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Title: A Queen of the Stage
Author: Fred M White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
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Language: English
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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: A Queen of the Stage
Author: Fred M White

*


A QUEEN OF THE STAGE.
BY
FRED M. WHITE.

Published in The Evening News, Sydney, N.S.W. in serial form commencing
Wednesday, 7 April, 1909. And also in The Auckland Star commencing 31
October, 1908.


CONTENTS.

I........CRUEL FORTUNE
II.......ALONE IN LONDON
III......THE TOY OF CIRCUMSTANCE
IV.......THE DEAD FACE
V........A FAMILY SKELETON
VI.......THE WRONG HOUSE
VII......DANGER!
VIII.....THE DANGER DEEPENS
IX.......A WELCOME INTERRUPTION
X........AN UNEXPECTED VISITOR
XI.......AN ICE MAIDEN
XII......THE BLACK DOODLE
XIII.....TO THE SLUMS. POST HASTE
XIV......A KING'S RANSOM
XV.......THE POLICE RAID
XVI......THE PERIL DEEPENS
XVII.....STILL IN DARKNESS
XVIII....SHADOWED
XIX......CLEARING THE WAY
XX.......A QUESTION OF PEDIGREE.
XXI......A NEWSPAPER PARAGRAPH
XXII.....A LAPSE OF MEMORY
XXIII....IN HIDING
XXIV.....THE WATCH IS FOUND
XXV......HANDCUFFED
XXVI.....FORD'S WIFE
XXVII....WEISS' RETURN
XXVIII...THE FIRST DIARY
XXIX.....MORE LEAVES FROM THE DIARY
XXX......THE DIARY CONTINUED
XXXI.....THE BLACK POCKET-BOOK
XXXII....THE END OF THE DIARY
XXXIII...THE TRAIL BROADENS
XXXIV....A GOOD REASON WHY
XXXV.....FORD TO THE RESCUE
XXXVI....BEARDING THE BULLY
XXXVII...THE MISSING WITNESS
XXXVIII..DRIVING IT HOME
XXXIX....CLOSE QUARTERS
XL.......CONFESSION
XLI......A CLEAR SKY.


*


CHAPTER I.--CRUEL FORTUNE.

Timidly, almost appealingly, a girl with pathetic blue eyes looked at a
man opposite to her. They were a striking contrast; the girl so young
and fair and innocent of the world, the man wearing an assumption of
benevolence which was belied by the furtiveness of his eyes, and the
sensual lips. Smooth were his words; but anybody who knew the world
would have mistrusted Roger Carney instinctively. As to the rest, he
was a theatrical agent in very poor repute, though Elsie Vane was
ignorant of that when she wrote to him from the country in reply to a
plausible advertisement. He spread out his hands and affected a look of
sympathy.

"My dear young lady," he said. "I trust you will see that I am not to
blame. As I wrote to you, I had succeeded in obtaining for you a part
in a first-rate touring company. Judge of my surprise when I found that
the manager was nothing but a barefaced swindler. These things will
happen, you know, in the profession."

"Then you have nothing to offer me?" Elsie asked, with a sinking heart.
"I expected to start at once. I am absolutely alone in London, and
after paying my railway fare this morning have only a shilling left. If
you will be so good as to return the money I paid to you in fees----"

Roger Carney smiled sadly. Many a poor girl knew that smile to her
cost. He looked round the scantily-furnished office, and sighed in a
manner that was quite pathetic.

"I am very sorry," he said, "but every penny of the money you sent
me was expended in finding this opening for you. Up to now I have
made nothing out of you at all. I am not of a greedy or grasping
disposition, and did not expect to be recompensed until you had entered
upon your engagement. There are a lot of low-class agents who live on
their preliminary fees, but that has never been my method. Yours is
simply a case of sheer misfortune----"

"We need not discuss that," Elsie said. Her courage was coming back,
and she began to have more than a vague suspicion that she was dealing
with a swindler. "When I wrote to you I explained my circumstances. I
told you I was an orphan, without friends or money. You promised me a
definite engagement on the stage at a fair salary, and on the strength
of that promise I realised every penny I had and sent it to you. At
the present moment one shilling lies between me and starvation, and I
only know one man in London who is likely to help me. I must ask you to
return the money you obtained from me."

