hurry," Peggy said. "Now you are here, why not come in
and have breakfast with us?"

"Does that include me?" Capner asked smilingly.

"Oh, well, you are a law unto yourself," Peggy retorted. "I was
thinking more about Mr. Wilde than you."

"Alas, that I have to decline," Wilde said resignedly. "You see, dear
young lady, breakfast is a meal I never touch. I find it interferes
with my work and there is no time like the morning for clear thinking.
Just give me a hand and I will let you have those books I spoke about."

"What books are those?" Trevor asked.

"Two scientific treatises," Wilde explained. "They are by a German
professor who is the greatest authority living to-day on which I might
call psychic reactions. Not exactly spiritualism, if you understand
what I mean, but scientific measurement of phenomena. Ah, you may shake
your head, young fellow, but there is more in that business than you
imagine."

Trevor Capner scowled slightly. There was a dogged expression on his
face and a gleam in his eye.

"I dare say there is, sir," he said coldly. "But it is not the sort of
stuff for outsiders to play with. I take the same view of spiritualism
as the churches do. It is dangerous and morbid and calculated to
undermine faith in the hereafter. I know of a very sad case of a young
and impressionable girl, not unlike Peggy, who got bitten with that
sort of thing and eventually committed suicide. If you take my advice,
my dear girl, you will thank Mr. Wilde for his offer and tell him
politely to take his books back again."

It was a challenge in a way and a claim to interference which Peggy was
inclined to resent. Just for a moment, her eyes flashed and a flush
mounted to her cheeks. It seemed to her that Trevor was taking just a
little too much upon himself. She was exceedingly fond of him and knew
that he literally worshipped the ground she trod on, knew--too, that if
nothing happened, they would marry, ere long--but this was a case where
Trevor's air of possession had been carried a step too far.

"What nonsense," she said, almost angrily. "My dear boy, you don't
suppose there is anything morbid about me, do you? Why shouldn't I take
an interest in this psychic business?"

"Because it is not good for you," Capner said almost curtly. "It
isn't good for any woman, unless she happens to be one of the modern,
scientific school. I hate the whole thing. I would just as soon see you
take up surgery."

"Again why not?" Peggy asked. "There are several celebrated lady
surgeons to-day. My dear boy, because you happen to be a famous airman,
which means that you haven't any nerves, you seem to imagine that women
are not endowed with the same strength of mind. Now, Mr. Wilde, if you
will let me have those books, we will talk about something else."

With a deeper frown between his brows, Capner turned on one side,
whilst Peggy helped Wilde to retrieve the books from the depths of
his chair. All this time Wilde had said nothing, though, under those
penthouse brows of his, he had been watching the little scene with a
sort of benevolent malice.

"There you are, my dear young lady," he said. "Take the books and keep
them as long as you like. But don't try to understand too much. If you
get into a tangle, let me know and I will do my best to put it right
for you. Now, if you don't mind, I will go. Far be it for a selfish old
bachelor like me to keep youth and beauty from its breakfast."

"I will come with you a little way, if you don't mind," Capner said.
"There is something I have to say. You go in to breakfast, Peggy, and I
will come along later on and discuss that tennis tournament with you. I
may not be able to play myself, but I can't say definitely till after
the middle-day post comes in. Now, sir, let me give you a shove along
the road."

"As you like," Peggy said coldly, as she turned towards the house. "I
am not going out this morning."

Capner turned away without another word.




CHAPTER II.--NOON.

As the morning stole away and the pearly mists melted before the
caressing touch of the sun, Peggy felt her own ill temper vanishing
into nothingness. Perhaps she had been disposed to resent Trevor's air
of complete proprietorship, perhaps she had been too quick in reading a
wrong interpretation of what he had said. She was conscious, moreover,
that she was more deeply interested in this psychic business than she
had pretended. There was a romantic, dreamy side to her nature which
she shyly hid, almost from herself, but it was there, all the same, and
she was always conscious of it.

And there was another matter, a sacred thing of which she spoke but
seldom and then with dimmed eyes and bated breath. Because there had
been a time when Long Elms and its estate and all the revenues thereto
had not belonged to Peggy, but to her only brother, who had been
killed in the Great War. He like Trevor Capner, had had a brilliant
career in the Air Force, where he had won the Victoria Cross in a
never-to-be-forgotten exploit, only to be brought down during the very
last week of the war in flames. And though Peggy was but a child at
the time and many years had elapsed since, she had never forgotten her
brother Victor, to whom she had been devoted and who had represented to
her all that was worth while in the world. Even now, there were times
when she woke in the night and thought of her dead brother, and there
were times when he seemed to be very near to her, so near, indeed,
that she could almost touch him. As if he were somewhere behind a veil
striving in vain to get in contact with her.

It was not until after Sebastian Wilde had come into the neighbourhood
and she had fallen somewhat under his influence that she began,
tentatively, to discuss these mysteries with that eminent man of
science. And he had not laughed at her, as she had half expected. On
the contrary, he had been most understanding and sympathetic.

"Of course," he had said. "There are such things as mediums. Second
sight and intermediaries and all that sort of thing. They are gifts you
can cultivate--in fact, I have cultivated them myself. It is rather
out of my line, but more than once I have succeeded in conjuring up
pictures that almost frighten me. There is a scientific basis for them
all, if we only knew what it was, but I hesitate to carry you along
that path with me. Your temperament is too highly strung and romantic.
If anything happened to you, I should never cease to blame myself. I
mean, if anything happened to you mentally. Mind you, I am not saying
that you could not rise to heights, but one never can tell, especially
when dealing with one of your sex. And I am not going to say it is
impossible for you to communicate with your brother on the other side.
I myself have had some startling experiences."

At that point, Wilde had broken off and declined to say any more. From
time to time he allowed Peggy to flirt round the subject, but he never
encouraged her beyond the field of ordinary speculation. From time to
time he lent her certain books, written, for the most part, by abstruse
authors on a highly scientific plane, and with this Peggy was fain to
be content. But the subject was never very far from her mind, a mind
that was not naturally inclined to the morbid.

However, she put all this out of her head and busied herself for an
hour or two in the garden until towards lunch-time, when Trevor Capner
reappeared. There was a flush on his face and a sparkle in his eyes
that aroused a vague alarm in Peggy's breast. She could not have said
why, but that was what was uppermost in her head as Trevor came towards
her.

"Look here, old thing," he said. "I am very sorry if I upset you this
morning. Of course, I was a fool to talk like I did before Wilde and I
shouldn't have done it if he hadn't annoyed me. And he did annoy me."

"Did he?" Peggy asked. "In what way?"

"Oh, well, if you put it like that, I can't tell you. He is a great
man and a fine old fellow, and all that sort of thing, and I have the
greatest possible respect for him, but he does encourage you in that
spiritualistic nonsense."

"But he doesn't," Peggy protested. "He is always warning me to leave it
alone. He says it is not the sort of thing that anybody with a romantic
disposition like mine should embark upon. He is never tired of saying
so."

"Oh, I dare say. But he is always lending you books and all that sort
of thing. Cut it out, Peggy, cut it out. It only makes you miserable.
Perhaps you think I don't notice it, but you spend a lot of time
dreaming about poor old Victor. He was a splendid chap, and I know what
a terrible blow his death was to you. I believe that if I hadn't been
an airman like Victor, you would never have fallen in love with me.
And you would give this place and all the money you have to bring the
poor old chap back to your side again. But he is dead and gone, and you
can't reach him. You never will reach him till you pass over to the
other side yourself. Don't dwell upon it, darling, don't dwell upon it.
After all, you have a lot to be thankful for, and so have I, for that
matter. So let us be happy and thankful for the goods the gods provide."

"I am happy and I am thankful," Peggy whispered. "And I am none the
less thankful because you promised me that you would give up flying. I
should never have a moment's peace if I thought that my husband was an
airman. I should regard it as a distinct affront to providence. Oh, you
can call me foolish if you like. You may say that I should never have
spoken like that if my dearest Victor had not been taken. Very well,
Trevor darling, let us forget all about it. I won't think about Victor
that way now you have given up your commission in the Air Force. Mr.
Wilde can have his books back and--but what is the matter?"

"Well, it's like this," Capner stammered. "You see, I hadn't actually
resigned my commission, although I promised you I would do so. You
know how one puts that sort of thing off. Besides, I am interested in
aeroplane construction, as you know. There was that helicopter of mine."

"Yes, yes, I know all about that," Peggy said eagerly. "It is one thing
to design flying machines, and quite another to exploit them in the
air. Trevor, you don't mean to say you have promised--I mean you are
not committed----"

"Well, I am afraid I am, in a way," Capner blundered on. "You see, I
haven't sent in my papers. I was so busy on that new bus of mine that
I forgot all about it. I am still in the Air Force, and if I am called
upon for a big stunt, then I shall have to obey. Think what people
would say if I didn't. They would say that I was going to marry a girl
with a heap of money and that I was thinking more of my own skin than
of my country. More than that, they would say that I wouldn't dare to
fly the plane for which I claim so much."

"Let us sit down," Peggy said a little faintly. "Let us sit down and
talk it over quietly. I am very much afraid, Trevor, that you have
something serious to say to me."

Capner gave a sign that might have been anxiety, and yet, on the other
hand, might have been relief.

"Well, I have," he confessed. "I told you that I was expecting an
important letter by the middle-day post, and here it is. Read it
yourself. You can see that it comes from the Air Ministry. They highly
approve of my new plane, which is equally adapted to war or peace. They
want me to give it a thorough test. I have been asked--nay--ordered to
fly from Croydon to Australia, and I am expected to make a record of
it. If I accept, then I shall be off almost at once."

"And if you refuse," Peggy whispered.

"My dearest girl, how can I possibly refuse? Do you want me to be
stamped for ever as a coward?"

"A coward," Peggy mocked. "With your reputation!"

"Well, it would look like it. And I am a coward in a way, because I was
afraid to come and tell you what I have just said. Can't you see how
cruelly I am situated? If I refuse this offer, I shall have it flung in
my teeth that I was thinking of my personal comfort first."

"But of course that would not be true," Peggy cried. "Ridiculous to say
that you are marrying me for my money, when your own private income
is nearly as big as mine. And your own place is, if possible, a more
desirable residence than Long Elms. And isn't the promise you made to
your future wife just as sacred as your duty to the Air Force? For the
last six or seven years you have done your country splendid service.
You have taken risks that few men would care to face, and there are no
new honours for you. Besides, I feel it in my bones that if you set off
on this expedition you will never return. Oh, can't you see how cruel
it is? First of all I lost a brother I loved more than I loved myself,
and now I am asked to lend the man I have given my heart to with a risk
that I may never see him again. Why should I be put to this double
sacrifice? You promised, Trevor, you promised."

"I know I did," Trevor groaned. "And it was a promise I meant to keep.
I will keep it now if I can."

"Wouldn't that be easy?" Peggy demanded eagerly. "You have done a great
work in the past, you are presenting your country with a new type of
'plane from which great things are expected and, surely, there are
plenty of ambitious young officers who would give an eye to have the
chance that lies before you. Why not stand aside and let them have the
opportunity?"

Peggy dropped her voice to a low and pleading tone that shook Trevor to
the centre of his being. To sit there and watch the tears gathering in
her eyes and see the mute appeal on that lovely face of hers moved him
strangely.

"Very well," he said at length. "I will see what can be done. I don't
like the task at all, because I know exactly what the big men at the
Air Ministry will think. And there are others who will think, too,
who won't be nice in the way they express their thoughts. And those
confounded newspapers will get hold of it, too, and my rivals. They
will hint that I have successfully deceived the Ministry and that I am
selling them a machine that I dare not fly myself. Can't you see this?
Can't you see the position in which I am placed?"

Peggy bent her head lower and lower, like one of her own lilies. There
was no blinding herself to the cruel logic of Trevor's words. Still, he
had made a promise to her and, womanlike, she could only see that that
promise must be carried out to the letter.

"Then you will go to London?" she asked.

"Oh, yes, I shall go to London," Trevor said. "But, first of all, I
will get on to a friend of mine at the Ministry through the telephone.
I shall be able to catch him before he goes to lunch if I put a call
through now. But if there is any doubt about it, then, my dear, I shall
have to go."

"I think that would be the best," Peggy whispered. "And I rely upon
you, Trevor, to do all you can."

Capner rose hastily from his seat.

"Very well, darling," he said. "Very well. But it is going to be
cruelly hard either way."




CHAPTER III.--A SCIENTIST AT HOME

Sebastian Wilde had turned away from Peggy and Trevor Capner in the
garden at Long Elms and had steered his way along the road in the
direction of his own house with a little frown between his brows and a
rather puzzled expression on that fine, leonine face. It was as if he
was working out some problem in his mind, for the veins on his forehead
had swollen and there was a sort of baffled look in his eyes. So deeply
intent was he upon his thoughts that a little way further down the
road he almost collided with a passing car and only by a dexterous
swerve into the ditch saved himself from what might have been a serious
accident. The owner of the car shouted some abuse over his shoulder,
but Wilde was too busy extricating himself to take any notice. Then,
just as he had swerved on to the roadway again, a voice from the other
side of the hedge accosted him. He looked up to see a keen pair of dark
eyes in a humorous face regarding him half seriously.

"That was a pretty narrow squeak," the man behind the hedge said. "I
dared not cry out, Mr. Wilde, because I might have startled you. Let me
congratulate you on the strength of your arms. At any rate, there is
nothing the matter with them."

"Yes, my arms are all right," Wilde admitted. "If my legs were half as
good, I should not have much to grumble about. But where have you been
lately, Mr. Manthon?"

The man with the humorous face and the keen, penetrating eyes bent over
the hedge with a pipe in his mouth. The two seemed to be on fairly good
terms and had been ever since Wilde had come into the neighbourhood,
but for some reason or another he was not enamoured of Roy Manthon,
the novelist and psychologist, whose intimate studies of the workings
of the human mind had brought him fame and fortune at an age when most
authors are still struggling for recognition. But he was famous now,
and on the way to fortune, perfectly happy in that quaint old bungalow
of his, which he had adapted out of a pair of workmen's cottages. Most
of his time was spent in the village of Lincombe, where he had made a
few friends, which included Peggy Ferris and Trevor Capner; indeed,
there were shrewd observers who had been heard to declare that if
Capner had been out of the way, Peggy would have had no need to look
further for a husband. But whether that was true or not, that secret
was locked in Manthon's breast and none could question his loyalty
towards the lovers.

He looked down at the man in the invalid chair with that quizzical
gaze that, for some reason of other, always seemed to disconcert the
eminent man of science. It was as if this master of introspection
was gazing into his soul, or analysing his thoughts through a mental
microscope. It was a feeling Wilde could never rid himself of. Not that
he was a man to shirk an issue of that sort. On the contrary, he rather
cultivated Manthon's acquaintance and had made him free of the old
half-ruined priory called Monkshole which he had purchased when he came
to the neighbourhood a year or two before. Manthon was free to come and
go as he pleased, and there they discussed such occult matters that
their minds mutually delighted in.

But, behind it all, there was ever that feeling on Wilde's part that
the younger man was holding him in balance and weighing him. It was a
new sensation for Wilde and one that annoyed him, because he had been
accustomed to a monopoly of that sort of thing himself. It was a case
of opposites attracting one another and, for the moment, Wilde was
content to let it go at that. He smiled up into the face of the man
standing above him and murmured some commonplaces about the beauty of
the morning. Manthon smiled in response.

"Lovely morning indeed," he said. "But where, may I ask, have you been
so early?"

"I have been as far as Long Elms," Wilde explained. "Taking some books
which I promised to Miss Ferris."

"Oh, indeed?" Manthon observed. "Do you find her interested in your
sort of work? I have known her pretty intimately for a long time now,
but I have never detected any scientific leaning on her part. But
then, a many sided man like you has divers interests--the psychic, for
instance. I should not be at all surprised to find that Peggy Ferris is
attracted by that."

There was almost a challenge in Wilde's eyes as he looked up. Was this
man a thought reader, he wondered?

"What make you think that?" he asked.

"Oh, I don't know. Miss Ferris is a bit of a dreamer, despite her
outdoor activities. Her's is a perfect specimen of the normal mind in
a sound and healthy body. But there is an Eastern strain in her blood
somewhere, a certain mystical vein that shows itself to observing eyes
on occasions. I have seen it more than once. In fact, I have seen it
every time she speaks of her dead brother. Have you noticed that?"

Wilde hastened to say that he had not. All the same, he was not telling
the truth, and both of them knew it. Then Wilde switched off the
conversation abruptly to something else and, a moment or two later,
was propelling his way along the road in the direction of Monkshole.
Manthon watched him until the old man was out of sight.

"A most fascinating enigma," he told himself. "The sort of character
that Robert Louis Stevenson would have delighted in. Not the Jekyll and
Hyde business exactly, but something suggesting that dual psychology.
On the whole, the most interesting bit of character study I ever
encountered."

Time ago, and that not very long since, the house called Monkshole has
been little more than a mediaeval ruin. There were ruins about it now,
the remains of a chapel, a few stones standing where a great monastery
had once been, and in the centre of it the Prior's residence, which
had withstood the assaults of time. A rambling house with one great
sitting room, now turned into a library, a bedroom or two, with part of
a ruined tower overhead and certain domestic offices. Here Wilde had
established himself with a man and his wife to look after his comfort,
and for the rest, his secretary, James Ebbsmith, who was, in his way,
almost as remarkable a character as his employer.

In the great library Wilde had placed his books. It was lighted by a
big dormer window at the one end and lined throughout with wonderfully
carved panelling, relieved here and there by slender oak pillars
that rose up to the roof twenty feet overhead. A wonderful room, and
eminently suited to the personality of the man who occupied it.

In the centre of one of the walls was a broad, deep fireplace with
its enormous chimney and its two great powder closets on either side.
Everything there was exactly as it had been three hundred years before,
save for the carpets on the floor and the comfortable chairs scattered
around the room.

Apart from the well-lined bookshelves, there was little else to
indicate that here was the workshop of a great scientist. There was
no machinery or mechanical appliance of any sort, nothing to suggest
a laboratory of a man who was deeply engaged in new discoveries or
inventions. From one point of view, it was rather a disappointing room,
save for its air of repose and quiet dignity which impressed itself at
once upon the most casual observer.

At a small table under the big window the secretary, James Ebbsmith,
sat writing. He was a little man with sharp, rather irregular features,
and quick, evasive eyes which seemed to elude, rather than avoid, the
look of anyone who was addressing him. In a queer way, he suggested
flexibility, much as if he had been constructed out of india-rubber,
which was not remarkable, considering that he had started life, many
years ago, as a circus contortionist and conjurer. How and where Wilde
had found him nobody but that strangely assorted couple ever knew. But
he was the ideal secretary that Wilde had been searching for for years,
and the understanding between them was complete.

Not that Ebbsmith had the smallest claim to call himself a scientist.
It was his nimbleness of body and quick apprehension of mind on the
part of others that was the chief asset in his usefulness to Sebastian
Wilde. Mentally, they were as far apart as the poles, but that did not
prevent a perfect understanding between them.

Ebbsmith looked up quickly as his employer entered.

"Well?" he demanded. "Well?"

"Oh, not so fast, please," Wilde smiled. "I have been as far as Long
Elms with those books for Miss Ferris. I suppose you marked the
passages I spoke about?"

"Yes, I did all that, boss," Ebbsmith said. "I suppose you didn't
happen to see young Capner there?"

Wilde smiled approvingly at his subordinate.

"You are really getting on, James," he said. "That telepathic complex
of yours is getting more marked every day. As a matter of fact, I did
happen to see Trevor Capner. There is something wrong between those two
young people."

"What, do you mean they have had a quarrel?"

"I won't go as far as to say that, but there is a rift in the lute
somewhere. Mind you, Trevor is not the easy-going sportsman that we
take him for. He resents the friendship between Peggy Ferris and
myself. Just fancy a handsome young airman with his reputation being
jealous of a poor, miserable paralysed man like Sebastian Wilde."

For some reason or another, this remark seemed to strike Ebbsmith as
being particularly humorous, for he threw back his head and filled the
room with cackling laughter.

"Oh, yes, I see your point of view," Wilde smiled tolerantly. "But
there are other things. James Ebbsmith, what is it that I want more
particularly than anything else at the present moment?"

"Well, I should say 50,000," Ebbsmith grinned.

"At the very least," Wilde went on. "And I want it in cash, where I can
handle it as required. The great invention stands still for need of a
sum like that. Why is it that all we scientists are so poor?"

"Well, you haven't done so badly without money."

"That is true enough, yes. But consider the months of maddening weary
waiting between the supplies. Five hundred here and a thousand there,
and then weeks doing nothing. I tell you, if I could put my hand upon
a round sum in cash, I could startle the world, within a year. They
talk about their television, which I am not denying is the opening up
of a wonderful new field, but I could take it a great deal further than
flashing photographs across the Atlantic and showing a lot of gaping
fools a theatrical performance on a white screen. I am talking now,
James, as I have never talked to you before. What would you think if I
told you that I am within striking distance of making myself invisible."

"Coo," Ebbsmith purred. "Great, boss. Invisible, eh? My sacred aunt!
Mean to say you could walk about the world without anybody seeing you,
as they did in the fairy stories?"

"Yes, I mean even that," Wilde declared. "The thing is possible.
Anything is possible now that a man can sit in a room believing himself
to be in utter darkness when he is really in the centre of a blaze of
light."

"You are not pulling my leg?" Ebbsmith asked.

"Nothing of the sort, James. What I speak of has been done. It is done
every day. If I wanted to televise you, I should place you in front
of a simple apparatus and reproduce your features, yes, even your
cigarette and the smoke from it, on a screen a thousand miles away. And
you would sit in the operating room under the impression that you were
in pitch darkness, but you wouldn't be. You would be in the centre of
an illumination from which everything but the infra-red rays of light
would be abstracted. I don't want to go into technical details, but
in my workshop overhead I have satisfied myself that the thing can be
done. Indeed, the Scotch inventor, Baird, has already told the world as
much. Now, listen. If I can make you believe that you are sitting in
a ring of electric light when, so far as your eyes are concerned, you
are in absolute darkness, then I can invert the process. My experiments
with those rays tell me that I can so manipulate light within a radius
of a few feet from my own person that you, or anybody else, could
stand, say two yards away, and never know that I was present. That is
what I am going to do."

Wilde had sunk his voice almost to a whisper. Ebbsmith regarded him
with open mouth and staring eyes.

"You absolutely mean that, boss," he gasped. "My word, if you can do
that, then you don't want to go plunging about looking for money. You
could go and take it. You could walk into a big house in the West End,
when the family sat at dinner, and help yourself from my lady's jewel
case, even when her maid was actually in her dressing-room."

A tolerant smile crossed Wilde's lips.

"Yes, I could do that," he said. "And I should be perfectly safe so
long as nobody touched me, or came within a few feet of my aura. I
could walk behind one of the counters of the Bank of England and get
away with banknotes to a fabulous amount, as easily as you could cross
this room. But, my dear James, a lot has to be done before we reach
that stage. I want all sorts of things. To begin with, I need radium.
I could do with a bit, not much more than a pin's head, but even that
would cost something like 10,000. And that is only one of the items.
If I am going to succeed in what I have set myself out to attain then I
need 50,000."

"And you think that Miss Ferris----"

"Ah, there you go again, James, with your telepathic vision." Wilde
interrupted. "Yes, she could do it easily enough. And she would not
miss it, either. I suppose she must be worth at least four times that
amount. And the man she is going to marry is rich. I am wondering----"

"Yes, that is all very well," Ebbsmith cut in. "But isn't the mere fact
that Capner is a wealthy man rather a stumbling-block, eh? He would
certainly have something to say in the matter. And so long as the girl
is under his influence----"

"Yes, but how long will she be under his influence? She is very much in
love with him I know, but I can see signs of trouble in that direction.
I saw them this morning. There is something going on which I cannot
quite fathom. It may be mere imagination on my part, but it seems to me
that Capner is contemplating something to which the girl objects. And
if he goes on with it, there will be complications. What the trouble
is I don't know. You will make it your business to find out. You can
go and see Capner this afternoon and take him that last pamphlet I had
from Germany. I mean the one that Professor Hindrich sent me. There it
is, on the table. I have not looked at it myself, but it has something
to do with ballistics. It is a subject which doesn't intrigue me, but
naturally appeals to an enthusiastic airman like Capner. Give it to him
with my compliments. And then, if you are the clever man I take you
to be, you will be able to find out what is the cause of the little
misunderstanding between Miss Ferris and her lover. Of course, I don't
want to do anything underhanded----"

"No, you wouldn't," Ebbsmith said dryly.

"I am glad you understand me so well," Wilde went on smoothly. "But
if those two agree to part, then I don't see why I should not take
Miss Ferris into my confidence. She is more than interested in my work
already, especially the psychic side of it. And if she and Capner drift
apart, then she will want something to occupy her mind. She is a far
cleverer girl than she takes herself to be. But for the fact that she
was born with a gold spoon in her mouth, she might have gone a long
way. She may go a long way yet, if she consents to help me to perfect
my greatest discovery."

"Aren't you taking a lot for granted?" Ebbsmith asked..

"Quite right, James, quite right," Wilde agreed. "I was carried away
by my imagination. Now, I want you to go as far as Capner's place
somewhere about teatime, and take that pamphlet. Find out what you can
and let me know. And now I think I will get on with my work."

It was shortly after four o'clock the same afternoon before Ebbsmith
finished his correspondence and strolled quietly out of the big
library, leaving Wilde alone there. Half an hour later, the telephone
bell rang and Wilde propelled his chair across the floor to answer
it. He took the receiver down and placed it to his ear and called the
speaker at the other end.

"Yes, it's Wilde," he said. "Who are you? Oh, Prosser, eh? I have been
expecting to hear from you all day. What's that? You can't get it. Why?
Oh, I understand. Well, tell them that they shall have a cheque by the
end of the week. Impress upon them that I must have those chemicals by
return of post. What's that? Martin's address. Why do you particularly
want it? Oh, I see. Well, I can't give it to you now, because I am
alone here and it is upstairs in my workroom. Eh? Are you there? Well,
if it is as urgent as all that, give me another call in an hour and I
will manage to get it for you. All right. Ring off. Good-bye."

And then Wilde proceeded to do a strange thing. With his long, powerful
arms, he levered himself out of his invalid chair to the floor. Once
there, he flung his body and legs over his head and proceeded to
propel himself across the floor until he reached one of the slender
oak pillars that divided the panelling into sections. With the use
of his arms alone, he climbed up the pillar, hand over hand, much as
some great ape might have done, at the same time displaying a muscular
strength and grip which was amazing in a man of his years.

Once at the top of the pillar, he reached out and pushed back a trap in
the ceiling. Then, as if he had been a giant spider, he flung himself
clear of the pillar and raised himself bodily through the open trap
on to the floor above. Here he paused a minute for breath, and, after
putting a little address book in his pocket, surveyed the scene around
him.

If there was no machinery in the room below, there was a plethora of
it in the great loft, which was lighted by a glass roof. There was
something weird and uncanny about those spidery brass and steel wheels
and the great discs that looked not unlike a sheet of parchment which
had been removed from the head of a drum. A sort of robot arrangement,
much as if the studio had been intended to take a futurist film.

But Wilde was not concerned with that for the present. He regained the
library by the same means and he had reached the loft and waited for
the telephone to ring again. There was a light ladder in the corner of
the library, obviously used for the purpose of reaching the loft above;
but with his paralysed lower limbs, it had been impossible for Wilde
to use that in the absence of Ebbsmith. Then he unlocked the door, the
key of which he had carefully turned before he started on his amazing
expedition, and lighted a cigarette.

"So that's that," he muttered. "Just as well to know that the old
training has not been altogether wasted. A sort of triumph of a body
over its infirmities. All the same, I don't think I should cut a very
pretty figure if I walked down the village on my hands, though I can
use them for locomotion as well as many people manipulate their legs.
However----"

While he was still ruminating, Ebbsmith returned. There was a grin on
his face and a smile on his flexible features.

"It's all right, boss," he said. "I have not been wasting my time. I
have quite a lot to tell you."

"Oh, then you did manage to see Capner?"

"Yes, I saw Captain Capner all right. I gave him the pamphlet with your
compliments and he told me to give you his best thanks. But he didn't
seem to worry much about the pamphlet. He seemed to have something very
different on his mind."

"Did you manage to find out what it was?"

"Well, indirectly. It's like this, boss. Capner has practically given
up flying. I know that because he told me so a couple of months ago.
But he is interested in a new type of plane which the Air Ministry have
adopted. He didn't hope that they would do anything of the sort, and,
anyway, he was expecting the usual official delay. But some big bug in
the Ministry happened to get sight of the thing and took it in his head
that it must be tested without delay. So they carted Capner's plane to
one of the big aerodromes and put it in commission. I think the idea
was to fly round the world or something like that, and, of course, the
inventor was asked to take charge."

"You mean he was to fly the machine?"

"That was what I said, wasn't it, boss? That is what I meant, anyhow.
It is only natural that the man who invented it should be commanded to
give it a real test."

"Which means, of course, that Capner is going?"

"Well, there you have me, boss. I can't say. He wants to go, and yet
he doesn't want to go. I didn't ask him any questions on the subject
because it is as plain as the nose on my face. But if you ask me what
my opinion is, I should say that if the young lady wasn't in the way,
Capner would be off like a shot."

"And she doesn't want him to go, I suppose?"

"I am quite sure she doesn't," Ebbsmith went on. "He promised her he
would send in his papers a long time ago. You know that as well as I
do."

"Now I come to think of it, I do," Wilde said. "He mentioned his
intention to me in the presence of Miss Ferris, and she was more than
delighted with what he said."

"Of course she was. You seem to have forgotten what happened to her
brother."

"So I had," Wilde cried. "Stupid of me. Of course, I remember now
that she hates flying. Natural enough, considering that she lost her
brother, to whom she was passionately attached. Look here, Ebbsmith, it
is quite plain. There is trouble between those two because Capner can't
make up his mind to carry out his promise to Miss Ferris. It is quite
natural he should hesitate, because people will say unpleasant things
about him if he declines to back his invention personally. On the other
hand, if he goes on with it, then he will have the lady to reckon with."

"That is precisely how I look at it," Ebbsmith grinned. "Of course,
neither of those young people know that we are in the least interested
in them; indeed, how should they know?"

"Ah, indeed," Wilde said thoughtfully. "Well, James, you have not
been wasting your time and it looks to me as if it is in our hands to
expedite things to racing pace. I think I will take my chair down into
the village presently and drop in casually on Miss Ferris for a little
chat."

An hour or so later, the invalid chair was propelled into the garden at
Long Elms, where Wilde was pleased to see Peggy sitting thoughtfully on
the seat by the side of the lawn.

She smiled pleasantly as he came near, but he did not fail to notice
the look of distress on her face and traces of recent tears in her
eyes. She wiped them furtively and then turned to Wilde with a gaiety
that deceived him not at all.




CHAPTER IV.--NIGHT

"Won't you tell me about it?" Wilde asked benignly.

"Tell you all about what?" Peggy fenced.

"I am an old man," Wilde went on, "an old man who has seen a good deal
of the world and has not been without his own bitter disappointments.
My dear young lady, it is quite easy to see that you are in some sort
of trouble. But don't let me presume. I would much rather not force
your confidence if you are not disposed to give it freely."

As he spoke, Wilde looked the absolute picture of benevolence and
sympathy. His tone was so kind and inviting that Peggy was moved, in
spite of herself.

"Oh, it is nothing," she said. "Very likely I am imagining troubles
that don't exist. But, you see, I am afraid that Trevor is going to
leave me."

"Does that mean a quarrel?" Wilde asked.

"Well, not exactly. You see, it is like this, Mr. Wilde. I hate flying.
Old fashioned, of course, but I have never forgotten my brother Victor
met with his death in the air. Some time ago, Trevor promised me--oh,
but why should I worry you?"

"It is no trouble at all, my child," Wilde murmured. "Let me help you.
A little bird tells me that Mr. Capner is interested in a new type of
flying machine, and I suppose the authorities want him to demonstrate.
And I suppose, too, that you object. Am I right, my dear?"

"Well, something like that," Peggy confessed. "You see, he gave me his
solemn promise not to do any more flying in future. And now he wants
me to absolve him from that promise. He is motoring up to Town this
evening----"

Peggy broke off suddenly as Capner himself came in through the front
gate. He advanced in a hesitating sort of manner as if half inclined to
turn back, and might have done so if Wilde had not called him by name.

"Don't run away," the latter said. "I am only staying for a minute or
two."

Wilde laid a hand on the steering gear of his chair and with the same
benevolent smile on his face, slowly piloted himself down the drive in
the direction of the road. He would come and see Peggy again, he said,
and, with that, he vanished from the garden and was lost to sight.
Capner stood there before Peggy, hardly knowing what to say.

"Well?" she challenged at length.

"I hardly know how to begin," Capner said humbly. "Look here, Peggy,
don't let us quarrel, for Heaven's sake. You hardly realise my
position. For many reasons I don't want to go, but it is hard to get
out of it."

"So hard to keep a promise, Trevor? To me?"

"Yes, that is the hardest promise of the lot. I did tell you,
definitely and plainly, that I was resigning my commission. And it is
my fault that I delayed and I should never have done so if I had known
that the Ministry would make it a point of my testing the machine over
a long flight. But can't you see that they have every right to ask me
to do so? Oh, well, we have had all this over before. But please don't
make it hard and don't think I am hard either. Besides, everything is
not definitely settled even yet. I am going to London in an hour's time
in my car to keep an appointment with Sir Everard, and everything hangs
upon that. I shall dine with him and get back here very late to-night.
Peggy, my dear, if I can get out of this business with honour to
myself, I shall do so; but if they insist, or even strongly hint that I
ought to make the big test, then I don't see how I can get out of it.
But, on my honour, I will do my best. Won't you be content with that,
Peggy? Won't you let things go on as they are until the critical moment
arrives?"

"Very well," Peggy said coldly. "I will try and put it out of my mind
and hope for the best."

"That is good," Capner said, his spirits rising immediately. "That is
my dear girl again. Now, is there anything I can do for you before I
set out on my errand?"

"One little thing, perhaps," Peggy smiled. "I wish you would come in
the house and look at my wireless set. I don't know what is the matter
with it, but it won't function properly. It can't be the batteries,
because they were both of them charged early in the week."

"Sounds like valve trouble," Capner said, only too glad to get off
dangerous ground. "I always told you that earth of yours is not quite
as it ought to be. If I do have to go away, and you get into trouble
with the set again, you can't do better than call in our friend
Manthon. He knows almost as much about wireless as I do. However, come
along."

The little difficulty was adjusted at length to Peggy's satisfaction
and together she and Capner came out into the sunshine again. For some
time they sat down under a tree on the lawn contemplating the beauty of
the landscape.

"What time are you going?" Peggy asked at length.

"I thought of starting somewhere about half-past five," Capner
explained. "It won't take me more than an hour to get to Town and I
shan't have to dress. With any luck, I shall have finished with the big
man by ten o'clock to-night and then I shall get back here as soon as
possible."

"And you will let me know at once, Trevor?"

"Certainly, darling. At any rate, the first thing to-morrow morning.
You will probably be in bed before I come back. You see, I might be
later than I expect."

"Oh, you must try," Peggy implored. "I don't think you quite realise
what this suspense means to me, Trevor. Can't you come in for a minute,
however late it is?"

"Well, I hardly like to do that," Capner said. "It looks rather silly,
don't you think? Look here, I will tell you what. If I am not back at
a reasonable time, you go to bed. I shall be passing this house at any
rate between ten o'clock and midnight and if you like to listen I will
give you a sign."

"What do you mean by that?" Peggy asked.

"Well, a sort of signal. Quite the romantic touch. Suppose I do manage
to satisfy the big men in the Air Ministry and save my honour at the
same time, I will give you three toots on my horn as I go by. If, on
the other hand, I am compelled to go, then I will give six blasts on
my Klaxon. There can't be any mistake, because you will recognise that
cracked note on my horn at once. I wonder how many times you have asked
me to get a new one. Will that satisfy you, Peggy?"

It was a childish idea, but somehow it appealed to the romantic side
of Peggy's nature. She smiled up into her lover's face and nestled a
little closer to him.

"Do you know, that is rather a pretty idea, old boy," she said. "I
think, on the whole, I like it better than a personal call. I shan't go
to bed early, because it will be impossible to sleep until I hear from
you, and there is a rather fine broadcast from Hilversum to-night which
I am anxious to hear. You will try your best, won't you, Trevor? Do try
and remember you are all I have in the world. I have given you my heart
and everything that goes with it, so that only my soul belongs to me.
And I have been so happy in the knowledge that I have found consolation
for the loss of my brother. If anything happens to you, I don't know
what I shall do. I ought to keep you. I ought to insist, here and now,
that you get in contact with the Ministry and tell them plainly that
you can't go. I ought to say that it is the parting of the ways as far
as you are concerned and that it is to be either me or that machine of
yours."

"But you wouldn't do that, Peggy?" Trevor asked.

"Perhaps not," Peggy agreed. "But I think I know what the answer would
be if I did. Don't you see, Trevor, that you are putting me second. No
girl likes that."

"But I am not," Capner said eagerly. "I am trying to hold the balance
true between my duty and my inclination. Come, Peggy, don't make it
more difficult than it is."

Peggy appeared as if about to speak, then changed her mind, and for a
long time there was silence. But there was no warmth lacking in her
kiss as she parted with her lover at the garden gate and watched him
out of sight.

And there was more than regret in Capner's eyes as he turned in the
direction of his home. He left the road presently in the direction
Manthon's bungalow. The latter came out to greet him on the doorstep.

"Hello!" he said. "You look precious grave, old chap."

"Well, I feel rather like that," Capner confessed.

"Oh, then you are really going, after all?"

"Going to London, certainly. But the rest of the adventure is on the
knees of the gods. Now, look here, Roy, old chap, if I have to go, I
shall probably be off very early to-morrow after collecting my traps
here, and I want you to keep an eye on Peggy. Of course, it will break
her heart and it may end in breaking off our engagement, but I shall
have to risk that. Now, if Peggy wants anything or she gets into any
sort of trouble, I hope that you will do your best to pull her through."

"Oh, I will do all that," Manthon said quietly. "But you don't tell me
you have quarrelled."

"Well it hasn't come to that yet, and it may be all right in the long
run. Still, I am not quite easy in my mind as to Peggy and those people
at Monkshole."

"You mean that you don't trust the benevolent Wilde?"

"Well, I wouldn't, perhaps, go so far as to say that. But you know
Peggy has a very strong, romantic strain in her composition and, in
certain circumstances, might become decidedly psychic. I have overheard
one or two little conversations between Wilde and herself that have
made me feel rather uneasy. It is all very well for a man with a strong
brain and intelligence to play with that sort of thing, but I can see
the spiritualistic stuff driving Peggy insane in time. If we had got
married in the ordinary course of things, there would have been nothing
to fear, because I should be always handy to administer a strong dose
of common sense. But if anything happened to me, I can visualise
Peggy under the influence of Sebastian Wilde. I know; he is a great
intellectual force, but, at the same time, he is a visionary who hopes
to probe all sorts of mysterious happenings in the future. And all that
money of Peggy's would be mighty useful to an inventive genius."

"Well, there is certainly a good deal in what you say," Manthon said
thoughtfully. "Wilde is a great man and a great scientist and, with
a brain like his, the dividing line between high genius and sheer
madness is a very fine one. You know what I mean--'Great minds to
madness nearly are akin,' and all that sort of thing. Oh, yes, I can
see Sebastian Wilde in the light of a dangerous fanatic. All right, old
chap, I will keep my eyes open if you don't come back, so you can rely
upon me to do my best."

With that, the two friends parted and Capner went on his way, leaving
Manthon in a curious frame of mind. He had willingly undertaken a
serious charge, which he regarded as none the less sacred, because he
was in love with Peggy himself. He had been in love with her ever since
they first met, but that was a secret which he deemed to be locked
safely away in his own breast, though possibly Peggy, with her womanly
instinct, had divined it long ago.

It was much later that night than Capner had expected before he turned
his back on London and drove his car in a homeward direction rather
slowly and thoughtfully. He had the road practically to himself, so
that he was alone with his own rather gloomy thoughts.

As often happened in such circumstances, the interview after dinner
with the big man in the Air Ministry had not gone in the least as
Capner had expected. When, at length he left the house in Sloane
Street where the interview had taken place, he found himself pledged
to certain things, beyond recall. From the very first, his arguments
had been swept aside as if they had been no more than so many cobwebs;
indeed, the great man had, apparently, not regarded them as arguments
at all. And Trevor knew that everything he had been listening to could
have only led up to one conclusion.

It was very still and silent as he drew near the village of Lincombe
and approached Long Elms, where he could see that a light was still
burning in Peggy's bedroom. A clock in the neighbouring church struck
the hour of midnight.

Trevor hesitated for a moment or two; then, almost recklessly, pressed
the button of his horn.

Three times the cracked note cut through the night air and then a short
pause; then, almost mournfully, the sound uprose again and three more
notes followed.




CHAPTER V.--AN ADMIRALTY ANNOUNCEMENT

For hours it seemed to Peggy that she had been listening and waiting
in the seclusion of her room. She had gone to bed earlier than she
had intended, because, for once in a way, the pleasant chatter of her
aunt and companion had driven her almost wild, so that she was fain to
shut down her wireless set and seek the seclusion of her room. Here,
by means of a switch, she was able to work a second loudspeaker from
the set downstairs and listened more or less abstractedly to the dance
music from the Royal Thames Hotel, where on many a happy occasion, she
and Trevor had danced together before the shadow of trouble had come
between them.