The blue eyes were no longer pathetic and pleading, but bright with
the light of resolution. Gradually Mr. Carney dropped his benevolent
aspect. The thick sensual lips grew hard, and the watery eyes
obstinate. He stood up in a threatening attitude.

"None of that," he said hoarsely. "Don't come here trying to bully me.
I have done all I can for you, and it is no fault of mine that the show
went bankrupt, so just take yourself off. You girls are all alike."

He pointed towards the door, but Elsie did not move. The last few
moments had been a revelation to her. She no longer doubted that she
had placed every penny of her worldly wealth in the hands of a common
swindler. Dismal as the future was, she had no intention of leaving
the office until she had wrung something from this pitiful rascal.
What was she to do, where was she to go in this cruel city, where she
was known to none? Well might she shrink from the contemplation of the
days to come. But innocent as she was of the ways of the world, coming
as she did from a quiet country home, she lacked neither courage or
resolution. The hour was at hand when she would need both.

"You have robbed me," she said quietly, but firmly; "I see exactly how
it is. You obtained no engagement for me, you never even tried to. You
live on the ignorance and vanity of poor girls like me. If I went to
the police I daresay you would produce some other villain who would
swear you had obtained a post for me with his assistance. Oh, there are
many ways of getting the best of one like me."

Carney grinned uncomfortably, quite by accident Elsie had guessed one
of the common swindles pursued by the shady crew who make their money
out of stage-struck men and women.

"You had better be off," he said. "You gain nothing by staying here.
Little as you deserve any consideration----"

Whatever Carney would have added was cut short by the sudden opening of
the office door and the appearance of a shock-headed youth, who seemed
to be in a state of considerable agitation.

"Clear out!" he cried excitedly. "They're after you. They're coming up
the stairs."

The door closed again, and the shock-headed youth vanished. The change
on the appearance of Mr. Carney was ludicrous. His great fat face
quivered in jelly-like fashion, and his eyes were filled with terror.
He glanced helplessly at the door and shook his head, as if giving
up all hope of escape in that direction. The 'offices' of Carney and
Company consisted of the shabby room in which the interview was taking
place, so that there was no avenue of escape by means of a second
apartment.

Carney appealed piteously to Elsie.

"Well, if this isn't cruel luck," he protested. "One day more and I
should have been safe, and it isn't altogether for myself either. I
have treated you badly, and I don't mind admitting it, but if you will
help me now you won't find me ungrateful in the future. They're after
me----"

"I suppose you mean the police," Elsie said coldly.

"That's it. Never mind what for, and me with a fortune in my grasp!
It is too cruel, but there is just a chance that if I hide beneath
my desk nobody can see me, unless you give me away. You are a good,
kind-hearted girl, I know. I can tell that from your face. Don't say
anything."

Steps were fast approaching, and Carney had only time to slip behind
the imposing-looking desk and bestow his bulky figure under the well.
The whole thing had been so swift and unexpected that Elsie had no time
to think. In the space of a few minutes all her pleasant dreams of a
brilliant stage future had been dissipated. In the last few moments she
had found herself face to face with poverty, and now she was calmly
asked to shield the mean scoundrel who had brought it all about from
the stern grip of the law. All these things passed through her mind in
a flash, between the moment that Carney had concealed himself and the
opening of the office door. An alert-looking man walked in and gazed
about him. Probably he was re-assured by Elsie's appearance, for he
asked her politely if Mr. Carney was anywhere about the premises.

"I am waiting for him," Elsie said coldly.

It was perhaps a quixotic thing to do, especially for a miserable
creature like Carney; but the words were spoken, and, strange as it may
seem, Elsie did not regret them. Outwardly she was cool, but her heart
was beating fast and painfully. She tried to think she had told no lie,
but she was grateful all the same when the intruder turned to a second
man standing in the doorway, and muttered that the bird had flown. Then
there was an echo of retreating footsteps, and Carney crept from the
shelter of the desk, his pasty face a ghastly green.

"You did that uncommonly well," he gasped. "No doubt about it, you've
the makings of a fine actress. That chap was completely taken in by
your innocent face and pathetic blue eyes."

"How dare you speak to me like that?" Elsie cried, quivering with
anger. "Why did I do it? Why did I humiliate myself for a scoundrel
like you? Perhaps it was because my dear father always taught me that
even the most abandoned wretch was an object of pity. I ought to have
told the truth, I ought to have let the police take you. It would, at
any rate, have been the means of preventing other poor girls from being
placed in the desperate position in which I stand at present. Why are
such men allowed to live?"

The burning words poured from Elsie's lips in a passionate stream. She
had forgotten herself and her surroundings. To all intents and purposes
the dingy offices ceased to exist. Surprised by a timid touch on her
arm, she turned and saw another girl in the room. She was a slight,
pretty creature, dainty and refined-looking, though her whole aspect
was spoilt by the tawdry and cheap smartness of her attire.

"What were you saying to my father?" the girl asked.

"My daughter Dora," Carney stammered. "This, my dear, is Miss Elsie
Vane, a lady who has been so unfortunate as to take an engagement
through me in the 'Long Arm' Company."

"You need not go into that," Elsie said coldly. She looked at the girl
with a smile on her face. "I do not know whether you are aware of your
father's methods----"

"Oh yes, yes," the girl cried. "I heard all you said. Please do not
humiliate me by going over it again. Father, this young lady must have
her money back."

"I haven't got it," Carney protested. "On my word of honor as a
gentleman, I haven't ten shillings in the blessed world. And that
rascal Perks has put the police on my track. If he had waited until
to-morrow I could have paid him every penny I owed him, and a handsome
commission for himself besides. You must get me out of this, Dora. Get
me out of the way till it is safe to show my face again."

"But what about Miss Vane?" the girl asked. "Have you no consideration
for her? Oh, my dear young lady, if you only knew what I suffered when
I heard how you have been treated, but there is no time to be lost. I
came to warn my father and bring him some disguise, trusting to luck
that the police would not know who I am."

With a sigh of relief Carney grabbed eagerly at the bag which his
daughter was carrying. Possibly he was not unacquainted with the
stage himself, for a few moments' working with the contents of
the bag sufficed to transform him altogether. He was no longer a
tall, clean-shaven being, but had a thick crop of brown hair and a
neatly-trimmed moustache and beard. A pair of spectacles and a clerical
band and coat and vest converted him to a middle-aged parson of
benevolent aspect. His whole manner seemed to change with his disguise,
so that even Elsie could not but admire his make-up.

"I think that will do," Carney said complacently as he surveyed himself
in a hand mirror. "You had better step out and see that the coast is
clear."

"That is all very well," Elsie said, "but what is to become of me? You
have forgotten that you owe me some gratitude for the part I played."

"You were a good girl," Carney said huskily, "and I won't forget you.
But I can't spare a sou. I don't know if Dora could find you a bed----"

"No, no," Elsie cried hastily. "I could not think of intruding in this
fashion. Perhaps the one friend I know in London may help me."

Somewhat to Elsie's surprise, Dora made no suggestion of assistance.
She had seated herself at the desk, and appeared to be writing on a
card, which she held in her hand as she crossed to the door and looked
down the corridor.

"There is no one about," she said eagerly. "You had better go while you
have a chance, father. I will follow you as far as the street. I shall
be anxious to know that you have succeeded in getting away."

As the girl spoke she turned upon Elsie an imploring glance, which
the latter failed to interpret. Dora seemed to be making some kind
of a signal, but, what it was intended to convey, Elsie had not the
slightest idea. She stood lingering, not knowing what to do or where to
go; but, as the bulky figure of Carney vanished, Dora threw the card at
her. Mechanically Elsie picked it up and read the mysterious words----

"Be brave and patient. If your friend fails you, be under the portico
of the Regency Theatre to-night."