Quite two nights a week they had been in the habit of running up to
Town in the two-seater and dining at the hotel in question, after which
they turned into the ballroom for an hour or two and whiled away the
time with the aid of what Peggy regarded as the best band in London.
She could see it now, as she sat near the loudspeaker, see the lounge
and the gardens beyond, into which it was possible to steal on a
summer's night and sit watching the lights rippling on the river.

It all came back to Peggy with double force as she sat there with one
ear for the music and the other for the signal which seemed as it it
would never come. Then, as it grew later and the world outside became
still, Peggy rose from her seat and moved restlessly about the room.

Then, suddenly, without any warning, the signal came. She heard the
first three hoots on the weird, cracked horn, and just for a moment
it seemed as if her heart was standing still. Then Trevor had managed
after all, to satisfy his superiors and his own conscience at the same
time. It was only for an instant, and then come the other three notes,
like a passing knell; it brought her almost to her knees and caused the
tears to rise into her eyes. It was as if the whole of her universe lay
in ruins about her feet.

But only for a brief spell, which was succeeded almost at once by
hardening lines about the corners of her mouth and a resolution that
she proceeded to put into effect.

She switched off the dance music that was now mocking her ears and,
crossing the room to a table in one of the windows, she sat down and
wrote a letter.

And this was what the letter said:--


"Dear Trevor,--

"It is just five minutes past twelve and I heard your message. There
was no mistaking it, because I should recognise that cracked note
anywhere, and I believe it will ring in my ears till the end of time.

"So, after all, you have decided that I take a second place in your
affections. It is just as well to know that, because I might have
married you and discovered the fact when it was too late. At any rate
I am free now to do as I please, and I want you to regard yourself as
absolved from any promise you ever made. In other words, our engagement
is at an end.

"I did think, when you hit upon that happy idea of telling me that I
was to listen in my bedroom for the message of your horn, that love
was to have all its own way, and that your personal ambition would be
relegated into obscurity. But it seems it was not to be. I give you
credit for believing that you would be successful in getting out of
your obligation and coming back to me a free man. That is, free, as
far as you and I were concerned. And I think, even now, if I had been
firm with you this morning and had implored you with my arms around
your neck and my kisses on your lips, you would have declined to go to
London and written the Air Ministry that, so far as you were concerned,
the thing was finished.

"And I came very near to doing so. I know you could not have refused
me if I had allowed my natural feelings to run away with me. But,
because I am as proud in my way as you are in yours, I managed to
restrain myself and, all the more so, because I hoped that you would
realise that you owed for more to me than you did to a mere Government
department. And even as I sit here writing these words without passion
and without anger, I am not sure whether I am glad or sorry.

"But it is no use to dwell upon that. For better or for worse, our
romance is finished. I am leaving this letter so that you can get it
the first thing in the morning by one of the servants. I presume that
you will be on your way back again to London soon after breakfast and I
think it is just as well that it should be so.

"Because I don't want to see you again, if you will do me one last
favour, it is to keep out of my way. Don't make the slightest attempt
to see me, because it will be only a painful thing for both of us. My
mind is absolutely made up, and that is the last word I have to say.

PEGGY."


Very quietly and calmly, as if she were doing nothing out of the
common, Peggy placed the letter in an envelope and sealed it. Then,
on a separate sheet of paper, she wrote the words "To be delivered at
once" and placed this, together with the letter, on the hall table.
After that, she returned to her room again, and, much to her own
astonishment, undressed and slept peacefully throughout the night.

When she came downstairs to breakfast in the morning, the note was
no longer there, so she came to the natural conclusion that one of
the servants had seen to it that the letter had been delivered. In
the dining-room Miss Bancroft, her aunt and companion, was awaiting
breakfast for her with her usual cheery smile. Nothing ever disturbed
her serenity.

"Well, my dear," she said. "You are late. I have been out in the garden
the last two hours. Do you know, Trevor has actually gone to London
again. But, of course, you are aware of that."

"I wasn't," Peggy said with a thin smile.

"Perhaps he did not know till the post was in. I happened to be
standing by the gate when he went by. When he told me he wouldn't
be back for at least a month, you could have knocked me down with a
feather. Now I come to think of it, I am not sure he didn't say three
months. My dear, you haven't had----"

"A quarrel," Peggy said swiftly. "Oh, dear no. You can disabuse your
mind of that, aunt. I expect Trevor has gone to London in connection
with that new aeroplane of his. No doubt we shall hear more about it in
the course of a day or two. And now, will you help me to some of those
fried eggs?"

All unsuspecting, the benevolent old lady who presided over Peggy's
household did as she was asked, little dreaming of the tragedy which
had wrecked the girl's life during the past few hours. And Peggy had
not the least intention of alluding to the matter, unless circumstances
forced her to do so. And so the days went on, until the best part of a
month had elapsed, without further sign from Trevor. He had taken Peggy
at her word and gone out of her life as if he had been no more than a
mere episode in her career.

But, naturally, she did hear a good deal about him from the daily
press. For some days he had occupied a prominent space in the news and
more than one photograph of the new 'plane of his had appeared in the
pictorial journals. He was on his way to Australia, with the intention
of more or less following the famous Hinckler route, only that his
alighting place before reaching the continent "down under" would be
Singapore. In a vague, numbed sort of way, Peggy followed him from
Croydon to Rome and from thence all across Asia Minor and, eventually
to Singapore, where, according to a brief cablegram, he had arrived in
safety. So far, he had succeeded in his attempt to lower the record,
and now it looked as if he would reach his destination well inside the
standard time.

And then came an ominous pause. Two days elapsed with no further sign
from the airman, and those interested in his flight were beginning to
get anxious. Followed the next day in the press an account of a great
storm in the Pacific, in which more than one ship had foundered.

"It is feared," said the paper from which Peggy was reading, "that
Captain Trevor Capner has been caught on the fringe of one of the
greatest hurricanes which have been recorded in the Pacific for many
years. At the time the airman left Singapore, the weather was fine and
clear, and there was no sign of any atmospheric trouble. But in those
tropical latitudes such phenomena are by no means rare, and frequently
arise unexpectedly out of nowhere in the course of an hour. It is early
yet to prophesy the worst, but we understand that Captain Capner's
friends are by no means sanguine. At the present moment, the Government
at Singapore and also off the Australian coast are doing everything to
get in contact with the missing 'plane. It would indeed be a thousand
pities if such a splendid flight should end in tragedy just when----"

The paper fluttered from Peggy's hand.

"My fault," she told herself. "My fault entirely. I could have stopped
him if I had not been so proud and vain and foolish. Oh, it would have
been so easy to do so. And I was telling myself that I had ceased to
love him. What a lie!"

And so another day or two drifted on with no news and hope growing more
and more faint. Then came the third evening when Peggy was sitting in
her own room listening idly to the nine o'clock bulletin from 2LO that
the blow fell with a force that seemed to crush her into the earth.

"The Admiralty regret to announce that all hope of Captain Capner's
safety must be abandoned. A fragment of the 'plane has been picked up
two hundred miles south of Singapore by a tramp steamer, which seems to
prove conclusively that the airman has been lost."

The speaker droned on, but Peggy heard not another word.




CHAPTER VI.--FRIENDS IN COUNCIL.

Roy Manthon had been using no mere figure of speech when he had
promised Trevor Capner that he would keep an eye on Peggy. All the
same, it was going to be no easy task, because when a young man is
deeply in love with a girl, even though that girl happens to be engaged
to his dearest friend, it is a trying ordeal and likely to strain
loyalty to the breaking-point. And now that Trevor Capner was out of
the way, it was even more difficult than it had been before.

For if the misunderstanding between the lovers had remained and
never been healed, then Manthon might have felt himself justified in
putting his own fate to the touch. But now that Trevor was no more,
he realised that Peggy would make a martyr of him and probably remain
faithful to his memory for all time. Because Peggy was just that sort
of girl--romantic and rather mystic and fully persuaded that it was her
fault because Capner had gone to his death.

She had said so more than once, in as many words to her aunt, Miss
Sarah Bancroft. Naturally, Miss Bancroft, who was the soul of kindness
and good nature, had been deeply grieved when she had heard the
Admiralty announcement; but in spite of her amiability and rather
limited understanding, she was not altogether devoid of common sense,
and it did not take her long to realise that Peggy must not be allowed
to get into a condition of morbid sensibility, because Miss Bancroft
knew that this was a weakness which had displayed itself more than once
on Peggy's side of the family with disastrous results. So that when
Peggy proclaimed herself to be little less than a murderess and talked
rather wildly of getting in touch with her dead lover on the other side
of the borderland, it seemed to the elder lady that it was quite time
to call in some outside assistance, if this deplorable state of things
was to be nipped in the bud without further delay.

"I think, my dear, you are taking an altogether extreme view of the
case," she ventured to say to Peggy, a week or two later. "I may be
wrong, of course, but I cannot see how you can possibly be blamed.
Let us look at the matter as if it were an outside case. You know
perfectly well that our poor dear Trevor made you a distinct promise.
Carelessness, or something like that prevented him from carrying out
his promise. If he had done so, then there would have been an end to
the matter, and he would have been perfectly justified in refusing to
start on that last flight. As things turned out, he could not have done
anything else."

"Oh, I know that," Peggy cried. "But I could have stopped him. I am
sure that he would have listened to me if I had been a little more
considerate. But now he has gone, and I feel as if I had deliberately
sent him to his death. Oh, if only I could recall that cruel letter I
wrote to him! I must get in touch with him auntie, I must."

"And how are you going to do that, my dear?"

"Don't ask me, because I cannot tell you. But such things have been
done. Oh, you may shake your head, auntie, but it is true. Look at the
eminent people in the world who firmly believe that we can get in touch
with those who have passed over. Mr. Wilde believes it for one."

"Oh, you have been talking to him, have you?" Miss Bancroft said, with
a touch of shrewdness. "Of course, I know he is a wonderful man, but I
was not aware that he was a spiritualist."

"He isn't," Peggy said. "That is, not a professing one. But he knows
all about the science; in fact, there is hardly anything he does not
know. And he has read all the books on the subject that ever were
written."

"And some of those he has lent to you?" Miss Bancroft suggested. "Yes,
I happened to see one or two in your bedroom. Send them back, Peggy,
send them back. It is all very well for Mr. Wilde, with his calm,
logical mind, but that sort of thing spells madness for a highly-strung
girl like yourself. Get rid of those books at once, I implore you. I
will speak to Mr. Wilde myself. He has no business to encourage you
in such wicked nonsense. And it is wicked nonsense, because the vicar
told me so only a few days ago. Get out in the fresh air, go back to
your tennis and golf and put such dreadful thoughts out of your mind.
Really, I tremble for you, Peggy."

"You are quite wrong, auntie," Peggy said. "Mr. Wilde has not been
encouraging me. I don't suppose he would ever have mentioned the
subject of spiritualism if I had not introduced it myself. On the
contrary, he has advised me not to have anything to do with occultism.
Of course, he knows all about spiritualistic manifestations and mediums
and all the rest of it, because, at one time, he studied the subject.
You don't suppose a man like that would try and deceive me?"

Rather wisely, Miss Bancroft said no more. But she took the first
opportunity of seeing Roy Manthon and unburdening herself with regard
to what she considered to be a danger lying ahead of Peggy.

"Of course, I will do what I can," Manthon said. "But it is not going
to be easy. Long ago I noticed that peculiar mystic strain in Peggy's
temperament. But I said nothing about it, because her surroundings
were so healthy and normal, that it did not seem worth while. Besides,
she was quite happy as long as poor old Trevor was alive, and there
seemed to be no cloud upon the horizon. But what you tell me is rather
disturbing. Anyway, I will do what I can. Leave Peggy to me and, if I
can interest her in the old pursuits, I will. I am going over to Clyde
Court this afternoon to play tennis with Basil Faber and his sister
Maud, and I will try and induce Peggy to make up a four. It will do her
all the good in the world. I will drop in after lunch and ask her to
come along with me."

It took Manthon some time to arouse Peggy from her state of
despondency, but at length he succeeded, and they set out together
later in the afternoon to cover the mile which lay between Long Elms
and their destination. It was a fine old house, standing in its own
grounds where the highly successful big game hunter, Basil Faber,
resided with his sister, who kept house for him. They were both
comparatively young people, and on the friendliest terms with Peggy and
the other favoured inhabitants of Lincombe. Both Faber and his sister
were only too pleased to see Peggy looking something like her old self
again, and welcomed her warmly.

It was after tea, when tennis had been abandoned for the moment, and
the two men were enjoying a drink and a smoke in Faber's den, that
the latter ventured to suggest that Peggy was taking her trouble more
bravely than he had expected.

"But I am afraid she isn't," Manthon said. "I managed to almost shame
her out of the luxury of grief this afternoon, though I don't know
how long it will last. What she ought to do is to go away from here
altogether. A long Continental trip or something of that sort. She
isn't safe here, old chap."

"Isn't safe here. What do you mean?"

"Well, she has got a sort of leaning towards spiritualism. Wants to
get in contact with Capner across the border. You know the sort of
stuff they talk. And I am afraid that she has been encouraged by that
wonderful chap Wilde. You know Wilde, don't you? Fellow who lives at
Monkshole."

"Oh Lord, yes," Faber said. "That is, I have met him once or twice and
I have been inside his house. I wanted some information with regard to
some skins I had sent me by a friend of mine, who had been shooting
somewhere in Africa, where a white man has never been before. The skins
were quite new to me, and it occurred to me that with that wonderful
general knowledge of his, Wilde might be able to throw some light on
the subject. And, by Jove, he did. He told me about an animal I had
never heard of before. There seems to be no subject on which he is
ignorant. But, somehow, I don't like him."

"Well, now you mention it, neither do I," Manthon agreed. "I have never
said as much before, and if you asked me for my reasons, I couldn't
give them. He is a great man, is Wilde, but there is something wrong in
his mental make up. You see, I have rather an uncanny flair for that
sort of thing. A sort of second sight into human nature. And I am quite
sure that man is a fanatic. If he made up his mind to go through with
anything, nothing would stop him. A splendid friend, no doubt, but an
equally terrible enemy. Not that he looks like it with that wonderfully
benevolent head of his and his calm, philosophic manner. I tell you,
Faber, that Wilde is a dangerous element in Peggy's present state of
mind, and if I can keep those two people apart, I am going to do so.
Of course, all this is quite between ourselves. You may regard it as
the vapouring of an imaginative novelist, but it is something more
than that, and I am going to ask you and your sister to help. We must
keep Peggy as busy as we can, and stop her from brooding on the past.
However, that will do for the present. Now, what do you say to another
turn on the court before the dew begins to fall?"

Faber laid a detaining hand on Manthon's arm.

"Just one moment," he said. "I want to tell you something. You know
that I am a bit of an amateur sculptor as well as a big game hunter."

"Of course I do," Manthon agreed. "Busts and plaster casts and all that
sort of work."

"Precisely, my dear chap, precisely. I want to show you a plaster cast
I took outside the library window a day or two ago. You know there is
a balcony just over the library, and on the flower bed outside I saw
some extraordinary prints. I probably shouldn't have noticed them, only
the night before I fancied I heard somebody moving, so I got out of bed
and switched on the lights. I suppose that frightened off whoever or
whatever it was, so I went back to bed again and thought no more about
it. But, after breakfast, I had the curiosity to go out and see if I
could find any marks and, sure enough, on the flower bed where one of
the gardeners had, a few hours before, planted out some asters, I found
them."

"What, do you mean footprints?"

"Well, that is just where you have got me guessing," Faber went on. "I
didn't say anything to anybody, and Maud doesn't know now. But I took a
cast of those marks, and if you will wait a minute, I will go and fetch
them."

Faber came back shortly afterwards and laid two plaster casts on the
table in front of his guest.

"Now, what do you make of those?" he demanded. "What do you think they
are? Footprints."

"Well, I should say not," Manthon said, after a close inspection. "They
look to me more like large hands--big hands with long, thin fingers.
But what are they?"

"I don't know," Faber admitted. "You call them hands and you are right
when you say they are not feet. My idea is that they are the hands of
some sort of ape."

"Ape?" Manthon cried. "What on earth would an ape be doing round here
after midnight?"

"Again I don't know," Faber said. "But wouldn't it be possible to train
an ape to commit burglary? But not a word of this to Maud or anybody
else."




CHAPTER VII.--EBBSMITH POINTS THE WAY.

On the same afternoon that Faber was discussing the strange matter of
the mysterious footprints with Manthon, Sebastian Wilde was sitting in
his library working on an intricate maze of figures, whilst Ebbsmith
sat at his comfortable seat in the window going through the household
accounts. For a long time there was silence between them, then Wilde
pushed his papers on one side and lighted a cigarette.

"That is as far as I can go for the present," he said. "If you have
finished those books, Ebbsmith, I want you to give me your attention.
How are we off for money?"

Ebbsmith turned away from the table and also helped himself to a
cigarette from the box in front of him.

"Precious bad," he said. "Those people in London are worrying again,
and here is a letter this morning from that electrical firm in the
north declining to send that last lot of apparatus unless we forward
a cheque. I don't think you quite realise how much it is the curse of
scientists all the last couple of months."

"Money, what do I care about money?" Wilde asked impatiently. "It is
the curse of scientists all the world over."

"Ah, that is all very well," Ebbsmith said, "but you can't cut much ice
without it. Why don't you sit down to one of those practical inventions
of yours and turn out something we can churn into cash, instead of
worrying yourself to death over that inverse television of yours? Do
you actually believe that one of these early days you are going to
envelop a concrete form in an invisible sort of halo so that you, for
instance, could walk about without anybody knowing you were there
unless you came in actual contact with them?"

"Well, why not?" Wilde demanded. "If I had told you five years ago
that I could flash a photograph of yourself across the Atlantic into a
newspaper office in New York, you would not be a bit more incredulous
than you are now. And yet the thing has been done. And so will this
shielded invisibility be perfected by myself. It would have been done
before now if it had not been through lack of means. Give me 50,000
and six months' peace of mind, and the problem is solved."

Wilde spoke almost passionately and, for once in a way, his philosophic
calm seemed to have deserted him. Ebbsmith watched him with growing
admiration.

"Gee," he exclaimed. "That would be a stunt. Why, there wouldn't be
anything safe from you. And you mean to say you could actually do it if
you had the money you speak of?"

"Beyond the shadow of doubt," Wilde said. "But, tell me where is that
fortune to come from?"

"It looks to me as if the gods are actually chucking it at you,"
Ebbsmith grinned. "What about Miss Ferris? Almost aching to come
under your influence. Longing to be brought in contact with her lover
across the borderland and ready to believe anything you say. I have
lived among crooks and thieves all my life, so I flatter myself I am
a fair judge of human nature. And if Miss Ferris isn't both neurotic
and romantic, then call me a fool, that is all. Here is a girl worth
two hundred thousand pounds, absolutely in her own right, which is far
more money than she can possibly want, and here are you, a scientist,
ready to set the world on fire. You have the brains and she has the
money. What more ideal partnership do you need? And you can get round
her with your influence as easy as kiss my hand. And if your conscience
troubles you afterwards, you can easily pay her back again when your
invention comes on the market. Its possibilities are amazing. In my
mind's eye I can see an invisible aeroplane, a death-dealing machine
loaded with bombs floating over some doomed city and--well, I don't
want to be poetical because it is not in my line. If you want to play
the game with Miss Ferris, you can do it easily. I don't see why you
need hesitate. If there ever was a case where the end justifies the
means this is it."

For some time Wilde turned over this suggestion in silence.

"Yes," he said at length. "There seems to be a lot in what you say. I
am not a sentimentalist, James, as you know. I am, first and last, an
inventor."

"With something else in between," Ebbsmith grinned.

"Very likely, very likely. But that is because I cannot realise my
ambitions in any other way. But if this thing is to be done on the
lines you suggest, it will have to be achieved very cautiously. You
seem to think that Miss Ferris is absolutely alone in the world,
with the exception of that innocent old aunt of hers. Well, you are
mistaken. There is Manthon, for example. A fine intellect that, James,
a very fine intellect. I am not exactly afraid of him, but I have an
uneasy impression that he has summed me up accurately. Moreover, he is
over head and ears in love with Miss Ferris and, no doubt, hopes in the
course of time, to make her his wife. He would fight for her to the
death. He will come between the girl and ourselves at whatever cost to
himself. At least, that is how I read his character. I shall have to
think this thing very carefully out, James."

"Well, that is your side of the matter," Ebbsmith said. "But if Manthon
makes himself very objectionable----"

"Now, none of that, none of that," Wilde cried. "No violence if you
want to stay with me. Not a single step do you move without consulting
me first. When my big scheme is through and you have more money than
you can possibly spend, then you can leave me when you like. Really, I
am ashamed of you, James. You talk like one of those crude burglars,
who go about with loaded revolvers in their pockets. However, there is
plenty of time. We have all the summer before us."

"Yes, but have we?" Ebbsmith urged. "Didn't I tell you just now that we
were painfully short of ready money? Your balance at the bank in London
is overdrawn, and I am instructed not to send in any more cheques. We
have always paid our way since we came down here and it would look bad
if we began to run up accounts now. What are we going to do about it?"

Wilde waved the suggestion aside impatiently.

"That difficulty we can get over in a day or two," he said. "You know
what I mean. Don't worry me now; let me have just an hour to think
things out. And while I am doing that, you might go as far as Trevor
Capner's house and see if you can't get his housekeeper to give you
that pamphlet on ballistics which I lent him not long before he left
England. I want it to verify some calculations of mine."

Ebbsmith rose obediently and left the house in search of the pamphlet.
He walked along the road until he came to Capner's residence, where
he rang the bell and asked to speak to the housekeeper. So far, the
establishment had not been closed, and servants had been kept on for
the present by Capner's legal representatives. It would be some time
before the court allowed the executors to presume the death of the
airman and, meanwhile, the household went on much as if nothing had
happened. It was just possible, too, that Trevor Capner was not dead,
though the odds were overwhelmingly against such a supposition. Still,
English courts of justice are slow to move in such matters, and it
would probably be a long time before the domestic staff was disbanded
and the house closed.

Ebbsmith found himself presently in the library in company with the
elderly housekeeper.

"I am afraid I don't know what it is you want, sir," she said. "But
you are quite at liberty to look for the book which you say Mr. Wilde
lent my poor dead master. Nothing has been touched since he went away.
In fact, I haven't had the heart to interfere with his papers. And a
more untidy gentlemen, though I ought not to say it, never lived than
Captain Capner. But you can see that for yourself, sir."

Ebbsmith nodded as he looked at the mass of papers and litter on the
big writing-table in one of the windows. There were books on the
shelves with manuscripts and pamphlets of all kinds which seemed to
have been set down at random.

"Yes, I quite see what you mean," Ebbsmith said. "But don't let me
detain you. From what I can see, I gather that it will take me some
time to find what I am looking for. If I do find it, I will ring and
let you know."

The housekeeper turned away, satisfied with this arrangement, and for
a long time Ebbsmith ploughed through the litter on the shelves and
on the table until nearly the end of a hour had passed when his eye
lighted upon the dingy cover of the pamphlet. He was about to turn away
with this in his pocket when, under a blotting pad he had just turned
over, he saw what appeared to be a letter written to Capner, which
letter was in a feminine handwriting. Without the slightest hesitation,
Ebbsmith read it. When he had done so, there was a queer grin on his
face, and he placed the letter in his pocket and, having signified to
the housekeeper that he had been successful in his search, left the
place and made his way home.

In the library at Monkshole, he found Wilde, still seated in the
attitude of profound meditation. He took the letter from his pocket and
thrust it under his employer's nose.

"Read that," he said curtly. "Read that and see if you can't use it. If
you don't think so, I shall be very much mistaken."

Very slowly and carefully, Wilde read the letter which Peggy had
written to Trevor Capner on the night when he had given her the agreed
signal and dashed all her hopes of happiness to the ground. He read it
twice before he looked up.

"Well?" Ebbsmith demanded impatiently. "Well?"

"Undoubtedly it will be useful," Wilde said in his thoughtful manner.
"I can't quite see how we can turn it to account yet, but I shall
before long. What are you grinning at?"

By way of reply, Ebbsmith bent down and whispered a few words in his
employer's ear. Gradually a slow smile spread over Wilde's face, a
smile of appreciation.

"Now, really, that is a great thought," he said. "One moment. Yes, I
begin to see. Don't interrupt."

With that, Wilde propelled his chair across to the fireplace, and,
bending over sideways, glanced up the wide, open chimney. Then he
proceeded to open the big powder closets on either side. Once he had
done this, he came to his desk and Ebbsmith could judge from the
expression on his face that he had come to some important decision.

"Yes, I think you're right, James," he said. "But there will be two
points to consider. I don't want anybody in this except you and myself.
There is no third party I can trust, but I think, with a little
rehearsing, that the business can be managed. The lawyers say time is
the essence of the contract. When I say time, I mean that you and I
must have two watches that exactly tally. Then we must have a kind of
Bradshaw's guide worked out to the minutest detail, one copy of which
you will keep and the other will be locked up in my desk."

"So you think it is a real brain wave?" Ebbsmith asked.

"I do, James, I do. Now collect me all the radio catalogues there are
in the house and let me have them at once."




CHAPTER VIII.--THE BROKEN VALVE.

The sunny days went on and May had given way to a glorious June without
a single word or trace of the missing airman. He was given up for good
now, and never likely to be heard of again. In a way, this state of
things might be said to favour Roy Manthon; but, to do him justice,
he was not thinking of himself at all. He was thinking of nothing but
Peggy's happiness and her future. And, as the days went on, and certain
ominous signs forced themselves on his notice, he became more and more
anxious as to the outcome of Peggy's rather mysterious friendship with
Sebastian Wilde.

Outwardly, at least, there seemed to be no harm in it, but Manthon was
convinced that there was something going on behind the scenes, which he
would have to fathom, if Peggy was ever to be brought back to peace and
happiness again.

And, strangely enough, he was confirmed in his impressions by no less a
person than Miss Bancroft. She was about the last person in the world
who he would have expected to see anything that was going on more than
a foot in front of her nose, because that genial and kindly old lady
was by no means of an observant nature, and always hopelessly inclined
to think the very best of everybody. Nevertheless, it was she who,
rather timidly, introduced Sebastian Wilde's name. She was sitting in
the drawing-room at Long Elm, chatting with Manthon, who had come over
in response to a telephone message from Peggy, who wanted his advice
with regard to something that had gone wrong with her wireless set.
Manthon was almost as expert in radio matters as Trevor Capner had
been, so that when some little irregularity had manifested itself,
Peggy had not hesitated to send for him. She happened to be out just
at the moment of his arrival, so he sat there in the big, pleasant
drawing-room, chatting with Miss Bancroft and waiting Peggy's return.

The elderly lady looked up presently with a sudden fire of resolution
in her kindly eyes.

"Roy," she said earnestly, "I am troubled in my mind. It is about
Peggy. I dare say you will think that I am an imaginative old woman,
but that is not altogether true."

"I am perfectly sure it isn't," Manthon smiled. "Your worst enemy would
not call you imaginative. What is the matter? What are you afraid of?"

"Ah," Miss Bancroft sighed. "I wish I could tell you. It may possibly
be nothing but an old woman's fancy, but it is not that, Roy, it isn't
that. Of course, you will argue that Peggy has been through a terribly
trying time lately, and, of course, that is quite true. But at one time
she was so normal, and now I am beginning to feel frightened. There is
something going on between her and Mr. Wilde."

Manthon repressed a start. Strange, he thought, that this placid old
lady should have jumped to the same conclusion as himself. And yet it
was quite plain to him that Miss Bancroft had nothing definite to go on.

"Can't you go a bit further than that?" he asked.

"Well, no, I can't," Miss Bancroft replied. "Oh, don't you understand
what I mean? Peggy's grief is not of the ordinary type. Girls have lost
their lovers before now, and, after the first wild outburst of sorrow,
have become reconciled to the inevitable. One might have expected that
from Peggy, but it isn't there. She has strange moods of depression,
followed by hours of exaltation. And these always come on after she
has been to Monkshole. What do you make of Mr. Wilde? I know he is a
great man and that he has a wonderful brain. But does he strike you as
altogether--well--honourable?"

"Well, I am bound to confess that I have seen nothing to the contrary,
so far," Manthon admitted. "Do you mean to say that Peggy is in the
habit of paying Wilde secret visits?"

"Well, perhaps secret is not exactly the right word to use," Miss
Bancroft went on. "But I do know she goes to Monkshole frequently and
says nothing about it afterwards. Now, that is so unlike Peggy. If I
ask her where she has been, she makes some vague reply, then her eyes
begin to glow and her cheeks to flush like a girl who is seeing things.
What the Scotch call fey. And one night recently, Peggy was out very
late. She didn't come in till after twelve. She doesn't know I am aware
of that, because I didn't tell her; but it is true, all the same. I
wish you would talk to her and try and bring her round to a rational
frame of mind. I am very disturbed about her. If she goes on like this,
I shall begin to fear for her sanity."

To all of which Manthon listened with deep uneasiness. There was
something going on here and he was not going to be satisfied until he
got to the bottom of it. With his scanty knowledge, he could not argue
that there was anything morally wrong with Professor Wilde; but, at the
same time, the man was gaining a strong influence over a young girl who
was still smarting under her terrible loss.

"That is all you can tell me?" Manthon asked.

"All but one thing," Miss Bancroft said almost in a whisper. "You
know that Peggy is her own mistress, and that she has the command of
something like ten thousand a year. And I think you must be aware that
Mr. Wilde is anything but a rich man. Supposing that he had enlisted
Peggy's aid in financing one of those wonderful discoveries of his, he
is always hinting at. That would not be absolutely dishonest, and at
the same time, would not be very honourable, would it?"

"No, I don't think it would," Manthon agreed. "I know that Wilde
is an inventor of outstanding genius, which means that his mind is
concentrated upon his work to the exclusion of everything else. And I
never knew an inventor yet who had all the money he wanted. Inventors
are notoriously poor, and the poorer they are, the more ambitious. Have
you any reason to suppose that Peggy has helped him financially?"

"Not definitely," Miss Bancroft said. "But I should not be surprised
to find that Mr. Wilde has had more than one sum of money from Peggy.
Can't you find out?"

Manthon shook his head doubtfully. "I will do the best I can," he said.
"Leave it to me for the moment and I will sound Peggy on the subject."

He had his opportunity half an hour later when he found himself in
Peggy's private siting-room examining her elaborate wireless set. It
was a heterodyne six, with all the latest improvements, and it had been
a veritable labour of love on Capner's part to construct it. At the end
of an hour, it seemed to Manthon that he had discovered where the fault
lay.

"I think it is this power valve," he said. "Yes, I am pretty sure it
is. It seems to me that the filament has worked loose. Yes, that is
right. I suppose you haven't a spare one in the house?"

Peggy shook her head.

"I haven't," she said. "Poor Trevor told me that I need not worry about
my valves for the next year or so. I don't suppose you can lend me one?"

"No, I can't," Manthon said. "But I will tell you what I will do. I
will get the car out presently and run over to Marchwick and see my
friend Sam Purchase."

"And who may he be?" Peggy asked.

"Oh, don't you know Sam Purchase? I thought you would have heard of him
from poor old Trevor. He is the leading optician in Marchwick and his
hobby is wireless. He is one of those broadcasting amateurs to whom
radio owes so much. I suppose he has the finest transmitting set in the
south of England. As I said just now, Purchase is an optician, but he
neglects his business for wireless. If it wasn't for that side of his
shop he would very soon be in the bankruptcy court. A clever little
man, but a visionary, all the same. He is pretty sure to have one of
those power valves, because he stocks practically everything connected
with radio. Anyway, I will run over there presently and see what I can
do."

"That is awfully kind of you," Peggy smiled. "You don't know how I
miss my set when anything goes wrong. I dare say it sounds foolish to
you, but on those nights when 2LO transmits dance music from the Royal
Thames Hotel, I like to sit in my bedroom with the set switched on
there and listen to the band to which Trevor and myself used to dance
in the days which will never come back again."

Manthon saw his chance and rose to it.

"Isn't that rather morbid?" he suggested.

"Morbid," Peggy echoed. "Why morbid?"

"Oh, well, I don't know. I hope you won't think me unfeeling, but it
doesn't do for a girl of your age and temperament to dwell too much
on the past. Look here, Peggy, you and I have known one another for
years and are very good friends. You are young yet; you have youth and
health and beauty and a large fortune of your own. More than that, you
have probably many years to live. Don't you think that your advantages
altogether outweigh your troubles? Listen to me. Put these morbid
thoughts out of your mind. Go back to your outdoor sports again. You
haven't played a game of tennis or golf for weeks. It is wrong of you
to sit at home and mope as you do. More than that, it is downright
cowardly."

Peggy flushed up to the roots of her hair.

"Cowardly," she cried. "Cowardly?"

"Yes, certainly," Manthon went on. "The luxury of grief is always
cowardly, not to say selfish. You are making yourself unhappy, but it
doesn't end there, because you make everybody else unhappy as well. You
may say it is no business of mine, and, to all practical purposes, it
isn't. But if I were you, I should turn my back on Sebastian Wilde and
have nothing more to do with him. He is not good for you."

"You don't know what you are talking about," Peggy said with passionate
intenseness. "How should you? Mr. Sebastian Wilde is the greatest
comfort I have. He is a wonderful man; I don't think there is a man in
the world who knows as much. He can show you things people don't dream
of."

"So can any conjurer," Manthon said grimly. "So can any
pseudo-spiritualistic medium. Ah, so that is it."

Peggy had changed colour again and showed certain signs of confusion.
Then she faced Manthon resolutely.

"It isn't spiritualism, or anything like it," she said. "Look here,
Roy, let me speak quite plainly. I sent poor Trevor to his death. You
need not shake your head, because it is true. If I had put my senseless
pride in my pocket and asked Trevor to place me in front of everything
else, he would have done so. It might have cost him a deal of his
self-respect, but he would not have hesitated. And before he went I
felt in my very bones that the flight was going to end in disaster. And
yet you ask me why I am unhappy, and why I consider nobody but myself.
It is because I want to find happiness for everybody that I am not
going to be deterred by anything you say with regard to Mr. Wilde. If I
can't find the light without his help, then I am indeed lost."

With Peggy in this frame of mind, it was useless to say any more. Very
reluctantly, Manthon dropped the subject and left the house with the
defective valve in his pocket.




CHAPTER IX.--IN MARCHWICK.

Manthon drove his car slowly and thoughtfully along the twenty miles
of road that intervened between Lincombe and the prosperous and
respectable cathedral city of Marchwick, where, thirty odd years ago,
he had been born.

In those days the leading firm of solicitors in Marchwick had been
Manthon and Manthon, in other words, Roy's father had been the
surviving partner in a firm which had been established over a hundred
years. To all practical purposes, the Manthons had been county people,
and for a radius of thirty or forty miles all the leading families
placed their affairs in the capable hands of Mr. Nicholas Manthon. And
there, in Marchwick, almost under the shadow of the old cathedral, Roy
Manthon himself had been brought up in a sort of monastic residence
where the family had flourished during their long and hospitable
career. In the course of time, he had gone to Winchester and, thence,
back again into the office of his father with the idea of carrying on
the best traditions of the house.

But almost from the first, he had turned with marked dislike from the
dry study of the law. Its maxims and hair-splittings and queer, mixed
logic, drove him further and further away from his intended career, so
that by the time he had finished his articles and had actually signed
the roll of solicitors, he had made up his mind that the law was not
for him. Long before he had listened to the call of the muses and,
indeed, before his twenty-first birthday, he was already regarded as
one of the coming forces in imaginative literature. In other words,
he was earning enough to buy the books he needed and keep himself in
something like comfort. Then he had taken his courage in both hands and
told his disgruntled father that the law was not for him, nor he for
the law; in other words, that he was going to devote himself for the
rest of his life to fiction.

It was a great blow to his father, but he took it philosophically and
a partner at the same time. And when he died, not so very long after,
Manthon found himself in possession of quite a handsome fortune, apart
from his own increased earnings, and Marchwick knew the name of Manthon
no more.

But, in a way, Roy still kept up his friendship with certain people
in the ancient cathedral town, though he had long settled down in the
village of Lincombe, twenty miles away. So that, when he pulled up his
car in front of an old-fashioned bow-windowed shop in Marchwick High
Street, he was feeling thoroughly and completely at home.

Inside, an alert little man in glasses came forward and greeted him
with considerable warmth.

"Ah, Mr. Roy," he said. "Quite a pleasure to see you again. You haven't
been inside my modest establishment for months. Now, what can I have
the privilege of doing for you?"

Manthon produced the damaged valve from his pocket.

"I think this is the cause of the trouble, Sam," he said. "You can see
what it is, a power valve, from Miss Ferris' set. Looks to me as if the
filament is broken. Anyway, she can't get any reception and the rest of
the set seems all right. I wonder if you can test this for me."

"That I can do in a minute," the old man smiled. "I will put it in my
own set and switch over to 2LO. Let me see, oh yes. Music from the
Marble Arch Pavilion. Doesn't matter much what it is, so long as we get
reception."

The erring valve replaced another in the elaborate set at the back
of the shop, and then followed a blurred travesty of music, with the
addition of mysterious tappings and something very like distortion.
Mr. Sam Purchase shook his head, as he removed the faulty valve and
replaced it with his own again, after which the music came through loud
and clear.

"That's it, Mr. Roy," he said. "You are quite right. The valve is
practically done for."

"Yes, I thought it was," Manthon replied. "I am only too glad to know
it is no worse. The point is, can you supply the deficiency?"

"Of course I can," the little man said promptly. "I flatter myself that
I can meet every ordinary requirement, so far as radio is concerned.
Yes, I have two or three of these valves in stock. Would you like to
take one?"

Manthon took one and paid for it, and then proceeded, for the next half
hour, to discuss wireless in general, after the fashion of enthusiasts
when they once get together. And then, more or less by accident, the
name of Wilde was introduced.

"Oh, you know him, do you?" Roy asked. "Yes, I thought you would. Does
he ever come here?"

"Yes, quite frequently," Purchase explained. "In fact, he has bought
several out-of-the-way appliances from me and only last week he came in
with quite a large order for scientific apparatus of his own design. I
don't want to seem conceited, Mr. Roy, but those blue prints Mr. Wilde
brought me are most mysterious. Not that I ought to worry, because if I
get my profit on the making of them, I ought to be satisfied. I suppose
you happen to know Mr. Wilde quite well."

"No, I don't," Roy smiled. "As a matter of fact, nobody knows him
quite well, with the possible exception of his secretary,--I mean Mr.
Ebbsmith."

Purchase seemed to hesitate for a moment.

"Now, look here, sir," he said. "What I am going to say now is quite
between ourselves. Would you say I should be justified in accepting
that order from Mr. Wilde? You see, it runs into hundreds of pounds and
he made no mention of payment on account. I am no money-grubber, sir,
but I can't afford to lose what I must lose over that transaction, if
I can't obtain payment from Mr. Wilde. I thought, perhaps, as he is a
next-door neighbour of yours, more or less, you would be able to tell
me something about his financial position."

"No, I am afraid I can't," Roy said. "I regard Sebastian Wilde as a
man of outstanding intellect, who may go down to posterity amongst
famous scientists. But he is not what you would call communicative;
and though I have been in that strange old house of his more than
once, I never feel that I am a welcome guest. If you ask me, I should
say he is not particularly endowed with this world's goods. Mind you,
I may be altogether wrong. He is a man who lives very simply and
his establishment is run on economic lines. On the other hand, his
experiments may be very costly and I have no doubt he spends vast sums
on them. And that is about all I can tell you."

The little man seemed to be troubled about something.

"Perhaps I ought not to have said as much as I have done," he went on.
"But I don't quite know what to do over that order. You see, I heard
a rumour--which, however, is something more than a rumour--that the
big Radio Power Company is suing Mr. Wilde for a large sum of money.
In fact, I have been told that a writ was issued and that your old
firm is acting as the local agent for the Radio Power Company's London
solicitors. Of course, if this is a fact, I am likely to lose what Mr.
Wilde owes me, and it would be madness on my part if I placed the big
order I told you about just now. Now, sir, I have known you all your
life and you know me for a straightforward man. Would you mind trying
to as certain from your late father's successor whether what I have
said is, or is not, true?"

"Oh, I will try, if you like," Manthon said somewhat dubiously. "It is
not exactly what is called regular business; but if I can do you a good
turn, I will. I will just run across to Cathedral Square and drop in at
the office. I am sure Mr. Fenton will help me if he can. If there is
anything doing, I will come back and let you know."

Roy turned presently to the office of Messrs. Manthon and Fenton, where
a few moments later, he succeeded in obtaining an interview with a
florid, rather sporting-looking individual who had taken his place in
the flourishing business that his father, at one time, had hoped to
hand over to him. Without any beating about the bush, he came straight
to the point and asked for the information which he desired.

"Oh, well, I don't see why I shouldn't tell you," Fenton said. "It is
common property in the office. From what you say it seems to be common
property all over the city. Anyway, Sam Purchase is a very decent chap
and is by way of being a bit of a client of ours. So, if I can prevent
him from losing any more money than he has already lost----"

"Then what Purchase said was correct, eh?"

"Yes, my boy, yes. You see, a writ was issued against Wilde by the
Radio Power Company and, in the course of time, judgement was signed.
You know what that means."

"Yes; you are in a position to levy execution at any moment. And as
your firm is, at the moment, acting as Clerk to the Shrievealty you are
in a position to take possession and levy execution at Monkshole at
once."

"I see you have not forgotten all your law," Fenton grinned. "As a
matter of fact, you have stated the case perfectly correctly. We are
in a position to levy an execution when we please. That means that I
have already handed over the necessity authority to the High Bailiff of
the County Court here and I suppose they will put a man in possession
forthwith."

"Quite so, and that man will remain in possession for eight days, or
until the exact amount of debt and costs is paid. Failing that, there
will be a sale at Monkshole. Please tell me if I am wrong. I dare say
you will wonder why I am concerned in the matter. I can't explain for
the moment, because the subject wants rather delicate handling. Still,
I have got a bit of a brain wave, and if it is on a sound basis, then I
think I can help my old friend Sam Purchase, and--er--somebody else at
the same time. I wonder if you could manage to find out for me the name
of the man who is employed by the High Bailiff to carry through the
execution. Can you do that?"

"Well, of course I can," Fenton said reluctantly. "But you are asking
me to play it rather low down, eh?"

"My dear chap," Manthon said seriously. "There is a good deal more
hanging to this than you imagine. Now, do please give me your
assistance."

"Very well," Fenton replied.

With that, he picked up the telephone on his desk and called a certain
number on the local exchange. After few seconds' conversation, he
replaced the instrument and turned with a smile on his face to his
companion.

"There you are," he said. "That's done. I don't in the least know
how it is going to help you, or why you should be interested in the
type of broken humanity that isn't ashamed to find employment in
the--er--profession of what is vulgarly known as a bum-bailiff. But the
man whom you seem to be so anxious about is a queer local character who
rejoices in the appropriate name of Joe Biddle."

"You don't say so?" Manthon exclaimed. "Joe Biddle, poacher of fish,
fur and feather, once in the British Army and the holder of a Military
Medal. Gracious me, Joe was in our battalion in France. He was one
of my disreputable companions in the days when I was mad on birds'
nesting. A man, who, if he had had a little education, might have done
pretty well anything. I suppose you can't tell me where I can find him."




CHAPTER X.--JOE BIDDLE.

"'Fraid I can't," the lawyer smiled. "I am not particularly interested
in what the late General Booth used to call the submerged tenth; but if
you are anxious to find this man Biddle, I suggest that you should comb
some of the public-houses in the east end, across the river."

Manthon thanked his successor and departed upon what proved to be
rather a long errand. It was a good three hours later before he ran
his man to earth, in a small beer-house. Biddle was seated in solitary
state in a sort of apology for a bar, gazing gloomily at an empty
tankard. There was nobody else there at the moment, so that Manthon
could speak freely.

"Well, Joe," he said. "I dare say you are surprised to see me here, but
the fact is I have a job of work for you."

Mr. Joe Biddle stood up and touched the peak of his dingy cap. He was
a middle-aged man, tough, and wiry and more than a little inclined to
run to seed. But he had an alert and observant eye and a certain meed
of intelligence, both of which are necessary attributes to a successful
poacher.

"I am very glad to hear that, Master Roy," he said. "Leastwise, I beg
your pardon, sir, I ought to have said Mr. Manthon. But, Lor' bless
you, sir, it only seems yesterday as you was a boy and that keen on fur
and feather as never was. You mind the time we found that hawk's nest
in Squire Thornton's spinney? And that day on the river when I teached
you 'ow to snare trout with a bit of piany wire?"

"That's all right, Joe," Manthon said. "I have not forgotten. But I am
afraid that you were but an ill companion for an innocent youth like
myself, though I did enjoy those illicit expeditions of ours."

"Aye, that you did, sir," Biddle went on. "And I never did you no 'arm
in any other way. And I never seen the inside of a jail unless it was a
conviction for poaching. And, to my mind, that don't count. But, look
here, sir, what's the like of a gentleman like yourself doing in a
dirty little beer-house like this? Why, I wouldn't come 'ere myself if
I wasn't 'ard up. Real broke, I am. But thank the Lord I've got a job
for to-morrow that will keep me going till something turn up."

"So I understand," Manthon said. "Am I right in supposing your job is
going to take you out as far as Lincombe?"

"Why, that's right, sir," Biddle said in some surprise. "But how you
come to know that beats me."

"Never mind how I come to know it. Is it a fact that you are going to
Lincombe to-morrow to spend a few days with a neighbour of mine whose
name happens to be Sebastian Wilde?"

"That's right, sir," Biddle agreed. "But look here, Mr. Roy, I ain't no
talker where business is concerned. That's why I keeps my job with the
County Court people, because they know I've got a silent tongue in me
'ead. Of course, lots and lots of people in Marchwick know Joe Biddle,
the bum-bailiff, and when you see 'im setting out with 'is best clothes
on, you wants to know where 'e is going. Partly curiosity and partly
because there is some satisfaction in hearing about the troubles and
worries of one's next-door neighbour."

"That is quite right, Joe," Manthon agreed. "Your sentiment is a sound
one and has been expressed in rather better language by a sardonic
philosopher who died two or three centuries ago. And though I am not in
the least interested in the misfortunes of my neighbours, I have some
very good reasons for wanting all the information I can get as to the
interior economy of Monkshole."

"Lor', Mr. Roy, 'ow nice you do talk to be sure," Joe said admiringly.
"Comes as pat to you as kiss me 'and. I suppose all you novel-writing
gentlemen are alike. And it so 'appens I can tell you a lot about
Monkshole."

"Do you mean to say you have been there before?"

"Three times altogether," Joe said. "And nobody none the wiser for it.
Three times I've been sent out by the County Court to levy an execution
at Monkshole and three times the money 'as been paid. Once within
twenty-four hours, but the other times not before a week 'ad elapsed."

"That is rather surprising," Manthon said. "I was quite under the
impression that, in a village like Lincombe, that sort of thing would
be known within a few minutes."

"And so it would, sir, if Monkshole were an ordinary house'old. But
then, it ain't. There's Mr. Wilde and that india-rubber man wot 'e
calls 'is secretary. Most mysterious bloke is Mr James Ebbsmith. Comes
and goes like a shadow. In London one day and down at Lincombe the
next. Then there's a man and 'is wife wot's the most silent couple I
ever come across. Not a word can you get out of either of them. I ought
to know because I lived in the kitchen with them for a fortnight, on
and off, and I don't suppose we changed twenty words the whole time."

"Still I suppose they made you comfortable?"

"In a sense, yes, sir. They rig me up a bedroom on the ground floor and
serve my meals regular. No animosity, you must understand, but just
looking at me as wot people calls a necessary evil. You see, all I 'ave
to do is to stay in the 'ouse till the mony's paid or the auctioneer
comes along to sell up. My business is to see that nothing goes off
the premises, though I've known occasions when I've bin badly done in
the eye that way. Not that it worries me much, because a chap working
single'anded and rather fond of a good night's sleep can't be playin'
watch dog all the time. You see, it is more or less a matter of form."

"Yes, I suppose it is," Roy said thoughtfully. "But I suppose you get
out sometimes, don't you?"

"Why, yes, sir. Just pottering about the grounds not very far out of
sight of the 'ouse. Must get a mouthful of fresh air now and again. But
what do you want----"

"I am just coming to that," Manthon interrupted. "Now, listen to me,
Joe. I know you feel sure that I won't ask you to do anything wrong,
but there are reasons, very urgent reasons, why I should know a great
deal of what is going on in Monkshole. According to your own showing,
you may be there for a day or you may be there for a week. If for the
longer period, so much the better. Now, do you think you could smuggle
me into the house? I mean some time after dark."

Biddle looked a little dubiously at the speaker.

"I am not saying as 'ow I couldn't, sir," he said. "But it would have
to be pretty late, and if anything came out about it then I'd lose my
job to a certainty. You might say it ain't much of a job, but it's
beter'n the work'ouse or goin' on the dole, especially in the winter
time, when things are quiet."

"I think we shall be able to put that all right," said Manthon. "If you
suffer over this business, I will see that you are none the worse off
for it. Now, tell me, did you ever notice anything particularly strange
at Monkshole?"

Mr. Joe Biddle paused for some considerable time.

"No, I can't say I did," he said. "Only sort of mysterious goings on.
Mr. Wilde, 'e pushes 'isself all about the 'ouse in 'is chair and comes
on you sometimes like a ghost. But he spends most of 'is time in the
big library that's full of books. Over the library is a great loft
which, at one time formed part of a tower. And in this loft there's all
sorts of extraordinary machinery. Wheels and shafts and all that sort
of thing like so many cobwebs. Sort of place you might dream about. I
was up there once when Mr. Ebbsmith was away in London and Mr. Wilde
was down in the village. Mere curiosity on my part, that was. It was
curiosity as got Mrs. Bluebeard into trouble. You gets up in the loft
with a ladder. Course, I 'ad to be careful, 'cause I'd no business in
that part of the 'ouse, though I dare say I might 'ave got way with it
if I'd been discovered."

"I know most of what you have already told me," Manthon said. "I have
been in the library, where I do remember seeing a light ladder leaning
against one of the walls. All the same, I didn't connect it with that
loft overhead. I had not the remotest idea there was such a place. So
that is where Mr. Wilde works, is it? But how on earth does a man who
is paralysed in his lower limbs manage to get up a ladder?"

"Ah, there you are askin' me a question, sir," Biddle grinned. "I don't
know whether Ebbsmith carries the old gentleman up on 'is back or not,
but I am perfectly certain as Mr. Wilde 'as got some way of getting up
aloft. Besides, Ebbsmith doesn't understand much about machinery."

"Are you quite sure of that, Joe?"

"Well, pretty certain, sir. One night when I was prowling about the
'ouse after the servants 'ad gone to bed, I 'eard them two talking in
the library."

"Oh, you did, did you? And what were you doing?"

"Well, I don't tell you no lies, sir," Biddle said candidly. "I was
lookin' for something to smoke. Thought I might be able to lay me 'and
on a packet of fags, perhaps. And I did, in the dining-room. However,
that 'as nothing to do with it. Those two was talking and Mr. Wilde 'e
was trying to explain to Ebbsmith some sort of a gadget 'e wanted the
india-rubber man to bring 'im back from town. And 'e couldn't make 'im
realise at all what was needed. So Mr. Wilde, 'e calls for a pencil and
a bit o' paper and makes a drawing. At least, I suppose 'e did, but I
'eard enough to convince me that Ebbsmith wasn't no use as far as that
machinery was concerned."

"Well, never mind about that for the moment," Manthon went on. "When
are you going to Monkshole?"

"I catches the 9.45 to-morrow morning and goes straight there," Biddle
explained. "It's just possible that I might get paid to-morrow and then
where should we be?"

"I rather think that depends upon the amount," Manthon said. "How much
is the execution for?"

Biddle explained that the levy was for something over four hundred
pounds, including costs. It was the largest sum for which execution was
issued against Wilde, and the bailiff rather expected that Monkshole
would supply him with quarters for a week. More than that, he could not
possibly say.

"Oh, very well," Manthon remarked. "I am afraid we shall have to
leave a certain amount to chance. Now, look here, Joe, suppose we say
to-morrow night or the next night, not long before twelve o'clock? I
mean that I shall be not very far off the front door at Monkshole at
that time, and if you can come out and meet me, so much the better."

"I can do all that easy enough, sir," Biddle responded. "Unless the old
gentleman is very interested in some particular experiment, 'e goes to
'is room pretty early where 'e is undressed by that bloomin' manservant
of 'is. Once that's done, of course 'e's safe for the night. And then,
again, Ebbsmith is away two or three days a week. If I am lucky enough
to find a night when Mr. Wilde retires early and Ebbsmith 'appens to be
off the premises, I can let you know. My bedroom is on the ground floor
and was used at one time as an indoor lavatory. There's a little window
by the side of the porch. If there's a light in that window, then
you'll know that there's something afoot; if there isn't, then you can
go back 'ome again. Now, what do you say to that little arrangement,
sir?"

"Excellent," Manthon agreed. "All right, Joe. And here's a Treasury
note for you to go on with."




CHAPTER XI.--THE UNWELCOME STRANGER.

Sebastian Wilde was seated at the big library table over a mass of
figures and calculations when the gloomy manservant entered and stood
waiting for his employer to look up.

"Well, what is it?" Wilde growled. "Why do you come worrying me like
this now, Fish?"

The man addressed as Fish showed no sort of feeling as he jerked his
thumb over his left shoulder.

"It's that man come back again, sir," he said. "That man Biddle from
Marchwick."

Something like an oath burst from Wilde's lips. Just for a moment, his
philosophic calm deserted him entirely and a spasm of rage gripped and
distorted his features.

"So soon," he muttered. "So soon. I wrote and asked those people to
give me another week. They might have known I could have paid them in
that time, as I did before. However, fetch the man here and let me
speak to him."

Biddle shuffled rather furtively into the library and cast an
apologetic glance at the angry scientist.

"Very sorry, sir," he muttered. "Much rather be somewhere else, sir,
but chaps like me ain't got much choice. It's that wireless company.
Comes to over four hundred pounds. Of course, if you like to give me a
cheque for the money----"

"To the devil with you and the company," Wilde cried. "Of course,
I can't give you a cheque. You know perfectly well. But why should
I blame you, my man? Go and find Fish and ask him to make you as
comfortable as he can, because you are likely to be here for the best
part of a week."

Biddle departed without any further words and not entirely displeased
to hear that his sojourn in Monkshole was likely to last for some
considerable time. As he turned into the hall, he encountered Ebbsmith,
who grinned knowingly.

"Hello, my friend," said the latter. "So you're here again."

"That's right, sir," Biddle said cheerfully.

Ebbsmith waited for no more, but walked into the library and closed the
door carefully behind him.

"Isn't this rather awkward, guv'nor?" he asked.

"Awkward," Wilde echoed. "It is a calamity. I would not have had this
happen just at this moment for any money. I suppose we can't get rid of
the fellow?"

"No, we can't," Ebbsmith said, grimly. "There is practically nothing in
the bank and, for the moment, no prospect of raiding a five-pound note.
Of course, there is always the chance that something may turn up from
London.

"A broken reed," Wilde muttered. "Here am I, tied down by this cursed
trouble of mine when I ought to be up and doing. I tell you, that money
must be found. Of course, this man is only a mere country bumpkin who
can't see a foot beyond his nose; but, all the same, he is a peril in
the house just now. Is there nothing you can suggest, James?"

"Several things," Ebbsmith said. "But nothing very practicable. What
about our young friend Miss Ferris?"

Wilde brought his hand down with a crash on the table.

"No," he cried. "A thousand times no. The thing would be absolute
madness."

"Can't say I see it," Ebbsmith retorted. "If you asked her for a
monkey, she would let you have it like a shot."

"Of course she would," Wilde said scornfully, "or probably double the
amount. But how long would it be before that man Manthon found out all
about it? I tell you, he is a live danger to us. He suspects me and he
suspects you and he is over head and ears in love with Miss Ferris.
Some of these days he expects to take the unfortunate Capner's place,
and he will probably succeed in doing so. He already guesses that I
have some sort of an influence over the girl, and his instinct tells
him that it is not for her good. Of course, she is very beautiful and
rich and all that, but she is an impressionable and romantic little
fool and transparent as the day. If I borrowed money from her, as you
suggest, Manthon would know all about it within a week. And then what
would he do?"

"Well what could he possibly do?"

"I will tell you," Wilde snarled. "I will tell you. You may regard
Manthon as a careless, easy-going scribbler who lives in his books and
doesn't worry about outside matters, but you are quite wrong. That
man not only has a brilliant intellect but he possesses an uncanny
insight into other people's minds. He has never said a word, or given
a sign that he mistrusts me, but I know he does. And I know that he is
watching the relations between Miss Ferris and myself as a cat watches
a mouse. If I did help myself to her money, then it would not be long
before Manthon was in London enquiring into my past. And I don't want
that, my friend; I don't want that."

"It would be awkward, wouldn't it?" Ebbsmith grinned.

"Yes, and it would be equally awkward for you," Wilde retorted.
"James Ebbsmith, contortionist and conjurer. Also an old jail-bird
with convictions against him on the Continent and in America. James
Ebbsmith, whom the Chicago police would be very pleased to interview.
Oh, you needn't answer back, because neither of us can afford to throw
stones. And some of these days, if all goes well, the name of Sebastian
Wilde will ring all round the world. Never mind about my past. I am
one of the greatest living scientists, James, and you know it. I have
brooded over those discoveries of mine for years and, so far, I have
been able to finance them without going to the business world where
the capitalists would have wanted half the credit and nine-tenths of
the profits. How that financing was done is only known to you and me.
And when the big thing is ready, then we shall be the two richest men
in the world. But don't you ask me to ruin everything for the sake of
a few paltry hundreds when success is practically in my grasp. It may
be one of these days that Miss Ferris will be my financial partner;
but when she is, it won't be for a beggarly four hundred pounds, but
something much more like fifty thousand. No, James, we must get out of
this mess as we have done before. You had better go to London to-morrow
and see what can be done, whilst I shall not be altogether idle at
this end. If I have to take a risk, I will do so. And I think I can
see my way to getting hold of a thousand or so by the end of the week.
Meanwhile, you had better go to London and see if anything is doing
there. If there is, give me a ring on the telephone. And, whatever you
do, before you go, have a look at that chronometer watch in my bedroom
and set your own by it exactly."

Ebbsmith grinned appreciatively.

"Oh, it's one of those stunts, is it?" he asked.

"Needs must when the devil drives," Wilde growled. "I hate that sort
of thing myself, it is so mean and paltry. Just the sort of trick you
were up to when we first came in contact with one another. All very
well to tide over a little difficulty, but no use where big business is
concerned."

"Yes, but deuced useful when an imaginative young woman is concerned.
What an extraordinary chap you are, Wilde! In some respects, utterly
unscrupulous. And yet so frequently making two bites at a cherry. If
I didn't know you as well as I do, I should say you were in love with
Miss Ferris."

Wilde's face blazed angrily.

"Well, suppose I am," he demanded. "Would there be anything very
wonderful in that? I may be a cripple, but my infirmity is not due to
natural causes, but is entirely due to that business many years ago
in South Africa. Apart from that, I am as good a man as you are, and
better. And I have all the average man's natural feelings and impulses.
Miss Ferris is a charming and delightful girl and would be a splendid
match for anybody, even if she hadn't a penny in the world. But, you
see, she has a great many pennies in the world, and that makes all the
difference. If I had a fortune of my own, there would not be a single
individual who could hold a reproachful finger at me. If I could carry
out my big schemes without the help of the woman we are talking about,
then I would make a great many sacrifices to do so. But I am not going
to sit on my hind legs like a dog and beg coppers from her. Oh, I can
influence her, I know. She will listen to everything I have to say;
but so far, I am not sure, I am not sure. Given time, she will come
to me with open hands and offer me anything I need, and that is what
I am waiting for. I want her to be my willing partner, not my foolish
dupe. After that, if all goes well, and I can stand out as the greatest
scientist of all ages, it will be my privilege to take her by the
hand and introduce her to two continents as the woman who believed in
Sebastian Wilde and helped him to reach the summit of his ambition."

Wilde paused and glanced at his companion. He had poured out the words
in a wild cascade, during which he had climbed into his chair and
propelled himself furiously round and round the library, almost as if
he were trying to get away from himself and his own troubled thoughts.
And Ebbsmith looking at him, could not withhold a meed of admiration.

"Well, perhaps there is a good deal in what you say," he admitted. "But
it is infernally dangerous, all the same. Now what is the next move?"

"At this end, do you mean?" Wilde asked. "Well, I think you can leave
that to me. You go to London to-day and do your best with the people up
there. If I want you back, I will telephone. If I don't, stay where you
are. I may possibly send you a parcel by registered post in a day or
two, and, if so, you will know what to do with the contents."

Ebbsmith nodded curtly and departed. An hour later, he was on his way
to London in Wilde's runabout car.




CHAPTER XII.--THE HELPING HAND.

His business in Marchwick having been concluded, Manthon turned his car
thoughtfully in the direction of Lincombe and made his way homewards.
He had a good deal to occupy his attention, and he was still brooding
over the problem that lay before him, when he was passing the iron
gates that led up to the abode of his friends the Fabers.

Just as he was slipping by the lodge, Basil Faber came out into the
road and held up his hand.

"The very man I want to see," he said in his breezy way. "I tried to
get you on the telephone an hour or two ago, but I was told that you
were in Marchwick. If you are not in any hurry, I wish you would step
inside. You see, Maud would like to have a word or two with you about
Peggy Ferris."

"Very well," Manthon said. "I will just run the car inside the gate,
if you don't mind, and then we will discuss the matter together. As a
matter of fact, I am just as uneasy about Peggy as anybody else."

Faber led the way into the house, but he did not linger in the
drawing-room, as Manthon expected, explaining to the latter that he had
an appointment in the village and that Maud would be able to speak for
both of them. Maud rose and extended a very friendly hand to Manthon.
They were old acquaintances and old playfellows and, up to a certain
point, there was a perfect understanding between them.

"Well, what is it you want?" Manthon asked, after Faber had left the
room. "Anything I can do, Maud?"

Maud Faber nodded her curly head emphatically.

"I think you can do a great deal," she said. "Do you know, Roy, I
hardly know how to put it. It is very awkward indeed. I want to speak
plainly and yet, if I do, you may mistake my meaning. But I am acting
for the best."

"Of that I am perfectly sure," Roy said earnestly. "Please go on. And
speak as candidly as you like."

Something like a wave of colour crept into Maud's cheeks and in
her blue eyes there was a depth of expression which moved Manthon
strangely. Hitherto, he had only known Maud as a happy, sunny, outdoor
girl, who revelled in sport and frankly preferred the company of men
to that of her own sex. A sort of charming boy, with a boy's open,
engaging smile and a frank manner that was not without its own peculiar
charm.

But now she was presenting to Manthon's startled gaze an entirely new
Maud altogether. He was asking himself vaguely why he had, hitherto,
failed to notice what a really lovely and attractive girl she was.
If anybody had asked him an hour or two before if Maud Faber was
beautiful, he would have denied it more or less emphatically. But not
now.

"We have always been the best of friends, Roy," Maud said, with a
peculiar thrill in her voice. "And I think I know you rather better
than you know me. Now, tell me as one friend to another, how long you
have been in love with Peggy Ferris?"

"Love with Peggy Ferris," Manthon stammered. "You don't mean to say you
have noticed anything----"

"My dear boy, it is as plain, yes, as plain as the nose on my face.
At least, most women would guess your secret if they ever saw you two
together. But, never mind, Roy, I don't want to make things any harder
for you than they are."

"I am not going to deny it," Roy said, under his breath. "I suppose you
have some good reason for this--this----"

"Impertinence," Maud smiled. "You might just as well say it. At any
rate, you must be thinking so."

"I assure you I am not," Manthon said eagerly. "And I am equally sure
that you have some good reason for speaking so plainly. Go on--I am
interrupting you."

"I hardly know how to," Maud said. "And yet somebody must prevent you
from ruining your life. I mean, you must realise that your feelings for
Peggy are absolutely hopeless. If my brother had spoken to you like
this, you would only have lost your temper with him and that is why
I have had to interfere. And it is hopeless, Roy. I have known Peggy
ever since we were little girls together, and where her affections are
concerned, she never changes. She is not that sort of woman. She gave
all that she had to Trevor Capner and, for his sake, she will never
marry. I don't say she might not have done so, if Trevor had died in
any other fashion; but she is quite convinced that she sent him to his
death and that his blood is on her head. This may sound a wild sort of
statement, but Peggy believes if from the bottom of her heart. We shall
never induce her to take any other view. But we can try and shake her
out of her morbid state. It is our duty to do so. It rests with us to
show her that life is not all dust and ashes, but that if she gives
herself a proper chance there are many happy years before her. Yes,
Roy, and many happy years before you, if you will only take a grip on
yourself and realise that Peggy is not for you. Oh, my dear boy, it
almost frightens me to talk like this. I don't know what you must think
of me, because it is almost as if I was throwing myself at your head
and reminding you that there are as good fish in the sea as ever came
out of it. But it isn't that Roy, is isn't that. I want to help, I ache
to help."

"But what can we do?" Manthon asked.

For a moment or two Maud was silent. Manthon could see that she was
shaken to the centre of her soul, and that she was moved to the depths
by what appeared, on the surface, to be something at once bold and
unmaidenly. But then, he had only to glance into the depths of those
eloquent blue eyes to realise that no thought of self was actuating her.

"Well, I thought you might help me in that respect," Maud went on.
"Peggy has got into a very despondent mood and there are moments when
I fear for her sanity. We must not let her go on like this. We must
take her out of herself, make her play tennis and golf again. You see
what mean. Now, look here, Roy, I went over to see her this afternoon
to try and persuade her to come here to-morrow night and dine with us.
She wouldn't say yes and she wouldn't say no. Would you mind calling
on your way past her house and adding your entreaties to mine? Do your
utmost to get her here, to-morrow evening and bring her with you in the
car."

Manthon gave the desired promise readily enough, and went on his way
homeward. He stopped, as promised, at Long Elms, and went into the
drawing-room there where Peggy was listlessly playing with a book which
she was pretending to read.

"So you have got back," she said indifferently.

"As you see," Manthon smiled. "I went into Marchwick on your business
and I discovered, as I expected, that there was something wrong with
the power valve on your set. Sam Purchase tested it in my presence, and
proved it to be defective. So I took the liberty of getting you a new
one."

"That is very good of you," Peggy said with a cold indifference that
caused Manthon a certain irritation. He had never felt that feeling
towards her before, and it rather astonished him. "But why did you take
all that trouble?"

"Well, I don't know," Manthon said. "I thought it would please you. You
don't mean to tell me that you have lost all interest in your wireless?"

"Well, perhaps not," Peggy admitted. "Of course not. I missed it last
night, I missed it because--but I don't see why I should speak about
that to anybody."

"Now, look here, Peggy," Manthon said, keeping his temper with an
effort. "It is perfectly ridiculous for you to go on in this way.
You asked me to do my best to put your set right, and, after all the
trouble I have taken to do so, you assume an air of indifference which
is rather ungrateful, to say the least of it. Why do you treat me like
this?"

"Oh, I don't know," Peggy cried. "Something seems to have altered me
altogether. When I sent Trevor to his death in the cruel way which I
did----"

"Absolute nonsense," Manthon declared. "You did nothing of the sort.
You may have acted very rashly and foolishly, but really you have
nothing to blame yourself for. And if you have no consideration for
yourself, you might have some for your friends. There is your aunt,
Miss Bancroft, worrying herself into her grave over you, and Faber and
his sister talking about nothing else. Do you know what will happen to
you unless you abandon your present dangerous introspection?"

"I am sure I don't know," Peggy sighed.

"Then let me tell you. You will finish in a lunatic asylum. A prey to
melancholia and an object of pity for everybody about you. You with all
your beauty and grace and charm, your youth and your wealth, to finish
like that! The mere thought of it is impossible. You might as well take
the veil and spend the rest of your life in some convent."

For the first time since her early childhood Manthon saw the spectacle
of Peggy in tears.

"I--I am very sorry," he stammered.

"It isn't that," Peggy sobbed. "I know you are speaking for my own
good, and I don't resent it in the least. But I am haunted, Roy, I am
haunted."

"Haunted? What do you mean by that?"

"I mean that I am haunted by a phantom car."

"A phantom car? What on earth is the girl talking about? What car?
Whose car? When?"

"Perhaps I had better tell you the story," Peggy went on more calmly.
"When Trevor went to Town to settle the matter one way or another with
the Air Board, his intention was to get back late the same night and
let me know what had happened. Of course, it would be too late for him
to call and see me, so he said, if he got out of his flight, he would
give three blasts on his Klaxon horn and six blasts if he had agreed
to undertake the journey that cost him his life. So I lay awake and
listened. It was very late when the signal came, and, when it did come,
it was six long-drawn notes on that peculiarly cracked horn. You know
it as well as I do, Roy; you have heard it hundreds of times. But it
seemed to strike on my heart like a death knell. It was the end of all
my hope and all my happiness. I ought, perhaps, to have seen Trevor
the next morning, but I declined to do so, and he went off by an early
train and we never met again."

"But surely it doesn't haunt you," Roy cried.

"But it does, it does," Peggy said, in a small, still voice. "I have
heard that mysterious horn more than once--yes, more than ten times
during the last month. Sometimes in the afternoon and sometimes at
night when I am listening to dance music from one of the London hotels.
The sound of the horn cuts through as clear as a bell. And when it does
so, I know that Trevor is calling me from somewhere on the other side.
It is a sign that he has a message to deliver to me, and until he can
deliver that message, then his soul will never rest, nor will mine. No,
Roy, it is not imagination, the haunted car is there, and there it will
be till the end of time."

Manthon stared hopelessly at Peggy. There was no doubt in her belief in
the matter of the haunted car, or of the sincerity with which she told
her story.

"There must be some explanation," he said. "Peggy, will you let me try
and find it for you?"




CHAPTER XIII.--THE HORN AGAIN.

"Oh, I only wish you could," Peggy cried. "But there is no explanation.
You may laugh, Roy, you may analyse this business as much as you like,
but you will never convince me that I am not face to face with the
supernatural."

"Well," Roy said, with an effort at cheerfulness. "Perhaps not. But,
at any rate, I can try. And you will make an effort, won't you? It is
no use my devoting all my energies to this strange business, if you
are going to let yourself go. And, at any rate, you will dine with the
Fabers to-morrow night, won't you?"

"If you wish it, I will," Peggy agreed. "You can call for me in the car
at about seven o'clock and, in the meanwhile, would you mind putting
that new valve in my set?"

Manthon made the necessary change in the set and then switched on for
what was just the tail end of the children's hour. The voices from 2LO
came through, clear and strong, much as if they were in the room.

"There you are, Peggy," Manthon said. "I told you it was a defective
valve. What a capital set yours is! I think it is the best that poor
old Trevor ever made. Not that I have anything to complain of in mine,
but I don't think my aerial is as good as yours. Now you can go on and
listen as long as you like, but don't tell me to-morrow that you have
heard the phantom horn again. And, oh, just one moment before I go."

Manthon turned back as if a sudden thought had occurred to him. It was
an idea that he did not want to discuss with anybody for the moment;
but, all the same, he was not disposed to leave the house until he was
sure of his ground.

"Now, look here, Peggy," he said. "You told me something just now that
I find very disturbing. I mean the story about the signal between
Trevor and yourself, and your being haunted with six blasts on the
phantom horn. Now, how many people had you discussed that with before
you spoke to me about it?"

"Not one," Peggy said, looking him squarely in the face. "I have
never mentioned it to a single soul. What would have been the good? I
shouldn't have spoken on the matter even to you if you hadn't more or
less bullied me into it. Perhaps I ought not to say bullied, but you
know what I mean. I have no doubt that you were acting for the best----"

"Yes, I think you can give me that credit," Manthon said. "And you are
quite sure that your secret has not become known to anybody outside us
two?"

"Absolutely," Peggy said firmly.

"Why?"

"Well, never mind why for the moment," Manthon said evasively. "You
see, these things are capable of explanation sometimes, especially when
they are common property. But what you say only renders my task all the
more difficult."

With that, Roy turned and left the room. He was more agitated in his
mind than he had let Peggy know. He believed her implicitly when she
assured him that she had never discussed this matter with a soul.
He had half expected to hear her say that she might have mentioned
the subject of the horn on one of her visits to Monkshole. But that,
apparently, was not so.

Then in what direction was he to look for some solution of this strange
happening? He could not bring himself to believe yet, that Peggy was
suffering from delusions, because, although she looked so strange and
distrait and there were great purple rings under her eyes, she seemed,
so far, to be absolutely normal. Nor was Manthon inclined to believe
that he was face to face with some supernatural manifestation. There
was a deep mystery here somewhere that left him helpless, and baffled;
but if there was a key to the mystery, then he was going to find it.

He was careful enough not to allude further to the subject when he
called at Long Elms the following evening to pick up Peggy on his way
to the Faber establishment. He was pleased to see that Peggy had shaken
off a good deal of her depression, and was taking an almost intelligent
interest in what was going on around her. She was almost herself as she
stood on the broad verandah outside the drawing-room window with her
host and hostess. It was a perfect summer evening, with the sun still
shining high in the heavens and the four of them stood there on the
shady verandah looking out across the wide landscape. There was an air
of peace and tranquillity everywhere, so that even Peggy was feeling
the influence of it.

Maud Faber drew Manthon on one side under the pretence of showing him
one of her roses, whilst Peggy and her brother remained behind. Maud
looked up with that frank, boyish smile of hers and Manthon was not
indifferent to the attraction of it.

"So you managed to bring her," Maud said. "Upon my word, Roy, she looks
wonderfully well this evening. How did you manage it? Did you talk to
her seriously?"

"Well, you might put it that way, if you like," Manthon said. "You
might even go further. I didn't want to bully her, but I am afraid I
did. But this is going to be a long business, Maud. There are one or
two little things I can't tell you, because it would not be quite fair.
It will take us all our time to bring Peggy back to solid ground again."

"Well, we have got to try," Maud smiled. "Now, if you will regard her
as an ordinary individual and not a divine creature to be placed on a
pedestal and worshipped----"

"I think you can cut that out," Manthon said. "I had a long
consultation with myself last night, and I came to the conclusion that
what you told me was absolutely right. To be frank with you, Maud, I
was hopelessly in love with Peggy. I knew that it was useless, but that
makes precious little difference when a chap gets it as badly as I did.
And then, when I sat after dinner last night for an hour or two in my
smoking-room, I began to ask myself questions. I began to see that
you were right when you said that Peggy would never give her heart to
anybody but poor old Trevor and, what is more, I began to see that even
if I could persuade her to marry me one of these days, I should have no
more than the husks of a dead affection. I dare say you will think it
strange of me to talk to you like this; but it was you who taught me
to look at myself and face an issue that had to be decided one way or
another."

"And that decision?" Maud asked.

"Was to regard Peggy, in future, as no more than a friend. I am sure
if we try our hardest, we can bring her back to herself again, and
convince her that there is a long and happy future ahead. But it will
take some doing."

"Of course it will," Maud agreed. "I am very glad to hear you say what
you have, Roy, because, if the worst comes to the worst, it will be
only one life that is spoilt and not two. So you think that you have
succeeded?"

"So far as I am personally concerned?" Roy asked. "Yes, I think so.
I lay awake most of the night meditating on the subject, and when I
came down to breakfast this morning I was rather like some dipsomaniac
who has fought a battle with the demon alcohol and beaten him. But
that doesn't prevent me from being loyal to poor old Trevor. There are
strange forces at work, Maud, and we have got to grapple with them. Not
a word of this to Peggy. Come along. Wasn't that the dinner-bell?"

They went back to the house smilingly, with something like a perfect
understanding between them. Then into the dining-room, where they sat
until the dusk turned to the velvety darkness of a summer's night, and
the shaded lights on the table threw a warm glow on crystal and silver
and flowers. It was quite late when, at length, the four of them made
their way into the drawing-room and Maud crossed over to the wireless.

"Let's have some music," she said gaily. "Pass me the Radio Times,
Basil will you? I seem to have an idea there is something special on
this evening."

"You are quite right," Basil said. "A novelty. Henley Regatta week.
Have you forgotten?"

"So it is," Roy exclaimed. "And the first Henley I have missed for many
years. I thought I saw somethings in the papers this morning about a
river fete and fireworks."

"That's it," Faber agreed. "The band of His Majesty's Royal Grenadiers
in the Henley enclosure, supported by a rather fine pierrot show.
Fireworks on the river and all that sort of thing. It ought to come
through splendidly on a night like this. Would you like to hear it,
Peggy?"

"Yes, I suppose I should," Peggy said more or less indifferently. "But
isn't it getting rather late?"

"Only just a few minutes past ten," Faber said as he consulted his
watch. "Turn on the set, Maud."

Maud manipulated the controls and instantly the room was flooded with
the strain of the famous Guards' band. On that still, starry night, the
melody flowed as smoothly and as evenly as a rippling stream, and came
with soothing effect to the frayed nerves of one listener, at least.

"What a wonderful thing it is," Manthon said thoughtfully. "The more
I think of it, the more amazingly it strikes me. Five years ago, no
one would have dreamt of such a miracle. To my mind wireless is the
greatest invention of the last hundred years. And we are still on the
fringe of its amazing possibilities."

The others acquiesced in silence. It was good to sit there in the
semi-darkness and listen without speaking. Then the band ceased and
there followed a song by a famous comedian which was one of the gems of
some recent musical comedy. The voice ceased at length and the shouts
of approval could be heard distinctly as the singer was warmly encored.

"It is amazing," Peggy murmured. "It is----"

She broke off suddenly, for, clear and loud above the ripple of voices
and the clapping of hands, came six distinct hoots from a broken Klaxon
horn. The piercing discord of it seemed to echo mockingly round the
room.

With a little cry that almost escaped attention, Peggy swayed forward,
only to be upheld by Manthon's retaining hand.

"Be brave," he whispered. "Pull yourself together."

"Then you heard it?" Peggy asked under her breath.

By way of reply, Manthon gripped her firmly by the forearm. The whole
incident only occupied a few seconds, and Manthon was pleased to notice
that it passed absolutely unobserved over the heads of both Faber and
his sister.

"Very, very strange," he said, an hour or so later as he drove Peggy
homewards. "Yes, I am not surprised that you should be carried off
your feet by that dreadful noise. But, look here, Peggy, there must
be some proper explanation for it, there must. I am not going to rest
till I get to the bottom of it. Good night, my dear, and don't let this
disturb your rest."

It was before breakfast the following morning that Manthon, with an
ingenious excuse, found himself inside the garage of Trevor Capner's
house. There stood his two-seater car and there, by the side of it was
the cracked Klaxon horn.

"Very, very strange," Manthon told himself. "But there will be stranger
things in this world yet, and clever people will get to the bottom of
them. Anyway, I am not going to be satisfied until I have found out how
the thing is worked."




CHAPTER XIV.--AT MONKSHOLE.

Joe Biddle had asked himself no questions, before he had fallen in
with Manthon's suggestion that he should play the part of general spy,
during his more or less indefinite stay at Monkshole. He knew, of
course, that Manthon was not moved by any sinister motive, and that it
would be well worth his while in the long run to do as he was asked.
And even if things ended in disaster, Manthon has promised Biddle that
he should not suffer. Therefore, Biddle went about his work with a
light heart, and for the next two days lay more or less low, awaiting
Manthon's orders, so to speak.

But it was a dreary business and what appeared to be a dismal and
commonplace household. Monkshole was the last word in dullness and
boredom without any redeeming light and, from Biddle's point of view,
the man Fish and his wife might have been moulded by nature to take
the part of domestics in that gloomy establishment. And if there was
anything sinister going on there, Biddle was persuaded that neither
Fish nor his wife had anything whatever to do with it.

Fish was a big man about sixty years of age with a black beard and
a countenance that spoke of perpetual depression. His wife, the
housekeeper, was equally reticent and restrained, and in every way a
suitable mate for her husband. It was with these people, then, that
Biddle found himself in contact, and no efforts on his part could shake
the depressing couple out of their characteristic silence.

Therefore, the next day or two dragged on without anything to vary
the monotony of the establishment and, so far, Manthon had given no
sign. Nor was there anything within the house that struck Biddle as
being anything out of the common. In the course of his duty, it was
his business to see that nothing was removed from the premises, and
this gave him a certain latitude of movement in which he could indulge
without exciting suspicion. Not that he anticipated any move on the
part of Sebastian Wilde which was in any way contrary to the law, but
it was just as well to let the eminent scientist know that he, Joe
Biddle, was entitled to visit every room in the house just when and
where he pleased. But he could see nothing for the first two days that
suggested anything in the way of illegality. He did his best to drag
Fish and his wife into conversation, but, after a time he gave that up
as hopeless, and set himself down patiently to wait for the first sign
of developments on Manthon's part.

The first night was uneventful enough. Wilde had gone into the library
after he had his dinner, and there he had remained until the small
hours of the morning, apparently engaged upon a mass of calculations.
Biddle knew that, because he was a light sleeper, and was still lying
awake in the impromptu bedroom off the hall when he heard Wilde's bell
ring and, after that, a murmur of voices which seemed to show that Fish
was putting his employer to bed. As far as Biddle could make out, that
would be about two o'clock in the morning.

The next night, however, Biddle satisfied himself that Wilde had
retired to his bedroom very early indeed. He had actually seen the
little procession cross the hall at about ten o'clock, and heard a
gruff good night exchanged between the master of the house and the
reticent Fish. Then, a little later on, Fish and his wife had sought
their own room and, after that, the house lapsed into a silence that
could be felt.

Biddle slipped back into his clothes again and slightly pulled aside
the heavy curtain covering the window of his bedroom, so that a slit
of light might show through into the wilderness of garden beyond. If
Manthon was anywhere about, it would be a sign to him that the coast
was clear and, if he wanted to communicate with Biddle here was his
chance.

A clock in the hall was wheezily striking out the hour of midnight
when there came the faintest tap on the window, and Biddle sprang to
attention. He threw away the cigarette he was smoking, and lifted the
sash to its full height.

"Are you there, sir?" he whispered.

"Yes, I'm here, Joe," Manthon whispered. "Can you manage to open the
front door for me?"

"Well, I dare say I could, sir," Biddle said. "But I don't think it
would be advisable. You see, Mr. Wilde sleeps on the ground floor, and
though Fish put him to bed a long time ago, 'e may still be awake. Why
not come through the window, sir."