CHAPTER II.--ALONE IN LONDON.

For some moments Elsie stood in the dingy office turning the card
over in her fingers, wondering what it could mean. Greatly as she had
mistrusted Carney, she did not entertain the same feelings towards
Dora. It seemed impossible the young and timid girl, with the frank,
innocent face, could be the daughter of the sorry blackguard who made
a living by robbing ignorant girls with a fancy for the stage. Elsie
would have been puzzled to explain why she herself had been lured in
that direction. The only child of a scholarly country parson, she had
seen nothing of the world, and all her ideas of the Theatre had been
drawn from novels which had presented the pleasant side of the picture.
Had Elsie realised half the perils and privations of the stage, she
would have shrunk appalled from the prospect. As it was, she had had
her lesson. She was quite cured now. She wished to have nothing further
to do with her old ambition.

Meanwhile, she was alone in London, and her sole means of subsistence
lay within the narrow limits of the solitary shilling which she had in
her purse. She had come, fully believing that she was to start at once
on a provincial tour, when everything would be found for her, and every
provision made for her comfort. She had left her wardrobe at Paddington
Station, where she had intended to take it up before beginning her tour
in the West. And here she was stranded, a pretty, innocent girl, alone
in the cruelest city in the world for anyone who lacks friends.

It was fortunate she knew the address of her father's old acquaintance
in the city of London. She had never seen Mr. Jeffries, but she knew
he had been at school and college with her father, and had heard the
latter speak of him as a man doing a large business as a solicitor.
When in the street, Elsie summoned up courage to ask the way of a
policeman, and was pleased to find she had no great distance to walk.
With beating heart she inquired for Mr. Jeffries. The clerk was civil,
but had a piece of information to impart which brought the tears to
Elsie's eyes.

"I am sorry you can't see Mr. Jeffries, miss," he said. "He is out of
town. If you are here on business connected with the firm, there are
other gentlemen----"

"Oh, my business is quite private," Elsie said. "Mr. Jeffries was an
old friend of my father's, and I wanted his advice."

"That is unfortunate," the clerk said. "Mr. Jeffries is on the
Continent. He hasn't been well lately, and we don't expect him back for
a month. Will you not see one of the partners."

Elsie shook her head. She had no words for the moment. It was all she
could do to keep from breaking down. She was feeling faint from want
of food, for it was nearly two o'clock, and she had had nothing since
her early breakfast, which she had been too excited to eat. Desperate
as her situation was, she could not find it in her heart to unbosom
herself to strangers. She contrived to find her voice at last.

"It is very good of you," she said, "but I don't think I will trouble
the other gentlemen. I dare say I can call upon Mr. Jeffries another
time. I hope he will soon be better."

Elsie drifted out of the office, feeling she had broken the last link
between herself and the past. Few well-educated, well-nurtured girls
had fewer friends than she. Her mother had died years before, leaving
her to be her father's only companion, in a small country village where
congenial society was scarce. The failure of one or two concerns in
which Mr. Vane had invested his money had so preyed upon his health
that he died, leaving Elsie practically penniless when his debts had
been paid. When she left home that morning there was not a single
friend to bid her good-bye. So far as she knew, she had no living
relations in England; and here she was, young and strong and active,
with nothing but a slender wardrobe and one shilling in her purse.

Come what may, she must have something to eat. She wanted to sit down
and rest herself, and think the situation over. Save for one happy
fortnight three years before, she had never been in London, and the
crowds of people dismayed her. She would not have been afraid to walk
through the most desolate country place at midnight but in these
thronged streets she felt abashed and frightened. It seemed dreadful to
stand there with that stream of humanity flowing by, and not be able
recognise one of that sea of faces. More by instinct than anything
else, Elsie drifted into a tea shop and laid out sixpence of her money
to the best advantage. She was pleased to find she could have a fresh
egg and bread and butter and tea for the limited sum of sixpence.
She was decidedly the better for her meal, frugal though it was. Her
natural courage rose, and she felt able to face the situation. The
healthy life she had led in the past had given her a perfect nerve and
a magnificent constitution.