"Good idea," Manthon said.

He climbed through the window, and drew the sash down behind him, after
which Biddle took the precaution of blanketing the light so that no
sign of it could be seen from outside.

"Well, here we are, Joe," Manthon said. "Any particular developments
since I saw you last?"

"Absolutely none, sir," Biddle said. "Of course, it is no business of
mine; but I hope, sir, that there is nothing in particular wrong with
this 'ere 'aunted 'ouse."

"Ah, that we have to find out," Manthon said. "I am not suggesting that
Mr. Wilde is a criminal in the ordinary sense of the word, but I do
think there is something going on here that wants a lot of explanation.
I can't take you into my confidence, Joe, because the business is not
entirely my own; but I don't think you would believe me capable of
dragging you into anything that was not honest, unless I was pretty
sure of my ground. And, whatever happens you won't suffer."

"Thank you, sir," Biddle said gratefully. "Not as I was worrying much
about that. You always was a gentleman, just the same as that father of
yours afore you."

"So that's all right," Manthon smiled. "And now to business, Joe. I
want to look all over the house, especially in the library and that
loft you told me about. To begin with, where is the electric light
plant?"

"I don't know, sir," Joe replied. "In one of the outhouses, I expect.
For some reason or another, it is always turned off at the main when
Fish goes to bed. That is why I've got this oil lamp. I don't see 'ow
we're going to manage, unless you've got a candle or something of that
sort."

"No, but I've a pair of electric torches in my pocket," Manthon
explained. "You take this one and I will keep the other. You had better
remove your boots. It doesn't matter about mine because I am wearing
rubber-soled tennis shoes."

Very carefully and softly the two of them stepped out into the hall
and crossed in the direction of the library. They had no more than a
thin pencil of light to guide them but it was quite sufficient for
their purpose, seeing that the hall itself was practically devoid of
furniture, with the exception of an oak chest or two. As they passed a
certain door on their way to the library, Biddle turned a thumb towards
it.

"That is Mr. Wilde's bedroom," he said, his lips close to Manthon's
ear. "If you listen carefully, I think you will be able to hear him
breathing."

Manthon paused and placed his head close the the door. Surely enough,
from inside came the sound very like a snore.

"Seems to have gone off all right, Joe," Manthon whispered. "There is
one thing I quite forgot to ask you. I suppose you have seen no sign of
that man, Ebbsmith?"

"None whatever, sir," Biddle said. "'E's gone to London. 'E went up in
Mr. Wilde's two-seater car, which is the only car on the premises, and
I know the car wasn't back in the garage when I went to bed. If I'd
been a day sooner, Mr. Ebbsmith would 'ave 'ad to walk to London or
gone by train. You see, sir, as it was, 'e just got away by the skin of
'is teeth. But the main thing is he has gone."

Manthon drew a sigh of relief. He mistrusted the man Ebbsmith almost
as much as he mistrusted his employer. It was just as well, therefore,
that the fellow should be out of the way. Even if he returned
unexpectedly, the noise of the incoming car would be sufficient warning.

There was nothing to hold Manthon's attention in the library. Still,
he stood there for quite a long time flashing his torch in various
directions. He looked up the wide, open chimney and carefully studied
the lines of the room. Then, at a sign from him, Biddle took the ladder
from the place where it was lying by the bookshelf and, together, they
made their way into the loft overhead, which was Wilde's workshop.

"A wonderful show this, Joe," Manthon said. "A sort of fairyland of
machinery. Most of it looks as though it were made out of cobwebs."

"You are about right there, sir," Joe agreed. "Fair makes my 'air stand
on end, it does. I daren't touch one of those things, not if you was
to offer me a thousand pound. It's like one o' them magician's caves
I used to read about when I was a boy. Only the other day I read in
the papers as a man lost 'is life by touching a steel wire in some
engineer's workshop. I'll do anything you like, sir, but don't you ask
me to lay so much as a finger on one o' them gadgets."

"You can make your mind easy on that score, Joe," Manthon smiled. "All
that machinery is innocent enough, and I have no doubt it represents
many amazing discoveries. But it isn't that machinery I'm after."

"That's all right, sir," Joe said. "I suppose the old gentleman is
after something new like the wireless was some time ago. But if you
ain't interested in all those wires and wheels, then aren't we wasting
our time 'ere, sir?"

Manthon responded that such remained to be proved. He flashed his light
on the high walls of the half-ruined tower and noted the fact that a
steel shaft ran through a hole that had been made on the solid masonry
and to this he applied his undivided attention for a minute or two.

"Look here, Joe," he said. "What's on the end of that shaft? It runs
right through to the other side of the wall and, what is more, it is
the main shaft that controls every wheel in the place. There must be a
dynamo somewhere behind the wall. Bring your light here and let us have
a look."

For a long time the two beams of light played upon the rugged masonry,
whilst Manthon felt with his hand over the surface, expecting to find
some sort of spring. He tapped on the masonry and there came no more
for a moment than a hollow echo. Then, with a cry, Manthon bent forward.

"Look here," he said. "Three or four of those stones are hinged. Yes,
here it is, and if I am not mistaken, that little metal stud in the
middle of those four great stones is the key to the mystery. This is a
kind of priests' hole, Joe. Yes, that's it. Monkshole. The name of the
house. Now then, come on, both together, press on that knob as hard as
you can. Steady on, it's giving away."

The mass of stone slowly turned on what appeared to be a well-oiled
hinge and disclosed a gaping chasm beyond. But from the top of the
orifice down to the black pit below ran a steel ladder that glowed
brightly in the flash of the electric torches.

"Oho," Manthon chuckled. "There is nothing mediaeval about that ladder,
anyway. Now, look here, Joe, you stand here and keep guard while I go
down to the bottom and investigate."




CHAPTER XV.--DOWN THE SHAFT.

Whilst Biddle remained at the top with his torch in his hand, Manthon
took the other and slowly descended the slippery steel ladder which
shone and glistened in the rays of the torch as if it had recently
been oiled. It was an extremely light structure, very narrow, and had
evidently been made for the purpose to which it was applied. As Manthon
descended, he took the precaution of counting the steps, so that when
he reached what appeared to be a concrete floor, he knew that there
were just over sixty rungs in the ladder. Roughly speaking, then, the
ladder was sixty feet long.

Down below was a sort of cave, rather wide and high, though, towards
the far side, the roof sloped down and the way to what appeared to be
the exit narrowed, so that it was almost impossible for Manthon to
stand upright.

That he was not very far from the open, he could judge from the cool
breeze that blew on his face. It seemed to him, also, that he could
hear the rustling of the night wind as it played amongst the foliage
some distance away. The further Manthon advanced, the stronger did the
draught become.

Then he had almost to go on his hands and knees before he could clear
the tunnel, which opened again into a sort of lofty chamber. Glancing
round this, Manthon made out a sort of cage at the far end, a cage cut
out of the solid rock and protected in front by a grating of steel
bars. Behind these bars something rustled and whined and, just for a
moment, Manthon was conscious of a queer creeping at the base of his
scalp. Then he flashed his torch full on the cage.

"By Jove!" he exclaimed. "By Jove!"

In the cage itself, half squatting on a bed of straw, was a giant
chimpanzee. A big, black creature with grinning teeth and menacing arms
that had something pathetic as well as repulsive about it. The great
ape stood trembling in front of the pencil of light and clutched at the
bars as if imploring the intruder to give him his freedom.

For quite a time Manthon stood there, fascinated by the amazing sight.
All sorts of strange ideas and almost impossible theories raced through
his mind. But these he sternly put on one side and, turning his back
upon the chimpanzee, he pushed forward until at length he could see a
dim ray of light penetrating a mass of foliage in front of him.

He knew, now, that he had reached the end of his journey. He knew that
a few yards further would take him into the open some little distance
from the house, and that he was in a sort of thicket in the neglected
grounds where no gardener had been at work for many years. And then,
just before he emerged into the open air, he made another discovery.

Against the wall on a frame stood a motor bicycle. It was practically a
new machine, fitted with all the latest devices and had obviously only
been used a few times.

"Well, we are getting on," Manthon told himself. "Now, let us see what
the garden will have to show us."

It was not so much a garden into which he emerged, as a wilderness.
Here were stunted trees and wide patches of gorse through which ran a
sort of narrow track, not wide enough for a motor, but sufficient to
allow the passage of a cycle. By bending down and examining the ground
with the aid of his torch, Manthon could make out the actual pattern of
a motor tyre imprinted on a bare patch here and there.

So far as he could judge, he was about sixty or seventy yards away
from the main road. There, for some time he stood studying the lie of
the land round him and uncertain as to what to do next. He had half
expected to make some startling discovery, but nothing so strange as
this. It seemed to him that Wilde was a man of many activities, but he
could not visualise the use of a motor cycle in connection with these.
No man suffering from Wilde's infirmities could possibly ride that
machine or indeed take any part in outdoor exercise. Still, he was not
alone in his schemes. There was the india-rubber man to consider. Where
did Ebbsmith come in with regard to these activities?

But it was impossible to stand there in the early hours of the morning
wondering over problems which would have to be solved in the light of
further discoveries. So Manthon made his way back again and, shortly
afterwards, joined Biddle in the workshop above the library.

"Any sport, sir?" Biddle asked.

"Well, yes," Manthon replied. "I have found one or two things, Joe,
such queer things that I had half a mind to go into Marchwick to-morrow
and have a chat with the superintendent of police."

"Mean to say they're wrong, sir?" Biddle asked.

"Well, perhaps it wouldn't be fair to go quite as far as that," Manthon
said thoughtfully. "And it would be just as well if I don't take you
any further into my confidence for the moment. And I think that is
about all for to-night, Joe. If you will let me out the way I came,
I'll get back home. If the coast is clear to-morrow night, I should
like to have another look round. All being well, you show your light
and I will tap on the window as I did just now. If I don't take any
notice of the light, then you can conclude that I am detained."

Five minutes later, Manthon was on his way home. He let himself into
his own house and went thoughtfully to bed. But it was a long time
before sleep visited his pillow.

There were many things to occupy his mind. To begin with, the
discoveries he had made within the last few hours, sinister discoveries
which pointed clearly enough to something like crime on the part of the
inhabitants of Monkshole. There could be no question that Sebastian
Wilde was a great man with a great mind and a scientist of outstanding
order. But that did not prevent him from having a criminal bent, and
here was proof positive that Wilde was the type of enthusiast ready
to do anything for the necessary money to complete his experiments
and, on the top of that, was the knowledge that he was being severely
handicapped, not to say crippled, by the want of the aforesaid cash.
And he was not the man to allow scruples to stand in his light when he
was on the verge of epoch-making discoveries.

Then, again, was the strange discovery of that black chimpanzee hidden
away in the passage, which had once been used by fugitives from
justice, and which passage, no doubt, had given the name to the ancient
domain of Monkshole.

What was the meaning of it all, and why was the great simian hidden
away there from the light of day?

And then an explanation flashed into Manthon's mind. He would go over
on the following day to see Faber and tell him everything that he had
discovered. With this thought uppermost, he turned over in bed and
forced himself to sleep.

But it was quite late the following night before he could put his
resolution into practice. He had learnt from Maud Faber over the
telephone that her brother had gone off at the last minute with
some local cricket team, and that he was dining at a country house
afterwards, and not expected back till very late in the evening.

"Very well, Maud," Manthon replied. "It is rather important, so you can
tell Basil that I will come over this evening, however late it is. Say
eleven o'clock."

"Is it all that important?" Maud asked. "Anything to do with our dear
Peggy, for instance?"

"Ah, that I can't say as yet," Manthon explained. "But I should not
wonder in the least. However, you can be present when I come over
to-night and hear what I have to say."

It was nearer twelve than eleven before Manthon reached the Faber
establishment that night. He had contrived in the course of the
afternoon to get a word or two with Joe Biddle and inform him that
there would be nothing doing that evening. So, with his mind quite
free, he had set out on his errand, and presently found himself in
Faber's smoking-room where Maud was seated eagerly awaiting him. Then,
for quite a long time, he told the story of his adventure to his
friends.

"What an extraordinary thing!" Maud exclaimed. "What do you make of it,
Roy? Do you think that Sebastian Wilde really is a great scientist, or
merely an extremely able thief in a sort of disguise?"

"Oh, I don't think there is any doubt about his scientific knowledge,"
Manthon said. "But that doesn't mean that he is not a crook. What do
you make of it, Basil? Doesn't my story of the chimpanzee suggest
something to you?"

"By Jove, I never thought of that," Faber cried.

Maud glanced quickly from Manthon to her brother.

"Is this another mystery?" she demanded.

"Well, to a certain extent," Faber admitted. "I didn't want to tell
you, because there was no object in unnecessarily alarming you. But
something happened here the other night which it would be just as well
that I should explain to you."

With that, Faber told the story of the interrupted burglar and the
strange footprints, casts of which he had taken and which he now
produced for Maud's inspection.

"It is a weird business altogether," Manthon said presently. "I
dare say you will laugh at my theory as the fervid imagination of a
novelist, but it looks very much to me as if Wilde and his friends had
actually trained a monkey to commit burglary."

"And why not?" Maud demanded. "That wonderful ape, Consul, has an
intelligence almost equal to most men. I don't see that the thing is in
the least impossible."

"It isn't," Faber agreed. "Don't laugh, but I wonder if Roy discovered
the chimpanzee's motor bike."




CHAPTER XVI.--ANOTHER VIGIL.

But there was no disposition on anybody's part to smile at the
suggestion that somewhere in mysterious Monkshole was a chimpanzee
trained in the art of burglary.

"I don't see why not," Basil Faber said thoughtfully. "Don't you
remember how wonderfully human and intelligent the famous Consul
was? As a matter of fact, there was more than one Consul, though the
public didn't know it, all of which proves how easy it is to train
that class of simian to do almost anything besides speak. There was
Consul, dressed like an ordinary individual sitting up at table and
using the common utensils and helping himself to wine, just as any of
us might do. Oh, yes, I can quite see how it is possible to transform a
chimpanzee into a cat burglar."

"You don't suggest that Mr. Wilde is the sort of man who would lend
himself to that sort of thing?" Maud asked.

"I am not saying so," Faber replied. "But, all the same, I am speaking
of possibilities. On the other hand, Sebastian Wilde may have purchased
the animal merely with a purpose of studying its ways and habits."

"Yes, but not to make such a secret about it," Maud protested.

"Well, perhaps not. I am merely stating the facts. You see, Wilde
is a man with many brilliant facets to his character. I know he has
a knowledge of natural history, because we have discussed the fauna
of Central Africa and the Far East on more than one occasion. Wilde
doesn't know either of these parts, but I do and that is why he asked
me for certain information. It was wonderful what an intimate insight
the man has into wild life, considering that he has never seen it on
its native heath, so to speak. It is just possible that the chimpanzee
that Roy saw is being used for some experiment."

"Possibly," Manthon agreed. "Possibly. But don't forget the fact that
Wilde is at his wits' ends for money. His profession is an exceedingly
expensive one and he must have spent thousands of pounds in getting
together all that machinery in his workshop. Now, where does the money
come from? Wilde may have private means, but I am rather disposed to
think not. And this is the third time that my disreputable friend
Joe Biddle has been installed at Monkshole on behalf of the Sheriff,
and, very probably, it won't be the last. Wilde must get money from
somewhere and, as far as we know, he has no friends whatever. That is
why I made the suggestion about the monkey burglar."

"Well, and not a bad suggestion either," Faber agreed. "It looks to
me very much as if we have evidence to prove that statement, lying on
the table here in front of us. Of course, I am speaking of the plaster
casts I took outside this house the other night. I told you at the time
that they were the impression of hands and you agreed with me."

"I certainly did," Manthon said. "But then I am not so good a judge of
that sort of thing as you are. I have not been out in the wild and shot
savage animals, nor do I know anything of their habits. Do you think
those casts are somebody's hands, or may they not be the feet of a
chimpanzee?"

"Oh, they may," Faber said. "You throw quite a fresh light on the
matter to me. Suppose we argue for the moment that those plaster casts
represent feet. That is the feet of some animal. This means that when I
disturbed the would-be burglar the other night I was not on the track
of a human being, but a trained simian. To argue the point a little
further, I suggest that this ape was either brought here to rob the
house, or he escaped from captivity and reached the flower beds under
the library more or less by accident. Yes, I think it is fair to assume
that those impressions were made by the chimpanzee you saw last night
in the Monkshole cave. But that doesn't prove anything, does it? So
far, we have got hold of a broken thread which seems to lead nowhere.
Don't you think so?"

"For the moment perhaps you are right," Manthon said. "But having once
got hold of that thread, I am not going to release it. I am going to
follow it up, even if I don't get any sleep for the next two or three
nights."

Manthon paused as if about to say too much and gazed thoughtfully
at the plaster casts on the table before him. He did not want, in
that stage of his investigations, to say too much about Peggy or the
delusions from which she was suffering. If he had to speak about that
later on, he would, meanwhile, that was going to be a secret between
them.

"Let's see that we are perfectly sound in our thesis," he said
presently. "I mean, isn't there any way of checking those casts? You
have lots of books on natural history, Basil, with illustrations and
measurements."

"Quite right," Faber agreed. "I had forgotten that. Wait a moment, I
will go in the library and consult a volume or two. Then I will get my
callipers and measure the casts, so that there can be no possibility of
mistake."

With that, Faber hurried from the room and Maud turned eagerly towards
Manthon. It seemed to him that she was looking at her best that
evening, a slender flower in a golden sheath, and everything that was
attractive in young womanhood. He noticed the fascinating natural wave
in her hair and the boyish audacity of her charming smile.

"Well, Roy," she said. "Have you quite forgotten my advice, or are you
still----"

"No, I have not forgotten," Manthon declared. "It is a very strange
thing, Maud, but it came easier than I expected. When I realised that
Peggy was for nobody but poor old Trevor, then I felt as if the whole
world had changed and--oh, well, let us say, without further sentiment,
that I am cured."

But Maud did not laugh as Manthon had half expected.

"I am glad to hear that," she said. "Very glad, indeed. But, of course,
that doesn't mean that you are going to regard Peggy as an ordinary
friend in future."

"That you may be certain," Manthon said emphatically.

"That is good, too," Maud replied. "Because I am quite sure that Peggy
never wanted a real friend more than she does now. You are keeping
something back, Roy, I am sure you are."

"How on earth did you guess that?" Manthon asked.

"Call it womanly intuition or second sight, whichever you like. Aren't
you going to tell me what it is?"

"Not for the moment," Roy replied. "Because I really don't know. I
can only say that Peggy is in great danger and that it will take her
friends all their time to save her from it."

"But you are going to let me help?"

"That is as it may be. I don't want to bring you into this business if
I can help it. If I see later that you can be of assistance to us, then
you shall. You see, I am not at liberty to say any more for the moment.
But this I can admit--Peggy does not realise the perilous position
in which she stands. Even if I pointed it out to her, she would not
believe me. That is, at the present. Don't ask me any more questions,
Maud, please."

"Very well," Maud promised. "But I don't think you quite realise how
anxious I am to help."

The reappearance of Faber prevented any further conversation between
Manthon and Maud and, a little later, Roy went thoughtfully on his way
homewards. It was after luncheon the next day when he made some excuse
to go over to Long Elms and see Peggy. He was anxious to know if there
were any further developments so far as the haunted car was concerned.

But he did not find Peggy in the drawing-room, as usual, but Miss
Bancroft welcomed him eagerly.

"Oh, I am so glad you have called, Roy," she said. "I am so worried
that I don't know what to do."

"On Peggy's account," Manthon asked. "Where is she?"

"She hasn't come down yet. I heard her walking about her room for half
the night, and when I went to see her this morning to tell her that
breakfast was ready, she looked like a ghost. She wouldn't say what was
wrong or what had happened, except that she had a dreadful headache.
My dear boy, if this sort of thing goes on, we shall have to call in a
specialist. I am really afraid of Peggy's sanity. She is so different
from what she used to be. You may see that she is still mourning over
the loss of her lover, but I am certain it goes a good deal deeper
than that. Of course, Peggy was always romantic and highly strung and
inclined to be hysterical if she were not checked, but she was a normal
girl, all the same, and there was nothing morbid about her. You know
how keen she has always been on outdoor sports. She was passionately
attached to her mother, who died five years ago, but she met that
sorrow bravely enough. There is something here that I cannot fathom."

Manthon murmured something in reply. He had no intention at present,
at any rate, of discussing the grave crisis in Peggy's affairs with
Miss Bancroft or anybody else. Moreover, it was quite clear to him that
Peggy had not taken Miss Bancroft into her confidence.

"We must hope for the best," he said. "Try and rouse Peggy and keep her
in the open air as much as possible. I am sorry not to be able to see
her to-day, but----"

Before Manthon could complete his sentence, Peggy herself walked into
the room. She seemed almost like one in a dream, her face was pale and
the deep shadows under her eyes filled Manthon with compassion and
pity. He spoke to her twice before she seemed aware of his presence.

"So it's you, is it?" she said listlessly.

At a sign from Manthon, Miss Bancroft slid quietly out of the room,
leaving the other two alone. Manthon crossed over to Peggy and laid his
hands firmly on her shoulders.

"Now then," he said almost sternly. "Look me straight in the face. Do
you realise who you are talking to? You do. Tell me what has happened
since I saw you last."

Peggy seemed to come slowly to earth. A little colour crept into her
cheeks and her faded eyes resumed their deep violet hue. It was as if
she had come suddenly out of a deep sleep and found herself on earth
again.

"I--I can't help it, Roy," she said. "I heard that awful horn again
last night. I was sitting up late, listening to the dance band from the
Royal Thames Hotel in London, when the horn sounded, not once or twice,
but half a dozen times. The noise of it seemed to fill the whole house.
I was afraid that my aunt might wake up and come and ask me what was
the matter."

"So that is the source of the trouble, is it?" Manthon asked quietly.
"My dear girl, do you really believe that you heard Trevor Capner
sounding his own horn so that only you should hear it? Do you believe
that Trevor, somewhere in another world, is blowing a phantom horn and
trying to get in communication with you across the border line."

The blue eyes met Manthon's firmly.

"Yes, I do," Peggy said. "I am certain of it. Nothing will convince me
to the contrary. I am sure Trevor has some message for me, which he
is trying to send, and that he will never be happy until that message
reaches my ears. How or when it is coming I don't know, But I do know
that some of these days it will be delivered and then I shall be at
peace."

An infinite compassion shone in Manthon's face. But when he spoke, his
words were firm enough.

"You are not telling the truth, Peggy," he said. "You are trying to
get hold of that message and somebody is helping you. Let me guess who
that somebody is. Am I right in saying that you have told your story to
Sebastian Wilde?"

"How do you know that?" Peggy asked with a startled air.

"I don't think we need to go into that," Manthon replied. "It may be
nothing but mere guesswork on my part. I want you to let me help you
if you will. Now, come outside with me and let us have a single on the
tennis court."

Peggy yielded none too willingly and for the next hour or so, tried
her best to throw herself into the spirit of the game. But she was
only a shadow of her ordinary self, and Manthon was not sorry when the
game came to an end. Still, it had not been without its effect, for
the colour was glowing in Peggy's cheeks again and she appeared to be
almost cheerful when she parted with him at the gate.

But there was nothing cheerful about Manthon as he plodded homewards.
He had made a promise, and that promise he was going to carry out at
all hazard. Nor did he underrate what he felt to be the danger of the
undertaking.

It was very late the same evening before he changed his dinner jacket
for a dark coat and slipped his feet into a pair of tennis shoes.
After this, he took a short cut across the fields in the direction of
Monkshole. He was going to have another talk with Joe Biddle and to
make a further attempt to spy out the scene of what might become a real
tragedy if it were not handled with care and delicacy. Just before he
emerged into the road a hundred yards before the gate of Monkshole, it
seemed to him that he could make out a dim figure flitting on ahead.
He closed up with it cautiously and, as the vision floated into the
grounds at Monkshole, he realised, not altogether to his surprise, that
Peggy was just in front of him.

Very cautiously, he crept up behind her, until he was half hidden
behind a laurel bush that stood by the side of the drive within a few
yards of the front door of the house. Then he saw, to his surprise,
that a light gleamed over the top of the door, and when the oak was
opened in response to Peggy's gentle knock, the watcher saw that Wilde
had appeared, evidently expecting his visitor. Manthon could see into
the hall, and noted that Wilde was seated in his invalid chair. Then
the door was closed again and lights leapt up in the library.

Manthon advanced across the path and tapped gently on the window
of Biddle's bedroom. As no reply came from inside, Manthon tried
the window sash and smiled grimly to himself as it opened without
making the slightest sound. This was evidently a bit of foresight on
Biddle's part, for which Manthon was quite sufficiently grateful. He
climbed into the room and flashed his torch across the bed. He had
half expected to find that Biddle was not there, but that individual
lay peacefully sleeping and Manthon had no wish to disturb him. If he
wanted Biddle later on, it would be easy enough to wake him.

He stole gently into the hall and waited there a minute or two until
he was assured that the house was silent. Not the slightest sound came
from anywhere, except a murmur of voices in the library, the door of
which was not closed, so that it was possible for Manthon to look in
and see what was going on. Just inside was a broad threefold screen
with a fancy filigree top and, taking his courage in both hands,
Manthon crept behind this and raised his head sufficiently high to see
what was taking place at the big table in the centre of the room.

He saw Peggy seated at one end gazing intently at Wilde, who had
levered himself out of his invalid chair into another one opposite
Peggy, and in front of him was a huge crystal globe some eighteen
inches in diameter.

Wilde, with his fine impressive face turned towards the ceiling, seemed
to be losing himself in a sort of reverie which almost amounted to a
trance. He was like a man who moved involuntarily, as if impelled by
some unseen power. There was something weird and fascinating about him,
and it was plain to Manthon that Peggy was realising the truth to this.
Wilde's lips were moving and certain broken words came from him which
it was difficult for the listener to follow. And all the time there
came from somewhere apparently in the air, or it might have been under
the table, mysterious tappings that seemed, to Manthon's novelist's
imagination, to resemble the drumming of finger-nails on the polished
surface by someone who was trying to hammer out a tune. Indeed, as
Manthon listened, he was perfectly certain that the tune was one of the
famous airs from the Mikado known far and wide as "The Flowers that
Bloom in the Spring." Then, as suddenly, the stillness of the room was
broken by six cracked notes on a Klaxon horn.

Manthon fairly started and it was only by sheer good luck that he did
not betray himself. He saw Peggy rise with a gasping cry to her feet,
then sink into her chair again. At the same moment, a clock somewhere
in the house struck midnight.

"Sit down, my child, sit down," Wilde murmured. "There is no occasion
for alarm. You are perfectly safe so long as you are with me. It is
your lover calling you. Control yourself and you may perhaps hear what
he has to say."

The mysterious tapping still went on as Wilde looked down at a great
glass globe in front of him and began to talk as if to himself. The
words came as if from afar off.

"It is here, my child, it is here," he said. "But dimly, so dimly that
I can't make it out. There is an evil influence at work somewhere, an
unruly spirit that is trying to come between the light and the message
from the other side. Let us call it the Imp of the Perverse. You can
hear the spirit rappings, but they are too vague for me to make any
message from them. I see all sorts of things here in the crystal,
events that will happen to-morrow or the day after and events that are
taking place at the present moment."

"But that does not help me," Peggy murmured.

"Perhaps not, my child, perhaps not. But you never know when it will.
I see a man, a well-known man, sitting alone in a room at the top of
a great house in one of the West End squares. I can't make out the
name of the square, but the house is there, large and stately, and is
inhabited by wealthy people. The man I see is in evening dress and
on the table before him are three or four shabby-looking cases. See,
he opens those cases and the room is immediately filled with rays
of dazzling light. Gems, my child, gems of priceless value. The man
looks at them and then, putting them on one side, he begins to write a
letter. He has only written the name of the person for whom the letter
was intended when a man with a black mask over his face creeps into
the room. He has come through an open window which he has managed to
gain from the ground below. He tries to hide behind a curtain, but he
stumbles and the man writing the letter looks up to see he is no longer
alone. He crosses the room in the direction of the bell, but, before he
can touch it, the miscreant is upon him and a struggle takes place. I
see a flash of steel and the owner of the house lying on the carpet in
front of the fire with his dead face turned to the ceiling. Then the
murderer escapes by the way he came and--but I can see no more. It is
the Imp of the Perverse again."

To all this Manthon listened with an astonishment that set him tingling
from head to foot. Was this mere mummery, he wondered, or the result of
some amazing scientific discovery which lay in the heart of the great
crystal ball? Had Wilde discovered the secret of annihilating distance
and penetrating bricks and mortar so that certain scenes, miles away,
could be recorded in the quiet library at Monkshole by some species of
X-ray? Or was it mere mummery on Wilde's part, designed to impress a
simple country girl with a delusion that she was dealing with a man who
possessed supernatural powers.

"But what is all this to me," Peggy said imploringly. "You told me if
I came here to-night that you could give me a message from the dead.
All I have heard up to now is six hoots on a cracked Klaxon horn which
sounded very much like the horn that my lover had on his own car."

"What is that you are saying?" Wilde demanded. "You heard the hoot of a
motor horn?"

"Didn't we both hear it?" Peggy asked.

"Not I," Wilde said. "No sound broke the silence as far as my ears were
concerned."

"What?" Peggy said. "You didn't hear that horn?"

"My child, you must be dreaming," Wilde said with his most benevolent
smile. "And you must have patience. It is not for me to control the
spirits, but to obey them. When the tide is with us seekers after the
truth, we can see everything; but when the tide is against us, it is
no more than knocking our heads against a stone wall. Strange how
impetuous youth is when it has so many years before it, strange how we
only learn patience when we grow old! It has taken me the best part
of my life to evolve that crystal. I have learnt its secrets, slowly
and painfully, one by one; yet, here are you, a mere girl in years,
expecting the globe to give up its secrets almost before you are aware
that it exists. I want you to try and realise that this globe cost
me, from first to last, over fifty thousand pounds. I know it isn't
perfect, and it never will be perfect, until I have as much again to
spend on it. Some day, perhaps, some unenlightened person will come
forward and give me the funds I need. But you are not interested."

Manthon, fretting and fuming behind the screen, felt a wild temptation
to spring out and take Wilde by the scruff of his neck and fling him
across the room. So this was what Wilde was after. No paltry loan of
a few hundreds, but a grand coup, embracing thousands of pounds to an
extent that was likely to cost Peggy a quarter of her fortune. But
even that was as nothing compared with the torture which the girl was
enduring at the hands of a callous scoundrel who was not going to stop
at anything that came between him and the realisation of his ambitions.

"I am sorry," Peggy said hurriedly. "I hope----"

Wilde waved her impatiently aside.

"Don't interrupt," he said sternly. "We may get a manifestation yet.
The spirits are abroad; you can hear their signals on the table. But
they are broken signals, because the Imp of the Perverse is abroad
to-night and, for some reason known to himself, or herself, wants to
interfere with the message. I very much fear, my child, that you will
have to come again. We shall get nothing now before daylight. And,
mind, not a word about these nocturnal excursions to a single soul."

"I have already given you my promise," Peggy said faintly.

As Peggy spoke, she rose to her feet and stood clinging to the table
with an agitation that made the angry blood actually sing in Manthon's
head. With a great effort, he controlled himself, and, realising that
the sitting was at an end, slipped into the hall and from thence into
Biddle's bedroom. Three minutes later, he was on his way home again.




CHAPTER XVII.--THE SIX O'CLOCK EDITION.

When Manthon came down to breakfast on the morning following the
amazing scene in the library at Monkshole, he had intended to devote
the best part of the day to what he considered to be a vital problem,
and this would, of course, be shared by Basil Faber. But a rather
pressing letter from his literary agent in Town and a desire to see
the author at once upset that scheme, at any rate, for the moment. So,
instead of going over to Faber's place, as he intended, Manthon found
himself, shortly after ten o'clock, embarking for London at Marchwick
Junction in the hope that he would be able to get his business through
quickly and return to Lincombe some time in the afternoon.

In this he was more or less successful. By a quarter to five he was
back at Victoria again, and, having purchased the six o'clock edition
of the "Evening News," he threw himself down in a corner of a first
class carriage and, having the compartment to himself, unfolded his
newspaper.

At the first glance there was nothing of particular interest, and he
might have thrown the sheet aside altogether if his eye had not caught
a heavily-headed paragraph concerned with what appeared to be the last
thing in the way of a sentimental murder.

As he read, his interest quickened strangely. He went through the whole
of the column, not once, but twice, with a thoughtful frown between his
brows and a quickening of breath. And this was the story he read:--


BRUTAL MURDER IN BURLINGTON SQUARE.

MR. EVERARD FOUND DEAD.

"Early this morning, the servants in the house of Mr. Everard, the
well-known virtuoso and art dealer, were shocked to discover the
dead body of their master in one of the sitting-rooms on the top of
the house in Burlington Square. It was shortly after seven o'clock
this morning when one of the housemaids had occasion to visit the
sitting-room on the second floor where her employer had been at work
the night before in connection with a lot of historic gems which he
had purchased in the course of the afternoon. He had gone up to that
particular apartment after a solitary dinner, and had told his butler
that he was on no account to be disturbed. And whoever called was to
be told that Mr. Everard was not to be seen. Accordingly, his wishes
were respected, and when the domestic staff retired for the night,
having seen that the house was properly secured against intruders, it
was seen that a light was shining from under the bottom of the door of
the room in which the body was subsequently found. It is practically
certain that Mr. Everard was alive when his household staff went to
bed, because one of them heard him cough, and another noted the fact
that the landing outside the room was strongly impregnated with fresh
tobacco smoke.

"When the housemaid in question came down in the morning, she proceeded
to open the sitting-room door with the object of tidying up. The first
thing she noticed was that one of the windows was open and the curtains
drawn back, a rather unusual thing, seeing that the night before the
same servant had closed the windows and drawn the curtains herself.
The she saw the dead body of Mr. Everard lying on the carpet in front
of the fireplace with his face turned upwards. There was a deep wound
in his left breast that had apparently been inflicted with a dagger
of some sort, for his dress shirt had been cut and the front of it
absolutely deluged in blood.

"The housemaid immediately gave the alarm, and the rest of the servants
came rushing in. When the police arrived, the butler informed them that
when he had last seen his master a few hours before, the latter was
examining two or three cases of jewellery, no trace of which had been
left behind.

"So far, the whole tragedy is wrapped in mystery. But there is very
little doubt that the crime was the work of a cat burglar, who
climbed up the pipe outside the house and entered the sitting-room
by means of the window. Distinct marks were discovered scratched on
the drain-pipe that seem to suggest the means by which the murderer
entered the house. In one corner of the room was a small fireproof
safe in which the key had been left. The examination of this showed
that the safe was practically empty, and there is little doubt that
the miscreant got away without being observed and that, moreover, he
escaped with valuables worth many thousands of pounds. As evidence of
this, the empty cases were still on the table, but no sign of their
recent contents. An inquest will be held to-morrow, when sensational
disclosures are expected."


There was nothing more--at least, nothing more that was material--so
Manthon folded up the paper and placed it in his pocket. In the
ordinary way, the paragraph would not have troubled him greatly. It was
the extraordinary resemblance between that drastic story and the queer
narrative he had heard from Sebastian Wilde's lips the night before
that thrilled him to the very marrow.

Here was a crime, committed in London, at some time, presumedly between
eleven o'clock at night and early morning, the details of which exactly
tallied with the thrilling story that had come from Sebastian Wilde
whilst he was gazing at the gigantic crystal before him on his library
table.

It was impossible to believe that this could be pure coincidence.
To begin with, Wilde had told Peggy Ferris that the murder had been
committed high up in a room in one of the fashionable West End squares.
And, undoubtedly, Burlington Square was one of these. Again, the
unfortunate victim was alone in that room examining some cases of
valuable jewellery. Through one of the windows the burglar had entered,
exactly in the same way as Wilde had described it as he saw the drama
pictured on the face of the crystal. If Wilde had been hidden in the
room in Burlington Square where the tragedy took place, he could not
have described it with greater accuracy of detail. And yet at the time
when the murder was probably committed, Wilde had been sitting in his
own library, fifty miles away.

The more Manthon thought the matter over, the more puzzled he became.
Was it possible, he wondered, that Wilde had hit upon some stupendous
discovery, by means of which scenes taking place many miles away could
be transported through bricks and mortar and faithfully recorded in
every detail in the heart of that great crystal globe. The thing
sounded like a nightmare; but then a few years ago the scientific world
had been inclined to scoff at the possibility of wireless reception.
If a decade ago, anyone had ventured to prophesy the possibility of
sitting in a room a hundred miles away from London, listening to an
Albert Hall concert, for instance, he would have been laughed to scorn.
And yet the thing had been done, almost before the suggestion was made.
Then, again, there was this television. Who would have believed within
a short span, that it was possible for a man to sit smoking a cigarette
in London and have his features and actions recorded simultaneously
in New York. That had been a sensation at the time, but now it was
accepted as a matter of course, just like cross-ocean telephoning. It
might, therefore, be possible that Wilde had hit upon some great new
scientific truth and that he was using it to impress Peggy Ferris with
his amazing powers and get her helplessly under his influence.

From this point of view, at any rate, Manthon felt sure that he was on
safe ground. The business of the crystal globe was intended, beyond the
shadow of a doubt, to impress Peggy and show her the sort of superman
she had to deal with. She would probably read all about the murder in
the morrow's newspapers and immediately connect it with what Wilde had
told her after a close study of the crystal globe. The more Manthon
thought it over, the more he began to realise the amazing mental powers
of the man he had to deal with.

His mind was still in a state of whirl and confusion and doubt when he
reached home and called up Basil Faber on the telephone. The latter
answered the call in person.

"Hello, Roy," he said. "Anything wrong?"

"Well, I think you had better come over here and judge for yourself,"
Manthon said. "Come and have dinner with me; never mind about dressing.
But don't say anything about it to Maud for the moment. Make some
ordinary excuse and get here as quickly as you can."

Half an hour later the two men were seated in Manthon's smoking-room.
For a long time Faber sat there listening to what Manthon had to say.
Then he took up the copy of the Evening News and read the paragraph for
himself.

"This is absolutely uncanny," he said presently. "Do you mean to tell
me that you stood in Wilde's library last night and heard him describe
that very crime to Peggy?"

"I haven't the slightest doubt of it," Manthon said. "Consider the
details for yourself. Take that newspaper and read the paragraph again,
checking my story with that. I don't think you will find there is the
slightest discrepancy between the two. Now then, are you ready?"

They went through the narrative, or rather, the two narratives with
meticulous care, and at the end Basil threw the Evening News aside and
whistled loud and long.

"Well, if that doesn't fairly beat the band," he said. "Now, what on
earth do you make of it?"

"I don't make anything of it at all," Manthon confessed. "It has me
fairly gasping. Of course, you can see why Wilde told Peggy that story,
but how on earth did he know at about eleven o'clock last night that
unfortunate man was being murdered?"

"Here, steady on," Faber cried. "That doesn't quite tally, old chap.
In the course of describing last night's happenings, you told me that
Sebastian Wilde was in the marrow of his narrative somewhere about
midnight. Don't you remember saying that you distinctly heard a clock
somewhere in the house striking twelve? That seems rather important."

"Possibly," Manthon agreed. "Anyway, you are right as to the time.
But there is no evidence in the account in the Evening News to show
exactly at what time the unfortunate Everard received the fatal blow.
It doesn't even say at what hour the servants went to bed."

"Neither does it," Faber agreed. "I think that if the police don't
succeed in laying their hands upon the murderer, we ought to take some
sort of a hand in this game."

Manthon looked up with a startled expression.

"Do you think so?" he said. "We might land ourselves in no end of
trouble, and, at the same time, defeat the very object we have in view.
It looks to me as if we are up against something entirely new in the
way of criminal development. A couple of super-crooks working with
scientific apparatus never before dreamt of. Anyway, it is a mighty
queer household at Monkshole. Do you think those servants are in it?"

"I couldn't say. I should be rather inclined to think not. That man
Brettle----"

"Brettle? You mean Fish, don't you?"

"Well, no one seems to know quite what their name is. Sometimes Wilde
calls the man Fish, sometimes Brettle. I rather fancy that his name
is Fish Brettle, Fish being a nickname so to speak. At any rate, the
people in the village always speak of them as Mr. and Mrs. Brettle. I
don't think we will worry about them, if you don't mind. The question
is: What are we going to do, and how are we going to do it? What I
should like to know is the method by which Wilde knew all about that
crime in London last night."

"Yes, I dare say you would," Manthon grinned a little uncomfortably.
"If we could put our finger on that spot, then I think all Peggy's
troubles would be over. And, of course, you can guess why Wilde pulled
that stunt last night."

"Sheer vanity, I suppose?" Faber laughed.

"No, I don't think so. No, he expects that Peggy will read all about
that case in the paper and be tremendously impressed by Wilde's occult
powers. And remember what I said when I was telling you of the hints
Wilde dropped last night. His idea is to get Peggy under his thumb
entirely and bleed her at leisure. And he won't bleed her by the
hundred, but by the thousand, because that is the sort of ambitious man
he is."

"Yes, I think you are right," Faber said thoughtfully. "In fact, I am
pretty sure about it. We can't let matters remain where they are, and
if, on the other hand, you go and tell your story to the police, you
might precipitate the very tragedy you most dread. All I can see for it
is that you should carry on at Monkshole and see if you can get hold of
a real clue."




CHAPTER XVIII.--A SHOT IN THE DARK.

Manthon sat brooding over the maddening problem long after he had
dined and seen Faber on his way back home again. In the seclusion of
his library, with a lamp behind him, he sat there until the household
was absolutely silent and he heard the servants fastening up before
retiring for the night. He sat on until the lamp at his elbow began to
flicker and smoke, and, finally, sobbed itself in the darkness. For
some little time he did not realise that the lamp had gone out, and
then smiled to himself as he came back to earth again.

It was no use sitting up there any longer, so he decided to go to bed.
There were candles on a shelf by the door, but he did not trouble about
these as he knew that somewhere on the table within reach of his arm
was one of his electric torches. He fumbled for this until he found it,
then pressed the button and filled the room with a shaft of light. With
the torch in his hand he crept across the hall in his slippered feet
and made his way silently up the broad stairs. Some of these early days
he would install electric light in that rambling Georgian structure,
indeed, he had threatened to do so for some time and had gone so far as
to obtain estimates from one of the leading firms of electricians in
Marchwick. Really, he would have to see to this, he told himself, as he
stumbled over a loose stair. It was ridiculous going on like this with
oil lamps, nasty smoking, smelly things with always the chance of an
explosion at the hands of some careless servant.

He was turning this over in his mind as he reached the corridor,
thinking sleepily of the necessary change. Then he came suddenly to
himself with every sense on the alert.

From somewhere out of the velvety darkness of the corridor came a high
pitched scream of a woman's voice. Then another and another and, after
that, a white, flying figure, rushing with bare feet in the direction
of the stairs. A further foot or two and the woman would have pitched
headlong down had it not been for Manthon's restraining arm.

"Here, steady on, Mary," he said. "What on earth is the matter? Seen a
ghost or something?"

But the housemaid was too far gone to reply coherently.

"It's a man," she screamed. "A man in my bedroom. He came in through
the window. He's there now."

"Nonsense," Manthon cried. "You are dreaming."

"I'm not, indeed I'm not," the girl said. "I was wide awake. Toothache,
sir. I was getting out of bed to rub some oil of cloves on it and
I distinctly saw the outline of a man against the window frame. A
dreadful creature with great long arms and face----"

"That will do, that will do," Manthon interrupted. "You go on
downstairs. Find a box of matches and light some candles. Did you wake
the rest of them?"

There was no occasion to ask the question, because the rest of the
servants came towards the top of the stairs in a huddled heap. First
the cook, then the parlourmaid and, lagging behind fastening his
braces, the butler.

"Here, Simms," Manthon cried. "I may get a bit of sense out of you.
Mary says that some curious sort of monster is playing about in her
bedroom. Of course, it is all nonsense, but you had better take this
torch and go into my room and bring me the revolver you will find at
the bottom of my collar drawer. Of course, there is nobody there----"

"Begging your pardon, sir, I believe there is," the butler replied.
"I was asleep when Mary screamed out, but she woke me all right. So I
came into the corridor to see what was going on, and something passed
me like the wind. Of course, being pretty dark, I couldn't make out at
first, but when my eyes got accustomed to the gloom, it looked to me as
if I could see a strange creature like a monkey. I hope you won't laugh
at me, sir, but you know----"

"I am not laughing at all," Manthon cut in. "And, after all, it is not
very dark. It never is in June. I suppose the thing you saw got alarmed
and bolted from Mary's room into the corridor. Is that what you mean?"

"That's about the size of it, sir," Simms said. "It must be somewhere
down the west wing. Ah, there it goes, see? Into the room where you
keep your fishing tackle and golf clubs and all that sort of thing.
Can't you see it, sir?"

Surely enough, it seemed to Manthon he could make out a queer figure
against a dim light that shone through a curtained window. Then the
window was pushed up, and a pair of long hairy arms, like that of
some gigantic spider, gripped the window sash as a misshapen body was
uplifted. Without the slightest hesitation, Manthon fired one shot
from his revolver, the report of which was followed by a grunt, as if
someone was in pain. Then the monster disappeared through the open
window and, by the time that he could snatch the torch from Simms and
flash the rays of it on the garden below, the strange nocturnal visitor
had disappeared as completely as if the earth had opened and swallowed
him up. Manthon concealed his vexation and disappointment as best he
could.

"There," he said. "There is an end of that. I don't know what that
creature was, but it looked to me like a monkey of some sort which has
probably escaped from some passing menagerie. Or it might be a pet of
somebody's a few miles away. I dare say the poor creature was seeking
shelter for the night, which would account for its trying to get into
the house. At any rate, it has gone now, and I don't think there is
any chance of it coming back again. Now, be off to bed, all of you
and think no more about it. It would be just as well, perhaps, if you
saw that the windows were securely fastened, because we don't want a
repetition of this sort of thing."

With that, Manthon turned into his own room and closed the door behind
him. But he had no intention of retiring just yet. He waited until the
house was plunged into silence once more, and then, creeping downstairs
in his slippers with a torch in his hand, he opened the front door and
crept round the garden until he stood under the window by which the
queer nocturnal visitor had made its escape. Bending down over a flower
bed, he examined the damp soil there closely. Surely enough, in four or
five places he found the same kind of strange impressions from which
Faber had taken his plaster casts.

"Yes, it's the same creature," Manthon told himself. "I will call up
Faber in the morning and get him to bring his plaster over here and
take those impressions while they are fresh."

Then, at length, he turned and reentered the house, making his way
upstairs as silently as he had come. He wondered whether he had done
the midnight visitor any serious injury or if he had merely inflicted a
flesh wound when he fired that revolver shot. Possibly it was nothing
more than a scratch, because there was no trace of a body to be found.

It was almost directly after breakfast that Manthon called up Faber on
the telephone again and, half an hour later, the latter arrived with
the necessary materials for taking the impressions on the earth outside
the window. When this was done, and the plaster of Paris was beginning
to set, Faber examined his work with particular care.

"You are quite right," he said. "It is the same creature beyond the
shadow of a doubt. You have been favoured with a visit, the same as I
was. But I don't think these are marks made by the ordinary chimpanzee.
What you saw in the cave at Monkshole is a chimpanzee beyond question,
and the natural inference is that the animal has been brought here
for some sinister purpose. All the same, it doesn't seem to me that a
chimpanzee could make exactly that type of hand or foot mark. I have
seen heaps of the beggars in the wild and have helped to capture more
than one. But, you see, I am a big game hunter first and a naturalist
afterwards. I couldn't speak offhand about measurements, even when I
have consulted the books that I have in my own library. So I tell you
what I am going to do. In a day or two I will take these casts up to
London and show them to one of the big swells at the Natural History
Museum at South Kensington. He will be able to tell us exactly what
they are, so that we need not go on guessing. We are up against a big
problem, old chap, so big that it doesn't do to take anything for
granted. Don't you think I am right?"

"I am perfectly sure you are," Manthon agreed. "We won't do anything
more until you have been up to London and had those prints verified.
But that won't prevent me keeping an eye upon Monkshole. I shall turn
out to-night, after it gets dark, and prowl about that old place and,
very possibly, have another look round the premises after Wilde has
retired for the night. I am quite sure that Peggy will go and see
Wilde again and I think it just as well not to interfere with that
arrangement. If I can sneak into the library at Monkshole when the next
conference is going on, I may be able to pick up a lot more valuable
information. As long as Joe Biddle is on the premises, I can go in and
out of Monkshole more or less as I please."

"All right," Faber said. "I think that is a very good idea. Look, there
is Wilde going down the road now in his chair."

They were in the garden at that moment, and had a clear view of
Sebastian Wilde as he passed. Then Manthon laid a hand on Faber's arm
and gripped it significantly.

"Do you notice anything?" he demanded.

"No, I can't say I do," Faber replied.

"Well, Wilde's left hand was all bandaged up," Manthon cried. "I am
beginning to wonder if----"

"Yes, I see what is at the back of your mind," Faber murmured. "But it
doesn't make our task any the less difficult."




CHAPTER XIX.--INQUEST.

Manthon parted with Faber presently, and went back to his desk, there
to resume work on his latest book which he had been neglecting terribly
of late. But after sitting for a quarter of an hour, staring blankly
at his portable typewriter, he snapped down the lid of the machine
impatiently and strode through the open French window into the garden.

He had not told Faber what was in the back of his mind, and how a
certain theory had shaped itself the moment he had caught sight of
Wilde propelling himself down the road. It was such a strange theory
that he was half ashamed of it himself. Perhaps, later on, when he had
time to think it out, he might mention it to Basil Faber, but for the
present, at any rate, he was going to keep it himself. He walked up
and down the tennis lawn in front of the house, and, after smoking a
couple of ruminative cigarettes, he went back to his library and took
up the morning paper which, so far, he had forgotten to scan as was his
usual habit. First of all, he looked to see if there were any further
developments in connection with the Burlington Square tragedy, but
though there were a couple of columns of it, very little information
was concealed in the clever journalistic verbiage by which the average
newspaper man contrives to make bricks without straw.

Nothing further transpired, though, of course, there was the usual
suggestion that the police were following up an important clue, and
that sensational developments might be expected at any moment. The
one thing that attracted Manthon's attention was the fact that at two
o'clock the following afternoon, the inquest on the body of Mr. Everard
would be opened at the Burlington Rooms, close by the scene of the
tragedy.

It occurred to Manthon that he might not be wasting his time if he went
up to town and attended the proceedings. In all probability, nothing
would transpire to help him; but then one never knew, and it was just
possible that he might pick up some little clue or another that fitted
in with the fantastic theory which he had been ashamed to mention to
Faber.

Yes, he would run up to London and follow the inquiry on the off-chance
of learning something. But, first of all, he was going to see Peggy
Ferris and ascertain, if possible, what effect Wilde's performance
with the crystal globe had had upon her on the night when Manthon had
penetrated into Monkshole and watched what appeared to be a piece of
sheer theatrical display, merely intended to impress a neurotic girl
who was only too ready to believe anything that she saw and heard.

With this intention uppermost in his mind, Manthon walked down the road
in the direction of Long Elms. Just before he came to the gate, he saw
Maud Faber emerging.

"So you have been calling at Long Elms this morning, have you? I
suppose you have been talking to Peggy."

"Yes," Maud said. "I wanted to see if I could get her to go out with me
in the car for the day. Anything to take her out of herself and keep
her mind occupied."

"That is just what I should have expected of you," Manthon said. "What
is the programme?"

"Well, I am afraid there is no programme," Maud confessed. "I found
Peggy a most extraordinary frame of mind. Cast down and hysterical
at one moment and strangely exalted the next. She has been seeing
Sebastian Wilde. She told me a most extraordinary story about his
occult powers. She says that he can look into a crystal globe and see
what is actually happening a hundred miles away. She seems to think he
is some sort of a god. If we don't get her away from here, then I fear
the worst. That man has the most amazing influence over her. Possibly
he is only trying to use her financially, which would not so much
matter, but there is another side to the question. How much longer can
her mind stand the strain? I tell you, Roy, something must be done. If
it isn't, then before long Peggy will be hopelessly insane."

"But what can we do?" Roy asked. "It is all very well to say that
Wilde is driving Peggy mad with those conjuring tricks of his, but
that is not a criminal matter. It has happened over and over again
with weak-minded people who take everything that fraudulent mediums
tell them for gospel. How many hundreds of men and women are there
in the world to-day who pay handsome sums to psychic imposters for
manifestations which are purely fraudulent. It is the most difficult
thing in the world to get a conviction against these people."

"But surely you can think of something," Maud urged. "Peggy says that
Sebastian Wilde absolutely foresaw that crime that took place a night
or two ago in Burlington Square. Of course, I don't believe a word of
it, but Peggy is absolutely convinced that Wilde has invented a crystal
in which he can see events whilst they are taking place."

Manthon smiled none too comfortably. He had no intention, at present,
of telling Maud of the strange scene he had witnessed himself not so
many hours before.

"Oh, well," he said. "I must see what I can do. I don't mind admitting
to you, Maud, that I am absolutely puzzled over this business. The
supernatural does not appeal to me in the least and I have no sort
of use for it. But I am not going to say that it is impossible for
science to discover some method by which scenes which are taking place
a hundred miles away may be recorded on a screen or in a crystal or
something of that sort. In other words, it is within the bounds of
possibility that Wilde has hit upon some great new scientific truth.
Something like wireless or television, for instance. On the other hand,
he may be merely a master charlatan. I think, when I have seen Peggy; I
will go as far as Monkshole and have a chat with Wilde."

A minute or two later, Manthon found himself in the drawing-room at
Long Elms in conversation with Peggy. It took no more than a glance at
the unfortunate girl's flushed, excited face to see that Maud had not
exaggerated when she had said that Peggy was on the verge of a mental
crisis.

"What's all this I hear?" Manthon demanded sternly. "What have you been
telling Maud Faber?"

Peggy broke into a laugh that struck unpleasantly on Manthon's ears.
He had seen that the pupils of her eyes were dilated and that she was
almost beside herself.

"It's true, it's true," she cried. "It is possible to see what is going
on all around us and know the course of events miles and miles away. It
is possible that I shall know, some of these early days, exactly how
poor Trevor died. And Mr. Wilde is going to tell me. He can find out
everything. He found out all about that horrible murder in Burlington
Square."

"Oh, he did, did he?" Manthon said quietly. "Now, you sit down and tell
me all about it. Take your time, try and calm that excitement of yours
and talk rationally."

"How can I, when I am face to face with the unknown?" Peggy demanded.
"I am going to see the veil that hides the future torn away. I am going
to be one of the high priestesses of a new era. You can't understand,
Roy."

"Perhaps I can understand a good deal more than you think," Roy said,
holding himself in with an effort. "Sit down, girl, sit down and try
and be a rational human being."

By way of reply, Peggy snatched up a copy of a daily paper and held it
under Manthon's nose.

"Look at that," she said. "It is a full account of a murder that took
place the other night in Burlington Square. And while that crime was
being committed, I was in the library at Monkshole and Mr. Wilde looked
into the big crystal of his and told me all about it. It is almost as
if I had been there. Oh, yes, I have just been reading all about it.
Roy, Roy, what is to become of me?"

Manthon would have given all that he was worth at that moment for a
satisfactory answer to her question. He could not laugh, nor could he
sneer at what Peggy had to say, because he had been present during that
manifestation, and heard the amazing revelation for himself. He could
do no more than try and divert Peggy's thoughts from the dangerous
cycle in which they were moving and bring her back to a normal plane
again. In this he succeeded to a certain extent, but it was some time
in the doing, and by the time he had turned his back on Long Elms in
the direction of Monkshole, it was past twelve o'clock.

So far as he could see, there was only one thing for it. And that was,
by force if necessary, to remove Peggy from Lincombe and take her
somewhere overseas where Sebastian Wilde could not follow. Later on in
the afternoon, he would arrange a conference between himself and Miss
Bancroft, with a view to bringing this about without delay. Rather
comforted by this decision, he pushed on towards Monkshole.

He was nearing the front door when some bushes in the ragged shrubbery
parted, and Joe Biddle's face looked out.

"Don't take any notice of me, sir," the latter whispered. "Just pretend
you are watching something. I saw you coming up the drive, but I don't
want anybody to know that I am talking to you. Will that be all right,
sir?"

Manthon stooped down as if to adjust a shoe-lace.

"Go on, Joe," he murmured. "Go on."

"Well, it's like this, sir," Biddle said. "There is some sort of game
going on, and I can't get to the bottom of it no'ow. Ever since I come
'ere, Mr. Wilde, 'e's been keeping out o' my way. Of course, 'e knows
as I am in the 'ouse, but it suits 'im to pretend as I ain't. Well,
last night, 'e cops me in the 'all and 'e says to me, 'e says, 'Biddle,
I ain't goin' to be troubled with you much longer. Tomorrow you'll be
gone,' and then 'e just chuckles to 'isself and pedals along in that
old chair of 'is as if 'e 'ad cracked a joke which pleased 'im immense.
Of course, I just grins back so as to show the old gent as there wasn't
no animosity and there was an end of it. But this morning 'e meets
me just as I was going for a bit o' fresh air lookin' like a demon.
Face all white and screwed up, and eyes glowin' like 'ot coals. 'E
spouts out a lot as I couldn't understand, but from what I could make
out, 'e's been disappointed over some money, which means as I ain't
goin' back to Marchwick as quick as I thought. And if that money ain't
forthcomin' in a day or two, then the Sheriff's officer comes in and
sells the whole show up."

Manthon heard this rather disturbing news, though in one way it was
not without its compensation. If the disaster foreshadowed by Biddle
actually took place, then there would be an end of Monkshole, so far as
Wilde was concerned, which was not quite what Manthon wanted. Despite
the critical state of Peggy's affairs, he would have much preferred
that things remained as they were until he had time to pursue his
investigations further. Still, the information was valuable, and Biddle
was thanked in a whisper.

"All right, Joe," Manthon said. "I think I will push on now. If I stand
here any longer, I shall be calling attention to myself, and that is
the last thing I want."

Manthon turned his back on the friendly laurel bush and rang the
front-door bell. After a little delay, he found himself in the library,
where Wilde turned from the table in a swivel chair and confronted him
amiably.

"This is rather an unexpected pleasure, Mr. Manthon," he said.

"I hope I am not interrupting you," Manthon said. "But I think you may
be able to help me in a little matter concerning my poor friend Capner.
You see, when he died, he left a pamphlet connected with flying in an
incomplete state. I think he intended to publish it later on and I have
undertaken to finish it. In the manuscript, I have found allusions
to certain information which seems to come from a book by a German
authority which you lent to Capner. Now, I wonder if I could borrow
that book again for a day or two?"

"Certainly you can," Wilde agreed. "You will find it on the third shelf
yonder, just at the corner. Anything I can do will be a pleasure."

Manthon crossed the room and took down the little volume with its stiff
cover and held it in his hand. Then, just as he was taking his seat
again, he bent forward eagerly and, making a sweep with his right hand,
struck Wilde just under the right kneecap a smart blow, at the same
time apologising for his clumsiness. But Wilde did not appear to notice.

"I am fearfully sorry," Manthon said. "I certainly didn't mean to touch
you at all. But there was a wasp settling on your knee and I thought it
might sting you."

"I didn't see it," Wilde said indifferently. "And it would not have
mattered if it had. Nor did you hurt me in the least. Since my
distressing accident some years ago, I have been completely paralysed
from the waist downwards and there is no feeling in my lower limbs
whatever."

Manthon nodded. He had noticed that, or the edge of the book striking
Wilde's right leg as it was crossed over the left must have produced
some sort of reaction.

"Well, at any rate, it was very clumsy of me," Manthon said. "Thanks
very much for the book. I will let you have it back in a day or two. I
won't detain you any longer."

"Just a minute," Wilde said. "Now, I wonder, Mr. Manthon, if you can
help me in a little matter. I have been spending a vast amount of money
lately in connection with certain experiments of mine and I am rather
in a quandary. In other words, I have outrun the constable and come to
the end of my resources. It is only temporary and, in the course of two
or three weeks, I shall be in ample funds again. I wonder if you would
mind lending me five hundred pounds?"

"It's a considerable sum of money," Manthon temporised.

"Well, it is and it isn't. At any rate, it isn't much to you. I will be
quite candid with you; if I don't find the money within the next day or
two, then I shall have to leave Monkshole, which I particularly don't
want to do. To put it vulgarly, I shall be sold up."

"That would be exceedingly awkward," Manthon murmured.

"Very awkward indeed," Wilde went on. "You see, I have thousands of
pounds worth of machinery overhead, delicate, intricate machinery,
especially made for me and of no earthly use to anybody else. Nobody
could use it unless they were aware of what I am on the verge of
discovering. If the stuff was put up for auction, it would fetch only a
few pounds, which means that I should have to begin all over again. I
am rather a lonely man, Mr. Manthon and I have no friends to speak of.
I dare not go to the scientific world for obvious reasons, and there is
no time to approach the class of city financier who is prepared to back
an inventor so long as he gets nine-tenths of the plunder. Of course,
it is a mere chance and a gamble as far as you are concerned; but if
you can see your way to finding that money, then I can return it to you
a hundredfold."

"Very well," Manthon said. "If you are on the verge of a big thing, it
would be a thousand pities to have it ruined for the want of a little
capital. And I don't want anything special in the way of a reward. If
you like, I will go back home and send you a cheque in the course of an
hour."

"That is very kind of you," Wilde said gratefully.




CHAPTER XX.--IN LONDON.

The follow afternoon Manthon found himself in the midst of a crowd
of other people attending the inquest on the unfortunate Everard in
the Burlington Rooms. The coroner opened the proceedings in the usual
formal manner and went on to give some account of the deceased.

"Mr Everard," he said, "was an elderly gentleman who lived alone in
his own house in Burlington Square, he being a bachelor of quiet and
sedentary habits. He had few friends, and practically no one ever
called at Burlington Square, all his business being conducted in his
office in Hatton Garden. His usual mode of procedure was to go down to
his place of business each morning shortly after ten in his car, and
stay there until about four o'clock in the afternoon, taking his lunch
with him and subsequently returning to Burlington Square, after which
he seldom went out. He was known to be a man of considerable wealth and
a collector of antique gems, as well as a dealer in precious stones.
This collection was one of the finest in the kingdom, though, curiously
enough, it was not kept on the premises at Burlington Square, but
either deposited with his bankers or lent to some public gallery for
exhibition. At the time of his death, most of those historic gems were
on loan to the Corporation of Liverpool.

"On the day of his death, Mr. Everard went to the auction rooms of the
famous firm of Dandy and Co. with the object of buying four complete
sets of historic jewels which were on sale that afternoon. He seems to
have taken no pains to conceal the fact that he intended to purchase
these stones and that he was prepared to go the limit to obtain
possession of them. It was an open secret; indeed, the matter has
been mentioned more than once in the gossipy columns of certain daily
journals. Mr. Everard attended the sale in person and succeeded in
procuring the whole miniature collection which was knocked down to him,
amidst applause, for a sum running well into five figures. There were
thousands of people within an hour or two of the sale who knew the name
of the purchaser.

"Mr. Everard left the auction room at about four o'clock in the
afternoon with those precious cases in his pocket. He gave a cheque
for them which was accepted by the auctioneers and, after that, the
unfortunate gentleman got into his car and went straight home. And,
after dining, went up to his sitting-room at the top of the house,
giving his servants instructions that he was not to be disturbed for
any reason. There can be no doubt that he wanted to be left entirely
alone, so that he might thoroughly examine his new treasures.

"After that, we can only conjecture what happened. Probably the
murderer, who had carefully studied the movements of the dead man,
arrived outside the house late at night and, having satisfied himself
that the servants had gone to bed, climbed up a water-pipe to the room
in which Mr. Everard was seated. It is fair to assume that the assassin
knew beforehand where to look for his victim and was thoroughly aware
that the private sitting-room was on an upper floor. The miscreant
would have several days to effect his plans, because it was common
knowledge, weeks before, that Mr. Everard had every intention of
purchasing those particular gems. No doubt the man responsible for the
crime followed his victim to the auction rooms and satisfied himself
that the deal had taken place. He probably also satisfied himself of
the fact that Mr. Everard had taken the historic stuff home with him.
Then, later on at night, the light in the sitting-room would prove
to the murderer that his victim was alone at the top of the house,
examining his recently acquired treasures. To the average cat burglar,
or any one connected with the sea, the ascent of that drain pipe would
not be a difficult matter; indeed, the police are already satisfied,
from the examination of it, that somebody using light leg irons had
climbed up to the window on the night of the crime. It would not be
a difficult matter for this criminal to force the window catch and
enter the room. I think we may fairly assume that something like a
struggle took place and that Mr. Everard put up a much better fight
than his assailant had expected. Probably the thief had gone there with
no murderous intent, but quite ready, if he found himself in a tight
place, to use the knife with which the murder was committed. He did use
the knife and, in the course of a few hours, Mr. Everard was found dead
in his sitting-room.

"So far, the police have failed to trace the man responsible for Mr.
Everard's death. You will hear what the dead man's butler has to say,
and the evidence of the detective-inspector who has the case in hand.
We shall only be able to take formal evidence to-day, and when one
or two witnesses have been examined, the inquiry will be formally
adjourned."

With that, the coroner lay back in his chair and the Everard butler
proceeded to give his scanty evidence. After him, came the police
officer indicated by the coroner.

"I have very little to tell you, sir," he said. "The police surgeon
will certify that the deceased died in consequence of a dagger thrust
through the heart, which must have been immediately fatal. I have
satisfied myself that when the servants at Burlington Square went to
bed, the downstairs premises were properly secured and that no one
entered them during the night. Moreover, when the last witness came
down in the morning, everything was in absolute order, and it may
be taken for granted that the murderer made his way to the upstairs
sitting-room by means of a pipe outside the window. I have ascertained
that in the last month the woodwork and piping of the house has been
painted, and fresh scratches on the paintwork of the water-pipe have
been made quite recently. I don't think there is any doubt whatever of
the means used by the murderer to reach his victim. There is only one
thing more I desire to mention before applying for adjournment. I am
going to call the police constable who recovered the missing gems."

Something like a shout arose as the witness made this utterly
unexpected dramatic statement. He stepped from the box, and the
stolid-looking constable took his place.

"I was on special duty near Burlington Square on the night of the
murder," the constable said, "somewhere just after eleven o'clock, when
my suspicions were aroused by the movements of a man who shot past me
at the corner of the square. He was wearing rubber-soled shoes, and,
because of this, I hailed him. He immediately took to his heels, and
I followed, blowing my whistle at the same time. Just as I got up to
the man, he threw two or three objects on the pavement, and, flashing
round the corner, was lost to sight. I stopped to pick up what he had
dropped, and I found that they were the cases which I now produce. I
saw no further signs of the criminal."

Five minutes later, Manthon was in the street. On the whole, he
certainly had not been wasting time.




CHAPTER XXI.--THE AMATEUR AT WORK.

With an hour or two to spare, before he had to catch his train back to
Lincombe, Manthon turned his steps, after leaving Burlington Rooms, in
the direction of the Strand, with the intention of getting a cup of
tea and smoking a cigarette in the exclusive precincts of the Senior
Bohemian Club. It was some time since he had last visited that free and
easy institute, and he was rather looking forward to meeting an old
literary friend or two. All the same, he had plenty of food for thought
as he walked along in the afternoon sunshine.

From what he could gather, it did not seem to him that the murder of
Everard had been premeditated. No doubt the thief had made some error
of calculation after he had climbed to the sitting-room of the house
in Burlington Square, which mistake had led to his presence being
discovered and the rest had followed with such tragic results. Still,
there the murder was, and if Manthon could do anything to bring the
miscreant to justice, then he was not going to hesitate. He would go
back to Lincombe presently and tell Faber all that he had discovered.
There were still one or two points which he had not disclosed to Faber,
and these he would hold back no longer.

He turned into the club presently and made his way to the big
smoking-room which at that time of the afternoon was practically
deserted. He made out one recumbent figure, half buried in a huge
arm-chair, and when his eyes became accustomed to the gloom, he
recognised who the individual was.

"Hullo, Scudamore," he cried. "What are you doing here? I thought you
were tied to the South of France."

The man called Scudamore pulled himself up in his chair. "Why, it's
Roy Manthon. My dear chap, I haven't seen you for nearly ten years.
That last push just outside Mons in November, 1918. Do you remember?
Here, pull up your chair and ring the bell. This meeting calls for a
libation."

The two novelists chatted for some time over a whisky and soda and
a cigarette before Manthon began to lead up to the subject that was
uppermost in his mind.

"Look here, Scudamore," he said. "I want you to give me a bit of
advice. You remember Trevor Capner?"

"Of course I do," Scudamore cried. "One of the very best. And an airman
almost without equal. I was terribly cut up when I heard of his death.
But where does he come in?"

"Well, personally, he doesn't come in at all," Manthon said. "It's a
matter concerning a girl that he was engaged to. I have known her for
many years now, and I have a very high opinion of her. I can't go into
details, old chap, because the story is not altogether mine. She is a
beautiful girl and an heiress to boot."

"Oho,"' Scudamore said. "A romance, I suspect."

"Nothing of the kind," Manthon said. "I might have had some
inclinations that way once, but not now. Now look here, Scudamore,
when a girl is prostrated with grief over the death of her lover, and,
moreover, when she is of a rather neurotic turn of mind, she is just
in a psychological mood to become the prey of the first adventurer who
comes along."

"Yes, I think I understand," Scudamore murmured. "Who is the villain of
the piece, eh?"

"I don't think we need go into that," Manthon said hastily. "In fact,
I don't want to discuss the matter with you at all, if you don't mind
my saying so. The reason why I brought up the topic was my recollection
that during the war you were in the intelligence department of the
British Army."

"That's right," Scudamore agreed. "And a precious ass I made of myself
on more than one occasion. You are not going to ask me to play the
private detective, are you?"

"No, of course not," Manthon smiled. "But I though perhaps you might be
able to tell me the name of some colleague of yours who still carries
on that sort of thing. If I had been in the intelligence department of
the Army and not a mere novelist, I should most certainly have gone
into business as a private inquiry agent."

"Not a bad idea, either," Scudamore agreed. "By Jove, I can tell you
the name of the very man you want. Do you happen to remember George
Vincent by any chance?"

"Vincent, Vincent," Manthon echoed. "Oh, Lord, yes. Sort of Lawrence
in his way, wasn't he? Spoke four languages and spent half his time in
Germany and Austria and the back of beyond in Turkey. A most surprising
chap. I often wondered what had become of him."

"Well, he is not very far off," Scudamore explained. "He has an office
in Norfolk Street. Tudor Mansions, I think the building is called. He
opened a business as an inquiry agent a year or two after the war, and
I believe he is doing exceedingly well. Mind you, he doesn't advertise.
He calls himself a commission agent. You had better look him up in the
telephone directory and give him a call."

A few moments later Manthon had discovered the name he wanted, and
stepping into the sound-proof telephone box in the hall of the club,
called up a certain number. Almost immediately a voice replied, asking
him what he wanted.

"I want to speak to Mr. Vincent, if he is there," Manthon replied.
"Tell him that Mr. Roy Manthon is on the telephone with a view to
consulting him over some business."

"Very good, sir," the voice at the other end of the wire said. "If
you will hold on for a minute or two I will put you through to Mr.
Vincent's private room."

Presently there came the sound of another voice, and Manthon proceeded
to state his business.

"Very glad you remember me, Vincent," he said. "It was Scudamore who
recommended me to apply to you for assistance in a rather delicate
matter. Would you mind giving me an appointment?"

"I couldn't this afternoon," Vincent said. "But if you could manage
some time to-morrow. Why not meet me and let us lunch together?"

"That," Manthon said, "would suit me very well. I am calling you up
from the Senior Bohemian Club, and you can come around here at one
o'clock to-morrow. I think I shall be able to give you a pretty good
meal, and I shall want you for at least an hour or two."

"Um, sounds rather big," Vincent said.

"Yes, it is. Most important. And from a business point of view, well
worth your while. It isn't my own affair, but that of a friend of mine.
And if it is a question of money, I don't care what it costs me up to
three or four thousand pounds. In fact, money is no object."

"I like to hear my clients talking like that," Vincent laughed. "So
long, old chap; see you to-morrow at one."

Whereupon Manthon rang off, and a little later left the club for
Victoria Station. Arrived at Lincombe, he went immediately over
to Faber's house and gave the latter a vivid account of the day's
proceedings.

"What do you make of it?" he asked at the conclusion.

"Well, upon my word, I don't know what to say," Faber confessed. "There
is one thing about which I feel pretty certain. I don't believe for a
moment that there is anything supernatural about those manifestation's
which seem to have made such an extraordinary impression upon Peggy
Ferris. And I don't believe for a moment, either, that Sebastian Wilde
has made some stupendous scientific discovery which has enabled him to
see things that are taking place miles away."

"Well, I won't go quite so far as to say that," Manthon observed. "In
the face of wireless and television, I am almost prepared to believe
anything."

"Yes, I dare say. But just consider for a moment. You were present when
Wilde was playing a sort of mumbo jumbo with that crystal globe, and
you heard everything that took place. Now, are you quite convinced that
Wilde's statement as to the crime he saw being committed was not just
coincidence?"

"I don't see how it could be," Manthon said. "The details tallied too
accurately. And all the time those spirit rappings went on. No, I don't
think we ought to rule out the possibilities altogether of Wilde having
found out something new. That would be a mistake on out part."

"Very well, then," Faber said. "Let's get down to another point of
view. Here is an elderly inventor of apparently benevolent nature, who
gazes into a crystal and sees a brutal murder being enacted. Did he
show any signs of horror or repulsion? Was he at all distracted?"

"Now I come to think of it," Manthon said, "he wasn't. He spoke more or
less as a man in a dream. You know what I mean. I dare say you have had
a horrible dream or two in your time without feeling particularly upset
about it. Well, that is the impression that Wilde gave me."

"Very likely," the more practical Faber said. "But I am a gross
materialist. I have no use whatever for the spiritualistic side of
things. I believe, myself, that there is some logical explanation of
the whole thing. I couldn't for the life of me say how the thing was
done, but don't forget that Wilde has a confidential private secretary.
I mean that chap we call the india-rubber man Ebbsmith. Has it ever
occurred to you that he could tell us a few things if he liked?"

"Well, yes," Manthon said. "It did not occur to me that possibly
Ebbsmith could throw some light on the mystery. I think I will mention
him when I see Vincent to-morrow."




CHAPTER XXII.--THE INDIA-RUBBER MAN.

Punctual to the moment, Captain George Vincent made his appearance
at the Senior Bohemian, and, after an elaborate lunch with his old
acquaintance, suggested that they should adjourn to the office in
Norfolk-street, where they could talk over the business without any
chance of interruption.

They were three modest rooms in which Vincent conducted his
negotiations. There was no suggestion of mystery about the offices, and
nothing to lead the most astute mind to the conclusion that Vincent was
engaged in anything but the most prosaic occupation. He seated himself
in a chair and indicated another to Manthon. Then cigarettes were
lighted, and Manthon sat down to tell his story.

Vincent listened to the end without moving a feature until the recital
was finished to the last detail.

"Very remarkable," he said at length. "It seems to me that you are up
against a most striking intellectual force. Now would you mind telling
me how long this brilliant genius Sebastian Wilde has been living in
Lincombe?"

"Certainly not more than three or four years," Manthon explained. "If
he wasn't----"

"Just one moment," Vincent interrupted. "It is a small point, but are
you quite sure that Sebastian Wilde is the physical wreck you take
him for? In other words, are you certain that his lower limbs are
paralysed?"

"Absolutely," Manthon replied. "That point occurred to me and I tested
him only a day or two ago. I struck him with the edge of a book under
his right knee-cap when he had one leg crossed over the other and there
was no reaction whatever. I am absolutely sure he never felt the touch
of that book, though I did deal him a very smart blow. And when I
apologised, pretending that I had seen a wasp buzzing about his knee,
he assured me that he had felt nothing, and I am certain that he told
me the truth."

"Ah, well, it doesn't much matter. Now, you have lived in Lincombe for
a long time, haven't you?"

"Well, I might say more or less all my life," Manthon agreed. "True, I
was born at Marchwick, some twenty miles away; but the house I lived
in belonged to my father and as a boy I spent a lot of time there. You
see, I am very seldom in Town; I hate London. I wouldn't live here if
you paid me."

"Just so, just so," Vincent said. "I take it that Lincombe is just a
mere village where everybody knows everybody else's business? That
being so, you would be pretty certain to know whether Wilde had
visitors or not."

"I think we can take that for granted. I can't recollect anybody ever
staying at Monkshole."

"Ah, I rather expected you to say that. Now, here we have a great
scientist on his own showing, on the verge of an amazing discovery,
who shuts himself away from the world and sees nobody except a rather
mysterious private secretary who does not appear to be scientifically
inclined himself. Of course, it may be that Wilde is of rather a
jealous nature and careful to guard his secrets from the prying eye of
his fellow-savants. But, on the other hand, he may be hiding. Let us
suppose for a moment that he is a master criminal. Let us argue that
the police in one or two countries would be very pleased to meet him.
Now, what better disguise could a man of that sort have than that of
a scientist? Let us assume, for a moment, if you like, that he wears
some sort of physical make up which is entirely different from his real
appearance."

"By Jove. I never thought of that," Manthon said.

"No, I don't suppose you have. But I am merely suggesting
possibilities. According to your account, Sebastian Wilde is playing on
the nerves of Miss Ferris. All that stuff about crystal globes watching
murders being committed seems to me very much like the paraphernalia
used by fraudulent mediums to delude their victims. Quite recently,
something of the sort came within my experience. Spirit messages and
music, through a long silver trumpet. All done to impress an elderly
lady who had more money than sense. But I managed to get hold of that
trumpet directly after the lights had gone up, and I found the mouth
of it not only warm but moist. So that put an end to the swindle I am
speaking about, and my old lady client told me only a day or two ago
that she could not be sufficiently grateful. Mind you, I am not saying
there is nothing in spiritualism, because very likely there is. But my
experience is that whenever mechanical appliances are used, then fraud
is not far off. And don't you forget that some of the finest brains in
this country have been utterly deceived by so-called mediums who are
no more than clever conjurers. And, unless I am greatly mistaken, that
is what we shall find Sebastian Wilde to be. However, I don't want to
waste your time on generalisms like this, so, if you don't mind, we
will get to the point."

"What is the point?" Manthon asked.

"The particular point in this case is how, Wilde, fifty miles away from
London, knew all about that murder. According to what you tell me, Miss
Ferris was shut up with Wilde in his library between eleven and twelve
o'clock on that fateful night. And I have not the slightest doubt that
before midnight the murder took place. How did Wilde know that?"

"Ah, there you have me guessing," Manthon admitted.

"Well, I am going to do a bit of guessing myself. I suggest that
the man who committed that murder was well known to Wilde, and that
he burgled the house in Burlington Square practically at Wilde's
instigation. I don't suppose for a moment that murder was contemplated,
but whoever committed the crime made a noise in entering the
sitting-room and a struggle followed. There can be no doubt about that
whatever, because you heard Wilde say so. What beats me is that a man
of Wilde's intellect should have been vain enough to have told Miss
Ferris what he saw in the crystal. He naturally imagined she would read
all about the crime in the newspapers and recognise the faithfulness of
it from his description."

"But it would be very impressive," Manthon pointed out.

"Tremendously impressive." Vincent agreed. "So much so that Wilde could
not resist the temptation. All the same, it was a mad thing to do.
Still, probably he thought that Miss Ferris would never mention it to
a soul, which is where he made a mistake, because it is exceedingly
perilous to show a highly-strung woman things of that sort. Now, let us
go a little further. You are in a position to prove that Wilde is in
desperate straits for money. He has an execution in his house at the
present moment, which is the third in the course of a comparatively
short time. That you know from what your useful ally, Joe Biddle, told
you."

"He told me more than that," Manthon pointed out. "Don't forget that
Wilde went out of his way to tell Biddle that the debt would be paid
within a few hours. Well, as a matter of fact, the debt was paid
within a few hours, and Wilde was so desperately in need of cash that
he borrowed five hundred pounds from me. I don't mind telling you I
lent him that money, not because I particularly wanted to, but because
I was anxious that he should not be sold up and driven out of the
neighbourhood. Well, I prevented that, anyway."

"Not a bad move on your part, either," Vincent said approvingly.
"Another question: Where is Ebbsmith at the present moment? Is he in
Lincombe?"

"No, he isn't," Manthon said. "He went to London by car a day or two
before the affair in Burlington Square, and has not returned since.
Significant, isn't it?"

"More than significant," Vincent said under his breath. "It may sound
like a wild theory, but I am rather inclined to believe that Ebbsmith
is responsible for the death of Mr. Everard. Of course, you may not
agree with me."

"I rather think I do," Manthon said. "Taking all the facts into
consideration, everything points that way. It was no secret that Mr.
Everard was after those jewels, and practically all London knew that
he had bought them within an hour or two of the sale. It is more than
possible that Ebbsmith was present in the auction rooms and saw this
transaction put through."

"Certain," Vincent declared. "And he had all his plans arranged
beforehand. By some means or another, Ebbsmith contrived to learn all
about the domestic arrangements in Mr. Everard's house, and, therefore,
the housebreaking side of the transaction was not difficult. But
what Ebbsmith did not reckon on was being spotted by a policeman and
followed. He was so frightened that he threw the jewel cases away,
so that if he happened to fall into the hands of the police before
he found shelter somewhere, he would be able to declare that he had
nothing whatever to do with the crime. Now, he managed to get to his
lodgings or his hiding-place or something of that sort, and immediately
he did so, he contrived, by some subterranean means, to communicate
with Wilde at Lincombe. Within a few minutes of the murder Wilde knew
all about it, and, again, a few minutes later, he knew that Ebbsmith
had failed in his mission. How this was done we have yet to find out.
But I am certain it is by some mechanical means or another."

"You are making out a pretty good case," Manthon smiled.

"My dear chap, that is just the reason why you employed me. I think,
if you don't mind, we won't worry ourselves at present with the
medium through which communication is established between those two
scoundrels. Monkshole is the headquarters of the conspiracy, but there
must be a branch office in London somewhere. Where that branch office
is I don't know, but I am going to find out. For the next few days
I shall be devoted to what I call donkey work. You must contrive to
find out, possibly through Joe Biddle, where Ebbsmith is at present.
I am quite convinced that he is in London somewhere. If you can put
me on his track, then I will have him followed up by one or two of my
sleuths, and you can rest assured that in the course of a few days I
shall know all about Mr. James Ebbsmith and his associates. I suppose
you don't know where he came from in the first place."

"I haven't the remotest idea," Manthon said. "I know he knows nothing
whatever about science or things of that sort, and I don't believe he
is a man of very much education. We call him the india-rubber man,
because he is so lithe and active. Just the sort of man that you could
imagine swarming up a drain-pipe in search of loot somewhere in the
West End. However, when I get back home, I will try and see Biddle
tonight, and see if he can find out where Ebbsmith is to be found."

"Perhaps Wilde writes to him," Vincent suggested.

"I don't think he does. Why should he? If they have some secret
means of communicating with one another, there is no occasion for
correspondence, and, anyway, correspondence is apt to be dangerous.
No, I don't think we shall be able to work it that way. I know this,
that Ebbsmith is very often in Town. He comes and goes at all sorts of
odd times. Why not run down to Lincombe yourself and spend a day or
two with me? Nobody could possibly connect you with a private inquiry
office. If you can manage to get away for a long week-end and keep an
eye upon Ebbsmith, then you can follow him to Town in your own car, and
mark his hiding place for yourself."

"That's not a bad idea," Vincent cried. "You say that money is no
object so far as this case is concerned, so I will put everything
else on one side and devote myself to the mystery that surrounds Miss
Ferris. When Ebbsmith turns up next, you can give me a call on the
telephone and I will be in Lincombe within a couple of hours."

The two parted at length, and Manthon made his way back to Lincombe
once more. It was on the third day that he sent his telephone message
to Vincent, and, on the following Saturday, Vincent, after spending
three or four days with Manthon, came into the library hurriedly and
announced the fact that he was returning to Town without delay.

"Something has transpired?" Manthon asked.

"You have it," Vincent said. "I was in the village tobacconist's
shop just now when Ebbsmith came in. He happened to mention to the
shopkeeper quite casually that he was motoring up to London this
afternoon at three o'clock, so I came here and packed my bag. I
shall be after him almost before he has left the village. Things are
beginning to move, Manthon."




CHAPTER XXIII.--THE PLASTER CASTS.

"Meaning that you are going to London at once?" Manthon asked. "But
what's the matter?"

Captain George Vincent placed himself in such a position that he could
command a view of the high road.

"That's the idea," he said. "I will just stay where I am till I see
Ebbsmith go by and then follow him. I don't want him to suspect what is
the object I have in view, so I am travelling to Town just as I am. I
will get you to put a label on my suit-case and send it by train to my
private address."

"I can do that," Manthon said. "Or leave the case at your office, if
you like. I have half arranged to go to London this afternoon myself
with Faber. We are paying a visit to the Natural History Museum at
South Kensington to try and ascertain the exact value of those plaster
casts."

"What plaster casts?" Vincent asked curtly.

"Oh, didn't I tell you? Come to think of it, I didn't."

Briefly, Manthon related the history of the imprints outside his own
house and that of Faber, to which Vincent listened with a rather
sardonic smile.

"There you go," he said. "Now didn't I tell you to let me know
everything in connection with this business? And yet, but for a mere
accident, I should never have heard a word about an attempted burglary
both here and at Faber's."

"Yes, but why should you think that had any connection with Miss Ferris
and her trouble?"

"I don't," Vincent said. "But you never can tell. It is just as likely
as not that this mystery is part of Wilde's scheme. I don't see how it
fits in at present, but I may later on. It's like this----"

Vincent broke off abruptly and strode in the direction of the door. At
that moment a car passed along the main road, and Manthon had just time
to see that the man, James Ebbsmith, was at the wheel. Without another
word Vincent ran down the garden and out into the road where his own
car was drawn up, waiting for him to take his place. Five minutes later
he was out of sight. Then Manthon called up Faber on the telephone,
and within half an hour the two of them were on their way to London,
and, late in the afternoon found themselves in the office of one of the
curators of South Kensington Museum.

"Oh, yes," that individual said, when Faber had finished his story.
"You have come to the right place, I think. If you will show me what
you have, then I may be able to give you all the information that you
require."

"Well, you see, it is like this, Professor Simpson," Faber said. "I
don't know if my visiting card conveys anything to you, but I am pretty
well known as a big game hunter."

"Yes, I am aware of that," the Professor smiled. "I have heard of
you from several of my friends. I believe that we have two or three
specimens of rare animals which you presented to the museum a few years
ago."

"Well, that makes matters rather easier," Faber said. "I have brought
certain plaster casts with me, and I have them in a box. They puzzle
me entirely. Mind you, I am not a scientific naturalist, and I don't
claim to speak with any authority, but I do know the spoor of pretty
well every wild animal that haunts the jungle or the forest, but I have
never come upon one exactly like the specimens I have brought with me."

"Were they taken on the spot?" the Professor asked. "I mean, were the
casts recorded in the wild?"

"No, they were not," Faber explained. "They were found outside my house
on a flower bed. I might say that other casts of an exactly similar
nature were taken on some soft soil in the garden of my friend here. On
the two occasions I am speaking of, an undoubted attempt to burgle our
premises by some mysterious individual was made, and that he, or it,
was disturbed without any losses sustained. Mr. Manthon actually saw
the creature, though it was in the middle of the night and too dark for
him to make anything definite of it."

"That is quite true," Manthon took up the tale. "I saw the outline of
the thing, and it looked to me like a huge chimpanzee. I fired at it
but apparently without effect, because it got clear of the premises and
I didn't see it again. But I found the marks of it on some soft soil
outside and we took impressions of it in plaster of Paris. So far as we
can see, both sets of footprints exactly tally."

"A most extraordinary story," the Professor murmured.

"Yes, isn't it," Manthon agreed. "You may laugh at us, but we are under
the impression that we are on the track of something new in the way
of burglary. Our theory is that somebody has trained an ape to enter
people's houses and get away with what he can lay his hands on."

"Well, it is not such a wild theory, after all," the Professor said. "I
suppose you got that idea after having watched that clever ape Consul
and his entertainment."

"Precisely," Faber said. "You see, given an ape with that amazing
intelligence, it would not be a difficult matter to train him to
distinguish the difference between valuable and common articles. And
just consider the advantage of having an animal like that. He could
go where no man could and climb up the side of a house, if necessary.
However, this is all mere speculation. What we want to know, if you can
tell us, is the name of the creature we are trying to identify."

The casts were produced and for a long time the Professor studied them
through his spectacles. There was a puzzled frown on his face, as if he
was not quite sure of his ground.

"I can't make this out at all," he said at length. "As a matter of
fact, those impressions are none too good. I think I shall have to
photograph them, then I can enlarge the negative and we may get
results. But that will take time. However, if you are in no hurry, we
will get on with it."

There was no hurry, and for an hour or so Manthon and Faber killed time
as best they could whilst the Professor was out of the room with his
photographer. He came back presently with a photograph in his hand. It
was an enlargement, over a foot in diameter, and so clear that even the
faintest lines were visible on the face of the print. With a magnifying
glass the Professor made a still further examination.

"Well?" Faber asked eagerly. "Well?"

"Oh, yes," the Professor smiled. "I think we have got to the bottom
of the mystery. You see, with a photograph like this, showing every
trivial detail, it is possible to speak more positively. As a matter
of fact, this is not the imprint of the foot or paw of any animal, but
just a very large and well-defined human hand."

Faber and Manthon stared at the speaker in astonishment.

"Are you quite sure?" the latter asked.

"Absolutely," the Professor said almost curtly. "Examine the print
for yourself under this powerful magnifying glass. The line of life
is perfectly distinct; moreover, you can see the whorls and lines
of the skin. It is a most unusual hand, very long and very narrow
and indicating great muscular power. If it had been paws of an ape,
then, as the impressions are so deep, the camera would certainly have
recorded the claws and the end of the fingers. Here there are no claws
to be seen. No, there is no doubt whatever about it, gentlemen--you are
looking at the photograph of a human hand."

"Wait a minute," Faber exclaimed. "I went over all the ground carefully
and I am quite sure that I didn't miss an imprint of any sort. If you
are prepared to accept that statement, then let me ask you a question.
Where are the feet-marks? There must have been feet-marks and yet they
didn't exist. There was no dragging of the soil, either, as if a man
had been crawling on his hands and knees. It seems a most remarkable
thing that the burglar, if he had been a human being, should have left
no trace of anything but his hands."

"Ah, there you are travelling out side my orbit," the Professor smiled.
"I am a scientist and not a detective. There is no doubt that there is
something mysterious behind this business, but I think you will admit
that it is no concern of mine. I showed that photograph to two or three
of my colleagues upstairs and they all agree with me that we have here
a human hand. In view of those lines, it would be impossible to deny
it. I think if you gentlemen want to go any further in this business,
it would be as well for you to call in Scotland Yard."

It was a very logical explanation and both Manthon and Faber were
inclined to agree with it. It was quite plain to them now that the ape
theory would have to be abandoned, and that they would have to look
elsewhere for a solution of the mystery.

"Not that it much matters," Faber said, once they were outside. "Still,
I should very much like to know how our burglar friend managed to get
away, leaving nothing but the impression of his hands behind him. It
is not sense to ask us to believe that the fellow dropped out of the
bedroom window to the garden beneath on his hands and got away without
further injury. It begins to look to me as if these mysterious attempts
at burglary have nothing to do with the peril in which Peggy Ferris
stands at the present moment. Just strange coincidences. I think we had
better forget all about them."

"I am inclined to agree with you," Manthon said. "What shall we do now?"

"Go somewhere and get some tea, I suppose," Faber said. "Yes, and
don't forget that we have to drop that suit-case at Vincent's office.
It is just possible he may be back there by this time, and will have
something to tell us."

They hailed a taxi, into which Faber threw the boxes of casts and
Vincent's suit-case, and drove off in the direction of the Strand. They
broke their journey whilst they had tea at the Senior Bohemian Club and
discussed afresh the strange things that had happened in the course of
the afternoon.

"All the same," Manthon said, "we don't seem to get much further, old
chap. When we found those prints, and I hit upon the chimpanzee in the
priest's hole, I really thought we had got hold of something that we
could tie round Wilde's neck. And now all that has gone phut and poor
little Peggy seems to be in more danger than ever."

"I am afraid she is," Faber agreed. "But I would not think so much
about her, if I were you."

"Well, I am not thinking about her in that way at all. I have been a
bit of an ass, Basil, as far as Peggy is concerned, like a man who
can't see the wood for the trees. Funny how we are so often blind to
our own interests, and how we stretch out our hands for a thing we
think we want, when the thing that is really intended for us is holding
out its hand."

"In other words?" Faber asked.

"Well, in other words, I am just Peggy's friend and no more. You don't
want me to speak any more plainly than that. Now, come along, let's get
rid of this blessed suit-case and make the best of our way home again."




CHAPTER XXIV.--No. 6, CANNON PLACE, BLOOMSBURY.

Meanwhile, Vincent had been steadily pursuing the yellow car in front
of him all the way from Lincombe to London. His own two-seater was
faster than the one in front, so that it was an easy matter to lie
back a couple of hundred yards or so and keep Ebbsmith in sight.
They went on and on, right into the heart of London, until Ebbsmith
steered his way into one of the narrow streets close to the British
Museum. There he pulled up and, jumping out of the car, entered a tall,
shabby-looking house in front of him with the aid of a latchkey which
he took from his pocket for that purpose. Evidently, Ebbsmith had a
sort of pied-a-terre here, for he bustled up the steps with the air of
a man who is thoroughly at home and never so much as looked over his
shoulder when he slipped the key in the lock. The front door closed
behind him and, as Vincent slid leisurely by, he saw that the number
of the house was six, for a shabby figure to that effect showed on the
fanlight in front of a dingy card containing the one word "Apartments."
Vincent smiled as he noted the placard, then he drew up his car against
the pavement a few doors away and sat at the wheel with the air of one
who is waiting the coming of another.

At the expiration of half an hour, Ebbsmith left No. 6, Cannon Street,
and bustled along in the direction of the Museum. As he faded out of
sight, Vincent pushed in the clutch and, in a short time, reached
his own office. There he handed over the car to the office boy with
instructions to garage it and, after that, went up to his own private
room, from which he emerged a few moments later changed beyond
recognition.

He was no longer the smartly dressed man of the world with a slightly
military bearing, but a bronzed individual with a heavy moustache
and short, stubbly beard. His broad-shouldered coat and nobby boots
suggested the American of a certain class; in fact, Vincent might
have been a prospector who had been successful in his undertakings
and was now in England with the object of finding someone to finance
a silver mine, or something of that sort. With a short pipe between
his teeth, he crossed the Strand and made his way along Endall Street
and Gower Street until he came, at length, to the shady thoroughfare
where he had tracked Ebbsmith down. For a little time he wandered about
in an aimless sort of way, and then, as if suddenly making up his
mind, crossed the road and rang the bell of number six. A slatternly
maid-of-all-work answered the door and none too politely inquired the
stranger's business.

"Got lodgings to let, haven't you?" Vincent asked.

The grubby handmaiden smiled tentatively.

"That's right," she said. "Like to see the missus? Come inside and I'll
call 'er."

Vincent pushed his way into a shabby hall and stood there until the
tenant of the house appeared. She was just as he had expected, hard
looking, stony-faced female of uncertain years whose rather sour
expression and bleak eye indicated one who found it none too easy to
keep abreast of fortune.

"My name is Mattey," Vincent said. "I am a Colonial. Just come back
from Canada, where I have been living the last fifteen years. I have
got business in London that will occupy me for some weeks and, on the
other hand, I may settle it all in a day or two. If I do settle it,
then I shall take the first boat back to Canada again and that's that.
But I've got to find somewhere to stay in the meantime and I haven't
got any use for these hotels. What I want is a nice quiet sitting and
bedroom, or bed-sitting-room where I can do as I like and no questions
asked. Gas ring and that sort of thing where I can cook my own food. If
you have got anything of the sort vacant in your house, I would like
to have a look at it and no questions asked. We shan't quarrel about
terms, either."

The sour-faced woman smiled bleakly.

"It so happens that I've got just what you want," she said. "You
can have a bedroom and a sitting-room, or if you prefer a large
bed-sitting-room on the top floor facing the street, you can have it.
There is a gas ring and a gas fire in the big bed-sitting-room, and
it's two pounds a week."

As the woman spoke, she looked somewhat defiantly at Vincent, as if
challenging him to question her terms.

"Bit stiff, isn't it?" he asked. "However, we won't say anything about
it until I have seen the rooms."

"And a fortnight in advance," the woman said.

"Oh, that's all right," Vincent agreed. "Quite fair and reasonable. You
don't know me or anything about me and I haven't got any luggage to
speak of. There is a box of mine down at the docks which I shall fetch
presently if we come to terms, and I can get my wardrobe a bit at a
time as I want it. Now let's give that room of yours a once over."

The landlady led the way up to the top of the house and showed Vincent
a comparatively large room, by no means badly furnished, in which stood
a table and a couple of arm-chairs and a bed in an alcove which was
concealed by a curtain.

"There you are, sir," she said. "You can come in any time you like and
stay as long as you please. All I ask is a week's notice before you
leave, and, as I said before, a fortnight's rent paid in advance. I am
not a grasping woman, but you have got to be careful in London and I
have been done more than once, though I am as cautious as I can be."

Vincent took a five-pound note from his pocket and handed it over to
his landlady.

"There you are," he said. "Short reckonings make long friends. When
that has run out, let me know, and I will give you another bill to go
on with. I shan't want any cooking done, only my bed made when I am out
and my boots cleaned and that sort of thing. I am used to roughing it
and I have made myself comfortable in worse quarters than these. All I
want is quiet. I hope you haven't got any noisy lodgers."

"That I haven't," the woman said. "There is an old woman and gentleman
on the ground floor and a foreigner who teaches languages has the
drawing-room suite. Then, behind you, is a single man who is a sort of
commercial traveller. As he is away from London about half his time,
you will have this floor almost to yourself."

"Yes, that sounds all right," Vincent said. "What's the name of the man
who has the room behind mine?"

"Name of Ebbsmith," the woman said. "Very quiet, his is, and keeps
hisself quite to hisself. Pays regular and no trouble to nobody. Been
with me for the last two years."

After a few desultory remarks of the same nature, Vincent, on the plea
of fetching his box and getting certain provisions, obtained the usual
latchkey and sauntered out into the street. A little later he was back
in his office again, where he found Manthon and Faber awaiting him.
They stared in something like embarrassment as they came into the
private office to find themselves confronted with an individual who,
apparently, had just returned from the back woods.

"Ah, well," Vincent said. "You don't recognise me. I knew you wouldn't.
This is rather a favourite disguise of mine, and one that I always find
to be effective."

"It certainly is," Manthon agreed.

"Well, never mind that," Vincent said. "I have not been wasting my
afternoon. I have tracked Ebbsmith to a house in Cannon-street,
Bloomsbury, close to the British Museum, where he has a small
sitting-room and bedroom. He has made no attempt to disguise his
name and, according to his landlady, is supposed to be a commercial
traveller. You see, that gives him a good excuse for being frequently
out of town and coming and going as he likes. As a matter of fact,
I have booked a bed-sitting-room on the same floor as Ebbsmith's
apartments and there I propose to stay, in this disguise, until he
goes back to Lincombe. I shall be able to keep a close eye on him,
and it won't be my fault if I don't know a great deal more about his
sitting-room and bedroom within a few hours than I do now."

"You certainly have not lost any time," Manthon said. "Now, suppose we
want to communicate with you? How are we going to do it? It wouldn't be
safe to telephone."

"It certainly would not," Vincent agreed. "Besides, it is any odds that
there is no telephone in the shabby-genteel house in Cannon-street.
I don't see why you shouldn't write to me. My present pseudonym is
Mattey--John Mattey. What I am after now is to discover the means by
which certain events happening in London are transmitted to Wilde at
Lincombe. There must be some logical explanation of it, quite outside
any suggestion of the supernatural. And, unless I am greatly mistaken,
Ebbsmith has the key to the puzzle in Cannon-street. In the meantime,
you two can go quietly back home and wait upon events. Directly I have
anything to communicate, I will let you know. You see, I can walk in
and out of my office in this disguise without anybody being any the
wiser, except my own staff, and I can trust every one of them. I can
go to Cannon-street as John Mattey and do my work there, and then, if
necessary, I can come back here and be myself again. We have made a
very good start, but, unless I am greatly mistaken, there is a lot to
be done before we run these two scoundrels to earth."

A few minutes later the conference came to an end, and having finished
his afternoon's work, Vincent, in his disguise, strolled back to
Cannon-street. He had arranged to deliver a battered-looking box
containing his wardrobe and certain cooking utensils and these arrived
in the course of the evening. Then, having procured a small supply of
provisions, he fried himself a steak and made an omelette over the
gas-ring.

He could hear his next-door neighbour moving about in the sitting-room,
and smiled as he realised how thin the partition wall was between his
own quarters and those of Ebbsmith. It was nearly dark before he had
placed everything away, neatly, and in order, and then walked down the
stairs with the idea of amusing himself for an hour or two at some
picture palace or music hall. As he opened the front door, he came in
contact with a big flashily-dressed individual whose air and manner
had a suggestion of the circus ring about him. He was a large man,
with a heavy moustache of the cavalry type and an overpowering suit of
clothes in broad black and white checks. On both hands were what might,
by courtesy, be called diamond rings, and another flash-looking stone
glittered in a tie that was clamant in its colouring.

"Here, say," the gorgeous apparition remarked. "I guess you live in
this location."

"You guess, right," Vincent said. "Why?"

"Waal, if you do, I calculate you know a boarder of the name of
Ebbsmith. Is he at home?"

Vincent assured the stranger that such was the case and advised the
newcomer to make his way up to the top of the house and knock on the
first door at the back. As the man disappeared, Vincent retraced his
steps up the stairs very softly.




CHAPTER XXV.--ENTER THE APE.

Vincent stole quietly back behind the flashily dressed man and saw him,
presently, hammering on the door of Ebbsmith's sitting-room. Then in
the opening appeared the face of the india-rubber man and a stifled cry
broke from his lips. Vincent could see how pale and agitated he was.

"Good Lord," Ebbsmith cried. "Dick Barrs."

"Yes, I guess that's me," the flashily dressed man said, with a shade
of triumph in his voice. "You didn't expect a visit after all these
years, what? Thought I was still on the other side of the big drink.
Waal, going to ask me in?"

"Oh, come on," Ebbsmith stammered, and carefully closed the door behind
him as the stranger disappeared.

Very quietly, Vincent entered his own room and then crossed to the wall
next to the adjoining apartment and laid his ear to it. At some time
or another, the two rooms had been one, so that the partition was a
light and fragile one. It was quite possible, standing there, to hear
everything that was going on in the next room. Apparently, the big man
had thrown himself into a chair, for Vincent heard a creak and then,
for a minute or two, there was nothing but the scratching of a match,
as if the newcomer was lighting a pipe or a cigarette.

"What do you want?" Ebbsmith asked.

"What do I want," the other man echoed. "That's a pretty nice question
for you to ask me. Just cast your mind back to what happened in the
States five years ago. There were three of us in the business then--you
and me and the man we used to call the professor. When I speak of the
Professor, I mean that two-faced scoundrel Sebastian Wilde. I suppose
you don't happen to know what has become of him."

"I haven't the remotest idea," Ebbsmith said readily.

"Gee, what a liar you are," the man called Barrs said with a certain
tone of admiration in his voice. "You know where he is as well as I do."

"Then if you know, why ask me?" Ebbsmith murmured sulkily.

"Oh, just to test you. Now, look here. Five years ago the three of
us were making almost as much money as we wanted. We had the finest
stunt in the way of a show that ever toured the Pacific Coast. There
was the Professor with those electrical stunts of his, and you with
your conjuring tricks and your contortionist displays. We could rake
in a clear profit of six or seven thousand dollars a week and expenses
didn't amount to much. If you two had been content to stay with me,
we should all have been rich men by this time. But no, that was not
good enough, so you put your heads together and double-crossed me, and
left poor old Dick Barrs to fend for himself. I would not have minded
so much if you hadn't forged those cheques on my banking account and
stripped me bare. And I wouldn't have minded so much, either, if you
had left Gobo behind. If you had done that, I could easily have trained
another man to play your original part of the human monkey."

"Now, look here, Dick," Ebbsmith began.

"Here, cut it out," the other interrupted. "I am doing all the talking
at present and don't you forget it. And when I put a question to you,
you just answer it. Where is Sebastian Wilde at the present moment?"

"How should I know?" Ebbsmith said eagerly. "We parted company long
ago."

"Oh, that's a fact, is it? Quarrelled over the plunder, I suppose.
Here, what sort of a jay do you take me for? Might just as well tell
the truth and have done with it. And listen to me, Jim Ebbsmith; what
do you know about an old gentleman called Everard who lived in this
berg at a place called Burlington Square? Don't hurry; take your time."

Standing with his ear to the wall, Vincent could hear the swift
indrawing of Ebbsmith's breath and the queer, strangled cry that rose
to his lips.

"All right," the big man went on mockingly. "As I said before, take
your time."

"I don't know what you are talking about," Ebbsmith contrived to gasp.
"I never heard----"

"Oh, all right, all right. Lapse of memory, I guess. I am speaking
about the old gentleman who had a weakness for collecting historic
diamonds. The man who was murdered in his private sitting-room in his
house a few days ago by a cat burglar who got away with the goods. But
he didn't get very far before one of the busies was after him. So he
had to drop the plunder in case he was picked up with the sparklers
in his possession. He managed to get away all right and I dare say
he thinks he is safe. But he ain't, Ebbsmith, he ain't--that is, not
unless he behaves himself. When I read that piece in one of the London
papers, I began to see daylight. It was just the sort of stunt you used
to work in California----"

"We used to work, you mean," Ebbsmith corrected.

"Oh, very well, we, if you like. I found the money for those little
stunts and you and Gobo did the work and we shared the plunder equally
between the three of us. Any decent chap would have been satisfied; but
then you and the Professor, as we used to call Wilde, never had enough.
If he had left those experiments of his alone, he might have retired
from the profession and become a member of Congress or something of
that sort. But that wasn't good enough for friend Sebastian. Always
got a bee in his bonnet, he had. Always on the verge of some wonderful
discovery that was going to shake the world and chucking his money
about in the purchase of machinery like so much water. I suppose that
is why he robbed me in the end and persuaded you to come to England
with him. Where is he?"

"Upon my soul," Ebbsmith started to protest.

"Now, cut it out, cut it out. What is the good of trying to humbug
me? When I brought my little show to England two years ago, I swore I
would track you down if it cost me my last penny. I am going to have
everything back that you two stole from me and a lot more besides. I
suppose you would be surprised if I told you that I saw you the day
those diamonds were sold to Mr. Everard in the sale room. I wandered in
there quite by chance, and the first person I spotted there was my dear
old friend Jimmy Ebbsmith. So I kept in the background and watched. I
saw the old gentleman go off with his plunder, and I saw you follow him
to his own house in a taxi. I was in another taxi, just behind, and,
well, putting two and two together, it didn't take me long to make up
my mind that Jimmy Ebbsmith, the human ape, was up to his old tricks.
When, later on, I saw the account of that murder in the papers, I was
absolutely certain of it. I have got you in the hollow of my hand."

"What do you want?" Ebbsmith burst out.

"What do I want? To get my own back, of course. And to have my share
in the profits of Sebastian Wilde's inventions. I have been dogging
you for the last week, I don't mind telling you. I have been down
to Lincombe and know all about the old house there which is called
Monkshole. I have not been inside it, but I have seen Sebastian Wilde.
I wonder what would happen if I were to drop a few lines to the chief
of police in San Francisco telling him that a certain benevolent old
gentleman in much respected scientific circles in England is none other
than this individual called Slippery Sam."

"Go on," Ebbsmith groaned. "I can see you know all about it. What do
you want me to do?"

"I want you to do a great many things. What is more, you will do them
at my own price, so will our dear friend Sebastian for that matter. He
isn't much use bodily since that accident of his, but he has got the
big brain all right and that is what I shall need a bit later on. Tell
me, what has become of Gobo? Have you got him still, or is he dead?"

Vincent, listening intently to the conversation, pricked up his ears.
Who and what was this mysterious Gobo? It didn't sound like the name of
a man, neither did the tone of the conversation suggest a human being.
Vincent racked his brains to remember anything that Manthon and Faber
had told him with regard to an animal, save that they had been under
the impression that a monkey was mixed up in the mysterious business
of those two attempted burglaries. It was rather unfortunate, in the
circumstances, that in telling his story of the visits to Monkshole,
Manthon had said nothing about the chimpanzee which he had found in the
cave where he had stumbled on the motor bicycle.

But Ebbsmith's next words made that position clear.

"Oh, Gobo is all right," he said. "Getting a bit old now, but just as
spry and as full of tricks as ever."

"That's good hearing," Barrs said. "Because we are going to make use of
Gobo and put a good many thousands of English pounds in our pockets. Do
you remember that stunt of the burgled house? I mean the one that was
our star turn?"

"Of course I do," Ebbsmith replied.

"Very well, then. I propose to revive that in England. I have been all
round the provinces for the last year or two making a kind of a sort of
a living, but leaving precious little to spare in the way of luxury.
My Home of Illusion scheme is only a shadow of what it used to be; but
if I can get you and the chimpanzee back into it again, then there is
a gold mine in it. I start on a fresh circuit the week after next,
opening in the drill hall at Marchwick."

"Oh, do you?" Ebbsmith cried. "Marchwick is only about twenty miles
away from the village where we are hiding."

"Yes, I know that. I am opening in Marchwick for a couple of nights
and then moving along close to Lincombe, following those local cattle
fairs. Of course, in those jay villages, I can't get halls lofty enough
for my purpose, so I am carrying a tent. But I am hoping to get one or
two London managers down to see that show at Marchwick with a view to
contracts in this metropolis at top of the bill terms. Once we get a
start of that sort, then the rest will be all right. But do you think
Gobo is up to the work, as he used to be?"

"I am perfectly sure he is," Ebbsmith replied. "Nobody has ever seen
him since we have been at Monkshole. He spends a lot of time in the
house and he is just as clever as ever he was. Now, look here, Barrs,
by a bit of good luck you have got a strong hold over me and I have got
to do what you want me to. But let me tell you this--Sebastian Wilde
is a far greater genius than ever you took him for. Oh, I know that in
the old days we were nothing better than three ordinary crooks, but
Wilde is far beyond that. He really is a genius and on the verge of
discoveries which will shake the world. And when he gets those through,
then he will be a millionaire ten times over."

"And in the meantime he hasn't a bob, I suppose?"

"Well, there is something in that," Ebbsmith agreed. "We make a few
hundred occasionally in the old way and, so far, we haven't been laid
by the heels. But it is infernally risky business in a country like
this, where you can't bribe the police, and where you can't hide if
you get into their clutches. There are times when we have creditors in
possession at Monkshole and the matters are very critical indeed. Only
a day or two ago Wilde was forced to borrow a few hundred pounds from a
neighbour of his to save his machinery from being sold up. I wonder if
you would like to help him out?"

"If I thought it worth while," Barrs said. "But then, as I told you
just now I have got nothing. By the time I have paid for the drill hall
at Marchwick and the advertising, I shall be down to my last fifty
dollars. But if all goes well and you will consent to play your old
part and bring Gobo in as your assistant, then you shall have half
the takings and not another word said. But, mind you, I am not going
to be double-crossed this time. If I like to drop a line to Scotland
Yard, you will find yourself pulled in for the murder of Mr. Everard,
and once the police get their hands on you, they will never let go.
More than that, if I liked to drop another line to the police in San
Francisco, there would be an end to the activities of Sebastian Wilde
for some weeks to come. I don't want to act as informer, and I don't
want to do you any harm, but you have served me in a way I can't
forget, and I am not going to, either. I don't know what game you are
up to here, lodging in London, because that is no business of mine. I
dare say that you have got some deep scheme on for putting money in
your pockets, and you can carry on without interference from me. But if
there is a fortune, as you say, in Wilde's inventions, then I am going
to have my share of it. You had better shut down here for the present
and go down to Lincombe and tell Wilde all that has happened in this
room to-night. Tell him I am going to have a third share in everything.
I will be in your neighbourhood in a day or two, when I will run over
to Lincombe and have a chat with my dear old pal. There can be no harm
in doing that, because nobody knows anything about me in this country
and we have got to settle things on pretty definite lines. Now, don't
you forget to let Sebastian Wilde know that I have got you boys by the
short hair. I wonder----"

The speaker paused and Vincent heard him walking rapidly up and down
the sitting-room. Then he came to a stop at length, and threw himself
into the creaking chair again.

"I have got an idea, Ebbsmith," he said in a hoarse whisper. "You say
that Wilde wants money badly; in fact, we all do. I think I can see
your way of getting two or three thousand pounds in ready money without
much trouble. There is a certain amount of risk, but I don't mind
sharing it if you are game."

"Oh, I am game right enough," Ebbsmith declared. "Only tell me what it
is, that's all."

"Waal, there are three or four cattle fairs during the next week, and
one of them is within three miles of Lincombe. That means that the
village bank is open till about five o'clock in the afternoon for the
convenience of the local farmers and dealers in the district. The
village I mean has a local bank which is only open one day a week and
that will be on the occasion of the cattle fair. I don't suppose you
realise how much money changes hands on such occasions, but I am told
that it runs into thousands. That means so much money lying in the
bank safe all night. And I suppose that the manager of the nearest
legitimate branch sends for it next day, but it remains over night.
Now, what is to prevent us getting hold of that? We might work it in
the old way----"

"Hush," Ebbsmith whispered. "Not so loud. You don't know who is
listening. I believe that in the next room a new lodger has just come."

"Oh, him," Barrs said. "You needn't worry about that, because he was
leaving the house as I came in. A rough Colonial looking chap with a
ragged beard."

"That's the man," Ebbsmith agreed. "Gone out, has he? Well, we can't be
too careful. Go on."

After that, the conversation was carried on in whispers, so that
Vincent could hear no more. He heard the door of Ebbsmith's room open
presently and two sets of footsteps echoing down the stairs. Then he
lighted a cigarette and lay back in his chair, quite content with his
work, so far.




CHAPTER XXVI.--VINCENT GETS BUSY.

Telling his temporary landlady, the next morning, that he was going
out of Town to visit friends for the week-end, Vincent went back to
his office, and having shed his disguise and attended to one or two
important matters, ordered his car round and set off for Lincombe,
where he arrived just in time to share a lunch with Manthon, who was
only too glad to see him.

"Rather unexpected, isn't it?" the latter said. "I scarcely hoped to
see you back so soon."

"Neither did I," Vincent smiled. "But when you come to investigate
these sort of things, you never can tell where you are likely to be
from one hour to another. Let's have lunch and a cigarette, and then I
will tell you everything that has happened since I saw you last."

Lunch was finished presently and the cigarettes on the table in the
library before Vincent began to talk.

"You are not a very good hand at relating a story," he said. "You
professed to know all about the inside of Monkshole and its queer
menage, to say nothing of those amazing stunts of Sebastian Wilde's and
the machinery with which he expects to revolutionise the world. Not a
single word did you say to me as to the presence on the premises of a
chimpanzee."

"By Jove," Manthon cried, "neither did I. As a matter of fact, it never
occurred to me that the ape in question had anything to do with our
investigations."

"Oh, then you have seen it," Vincent asked.

Manthon went on to explain in what circumstances he had found the ape
and the motor cycle. Vincent listened with a very open and flattering
attention.

"Ah, there you are," he said. "Now, why on earth couldn't you have told
me that at first? I had to drag the information about those plaster
casts from you."

Manthon smiled just a little sheepishly.

"I am very sorry," he confessed. "But I had so much on my mind that I
forgot all about the chimpanzee."

"Yes, but you were under the impression that a simian of some sort was
connected with the attempt at burglary."

"Granted," Manthon said. "That is true enough. But after we had
interviewed Professor Simpson at the South Kensington Museum, I thought
that theory was washed out."

"And so, to a certain extent, it is. Those prints were not footprints
at all, but the marks of a man's hand. How they got there is a mystery
at present, but I shall find out before I have finished. Now, you just
listen carefully to all I have to say, and don't miss a single point."

Whereupon Vincent dilated at length upon the conversation he had heard
the day before in the seclusion of the dingy house in Bloomsbury. He
had intended to make a deep impression on Manthon and he succeeded
beyond his expectations.

"Well," Manthon exclaimed when Vincent had finished, "we seem to be up
against a most dangerous and unscrupulous gang of scoundrels. One of
them is a murderer, at any rate. What a fool I was not to have told you
before about that chimpanzee! Where do you suppose the animal comes in?"

"Ah, as to do that I am rather uncertain," Vincent replied. "But on
fair night in Marchwick, we are going to attend that performance in the
drill hall, and when we come away, I shall be greatly disappointed if
we fail to glean a mass of vital information. And don't forget what I
told you just now with regard to what that man Barrs said respecting
a bank robbery. There are one or two villages where cattle fairs are
being held during the next week, so we are rather left guessing as to
the particular place which Barrs had in his eye when he threw out that
hint to Ebbsmith. Unfortunately, just at that moment they dropped their
voices, so that I was not able to hear any more. But we know, now, that
the whole gang is desperately hard up for money and, before long, they
will make an attempt to put themselves in funds. Just for the minute,
at any rate, Wilde has nothing in particular to worry him, as, of
course, he is using the money you gave him to get rid of your man Joe
Biddle. I suppose that is done by this time."

Manthon explained that it was. Joe Biddle had been seen, only an hour
or two before, on his way to the station. He had had no opportunity of
communicating with Manthon without attracting attention, but he had
stopped outside the gate, ostensibly to tie up a boot-lace, and he had
whistled so that Manthon had spotted him as he went down the road and
knew that, for the present, his confederate was no longer available.

"Well, that is rather a pity in a way," Vincent said. "That man's
presence in Monkshole would have been invaluable for the next day or
two. Now, tell me, is there any further development as far as Miss
Ferris is concerned?"

"I am afraid there is," Manthon said sadly. "I made an excuse to call
there after breakfast this morning and found the poor girl in a very
excited, hysterical condition. From what I can gather, she was up at
Monkshole last night again and says that she saw the ghost of her dead
lover. So far as I can gather, he spoke to her, telling her that he
was well and happy and all that sort of thing, and that she was to be
guided entirely in what she did by Sebastian Wilde."

"By Jove, that is bad," Vincent said. "You can see quite plainly what
that man is after. He wants to get Miss Ferris in his power, and unless
something dramatic happens in the next few days, he will. I shouldn't
wonder if he marries her."

"What a horrible idea!" Manthon exclaimed. "Fancy a rich and beautiful
girl like Peggy Ferris being allied to a monster of that type. She
couldn't do it."

"Oh, yes, she could. When a girl of her temperament is on the
borderland between madness and sanity, she is capable of anything. I
have no doubt she looks upon Sebastian Wilde as something of a god. It
is no use our talking to her in the ordinary way and trying to persuade
her that she is the victim of a scoundrel. If we tell her that Wilde is
only after her money, she will be more likely to go over to Monkshole
and stay there. You will have to be very careful, and so will Miss
Faber. Get her out of doors and keep her in the open air as much as
possible, and sympathise with her without in the least pandering to
her morbid ideas. With any luck, we shall have something definite to
go on before the end of the week, and when I can show my hand to that
unfortunate girl, I shall be in a better position to open her eyes to
her danger."

"What's the next move?" Manthon asked.

"Well, we can't do much till after we have seen that performance in the
drill hall at Marchwick," Vincent explained. "But to-night I am going
to explore Monkshole. With your help we can enter the place by the
secret passage."




CHAPTER XXVII.--IN THE TOILS.

Into the intimate conversation between Manthon and Vincent, Maud Faber
burst unexpectedly. She appeared to be eager and excited, and rather
disturbed in her manner. She seemed to pull up as she caught sight of
Vincent.

"Oh," she exclaimed. "I didn't know you were here."

"Does it really matter?" Vincent asked good-naturedly. "Of course, if
you have something private for Manthon's ear alone, then I will remove
myself. But if your trouble has anything to do with Miss Ferris, then
don't you think I might just as well hear what it is? You see, I am
down here to help in solving this mystery and----"

Vincent waved his hand comprehensively.

"I think you had better speak, Maud," Manthon said.

"Of course I will," Maud replied. "I was rather taken aback for a
moment, to find Captain Vincent here. It's all about Peggy. I was at
Long Elms just now, to see how she was getting on, and I found her in
a most deplorable state. I have never seen her quite as bad. She is
haunted day and night, she says, by that phantom car with that ghostly
horn which she is quite sure holds a message for her. She says she is
going away, but she didn't seem to be able to tell me where, and I
am quite sure that Mr. Sebastian Wilde is at the bottom of the whole
business. Do you know she is going to find him money?"

"Ah, that is exactly what were afraid of," Vincent said. "I suppose you
didn't happen to hear how much?"

"Well, a good many thousands of pounds. Peggy spoke as if nothing
mattered so long as she could be put in communication with poor Trevor.
She said something to the effect that it would be much easier to do
that if she went to America. Goodness knows what she meant, but she was
in such an extraordinary neurotic state that I could hardly follow her."

"This is very serious," Vincent said gravely. "Is Miss Ferris in a
position to deal with her own money? If she is, that man will have the
lot before long."

"Well, so far as I can see she is and she isn't," Maud explained. "She
is of age, and all that sort of thing, and, under her father's will she
is absolutely mistress of her fortune. I believe there are clauses as
to what the lawyers call contingent interests, which I take it would
mean children, in case she married and all that sort of thing. I know
the property is virtually vested in trustees who happen to be a firm of
lawyers in London. I know this from a casual remark that Miss Bancroft
once made to me."

"Oh, come, that's better," Vincent said. "In that case all the money
is invested in gilt-edged securities. If this means anything, it means
that Miss Ferris will have to go to her trustees and get them to deal
with those securities before she can handle a large sum of ready money.
This spells a certain amount of delay, which is all in our favour. If I
were you, Miss Faber, I would tell Miss Bancroft everything you heard
this afternoon and get her to go to Town and see the solicitor and tell
him exactly how things stand. Don't you think that is the proper thing
to do, Manthon?"

Manthon was decidedly of the opinion that it was. He suggested that
Maud should return at once to Long Elms and inform Miss Bancroft as
to the situation. On that Maud left the room, followed to her car by
Manthon.

"This is very distressing," he said. "I suppose you are quite powerless
to do anything, Maud?"

"Absolutely," Maud said, in accents of despair. "I have done everything
possible. Don't you think----"

"I don't know what to think," Manthon said. "I know we are on the verge
of certain discoveries which may lead to the unmasking of those two
scoundrels, Wilde and his secretary, Ebbsmith. But it all takes time
and any false step on our part may put them on their guard. It is very
lamentable, Maud."

"Dreadful," Maud agreed. "It makes my heart bleed to see a girl like
Peggy losing her reason in this way, and terrible for you, who--well,
shall I say love her?"

"You can if you like," Manthon smiled slightly. "But if I have any
affection for Peggy, it is not of the kind that you suggest. There was
a time, but that time is past. I thought I had told you that some time
ago."

"Oh!" Maud exclaimed. "Oh! Yes, I think I see what you mean, Roy. But
in the circumstances----"

She broke off abruptly, climbed into her car and drove away in the
direction of Long Elms without saying another word. But there was
something in her heightened colour and the half-smile on her face that
strangely comforted the bewildered young man who stood there watching
till she was out of sight. Then he turned on his heel and went back to
the house.

It was very late the same evening before Vincent and his host left the
house with the intention of going as far as Monkshole and spying out
how the land lay there. Vincent was dressed for the occasion in a dark
sports suit and wore a pair of rubber-soled shoes. They made their
way through the gorse and bracken which constituted what was once the
Monkshole garden until they came at length to the tangle of bushes and
overhanging foliage that marked the entrance to the secret passage
leading from the grounds into the loft above Wilde's library. Here
Vincent paused as he produced his pocket lamp.

"I think that will do, Manthon," he said. "I shan't trouble you to
come any further. You stay where you are till I come back. There is no
occasion for us both to go."

To this Manthon agreed and Vincent plunged into the darkness of the
cave. With his torch in his hand, he made his way along until he came
to the spot where Manthon had told him was the chimpanzee, which he now
knew by the name of Gobo, was caged. Then he went on until he came to
the foot of the steel ladder, which he climbed as noiselessly as a cat
and at length found himself in the loft over the library contemplating,
in the flashes of light, the amazing tangle of machinery which Wilde
had erected there. He saw that the trap-door from the library was open,
so that he could look down and see what was taking place below. By
lying flat on the floor, he could see pretty well all that was going on
in the big, luxurious room, notably what appeared to be a large glass
screen at the one end.

He could see Wilde seated at the big table, working away at a set of
figures. The house was absolutely silent, with no sound coming from
anywhere. Probably by this time the man called Fish, or Brettle, and
his wife had retired for the night. Manthon hoped that Ebbsmith was
still detained in London. Not that it mattered very much; but if the
india-rubber man was on the premises, then it might be awkward if
anything interposed between Vincent and his line of retreat.

But apparently Ebbsmith was not there, and Wilde continued at his
work until somewhere in the distance, a bell rang. With an agility
surprising in a man so afflicted, Wilde levered himself into his chair
and propelled it across the room in the direction of the door. He was
back in a few minutes, with Peggy Ferris following him closely behind.

Vincent drew a sharp breath. He did not fail to see the striking pallor
on the girl's face or the strange light that gleamed like a living coal
in her eyes. She flung herself down in a chair, panting, as if she had
run fast and far, almost to the verge of physical exhaustion.

"There, there," Wilde said in a bland, fatherly way. "Pray compose
yourself. There is nothing whatever to be afraid of."

"Oh, I know that," Peggy cried. "But I am haunted by the phantom horn.
I hear it nearly every night. It came to my ears just before I left the
house. I was listening to dance music on my wireless and it struck on
my ears, well, like a blow. It seemed to freeze my heart. Oh, shall I
ever get rid of it? Or is it going to drive me mad?"

"Not if I can help it," Wilde said. "It is unfortunate that you have
to go through all this trouble, but we can never attain what we need
without suffering or affliction. You must be brave, my child, and do
exactly as I tell you. Here, drink this, and you will feel better
presently."

So saying, Wilde poured some cordial out of a quaint-looking bottle
into a cut glass vessel and handed it to Peggy. She drank the contents
off at a gulp, and presently a little colour crept back into her pallid
cheeks.

"Ah, that is better," Wilde said encouragingly. "Your troubles will
soon be gone. You are just on the borderline at present, and before
long you will cross it and then you will be at peace with all mankind.
You would like to see your lover?"

"Oh, yes, yes, yes," Peggy said. "Like you showed me last time I was
here. But his form was so visionary that it had gone almost before it
came."

"Yes, that was because your faith was not sufficient. You must have
faith, my child. Now, cross over to the door and switch the light off.
Then come back and take your place in your chair and, if the tide
is with us, we shall see something that ought to bring you infinite
content."

The lights went out, and Vincent, lying there peering eagerly into the
darkness, saw the veil lift presently and, on what appeared to be the
glass screen at the end of the room, the outline of a figure began to
shape itself. It grew clearer and clearer until it assumed the aspect
of a man, so clear and vivid that, for a moment, Vincent actually
believed that someone of flesh and blood had crept into the room. With
a wild cry, Peggy sprang towards it.

"Stop, stop," Wilde thundered. "Stop, you mad, inconsequent creature!
Do you want to destroy me and yourself at the same time? You must
not interfere with the work of a spirit like that. Ah, see your very
movements have driven it away. You can put the lights up again, because
there will be no further manifestations to-night."

"I am very sorry," Peggy said humbly.

"My dear child," Wilde went on, "you must really learn to control
yourself. I want to bring you face to face with the man you have
lost, so that you may hear from his own lips how happy he is. And so
you will, if you will be guided entirely by me. You don't seem to
understand what an enormous amount of work and trouble I have had to
get in touch with those across the borderline. These things take time
and--yes--money. Thousands of pounds, and I am a poor man."

"Oh, what does it matter?" Peggy cried. "I can let you have as much
money as you need. Twenty, thirty, fifty thousand pounds. Anything that
you like to ask."

"Then you had better come and see me to-morrow," Wilde said, in a voice
that had suddenly become business-like. "I don't want to do this thing,
and I wouldn't if I was not so very sorry for you. Now, sit down and
listen to what I have to say."

Overhead, Vincent rose and stole softly away.




CHAPTER XXVIII.--AN EVENING'S ENTERTAINMENT.

"Well?" Manthon demanded impatiently. "Well?"

Vincent shut off his torch as he emerged into the open, and he and his
companion turned away in the direction of Manthon's house. They were in
the road before Vincent spoke.

"Well," he said, "I have not been wasting my time there. Oh, yes, that
rascal has got Miss Ferris in hand all right. She was there to-night,
in fact, she is there now."

Something like an oath escaped Manthon's lips.

"Yes, I was rather afraid you would say that," he said. "But tell me
what happened."

Vincent proceeded to relate the strange thing that he had seen on the
glass screen in the library.

"Of course you understand how it was done," he said.

"No, I will be hanged if I do," Manthon replied.

"Well, it was a kind of Pepper's Ghost arrangement. The sort of
entertainment that used to be popular when we were boys. It is worked
with a sort of magic lantern that throws a figure, either a dummy or a
real one, on a double glass screen. Very effective and all that sort
of thing, but quite simple when you know how it is done. I remember,
years ago, seeing Dickens' Christmas Carol done with the assistance of
that apparatus. You can quite see how Miss Ferris, in her present state
of mind, mistook it for a real spiritualistic manifestation and firmly
believed that she was looking at the shade of her lover. Of course,
Wilde could not allow her to touch it, because, if she had, she would
have recognised the imposture even in her pitiful state. But it served
its purpose and is going to put thousands of pounds into Wilde's pocket
if we don't stop it. But never mind about that for the moment. There is
another thing I discovered during my journey."

"And what might that be?" Manthon asked.

"Well, that the chimpanzee Gobo was not in its cage. I should think,
from symptoms I saw both inside and outside of it, he has not been
there for several days."

"Roaming somewhere about the house, you think?"

"No, I don't. I should say somewhere in London."

Manthon looked at the speaker in amazement.

"Somewhere in London," he exclaimed. "Why, whatever for? What possible
reason would there be----"

"My dear fellow," Vincent said solemnly, "I think I have made a
stupendous discovery. I believe I am on the verge of laying bare the
facts of one of the most amazing crimes that ever happened in the
course of history. I cannot say any more for the moment, because my
theory is so fantastic and outlandish that I hesitate to describe it
even to myself. However, we shall know more about that after we have
been into Marchwick and witnessed the performance of Mr. Dick Barrs'
company in the drill hall there. Meanwhile, I prefer to be silent."

The next day or two passed without incident, except that Miss Bancroft
went up to Town to see Peggy's trustees and informed them of the
danger that lay over the head of their client. She came back with the
reassuring information that it would be some little time before it was
possible for Peggy to raise any large sum of money, and, with this,
Manthon and Faber and Vincent had to remain content.

Then came the night of Marchwick's fair, when the three of them went
into the cathedral city, with a view to attending the performance of
the Barrs' company at the drill hall. This was a huge barracks of a
place, some seventy or eighty feet high and a floor space for some
thousands of spectators. When the visitors arrived, the building
was packed with town and country people, who flocked there during
fair time, ready to pay their money to see anything, good, bad, or
indifferent, in the way of a show.

At the far end of the room was a small platform, and behind it a
structure reaching to the roof which represented the front of a
large dwelling house. For some time a varied performance went on,
with acrobats and trapeze artists and conjurers, in fact the usual
olla podrida appertaining to what the proprietor was pleased to call
his unique variety entertainment. It was a poor show on the whole,
and three of the audience, at least, were bored by it, until Barrs,
resplendent in flashing evening dress and sham diamonds, came onto the
platform and made a long florid statement. When this had finished, he
lifted the lid of a box on the stage and, almost immediately, a big
chimpanzee jumped out and grinned at the audience.

"This, ladies and gentlemen," Barrs said, "is the nearest approach to a
human being that the world has ever seen. Let me introduce you to the
famous ape, Gobo. Trained on his native heath and in this country by an
eminent scientist who modestly desires to remain anonymous, Gobo can do
anything except speak. Certainly, he has a thorough understanding of
the English language. Let me show you what he can do."

It really was a most remarkable performance. For half an hour or
more the huge chimpanzee kept the thousands of watchers in a state
of constant delight. Then, presently, Barrs came forward again and
indicated the outline of the house that stood at the back of the hall.

"Now I want you to watch this," he said. "The structure behind me is
intended to represent a good-class dwelling-house, it is inhabited by a
large family, and the time is supposed to be late at night. All in the
house are in bed and asleep and quite ignorant of their danger. You are
to understand, ladies and gentlemen, that a fire breaks out."

With that, the speaker raised his hand, and almost immediately smoke
began to appear from the house, and flames were seen behind one or two
of the upper windows. Two or three of these were opened, and presently
the flames grew fiercer.

At a sign from Barrs, the chimpanzee sprang forward, and drawing a
police whistle from the pocket of his coat, placed it to his lips and
blew a long, shrill blast. Then the outline of a figure appeared at one
of the upstairs windows holding in its arms what seemed to be a baby
wrapped up in a blanket. Immediately on this, the monkey dashed forward
and, climbing up the drain-pipe in front of the house, reached the
window and, with one paw, clutched the bundle and removed it so that
he could take it in his teeth. Then, hand over hand, Gobo came down
the pipe and brought the bundle safely to the ground amidst the loud
applause of the thousands of people assembled.

"That, ladies and gentlemen," Barrs said, "is the end of Gobo's famous
entertainment. We are moving on to-morrow in connection with the
various cattle fairs, and I would respectfully ask you, ladies and
gentlemen, who have been able to see this amazing display of animal
sagacity to-night, to tell your friends and neighbours, so that when
we come into their vicinity, they may be able to see these things for
themselves."

Five minutes later the three friends were on their way back to Lincombe
in Manthon's car. It was not until they were seated in the house with
a whisky and soda and cigarettes before them that Manthon broke the
silence.

"That was rather a fine display of animal intelligence," he said. "But
I don't quite see how it helps us. I suppose there is not the slightest
doubt that the Gobo in question is the same chimpanzee I discovered in
the cave at Monkshole. Of course, that must be so after what Vincent
told us of the conversation he heard. I mean when he tracked Ebbsmith
to those rooms in London and established himself where he could keep an
eye upon that slippery individual."

"Yes, I quite agree," Faber said. "It is rather strange that we should
know all about Gobo before he emerged into the public light again. But
what do we gain by the knowledge----"

"I don't wonder at your being puzzled," Vincent smiled. "To be quite
candid, I was puzzled myself, until I saw that show this evening. And
then I began to see something more than daylight. I wonder if you will
be astonished when I tell you that Gobo has been in London recently."

"But, in the name of fortune, why?" Manthon demanded.

"Ah! that is rather a long story. I want you to believe that Ebbsmith
smuggled the chimpanzee up to town, probably in a big basket or
something of that sort, and hid the beast in his Bloomsbury lodging.
Not so difficult a matter as it appears at first sight, because he had
the use of Wilde's car and he could carry the chimpanzee upstairs in
the basket himself."

"Oh, we will grant all that," Faber said impatiently. "But what I want
to know is the reason for it."

"I am coming to that," Vincent smiled. "Let us suppose that Ebbsmith
has carried out that plan. We know perfectly well that Gobo has an
amazing fund of intelligence and fully understands all that is said to
him. A miracle of patience and training, but there you are. Now, figure
to yourself, as the French say, Ebbsmith taking a walk in London very
late at night with the monkey by his side. The monkey knows perfectly
well that he has to keep himself hidden, and on no account to betray
himself to any curious passer-by or, more especially, a policeman on
duty. Mind, he could easily do it. To begin with, he can move about
without making the slightest sound, and he could run all fours or
upright equally well. All he would have to do was to keep in the
shadows, taking advantage of every bit of cover and remaining twenty
or thirty yards behind Ebbsmith as the latter strode along in front of
him. I think you will admit, after what you saw to-night, that I am not
outstripping the bounds of possibility in saying so much."

The others agreed that what Vincent had outlined was well within the
bounds of possibility, and the latter went on to elaborate his argument.

"Very well, then," he said. "Let us get a step further. Gobo can eat
and drink like a human being; he can smoke and wear clothes just as if
he were a man. Why shouldn't he be trained to act the part of a thief?
I don't see anything fantastic in it. You can train a dog to catch a
burglar, and I don't see why you shouldn't train a monkey to steal a
lot of diamonds. Now do you begin to see what I am driving at?"

Manthon and Faber exchanged glances and the latter whistled loud and
long.

"What's that?" he demanded. "Are you insinuating that Gobo was actually
the thief who stole those diamonds from the unfortunate Everard in
Burlington Square?"

"Something like that," Vincent grinned.

"Oh, I am not saying that it is impossible. But don't forget that Mr.
Everard was murdered."

"I am perfectly well aware of that," Vincent said. "But murdered by
whom and what? Why not a chimpanzee as well as a man? It would never
have done for Gobo to have been caught in the very act of getting away
with those stones, so, probably, he was armed with some effective
weapon."

"And with that weapon he killed Everard."

"I have not said so," Vincent murmured. "But I am not going to say that
it is altogether impossible."




CHAPTER XXIX.--A FEW STRAY HAIRS.

"It sounds like one of Edgar Allen Poe's weird stories," Faber said.
"Won't you go on?"

"Well, not at the moment, if you don't mind," Vincent replied. "Perhaps
I have said too much already. But this much I can promise you--within
eight and forty hours I ought to be able to speak definitely.
Meanwhile, I am getting back to Town as soon as possible, so if you
will order my car round, I will be off at once. I shall be back on
Friday or Saturday and then we may see some real fireworks."

A little later, and Vincent was on his way to Town. But he did not go
there direct; on the contrary, he made a slight detour so that he could
take in Marchwick on his way. He was some little time there before he
found Joe Biddle, who was back again after Wilde had cashed Manthon's
cheque and satisfied the debt which had brought about all the trouble.

"Now, look here, Joe," Vincent said. "You don't know who I am, but I
am a friend of Mr. Manthon's and I am down here to help in clearing up
that mysterious business at Monkshole. In that I think you can help.
Now, here is a five-pound note for you. Take it and use it in keeping
an eye upon the man who gave that show last night at the drill hall.
You know what I mean--Mr. Dick Barrs and his famous company. I wonder
if you happened to be there."

"Well, sir, as a matter of fact, I was," Biddle said. "I had a bob's
worth and a fine show it was. But what is it as you wants me to do,
sir?"

"Well, I want you to keep an eye upon Barrs, who, I understand, is
moving from Marchwick and following those local cattle fairs. I believe
that, in the villages round here, he is going to give some sort of a
performance night by night."

"That's right, sir," Biddle said. "Morton this evening and Longworth
to-morrow, winding up with Withington on Saturday night. I seen that on
the bills."

"Oh, that's so, is it?" Vincent asked. "I suppose these are small
villages. I mean villages with a fairly big population all round, but
not boasting a bank, or anything of that sort. Do you see what I mean?"

"Oh, I ain't blind, sir," Biddle grinned. "There is no bank in the
first two villages, but there's one in Withington, though it's only
open on Saturdays and that between ten o'clock and one. But on the
occasion of the cattle fair in Withington the bank don't shut till
five."

Vincent nodded approvingly. This was almost more than he had dared
to hope for. During the time he had been listening to the interview
between Barrs and Ebbsmith in the dingy Bloomsbury lodgings, he had
heard enough to know that something in the way of a local bank robbery
was afoot. And here, more by accident than anything else, he had learnt
from Biddle practically where the robbery was to take place.

There was not the slightest doubt that some time on the Saturday,
probably late in the evening, an attempt would be made to get away with
a considerable sum of money which the cashier at Withington would take
in the course of a long Saturday afternoon. The temporary bank would
not close till five o'clock, which meant that the man in charge would
not be able to get away to his head office in Marchwick till long after
that establishment shut down. And this meant, if it meant anything,
that the cashier would remain in the village of Withington till late on
the Sunday, or, more probably, early on the Monday morning.

"Very good, Joe," Vincent said. "Now, I want to keep a careful eye upon
Barrs and his companions, whoever they may be and follow them from
village to village. Attend all their performances and don't be too
eager to keep yourself in the background. Those people won't have the
slightest idea that you are shadowing them, and they will probably take
you for some local rustic who is fascinated by the performance of the
animal which is known as Gobo. By the way, I suppose that they still
have that amazingly clever ape in their possession."

"They had this morning, sir," Biddle said. "I happened to see them
leaving Marchwick and there was the monkey on the box seat of the first
waggon as large as life."

Vincent nodded approvingly. Everything seemed to be going well so far,
and, with any ordinary luck, he would be able to carry out the coup
that he had in the back of his mind.

"Capital," he said. "Of course Barrs can't work that stunt of the
burning house in anything but a big building, so he will probably
content himself with filling his treasury from the pockets of the
country people who flock to the show to see Gobo going through his
amazing performance. Now, you keep those people in sight, especially on
Saturday night. Hang about the caravans after the evening performance
is over, and when you have marked Barrs and a confederate of his down
not very far from the house in Withington where the bank is, keep
an eye open for me. I shall not be very far off. And if you like to
imitate the call of the common brown owl, it will be a signal for me to
come out of my hiding-place and join you."

"Lor' bless you, sir," Biddle grinned. "I can do that. There ain't a
bird or an animal I can't imitate. I ain't been a poacher all my life
for nothin'."

Well satisfied that his time had not been wasted, Vincent sought his
car again and made his way to London without further delay. After a
few minutes in his office, he went down the slope leading from Norfolk
Street on to the Embankment and, eventually reached New Scotland Yard.
Once arrived there, he handed in his card and asked if it was possible
to see Deputy Commissioner Sutton for a few minutes.

He found himself presently in a private office upstairs face to face
with a youngish man of military bearing who received him with every
sign of pleasure.

"Hello, Vincent," the deputy said. "I haven't seen you for a long time.
How goes the detective business?"

"I have nothing to complain of," Vincent smiled. "I have more than I
can manage, though I have half a dozen assistants. But never mind about
me, I have much more important things to discuss. I want to help you
and I want to help myself at the same time. That Burlington Square
murder, you know."

"Oh? Now what do you happen to know about that?"

"My dear chap, I happen to know a lot about it. Partly by accident
and partly because it is a sort of crosscurrent in a case I am
investigating. Now, what should you say, Sutton, if I told you I could
put my hand on the criminal?"

"Thank you very much," Sutton said promptly.

"Well, I think I can. It is a long row to hoe, and I am far from the
end of it as yet."

"Which means you are not going to tell me much?"

"Not for the moment, if you don't mind. You would only laugh at me if I
told you my theory as to how the crime was committed. When the details
do appear in the Press, I think you will say that never in the history
of Scotland Yard has there been such a sensational disclosure. Now, I
wonder if you will help me, because I can't do or say anything definite
until I can link up one or two facts so as to make my chain complete.
I think you know me well enough to believe that I am not wasting your
time, or trying to get the best of you in any way. From the point of
view of the case I am investigating, the Burlington murder is only a
side show, and anybody can have the credit for bringing the criminal to
justice, as far as I am concerned. The people whose case I am engaged
on have not the remotest idea that the Burlington Square affair has
anything whatever to do with my activities."

"What is all this leading up to?" Sutton asked.

"Well, put in a nutshell, this. I want you to give me a written
authority to call at Burlington Square and go over the room where Mr.
Everard was murdered. I don't suppose I shall be there more than half
an hour, and I promise you that nothing will be interfered with. But
perhaps the house is shut up."

"No, it isn't," Sutton said. "Nothing has been done, so far. I believe
the manservant has left, but the housekeeper and two female servants
are still on the premises. If you like, I will write a note for you and
explain to the woman of whom I have just spoken that you are to have
the run of the premises."

It was about a quarter of an hour later when Vincent found himself in
the big establishment chatting in the most friendly way to the woman
Wathen, who had been introduced to him as Mr. Everard's housekeeper.
A few moments' conversation in Vincent's pleasant, breezy manner had
established quite cordial relations between them.

"Now, Mrs. Wathen," Vincent said at length, "I wonder if you will do me
a favour. I want you to take me up to the room where your master was
killed and show me exactly where he lay after the murder. I suppose
nothing has been disturbed."

"No, sir," the house keeper explained. "I hadn't the heart to do so.
I just tidied up and made the room neat again, but there has been no
cleaning done, if that is what you mean."

"That is precisely what I do mean," Vincent smiled. "Now come along
with me and show me the spot."

The room was commonplace enough, and held no suggestion of the recent
tragedy, save for a dark, ominous stain on the carpet in front of the
fireplace.

"I wonder if you have such a thing in the house as an electric
cleaner," Vincent suggested. "You know what I mean, one of those patent
affairs that sucks up all the dust and collects it in a bag. Do you use
that sort of thing?"

"We have got a Duplex Vacuum," the housekeeper explained. "I will fetch
it for you if you like."

The sweeper was produced presently, and for the next twenty minutes
Vincent worked it himself, sweeping the carpet and the furniture,
especially in front of the window by which the murderer had entered
and the spot in front of the fireplace where the body had been found.
At the end of that time, Vincent had collected something like a quart
of fluff and dust, which he placed in a paper bag which the woman
Wathen had found him at his suggestion. Then, with this under his arm,
he professed himself to be satisfied and went in the direction of the
British Museum, where he called upon a friend of his who was known as
Professor John Arthy.

"I have got a little job for you, Arthy," he said. "I want you to
analyse this bagful of dust and tell me what it contains. Just for the
present moment, I think a rough inspection with a powerful microscope
will serve my purpose."

"Another mystery, I suppose?" the Professor smiled. "Ah, well, I
suppose it is no use asking you questions about it. Give me the stuff
and I will put a section of it under one of my most powerful lenses.
Then, if you want anything more elaborate, I shall have to take my
time."

"Never mind about that for a moment," Vincent said. "Tell me if you can
see any stray hairs in that fluff."




CHAPTER XXX.--THE CRACK OF DOOM.

It was a long time before the Professor spoke. He took three or four
pinches of fluff from the bag and examined them in turn with meticulous
care. Then he separated from the mass, with the aid of a camel's-hair
brush a dozen or so short spines which he arranged on a clean sheet of
paper.

"Quite correct," he said. "As a matter of fact, the sample is full of
hairs. Some of them short, some of them long, the long ones grey, and
the short ones a deepish brown."

Vincent listened with gleaming eyes.

"Human or animal hairs?" he asked.

"Oh, animal, undoubtedly," the Professor explained. "No human hair is
as fine as that. Besides, human hair always shows signs of having been
cut, I mean, signs of barber's shears. But these appear to have been
shed from an animal's body in the ordinary way. And here are three or
four of them hunched together. Do you notice that?"

"Certainly I do," Vincent said.

"Yes, sort of congealed. Of course, one could not be certain from a
mere microscopic examination, but I should say that blood had been the
cause of it. But blood undoubtedly. However, if you will let me have
four and twenty hours, I shall be able to let you know definitely. I
will send you an analysis, if you like. To your office, I suppose?"

Vincent rather thought not. He gave Manthon's address at Lincombe, with
a request that the Professor should forward his report there as soon as
possible.

He was by no means displeased with the result of his last hour's
experiments. Before bedtime he was back again at Lincombe, but said
nothing as to what had transpired from the time he had left the village
until the hour of his return. All he had to do now was to kill time as
best he could until the Saturday afternoon, when he took himself off
without telling his host where he was going, and with no information,
except that it might be somewhere in the small hours before he
returned. Anyway, Manthon was not to wait up for him; and if the latter
could lend him a latchkey, so much the better.

Attired in a shabby old suit of clothes, Vincent turned his steps
in the direction of the village of Withington, which was some six
miles away. For reasons of his own, he did not wish to take the car,
preferring to walk both ways in case anything like an accident might
happen. It was shortly before seven when he arrived at Withington.
The cattle fair was over by that time, and the three long, straggling
streets which made up the village were packed from end to end with
a seething crowd of country men and women who looked upon cattle
fair day as their one annual holiday. There were shows and booths
and refreshments here and there, and on the village green the large
circular tent which was the centre of the Barrs' activities. It was
quite clear that in so limited a space there was no opportunity of
carrying out the fire rescue scene which Vincent had witnessed in
Marchwick drill hall, and he was rightly judging the situation when he
decided that the performance of Gobo, the chimpanzee, would form the
chief attraction of the evening's show. Vincent would have liked to
turn into the village public-house and partaken of something in the way
of a meal, but there was no time for that. So, presently, he turned
into the big tent and for an hour or so saw the chimpanzee go through
his amazing antics to the delight of the unsophisticated crowd.

As he left the tent shortly after ten o'clock, he found Joe Biddle
standing at his elbow.

"Well, here I am sir," the latter grinned. "Don't you take no notice of
me, sir, but just talk without looking in my direction. You will see
those two chaps come out presently----"

"What two do you mean?" Vincent asked.

"Well, sir, 'im with the sham diamonds and that other bloke as looks as
if 'e were made of india-rubber. That's Ebbsmith, that is Mr. Wilde's
secretary. I seed 'im more than once when I've been over at Monkshole;
and if 'e ain't a wrong 'un, then I never seen one, that's all. Yes,
there they go, sir, comin' round the back of the tent."

"Then you follow them, Joe," Vincent said. "And don't lose sight of
them. If I am any judge of human nature, their destination is the
village public-house. Go in there after them and watch them as a cat
watches a mouse. It must be pretty near ten o'clock now."

"Well, don't you worry about that, sir," Biddle said. "On fair nights,
once a year, the magistrates gives the local publican an hour's
extension. And the one policeman in the village 'e ain't particular to
a bit of time on the top of that."

Down the village street the flashy looking Barrs took his way, with
Ebbsmith trotting by his side. They turned into the crowded bar of the
local inn, with Biddle close behind them. The latter was taking no
risks, because his features were not strange to Ebbsmith and he was not
in the least anxious to be recognised. He slunk into the bar and flung
himself down on an oak settle in a shadowy corner where he could watch
Barrs and Ebbsmith without the slightest fear of being spotted.

Then, for an hour or more, Barrs and Ebbsmith were whispering together
till, at length, the room began to empty, and it seemed to Biddle that
it would be much safer for him to seek the outer air and watch from the
outside. Therefore, he slid out into the darkness and was seen no more.

Meanwhile, the two conspirators sat over their drinks. They were
talking in undertones, so that no word they said reached the ears of
any straggler that remained.

"Are you quite sure it is all right?" Ebbsmith said.

"Well, I don't see how it can be anything else," Barrs responded. "The
bank closed down five minutes past five, which I know to be a fact,
because I went in there myself pretending that I wanted change for a
five-pound note. That cashier chap has done a rare trade to-day and
probably he has got notes in his safe running into thousands of pounds."

"Is he still in the bank?" Ebbsmith asked.

"Oh, he's there right enough," Barrs replied. "And it is not what you
might call a bank in the proper sense of the word. Just a room in an
old cottage with a counter in it and a safe. Mind you, that safe will
take a bit of moving."

"You don't propose to move it, do you?" Ebbsmith asked uneasily. "Why,
it couldn't be done."

"Now what sort of a fish do you take me for?" Barrs asked. "Of course
we are going to move the safe. What we are after is the keys. I know
all about it. The old girl that keeps the cottage goes to bed quite
early and is as deaf as a post. By this time the cashier is in his
bedroom and, no doubt, fast asleep. It is a rotten old cottage and we
can break into it as easily as cutting into a piece of cheese. Our game
is to get into the house and upstairs to that man's bedroom and force
the keys out of him. He will have to give them up, because I shall blow
his brains out if he doesn't. I have got a gun in my pocket and, if
necessary, you can use that piece of lead piping I gave you. Lord bless
you, it is as easy as falling off a house. All we have to do is to mask
our faces and get hold of the keys. Then we can tie up the teller chap
and leave him trussed on his bed till the old woman finds him in the
morning. By that time we shall have hidden the swag and it will take
all the police in England to lay hands on us. You won't be suspected,
because no one knows you here, and, as to me, I am just going about in
the ordinary way of business. Nobody would think that Dick Barrs, the
famous showman, was in any way connected with this robbery. Of course,
the theory will be that this is a put-up job on the part of some London
crowd and that the thing has been planned for months. I have done some
pretty risky things in my time, and got away with it, but I never had a
softer bit of work than this."

"Yes, I suppose it is all right," Ebbsmith muttered. "But I should be
a good deal more easy in my mind if I didn't more or less live in this
neighbourhood. I have never been in Withington before to-day, but it
doesn't follow that one or two Lincombe people have not spotted me. You
know the old saying that more people know Tom Fool than Tom Fool knows."

"Oh, rats," Barrs muttered. "You don't mean to tell me that you are
going to try and back out of it now."

"Who said anything about backing out?" Ebbsmith grumbled.

"Very well, come along. Let us get out of this."

They lurched out of the bar to the evident relief of the landlord,
who closed the door behind them and put out his lights. The two
conspirators crept off down the main street, taking care to keep in the
shadows, until they came, presently, to a detached cottage standing a
little way back from the road. Here Barrs paused, and taking a couple
of black silk masks from his pocket, handed one to his companion and
donned the other himself. As they went creeping on tiptoe up the
shallow path, the clock of the village church struck twelve, and, when
the echoes had died away, a profound silence prevailed.

It was only the matter of a few moments, with the aid of a thin-bladed
knife, that Barrs forced the window on the left-hand side of the
cottage door and crept in to what passed as a bank parlour, followed by
Ebbsmith. A torch flashed out, and in the thin ray of light Ebbsmith
could see the safe picked out in high relief with its gleaming brass
lock.

"Ah, if we can only get into that!" Barrs whispered. "You follow me up
the stairs. It is the bedroom on the right, facing the street. Come
along."

In the room overhead the bank official was peacefully sleeping. Barrs
laid a rough hand on his shoulder and shook him till he opened his eyes
and looked dreamily around. Then he became conscious of the fact that
he was face to face with two masked men, one of whom held a revolver to
his head, the other being armed with a short piece of lead piping.

"Not a word," Barrs whispered sternly. "Not a word unless you want me
to blow your brains out. And the shot would not be heard, because the
old woman is too deaf for that. Now, then, my friend, hand your keys
over."

The man in bed lay there, perfectly still, looking up in the faces bent
down upon him, but showing no signs of fear. It seemed as if he were
hardly awake yet and failed to grasp the peril in which he stood. Then,
suddenly, without a word of warning, he flung himself out of bed and,
gaining his feet, made a headlong rush for the door.

"After him," Barrs cried. "After him. Give him a crack on the head with
that piece of piping."

Down came the weapon on the cashier's head with a cruel force. As he
fell, his right hand reached out and touched some object on the floor.
Immediately there broke out overhead the harsh clanging of a great
bell, loud and strident enough almost to wake the dead. The noise did
not cease but went on with a clamour that seemed to fill the universe.




CHAPTER XXXI.--THE LIBRARY AGAIN.

The bell tolled on and on with a hideous clamour that sounded, in the
stillness of the night, as if clamant enough to wake the dead. It
seemed to range all over the adjoining country, and the noise of it
came almost paralysingly to the ears of the two discomforted scoundrels
who we're bending helplessly over the unconscious body of the cashier.

"Here, do something," Barrs whispered hoarsely.

But it was all in vain, for, search as he would, Ebbsmith could find
no trace of the device whereby the bank official, at the last gasp,
had set the bell tolling. And, already, sounds were beginning to jar
on the startled air. On the opposite side of the road a light suddenly
shot out in a cottage and the reflection of it picked out the two
conspirators confronting one another in dismal surprise.

"I can't find it," Ebbsmith replied. "Somewhere on the floor, I expect.
It's no use staying here, unless you want to be caught red-handed."

With that he turned his back on Barrs and made a headlong dash for
the stairs. He was followed almost immediately afterwards by the big
man and the two of them heaved a deep sigh of relief when they found
themselves once more in the open.

"Now then," Barrs snarled. "Now then."

Though he spoke in a whisper, the words came clear to the ears of
Vincent and Joe Biddle, hiding within almost arm's length of the
discomfited rascals.

"What do you mean?" Ebbsmith growled. "What do you mean by 'now then'?
Anybody would think it was my fault. I didn't want to come here."

"Oh, it's no use quarrelling," Barrs said between his teeth. "We have
missed a good thing, and the sooner we realise the game is up the
better. Where are we going?"

"Back to Monkshole," Ebbsmith said promptly. "Leg it across country as
fast as we can. We shall be safe there and if anybody makes inquiries,
we shall be able to prove that we left the village just after the show
and walked over to Monkshole to see Sebastian Wilde, who is an old
friend of yours."

"That is all very well," Barrs said. "But how are we going to get into
Monkshole? Knock the servants up, I suppose, and give the show away by
doing it."

"Oh, come on," cried Ebbsmith, who was darting impatiently about the
garden. "You need not worry about the servants, because there is more
than one way of getting into the house. And the servants are all right,
anyway."

Without further ado, Ebbsmith darted into the road, closely followed by
his companion. They were only just in time to get clear, before half
a dozen figures trickled from various cottages into the road. And,
meanwhile, the hideous clamour of the bell was going on without ceasing.

"Did you hear that, sir?" Biddle whispered to Vincent. "They are off to
Monkshole. Shall we stop here and see what happens, or shall we follow
them?"

"Oh, follow them by all means," Vincent decided. "We can't do any
good by remaining here, and, anyway, if anything has happened to that
unfortunate cashier, there will be plenty of people to look after him.
You know what those chaps are going to do, don't you?"

"I think I can give a pretty good guess, sir," Biddle grinned. "They
are going to enter Monkshole by the secret passage and spend the night
there. And not a bad idea, either. They will be able to swear they were
there all night."

"That is the notion, Joe," Vincent agreed. "And that is why we are
going to follow them."

At a safe distance, the two scoundrels were tracked across the country
until they came, at length, to the secret entrance to the library at
Monkshole, into which Ebbsmith guided his companion, until they reached
the great room itself, where they found Wilde busy over his papers. He
looked up in astonishment, as the two figures dropped down the light
ladder and stood regarding him breathlessly. From overhead Vincent and
Biddle watched and listened with all their attention.

"Dick Barrs," Wilde cried hoarsely. "Dick Barrs. Now, by what ill
fortune have you got here?"

Ebbsmith gave Barrs a warning glance. Circumstances had compelled this
disclosure of Barrs' presence in England, for Ebbsmith had his own
reasons for not letting his chief know too much. He had said nothing
about the show, nor had he intended to do so, and he was not going to
do so now, until he was absolutely forced to show his hand. Because the
junior scoundrel did not trust his senior. It would be quite enough
to speak out if sheer necessity compelled the whole truth and nothing
but the truth. And Barrs seemed to understand, for he gave a short,
contemptuous laugh as he faced Wilde.

"That's right, my friend, that's right," he said. "Dick Barrs, O.K.,
and don't you forget it. A few years ago we were partners, before it
suited you to double-cross me and leave me in the lurch on the other
side of the water. If it had not been for a bit of sheer good luck, I
should be in Sing Sing at the present moment. Now, you listen to me,
Sebastian Wilde. I swore that if ever I met you again, I would have
your life. Yes, and if I hadn't run against Ebbsmith here, I should
have killed you on sight. But then I thought of a better game than
that. I hunted Ebbsmith out and bound him to secrecy and he had to
listen to me whether he liked it or not. First of all, I wanted money
and a lot of it. I had a plan, in which I needed Ebbsmith's help and
the help of something else. What that something else is we will come
to later on. But this talking is dry work, Wilde. Give me a drink and
plenty of it."

At a sign from Wilde, Ebbsmith produced decanters and glasses and a big
silver box of cigarettes. Then, after Barrs had drunk deep, he lighted
a cigarette and, flinging himself into a chair, contemplated Wilde
grimly.

"Ah, that is better," he said, taking a long, deep breath. "Look here,
Wilde, I have been talking to Ebbsmith about you. He tells me that
you are on the verge of great discoveries. Scientific things that
will startle the world and make a millionaire of you ten times over.
And I believe that, because you are a long-headed, clever devil and
capable of all sorts of wonders. But even you can't turn the universe
upside-down without money. How much can you put your hand on at the
present moment?"

"I can always find money," Wilde said.

"You are a liar," Barrs retorted dispassionately. "At the present
moment, you don't know where to turn for a five-pound note. You have
only just got rid of a broker who came near to selling you up. Isn't
that true?"

Wilde eyed his antagonist malevolently.

"For a moment, perhaps, yes," he admitted.

"Ah, just so," Barrs went on. "And that is where I come in. If I can
find you a few thousands, are you prepared to share your discoveries
with me? Or shall I give the New York police a hint and stop the
machinery?"

"I am more or less in your hands," Wilde said with an effort to control
himself. "So you can go on. Where is this money coming from and how
much? If it is a substantial amount, then I can make it worth your
while."

Barrs made no reply for a minute or two.

"Oh, I can find it," he said presently. "We came within a hair's
breadth of it to-night, but owing to an infernal bit of bad luck,
everything went wrong and just at present we are hiding from the
police. Tell him, Ebbsmith."

Ebbsmith proceeded rapidly to describe the dramatic events of the last
few hours, to which Wilde listened with a evil gleam in his eye and a
sardonic smile on his lips.

"Yes, I think that will be all right," he said. "If there is any
suspicion against you two, then I think I shall be able to put the
police off your tracks and establish your alibi. But you said just
now that you could give me money, thousands of pounds. And, now,
apparently, you are not a bit better off than I am. Why should I do
anything for you?"

"Because you have got to," Barrs snarled. "Oh, I don't mind forgetting
all about your past treachery, so long as I can handle some of that
fabulous fortune of yours. But money makes money, you treacherous dog,
and you can't work even a gold mine without the hard cash necessary
to buy your machinery. So I am just going to sit quietly by and keep
my eye upon you until your ship comes home, and then I am going to
help loot it. All the same, you must have a few thousands to start the
wheels turning. Where are they coming from?"

"Well, I will tell you," Wilde said. "Oh, I realise I am more or less
in your power, and I know you don't mean to be shaken off, now that you
have got on my tracks, again. My dear fellow, there is money enough in
this business for all of us. Millions and millions. And within a week I
shall have more than I know what to do with. Leave it to me."

"No, you don't," Barrs said. "That is all very well in its way, but
none of your vague promises for me. You tell me here and now what is
your plan."

"Well, I suppose I must," Wilde said. "There is a lady in the case. A
romantic and impressionable young lady who sees ghosts and visions and
hears phantom motor cars and ghostly horns. A lady with a dead lover, a
lover she communicates with through me across the borderland."

"Oh, yes, the old stunt," Barrs sneered. "I have heard all that before."

"Yes, but not in the same conditions. The girl I speak of is absolutely
under my influence and will do exactly as I tell her. More than that,
she is mistress of over two hundred thousand pounds in her own right,
and nobody can come between her and the way she deals with her capital.
She is letting me have fifty thousand pounds. That was settled not many
hours ago. Of course, she has to interview her bankers and trustees
and that sort of thing, but the money will be forthcoming and, once I
have the handling of it, I will astonish the world. I will show you
things that scientists have never dreamt of. I will prove to mankind
that no nation can go to war without my consent. I can paralyse armies
and navies and bring all the aeroplanes in the world crashing to the
ground. The secret will be mine and I can sell it. I shall have all the
millionaires in the two hemispheres on their knees imploring me to take
them into partnership. I shall be able to walk invisible; nay, more
than that, I can move an invisible army across the world and none any
the wiser till the time comes to strike."

"Is that all?" Barrs sneered.

All the same, he was deeply impressed. It was next to impossible to
look into Wilde's set, white face without a conviction that he was
telling no more than the truth.

"If you are not satisfied," Wilde said, "I will say no more."

"Go on," Barrs said hoarsely. "Go on."




CHAPTER XXXII.--A MEETING.

Seated up there in the loft in darkness and silence, Vincent laid a
warning hand on Joe Biddle's arm, and then together they stole quietly
down the steel ladder and thence, lighted by a torch, made the opening.
Just before they reached it, Vincent's eye lighted on the compact frame
of the motor cycle that gleamed with all its parts shining in the thin
ray from the torch.

"Just one moment, Joe," Vincent said. "I have a sort of brain-wave.
All sorts of ideas came into my mind when we were listening to those
scoundrels. You lift the cycle off the stand and wheel it into the
garden. Then you can hide it in the bushes and forget all about it. I
want to cut off one line of retreat if I can."

Joe Biddle moved the cycle and hid it cunningly under a mass of dead
brushwood. Then, a little later, he parted with Vincent, who crept
along in the shadow of the darkness, until he reached Manthon's house,
where he let himself in with the latchkey he had borrowed and, throwing
himself on his bed just as he was, slept until Manthon came into the
room with the announcement that it was past ten o'clock. Vincent shaved
himself and bathed and breakfasted, after which he proceeded to give
Manthon an account of the events of the previous night.

"Something like a dramatic story," the latter said when Vincent had
finished. "But I think, on the other hand, I can give you a bit
of information too. I was out pretty early this morning round the
district, trying to get a cricket team for Saturday, and I heard all
about the bank fellow and the attempt at burglary at Withington."

"Yes, I suppose you would," Vincent said. "Amazing how these things
carry in country places. Was that poor fellow very badly hurt?"

"Not particularly," Manthon explained. "He had a nasty crack on the
head from a piece of lead piping, but there was no fracture, and when
they got him into hospital, they seemed to think he would be all right
in a day or two. At any rate, he was well enough to give a fairly good
account of what happened. You see that bell business was his own idea.
He rigged it up in an attic with some ingenious gadget or another, so
that when he laid his hand upon a certain wire, the bell would go on
ringing until somebody cut off the connection. You see, the man was in
another trouble of this sort a year or two ago, and was determined he
was not going to have the same thing happen twice. That's all right,
anyway. But now, tell me, what is the next move as far as you are
concerned?"

"I have not quite made up my mind," Vincent said. "All I know is
that I am going to London presently and I shall think out my plan of
campaign on the way. Those three scoundrels can wait. They have not
the least idea what has happened or that they are suspected. So we
can leave them for the moment to stew in their own juice. It looks
to me as though the time has come when I shall have to take Scotland
Yard into my confidence. But I don't want to do that until I can see
my way absolutely clear. When those ruffians are laid by the heels,
it is my ambition not to have a single flaw in my case. Two or three
ideas occurred to me this morning when I was in my bath and I want to
put them to the test. Now in the first place, what do you know about
wireless?"

Manthon's modest idea was that he knew a good deal. Not that he claimed
to be an expert, but, generally speaking, he could speak with authority.

"And if I can't," he said, "then my old friend John Purchase in
Marchwick can supply the deficiency. Would you like to run into
Marchwick and see him?"

"Well, no, for the present, I think not," Vincent said thoughtfully.
"I am going in my disguise to those rooms in Bloomsbury where Ebbsmith
has his London headquarters. And if I find there what I expect to find,
then I will 'phone you from London and ask you to see Purchase. Take
him into your confidence and bring him up to London as fast as you
can. With your car, you ought to be able to manage that in a couple of
hours."

A little later, and Vincent was on his way to Town. He drove to his
office, where he assumed the disguise that he used when engaging the
rooms in Bloomsbury and walked round there, up to his own apartment
where he remained for some little time, until he had satisfied
himself that there was no chance of interruption, whereupon he boldly
walked into Ebbsmith's sitting-room and made a thorough search of
that apartment. In a corner cupboard, half full of books, he found,
presently, what seemed to be a small wireless receiving set and, behind
that, an apparatus which he recognised as an indoor aerial.

Very leisurely he examined this, feeling perfectly sure that he was
not likely to be interrupted by Ebbsmith, and when at length he had
finished, he went out to the nearest telephone call office and rang up
Manthon.

"Is that you, Manthon," he said, directly he had got through. "Yes
I think I have made a bull's eye. And I'm on the track of certain
manifestations which have been manipulated so as to bring Miss Peggy
Ferris under the influence of Sebastian Wilde. Of course I can't be
certain, because my wireless knowledge is defective. But I do know that
something I have found in this house has been used in some mysterious
way to establish a connection between the sitting-room in Bloomsbury
and the library at Monkshole."

"What do you want me to do?" Manthon asked.

"Well, I want you to do what I suggested this morning. Jump into your
car at once and go into Marchwick and get hold of Purchase. Bring him
up to Town with you and come here. I gave you the address before I
started."

"Right-ho," Manthon agreed, and rang off.

Just two hours later, Manthon's car pulled up before the Bloomsbury
lodging house and two men got out. A moment or two later, Purchase was
examining the wireless set with all the enthusiasm of an expert.

"Yes," he said. "A short wave set. Roughly speaking, about 32 metres.
The sort of thing they use for receiving messages from overseas. One of
the best I have seen. But nothing out of the common."

"That is not quite the point," Vincent said. "Now I suppose Mr. Manthon
has told you the whole story or you would not be here. I mean all about
Wilde and Miss Ferris and that kind of thing."

"That is all right, sir," Purchase said.

"Very well, then. Now, I don't believe all that business about the
phantom car and the ghostly horn. Mind you, I am not saying that Miss
Ferris was suffering from delusions when she says that she hears the
cracked horn of her lover's car, and that it comes to her at all sorts
of unexpected odd moments. On the contrary, I am quite sure she did
hear those sounds. Now, let us take our story step by step. In what
circumstances does she hear the horn? Almost invariably when she is
listening to music from the Royal Thames Hotel dance band. That would
of course, be late at night when Daventry was shut down."

"By Gad, I never thought of that," Manthon cried.

"No, neither did I till yesterday," Vincent confessed. "And I have
been kicking myself ever since for my stupidity. Now, let us go a
step further. Miss Ferris heard the phantom horn most nights when she
was listening to that dance band. She listened to that dance band for
sentimental reasons, by which I mean that she was in the habit of
dancing in that ball-room with her dead lover. Now it is summer time,
and I have ascertained that during the warm months, all the windows in
the Royal Thames Hotel ball-room are open. Then what is to prevent some
accomplice of Wilde's driving a car with a cracked horn past the place
and tooting six times. Don't forget that the six notes were a signal to
Miss Ferris that her lover was going to leave her. What I suggest is
that Ebbsmith, who is frequently in Town, was employed by Wilde to hang
about the Royal Thames Hotel when they were transmitting dance music
late at night and imitate the broken Klaxon horn."

"By Jove," Manthon cried. "You've got it."

"Of course I have," Vincent replied. "And we were a set of fools not
to have tumbled to it before. But it doesn't end there. Now, Manthon,
I want you to cast your mind back some little time. You were hiding
at Monkshole and heard Wilde give Miss Ferris a dramatic account of
the murder of Mr. Everard. At least, what appeared to be a murder and,
subsequently, turned out to be one. That was supposed to be a sort of
second sight business. But was it? I don't believe it was anything of
the sort. Knowing what we know, the robbery at Mr. Everard's house was
deliberately planned between Ebbsmith and Wilde and, when the former
had to disgorge his plunder to save his own skin, he raced back to this
room and contrived in some way or another to convey to Wilde the story
of the night's tragedy. Otherwise, what does he want a short wave set
for? Mind you, it is not a transmitting set, and even if if were, he
would never have dared to communicate with Wilde by means of the spoken
word. Mr. Purchase, I think this is where you come in. Is there some
means, through this little short wave set, by which Ebbsmith could tell
Wilde all that happened that night, and nobody be any of the wiser
for it? There must be some sort of means and, until we can get to the
bottom of it, I am more or less guessing."

"Stop a minute," Manthon said. "We are getting warm. Do you remember
my telling you that all the time Wilde was talking to Miss Ferris that
night, I heard mysterious tappings in the library? Wilde told Miss
Ferris quite casually that they were spirit rappings. They seemed to me
to be something like more mixed up with fingers drumming 'The Flowers
that Bloom in the Spring' from the 'Mikado.' Like this."

With his nails, Manthon tapped the tune on the table, and immediately a
light flashed into Purchase's eyes.

"I've got it, sir, I've got it," the little man cried. "Now I see
the whole thing as plain as the nose on my face. If you put that set
in action and there is a corresponding set of the same wave length
within fifty or sixty miles, it is the easiest thing in the world to
communicate from one end to the other in what I might call code Morse.
If Ebbsmith wanted to tell Wilde what happened to Mr. Everard, all he
had to do was to tune his set in unison with another one which Wilde
must have somewhere concealed in his library and the rest would be
easy. For instance, if I wet my fingers, I can tap a Morse message
on the earth lead of this set that will record, faithfully, on a
corresponding set which I have no doubt exists at Monkshole. I am
absolutely certain now that I am right. However, when we get a search
warrant to examine Monkshole, you will find a corresponding set hidden
away in one of the cupboards there."

"Well, that seems to clear the ground a lot," Vincent said. "Anyway,
we know now exactly how those so-called spiritual manifestations were
brought about. I always felt sure there was some logical explanation.
This has been a great day for us and unless things go entirely wrong,
we shall be able to lay Wilde by the heels before many hours."

They sat talking there for a little time longer, and then having
nothing further to do for the moment, Manthon went back to his car,
taking Purchase with him. A little while later and Vincent left the
house and went in the direction of his office. It was nearly dark by
this time, but he let himself into his business premises with his
latchkey and proceeded to change from his disguise into ordinary
attire. He had all the evening before him now and, realising that he
had had nothing to eat since lunch, went down the Strand in order to
turn into the Savoy grill and there treat himself to something out of
the common in the way of a dinner.

He had hardly taken his seat before he became conscious of a rather
familiar figure seated alone at a little table opposite. He was not
easily surprised, but, for a moment, he could scarcely believe the
evidence of his own eyes.

He crossed the room with rapid strides and laid his hand on the
shoulder of the man seated there.

"I don't think I am mistaken, sir," he said. "In fact, I am sure I am
not. And I am equally sure you know me by sight."

The solitary diner looked up.

"Captain George Vincent, I think," he said quietly.




CHAPTER XXXIII.--CALLERS FOR EBBSMITH.

With all the strings sorting themselves out in his hand, so to speak,
Vincent was not allowing the grass to grow under his feet. As is
usually the case with painstaking individuals, he found luck on his
side, and was not disposed to release the advantage that a chance
meeting in the grill room at the Savoy, which fortune had literally
thrown at him. So that, late as it was, he was on his way to Lincombe
before ten o'clock in his car with the mysterious passenger who was
muffled up to the eyes. Then, presently, he found himself in Manthon's
smoking-room telling the latter a strange story.

"Lord bless my soul, is that a fact?" Manthon asked. "What a wonderful
piece of news. If anybody else had told me, I would not have believed
him. Anyway, we have the ball at our feet now and we can kick it where
we like."

"Well, more or less," Vincent agreed. "But there is a good deal to
do yet. It won't be a difficult matter to bring those scoundrels to
justice; but I think you will concur with me when I say that we want
something more than that--I mean as regards Peggy Ferris."

"Yes, I see what you mean," Manthon said thoughtfully. "It will take a
good deal to persuade Peggy that she is the victim of a cruel impostor.
What do you propose?"

"I think something in the way of a shock," Vincent said. "See what I
mean? A cruel exposure that will make her not only look foolish but
feel so. Of course, I know that she is in a rotten state of health
and that her nerves are all to pieces. All the same, I think a mental
cold douche, so to speak, would, in the circumstances, be more kind
than cruel. Now, look here, Manthon. It isn't very late yet. You get
on the telephone to Maud Faber and ask her to call up Peggy Ferris and
ascertain what the latter is doing the next night or two. I have more
than one idea that, in the next few hours, Peggy is going to see Wilde
and hand him over a lot of money."

"That is perfectly correct," Manthon said eagerly. "I had that
information from Miss Bancroft only to-day. It appears that Peggy is
ready to give away thousands of pounds, despite all the efforts of
her friends to dissuade her, and the money is now at her bankers in
Marchwick."

"Ah, I expected to hear that," Vincent said. "That means she is going
to give Wilde a cheque at the very first opportunity. What we have to
ascertain here and now, is when the fateful meeting is to take place.
It is pretty certain to resolve itself into one of those spiritual
manifestations, probably to-morrow or the next night. What we have to
do is to find out which night. If Miss Faber rings up Peggy and asks
her to dine with them either to-morrow evening or the next, she will
get, indirectly, a reply which will tell us exactly which night the
meeting will take place when all that money will be handed over. Now
then, get on with it."

Manthon left Vincent to his own devices for the best part of a quarter
of an hour, and then came back with the information that Peggy Ferris
was free on the next evening, but on the night after she had an
important engagement.

"That's it," Vincent exclaimed, rubbing his hands together. "We shall
be all right now. And, what is more, we have the better part of
forty-eight hours in front of us. I will get back to Town, late as
it is, and lay the mine which is to blow Wilde and his scheme into
atoms. When I have done that, I will come back here the day after
to-morrow, after dinner, and we will make Sebastian Wilde a call when
he is holding his seance with his victim. I shan't come alone, either,
because I shall probably bring one of the leading lights of Scotland
Yard with me. I am speaking of my friend Deputy-Commissioner Sutton,
who already knows something about the business. He will be armed with a
search warrant, so that directly the front door at Monkshole is opened,
those two servants there will be placed under arrest, and we shall
listen outside the library door till the time comes for us to take a
hand in the proceedings. And another thing. I think you will find that
Sebastian Wilde is out, on this occasion, for something extra startling
in the way of a spiritual manifestation. In that, of course, he will
require the help of Ebbsmith, who will probably be sent to London to
work the scheme from that end. In other words, Ebbsmith will be in his
Bloomsbury lodgings manipulating the wireless set we know about. What I
want you to do is to keep your eyes open to-morrow or the next day and
let we have a 'phone message to my office in Norfolk Street directly
Ebbsmith sets out in his car for London. I think that is about all."

A little later and Vincent was on his way to London once more. For
the next twenty-four hours he had much to occupy his attention, but
he was quite ready for Manthon's message with regard to Ebbsmith
when it arrived the second afternoon, shortly after two o'clock. He
went straight to Scotland Yard and asked to see his friend Sutton.
Fortunately the latter was on the premises and quite ready to hear all
that Vincent had to say.

"I am going to startle you," Vincent smiled. "I am going to tell you
how Mr. Everard met his death and you shall hear the particulars from
the lips of the man who was responsible for the crime. Is that any use
to you?"

"Use?" Sutton echoed. "Well, yes. You mean I am to assist in arresting
the murderer?"

"I didn't say that," Vincent replied. "I told you that I was going to
bring you in contact with one who would tell you how the murder was
committed. It was not the act of a man at all, but a chimpanzee called
Gobo."

Sutton stared in amazement at the speaker.

"It sounds like one of Edgar Allen Poe's romances," he murmured.

"Precisely. That is exactly what it is. Listen."

It was some time before Vincent finished speaking, and later still when
the two men, armed with certain legal documents, set out for the dingy
boarding house in Bloomsbury. There Vincent let himself in with his
lodger's latchkey and, without troubling to announce himself, went up
the stairs, followed by Sutton. Without ceremony, he turned into the
sitting room occupied by Ebbsmith, to find the latter seated there,
smoking a cigarette and reading an early edition of an evening paper.

Ebbsmith looked up with a scowl on his face.

"What is the meaning of this?" he demanded. "Who are you and what are
you doing in my sitting-room?"

"Well, it's like this," Vincent explained. "I am a private inquiry
agent and my name is Captain Vincent and my friend here is Deputy
Commissioner Sutton from Scotland Yard. He has a warrant for your
arrest."

The words were uttered quietly enough, but they had a marked effect on
James Ebbsmith. His cigarette fell to the floor and his cheeks whitened
as he stared helplessly from one to another of the two intruders.

"I--I don't understand you," he stammered.

"Then perhaps I had better make myself plain," Vincent went on. "Your
name is James Ebbsmith and you are a sort of secretary to a scientific
gentleman called Sebastian Wilde, who lives in Lincombe, not far from
Marchwick. I am perfectly aware of the fact that neither of those names
properly belongs to you and that the American police are familiar
with you under others aliases. But that, for the moment, has nothing
to do with us. What you will be charged with is the murder of Mr.
Everard in Burlington Square a few weeks ago. He was an old gentleman
who made a hobby of collecting precious stones and was robbed of a
large quantity of these on the very day he purchased them at a public
auction. A potential thief did not get away with his plunder, because,
unfortunately for him, he was chased by a policeman and narrowly
escaped capture."

"But what has all this to do with me?" Ebbsmith blustered.

"Oh, well," Vincent went on. "If you don't want to speak you need not.
But don't you think you are rather foolish to allow the man who calls
himself Richard Barrs to have the use of your trained chimpanzee Gobo
when, only a short time before, the ape was responsible for the death
of Mr. Everard?"

Again Vincent spoke in quietly measured terms, but this time his
words went home to Ebbsmith with the force of a lighting shock. His
jaw sagged as he collapsed in a heap into his chair and regarded his
tormentor with a look of terror in his eyes that was almost pitiable.

"Come," Vincent went on. "I think you had better make a clean breast of
it. After all, we can't charge you with the actual murder, so your neck
is safe. But I think you will see for yourself that you are not likely
to get out of this without a long term of imprisonment. I am giving
you every chance to tell me the story of how Mr. Everard's death came
about, and also the history of the conspiracy between Sebastian Wilde
and yourself to rob a certain young lady of a vast sum of money. Your
silence will not save you a bit, because we know all about it. But if
you help us to complete our case and lay your confederate by the heels,
then it is probable that my friend here will do his best to make things
as easy for you as possible. Now then, what have you to say?"

Ebbsmith slowly pulled himself together and eyed his two antagonists
in turn. Then he seemed to make up his mind, for a shadow of a smile
crossed his face.

"Very well, gentlemen," he said. "I can see there is nothing to gain by
keeping quiet and perhaps a good deal by making a clean breast of it.
But you would never have known anything if I hadn't been fool enough to
lend my ape Gobo to Dick Barrs. Of course, in a way I could not help
it, because Barrs turned up out of nowhere and threatened Wilde and
myself with all sorts of things. He used to be a partner of ours long
ago in America, but that is another story and has nothing whatever to
do with the present case. Anyway, Barrs slipped the police in America
and came over here with a show of his and, by bad luck, got on my track
in Marchwick and insisted upon coming into our little scheme. I don't
suppose you knew that."

"Oh, but I did," Vincent said. "I know all about the secret entrance
into Monkshole and the underground passage where you kept the ape and
the motorcycle which you were in the habit of using on your burgling
expeditions. And I know all about the attack on the bank clerk in
Withington village and how you and Barrs made the best of your way,
afterwards, to Monkshole and had a conference with Wilde. In fact, I
may tell you that I heard every word of the conversation."

"Well, you are a fair knock out," Ebbsmith said with a grudging
admiration. "No use trying to keep anything from you."

"Not a bit," Vincent said. "Now go on."

"Well, it's like this, gentlemen," Ebbsmith said. "Many years ago,
when I was in America, I began training animals for a show that
we were running in connection with Richard Barrs. That was long
before Sebastian Wilde developed those wonderful scientific powers
of his, and when we were hard put to it to get a living honestly or
otherwise--mostly otherwise. And I found I had quite a way with animals
and I could do pretty well what I liked with them. Mind you, I had two
or three apes before Gobo, and very useful they were. You see, they
could slip about under the cover of the darkness and climb up the front
of the house like a cat. Many is the little robbery we got away with
in that manner. And then, one thing leading to another, I got hold of
Gobo and found him the most intelligent creature I had ever handled.
I taught him how to burgle a house and how to defend himself with a
knife, if necessary. Mind you, I didn't give him the knife to take
life with, because I object to that sort of thing. The knife was given
him to cut himself free if he got captured or found himself in a tight
place. He was as human as a child. Why, he actually seemed to know the
difference between real and paste jewellery. You see I read all about
Mr. Everard in the newspapers and knew that he was going to buy that
collection of stones that led to his death. And I had made a study of
his habits and the ways of his household. I even knew that he used to
use a sitting-room at the top of the house, the window of which was
always open. And I meant to get those stones. I smuggled Gobo up from
Monkshole, where I used to keep him in hiding in a cave, and gave him
his instructions. Of course, you don't know what that means, but he
did. I had him in this room here until late that evening when I set
out with him for Burlington Square. Nobody saw him, nobody could see
him, a monkey like that who knew how to conceal his presence. So he got
along to the Square without attracting any attention, and all I had
to do was to show Gobo the open window and send him up. He came back
presently with the cases in the pocket of his jacket, and I had just
time to see that the jacket and his breast were smothered in blood, and
then I realised what had happened. I dropped those cases as if they had
poisoned me, and rushed to my lodgings here as if all the fiends in
hell were after me. For the moment, I had forgotten all about Gobo; but
when I reached the doorstep here, there he was by my side."

Ebbsmith paused, as if to gain breath.

"I tell you, I was fairly paralysed," he went on presently. "It needed
no one to tell me what had happened, because there was the knife that
Gobo had put back in the sheath, all covered with blood, and his coat
and breast dappled with it. No doubt, that poor gentleman had had a
struggle with Gobo, but he would have been like a child in the ape's
hands and never have the ghost of a chance. So when I pulled myself
together, I got out my car, very early in the morning, and went back to
Monkshole with Gobo hidden at my feet. And that is all I have to tell
you, gentlemen. It sounds a wild, improbable story, but every word is
true as gospel."

"The most remarkable narrative I have ever heard," Sutton said,
speaking for the first time. "Is there anything more you want to stop
for, Vincent? If not, I will get Ebbsmith to accompany me, and charge
him formally with being an accessory after the death of Mr. Everard."

"Well, yes, there are one or two little matters," Vincent said. "Now,
Ebbsmith, reverting for a moment or two to the conspiracy against Miss
Ferris for her money. I know that you and Wilde were in desperate
need of cash to carry out those experiments of his. And I know that
Wilde used certain devices to impress on Miss Ferris that he was in
possession of occult powers. And in that you helped him. Somewhere
concealed in the library at Monkshole is a low wave wireless set which
is tuned in to agree with another one you have in that cupboard yonder.
I know the set is in the cupboard, because I have seen it. And I know
all about that dodge of tapping the earth lead with wet fingers, so
that you could talk in a sort of Morse which was mixed up with the
music of the 'Mikado.' In other words, when Wilde was telling Miss
Ferris all about actual happenings which he was pretending to see in
a gigantic crystal, you were putting him wise from this end by means
of the signs I have just spoken of. In fact, you told him all about
the tragic death of Mr. Everard within half an hour of the tragedy.
Directly Wilde got that at Monkshole, he translated it to Miss Ferris,
and when she read all about it in the paper the next day she was
naturally enormously impressed. I know it all sounds very wonderful,
but it was sheer conceit on Wilde's part and went a long way to his
undoing. Now then, if you don't mind, I should like you to produce that
wireless set."

Ebbsmith complied without further hesitation. He was utterly crushed
and beaten now and quite ready to do anything that he was told. Then,
presently, the three of them left the house in Bloomsbury and, later
on, Ebbsmith disappeared from sight, whilst Vincent and Sutton sat
smiling at one another across a table in the latter's room.

"Well, I must certainly compliment you on a very neat piece of work,"
the latter said. "We could never have got to the bottom of that murder
mystery without your assistance. Now, what do you suggest is the next
move?"

"Give me four and twenty hours," Vincent said. "And, during that time,
mind that not a single word reaches the Press. Then I will get you
to come with me as far as Monkshole in Lincombe and you can arrest
Sebastian Wilde as well. But not until I have quite finished with him."

"Very well," Sutton agreed. "It shall be exactly as you wish. I take it
you want me to go down to Lincombe with you to-morrow and wait on your
convenience."

"That's right," Vincent said. "That is all I want."




CHAPTER XXXIV.--AN UNEXPECTED GUEST.

It was getting late the following night when Sebastian Wilde was seated
alone in his library with the impatient air of one who is expecting
something out of the common to happen. There was a moody frown on
his face, and uneasiness that found vent presently in more or less
incoherent mutterings.

"Now, what the devil has happened to Ebbsmith?" he asked himself. "Not
a word from him last night and no sign all day. If I hadn't been a
fool, I should have insisted that he took lodgings in London somewhere
where he was on the telephone. However, it doesn't much matter, because
in a few hours' time I shall be able to get rid of both Ebbsmith and
Barrs, and then the world will see what it will see."

He broke off abruptly as the manservant came into the room and
announced the presence of Peggy Ferris. She came in, white and shaky,
the dark rings under her eyes showing almost distressingly the nervous
condition that affected her. It was not for her to know that she had
been followed right up to the front door at Monkshole by four men,
amongst whom she might have recognised Vincent and Manthon. The front
door had only closed on Peggy a few minutes before somebody rapped on
it, and the servitor, having shut the library door behind him, opened
the front portal and inquired who was there. The next instant he was
looking down the barrel of an automatic.

"Not a word," Vincent said sternly. "Now, lead the way to your
sitting-room where your wife is, and if you make the slightest sound I
will blow your brains out."

Within a few seconds the man and his wife were locked in their
sitting-room, and the four intruders went across the hall until they
came to the library, from which, through a crack in one of the panels,
a glimmer of light showed. Very softly indeed, Vincent opened the door.
From where he and his companions stood, they could hear all that was
going on inside.

"Now, do sit down, Miss Ferris," Wilde was saying. "There is nothing
whatever to be frightened about. That is better. Now, let us see what
the crystal shows us."

For a time Wilde muttered on, professing to see all sorts of visions
in the crystal before him, prophesying the most amazing things for the
future. Then the crystal was put on one side and Wilde began to talk
more normally.

"I have something wonderful for you presently," he said. "But I have
had a bit of interruption to-day. My dear child, I am greatly worried.
You don't realise what it is to be hampered as I am by sordid details.
You don't know what it means to see a large fortune slowly dissipated
in the face of hard-working failure. To be so near a miracle, the
greatest the world has ever seen, and yet to have the cup dashed from
one's lips at the very instant of success. I was a rich man once, and
to-day I hardly know where to turn for the necessities of life. And if
the large sum I need is not forthcoming within the next day or two,
then I shall have to write myself down a failure, and put an end to my
miserable existence."

"Oh, no, no," Peggy cried. "Please don't do that. What is to become of
me? And what about all your promises? How am I to keep in contact with
my lost one if you are no longer here to be the medium between us. Oh,
surely you don't think that I should let a mere thing like money come
between me and what is left of my life's happiness."

"But why should I take your money, child?"

"Because I feel that it belongs to you. It is a sort of sacred trust
between us two. Besides, I have enough, more than enough, for us both.
See I have brought a cheque with me. It is a cheque for 50,000."

Wilde's eyes gleamed as he saw Peggy place the pink slip of paper on
the table before him, but he waved it aside if for the moment it was of
no importance.

"That has eased my mind," he said. "It was ordained by the stars that
you should be my partner. Your name shall go down to posterity as the
greatest woman that ever lived--the woman who trusted Sebastian Wilde
and helped to bring happiness and prosperity to suffering humanity."

"Yes, yes," Peggy said impatiently. "But your promise. Your promise
that I should see my lost one on the screen and hear the message of
forgiveness coming from his own lips."

"That promise will be kept," Wilde said solemnly. "Sit where you are
and on no account move."

The lights dimmed for a moment, and then on the glass screen at the end
of the room a figure began to shape itself. It was a figure curiously
like what Trevor Capner had been in the life and still more striking in
the dim surroundings. And then, by some phonographic arrangements, the
figure began to speak and words came floating across the room.

"There," Wilde whispered. "Now listen carefully."

Sutton touched the man standing next to him and immediately the latter
crept forward into the room.

"Why worry with that, Peggy?" he said in a clear, resonant voice. "Why
worry when the man himself is here?"

Peggy turned with a loud cry and fell forward, only to be caught in the
extended arms of the intruder.

"Trevor," she screamed, "Trevor. Trevor himself speaking to me from
beyond the grave."

"Trevor speaking to you in the flesh," Capner said firmly.




CHAPTER XXXV.--UNMASKED.

It was a strange scene that met the eyes of the Deputy
Commissioner--probably the strangest in the course of a remarkable
career. There in the dim half-light Sebastian Wilde sat at the head of
the table, utterly unmoved, to all outward appearance, and preserving
the benevolent aspect with which his massive head and flowing hair and
beard endowed him, much as if he had been some patriarch in the old
scriptural days. He looked from one to the other without the slightest
change of colour and, indeed, as if he had been a spectator in the
stalls watching some thrilling melodrama.

On the screen on the far side of the room the shadowy outline of Trevor
Capner's counterfeit presentment still displayed itself in the dim rays
of the lamp that seemed to shine through the trap-door in the loft
overhead, where all Wilde's elaborate machinery was set up.

Then, very quietly, Wilde's hand stole out in a mechanical sort of way
and was about to close casually over the pink slip which Peggy had
brought there, when Vincent slipped forward and, taking the cheque from
the table, folded it carefully and slipped it in his pocket.

"No, you don't, my friend," he said. "Money in any shape or form is not
likely to interest you for many a day to come."

Sebastian Wilde bowed his head benignly. There was a smile about the
corners of his lips as he looked towards Peggy, who was laughing and
sobbing alternately in her lover's arms. She had not yet grasped what
had happened, though, even in her half-demented state, she was aware of
the fact that she was leaning on the breast of something that was very
much alive, and trying to read some sort of explanation in the eyes
that were looking down so intently into her own.

"Is it really you, Trevor?" she murmured.

"Absolutely," Capner smiled. "Don't move, stay where you are, and try
and realise that I am not dead. It will all come out presently."

But it was quite in vain that Peggy tried to restrain herself. And it
was evident to those watching that she was trembling perilously on the
borderline between madness and sanity. She looked from Capner's face
with a bewildered glance at the shadowy figure on the glass screen.
Then Manthon, catching up a heavy paper weight from the table, flung
it with all his force at the sheet of crystal, which crashed into a
thousand fragments. Simultaneously, Vincent found the electric light
switch and flooded the library with an illumination that seemed to
bring everything back to the normal again. The shadowy figure vanished,
and, as it did so, Peggy flung herself on Capner with a sob that shook
her to her very soul.

"There, there," Capner said soothingly. "Try and control yourself. We
will get you out of this presently and, after a good night's sleep,
you will be yourself again. You have been the victim of the wiles of a
scoundrel who would have robbed you of your reason if things had gone
on much longer but, thank Heaven, we are in time to save that."

The words seemed to penetrate into Peggy's brain, for she grew more
quiet, though her face was still hidden on Capner's shoulder. Then, in
the silence that followed, Wilde looked towards his enemies and spoke.

"May I inquire," he said mildly, "what all this means? Why this
intrusion at midnight on my privacy? What have I done to deserve such
treatment?"

"Oh, well, you can keep up that attitude if you like," Sutton said.
"Let me inform you that I am one of the leading officials of Scotland
Yard and that your confederate, James Ebbsmith, is already under arrest
on a charge of being connected with the murder of Mr. Everard in
Burlington Square."

"You mean the gentleman who collected precious stones?" Wilde asked
coolly. "Yes, I read all about that in the papers at the time. But what
has that to do with me? I am but a humble student in the fields of
science and, unfortunately confined to the house through an accident
that paralysed my lower limbs some years ago. I fail to see how you can
possibly connect me with the crime that took place in London."

"Oh, yes, he is paralysed right enough," Manthon interrupted. "I know
that, because I tested him myself. I managed, on one occasion when I
was here, to give him a sharp blow with a book below the kneecap and
failed to notice any reaction. In fact, he didn't feel the stroke at
all."

Just for an instant, Wilde favoured the speaker with a malignant
glance. Then he was his bland self again.

"That was very clever of you, Mr. Manthon," he said. "But quite
unnecessary. Now, my Scotland Yard friend, what have you to say to me?
What have I to do with the activities of my secretary James Ebbsmith?
If he was in any way connected with the crime in Burlington Square,
he was acting solely, without any assistance from me, even without my
knowledge."

"I did not say he had a direct hand in the crime," Sutton said.
"Because no man had. You see, we know all about the ape, Gobo, which
was hidden in the cave here, and how he was smuggled up to London with
the intention of robbing Mr. Everard of his precious stones. More than
one conversation between you two has been overheard by my friends here,
so I should advise you to be careful in what you are saying."

"That is very kind of you," Wilde sneered. "But with what, precisely,
am I charged?"

Sutton avoided a direct reply.

"There might be many charges," he said. "You might, for instance, be
charged by Miss Ferris with obtaining, by false pretences, a large sum
of money. I don't think we shall have much difficulty in proving that,
seeing that we saw the money pass, and the evidence of the cheque which
my friend here has in his pocket. If Miss Ferris----"

"No, no, no," Peggy cried. "Leave me out of this dreadful business if
you can. I don't understand yet, but I suppose I shall in time. But I
could not stand up in a court of law and proclaim to the world----"

The rest of the speech trailed off incoherently and Peggy collapsed,
a dead weight, in her lover's arms. She had fainted now in earnest
and, for a moment or two, it looked as if she had ceased to breathe
altogether. The others gathered round, as if anxious to see what they
could do, whereupon Wilde flung himself out of his chair and, throwing
his legs over his back, crossed the floor of the library nimbly on his
hands in the direction of the ladder leading up to the loft. He was
part of the way up the ladder before Sutton saw what was happening.
Then, clinging to a rung with one hand, Wilde put the other into his
breast as if seeking for a weapon there.

"No, you don't," Sutton said between his teeth as he dashed forward.
"None of that, if I have anything to do with it."

With that, he raced across the room and fairly smothered Wilde in a
scientific rugger tackle. They both came heavily to the ground, the
flowing white hair and beard and whiskers parted like magic from
Wilde's massive head and disclosed beneath a close cropped thatch of
red.

The transformation was so startling and so unexpected and, indeed, so,
grotesque, that Sutton could scarcely refrain from laughing. He was no
longer looking at a benevolent old gentleman of scholarly aspect, but a
foxy-faced criminal of the conventional type. Just for a moment or two,
the antagonists confronted one another and Wilde smiled unpleasantly.

"I wasn't armed," he said. "You can search me if you like. I have no
belief in that sort of thing."

"And you wouldn't have got very far, either," Manthon said. "I know
where you were going. You meant to slip through the secret passage
and hoist yourself on to a motor cycle as you did when you were
trying to burgle my house and Faber's. Now you know the secret of
those mysterious hand prints you took, Faber. No doubt he had another
bolt-hole somewhere or another which he has prepared in case of
emergency, but we saw to it that the motor cycle was removed--in fact,
Vincent did it."

Wilde contrived to get back to his chair again and sat in it facing his
foes grimly.

"Well, gentlemen," he said. "What is the next move? You can't touch me
over that Burlington Square affair, though you do know all about Gobo
and his genius for picking up unconsidered trifles. Now, unless Miss
Ferris likes to charge me, I fail to see where Scotland Yard comes in."

"Quite so," Sutton agreed amiably. "But it seems to me that beneath
the disguise of Professor Sebastian Wilde I can see the features of an
international crook who is badly wanted in America. I may be wrong, but
I can have your photograph flashed across the Atlantic in the next few
hours, and, if I am right, it will be my duty to detain you until some
police officer arrives from New York to identify the paralysed criminal
that American Headquarters have been seeking for a long time."

Wilde drew a long, deep breath.

"Your hole," he said grimly. "I had quite forgotten that for the
moment. Well, when you want me, gentlemen, I shan't be very far off.
That is one of the disadvantages of my physical condition. I have
played a big game for big stakes and it very nearly came off. And now
if you don't mind, I should like to be alone. Good night to you all."

"Just as you please," Sutton said. "I can come along here and pick you
up whenever I want you. And now, Captain Capner, don't you think it
would be just as well if you took this young lady home? Looks to me as
if she has reached the breaking point."

A minute or two later, and Sebastian Wilde was left alone in the ruins
of his own discomfiture.




CHAPTER XXXVI.--THE LIGHT OF DAY.

It was none too easy a task to get Peggy Ferris as far as Long Elms,
but it was accomplished at length, and, with the aid of Maud Faber and
Miss Bancroft, she was put to bed, where the local doctor administered
a strong injection and, at length, had the satisfaction of seeing the
tortured girl sink into a deep and peaceful sleep.

"She will be all right now, I think," the man of medicine said. "She
has had a terrible shock, and she has been through weeks of mental
torture. But I think, on the whole, you were quite right in your course
of treatment. It was a bit of a risk, opening her eyes suddenly to what
has been going on, but I fancy the cure will be permanent. When she
wakes in the morning I shall be surprised if she is not normal."

For a long time after Peggy was safely in bed and asleep, the
conference between Sutton and the others went on in the dining-room at
Long Elms, and gradually the whole tangle was straightened out. It was
Vincent who supplied most of the missing details, to which the others
listened with a rapt attention until he had completed his narrative.

"Of course it was a bit of sheer luck, finding Capner," he said, as he
drew to the end of his story. "I was rather bucked with the way I ran
Ebbsmith to earth and, as I was very hungry, I thought I would treat
myself to something good for dinner. So I wandered into the Savoy grill
and the first person I saw there was Capner. Of course, I knew him
very well by sight, as one of our leading airmen, and I had not the
slightest doubt as to who he was, though he had grown a beard and a big
moustache. So I went over and spoke to him and he owned up at once. I
am going to leave him tell you himself why he has acted so strangely."

"Well, it was like this," Capner said a little shamefacedly. "When I
set off on my big flight, I didn't care much what happened to me, one
way or the other. Of course, I had to go, because I was pledged to the
Admiralty. But when Peggy wrote coldly in the cruellest possible way
that it was all over between us, I lost all zest in the enterprise.
However, I had to go and go I did. But my 'plane that I thought so much
of was a great disappointment to me from the first. I ought to have
tested her under adverse conditions, but I was so cock-sure of what she
could do that I didn't. And I didn't care whether I got to Australia
or not. I knew before I reached India that I was taking my life in my
hands every day, and the wonder to me was that I didn't crash long
before I reached Singapore. I felt pretty certain when I left that
port that I should not be heard of again and, but for a miracle, there
would have been an end of Trevor Capner. I did manage to get half-way
across the Pacific when I ran into a sort of typhoon and, before I knew
where I was, I was clinging to a broken float in the water. For two
days I hung on there, expecting every moment to be my last, and when I
came to myself I was on a small island in the hut of a mysterious sort
of German hermit who had found me at the edge of a lagoon and brought
me back to life again. I am not going to give you the man's name,
because I promised not to. My impression is that he was a fugitive from
justice. Still, he was a white man as far as I was concerned and, when
I was fit to move at the end of a fortnight, he took me over to one of
the bigger islands and advanced me the money to pay my passage home.
All that time I hadn't had a shave, because he was a bearded man too
and possessed no razors. And I was ashamed at having let the Admiralty
down, also I was still very bitter and sore over the way I had been
treated by Peggy----"

"I think that will be all right now, old chap," Manthon murmured. "I
would not worry over her."

"Oh, I am not going to," Capner said with a slight smile. "Anyway, I
came back, determined to lie low until I could get back what I regarded
as my lost reputation, and I was not going to make myself known to my
friends until that happened. Hence my coming back under an assumed
name and hiding myself as if I had something to be ashamed of. Well,
thank the Lord, a lucky meeting with our friend Vincent put an end
to all that nonsense, and now I can come out in the open and face my
fellow-men with a confident assurance as to the future. And that is
about all. Don't you think it is time we went to bed?"

       *       *       *       *       *

It was very late in the afternoon before Capner found himself face to
face with Peggy in the seclusion of the drawing-room at Long Elms. She
looked very pale and fragile and delicate and almost as if a breath
would blow her away. Capner came into the room with his two hands
extended.

"Don't say anything if you don't want to," he implored. "I am only here
now, because you sent for me."

"I was bound to send for you," Peggy whispered. "Trevor, can you ever
forgive me?"

"My dear girl," Capner said. "Is there anything to forgive? If there
are faults, they are on both sides. I dare say if I had been in your
place, I should have acted in just the same way. I did make you a
solemn promise that I would give up flying, and I had every intention
of carrying it out. But, you see, I was still more or less bound to the
Service as far as that particular flight was concerned, and I did not
see how I could get out of it with honour to myself."

"Of course," Peggy agreed. "I understand that now. I ought to have
realised it before. I ought to have seen that you had to divide a duty
instead of making up my mind that you thought more of your personal
ambition, than you did of me. But then, you see, I have had my own
way all my life, and I suppose I did not quite grasp the fact that I
was a spoilt child, not knowing what was good for me. And then I was
foolish enough to believe all that shameful nonsense that Wilde told
me. But it was very real, Trevor, indeed. That cracked horn night
after night, and the wonderful way in which Wilde convinced me that he
could see events miles away as they we're happening. Of course, it all
comes ridiculously easy now that one knows how it was done, but it was
terribly real to me at the time. I know if it had gone on much longer,
I should have lost my reason. I was very near to it, last night."

"I know that, darling," Trevor said tenderly. "It was a desperate case,
calling for a desperate remedy, and I took it with both hands. I hated
the idea of your shame being exposed before all those people, but it
was necessary."

"Oh, indeed it was," Peggy agreed. "It was just the same as pouring a
stream of icy water on a fainting person. I still feel very weak and
shaky--but when I woke up this morning my head was clear and I could
see things in their proper light. You must take me away from here,
Trevor."

"What, you and me together?" Trevor asked.

"Why, of course," Peggy said, with glowing eyes. "That is if you want
me still. A long honeymoon somewhere in the South, where we can visit
fresh scenes and forget the hideous nightmare of the last few weeks.
But perhaps----"

"There is no perhaps about it," Trevor replied ardently, as he took her
in his arms. "Do you suppose I could forget you like that, sweetheart?
Oh, no. We are going to be as happy as the day is long and, unless I
am greatly mistaken, there are two other people who have made up their
minds that happiness is not for us entirely. If you will look out of
the window, I think you will see what I mean."

Capner indicated Manthon and Maud Faber, who were walking up and
down the rose garden engaged in deep conservation. From the way in
which their arms were linked, it was not difficult to draw a logical
conclusion.

"What do you think of that?" Trevor asked. "I thought at one time that
Manthon had rather a passion----"

"No, no," Peggy said, with pink cheeks. "Maud was always intended for
him, only he didn't know it. But then, my dear, you men are always so
blind."

"I dare say," Trevor laughed happily. "And if I am blind now, all I
want is to remain so."



THE END.



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