Surely there must be some place where girls situated as she was
could find food and lodging for a day or two. If only these could be
obtained, she had nothing to fear. She had been thoroughly trained to
look after a house, and her learned father had educated her far beyond
the ordinary standard.

Elsie wandered until she came at length to the Park, where she sat
down and watched the children play. She resolved not to think of what
was likely to happen later. She could not let her mind dwell upon
the problem of her night's lodging. She would wait on the off chance
of something turning up, and, if necessary in the last resort, would
confide her story to a policeman, and ask her way to the nearest
station. Then came a glimmer of hope as she remembered the card in her
pocket. She could not help feeling that Dora Carney would prove her
friend. If the appointment outside the Regency Theatre failed, then she
could put her other plan into execution.

A smart nursemaid with two little children came to the seat, and one of
the bairns asked for a knife to mend his boat. Elsie complied eagerly.
She even mended the boat to the child's gratification. Elsie loved
children, and here, too, was a means of escaping from her sad thoughts.
For an hour or more she sat chatting to the children and their nurse,
and watching the stream of glittering carriages flash by. The nurse
was Cockney to her finger tips. She seemed to know a great many of the
fashionable folk by sight, so that to Elsie the conversation was really
entertaining. Presently there passed by a landau in which an elegantly
dressed lady was seated alone. She was young, and apparently surrounded
with all that wealth could bestow. There was something in her face that
appealed to Elsie strongly. It was a beautiful face, clear-cut and
pathetic, with dark, melancholy eyes, and Elsie thought the owner of
such a face must be capable of rising to the loftiest heights both of
courage and self-sacrifice.

"Do you know who she is?" she asked the nursemaid.

"Who doesn't miss?" the other replied. "That is Vera Barrington, the
great actress. I suppose you have heard of her."

Elsie nodded. Even in the remote village where she came from, the
name of Vera Barrington was known. She was young, not more than four
and twenty, and yet had already arrived at the very zenith of her
profession. Nothing appeared to come amiss to the woman who only three
years before had made a hit at one of the minor music halls. She had
her chance in a musical comedy, in which she had proved a brilliant
success. Thence she had gone straight into the realms of tragedy, when
her acting had been a perfect revelation to the critics. There was a
slight feeling of envy in Elsie's heart as her eyes followed the figure
in the retreating carriage.

"Of course, I have heard of Miss Barrington," she said. "Is she
married? I understand there is something romantic about her."

"Nobody knows, miss," the nursemaid answered. "I am told she keeps
herself quite to herself. She has a beautiful house in Regent's
Park, but nobody ever goes there. Even in the theatre, they say she
is standoffish. And now I must be going. Come along, children. Say
good-bye to the lady first."

Elsie did not part with the little ones without a real sense of
reluctance. The Park had suddenly become very lonely, and the stream
of humanity in the streets would be preferable to this. So the hours
drifted on till night fell, and the houses were picked out with points
of flame. It was nearly eight o'clock before Elsie went back to the
shop where she had had the previous meal. When her hunger was satisfied
her purse was empty. Thanks to her country training and regular hours,
however, Elsie was not utterly tired and worn out. Besides, she was
buoyed up by the hope that something would come of the assignation
outside the Regency Theatre. It was a fine night so that the anxieties
of the situation were not too strongly marked. For nearly three hours
Elsie walked briskly along, striving to assume the air of one who has
some definite object in view.

Her heart beat faster and her pulse quickened as the hour of eleven
drew near. She came at length to the portico of the Regency Theatre,
and stood there waiting. One or two men in evening dress inside the
vestibule gazed at her admiringly, but the girl's proud, unconscious
face, and assured manner checked all attempts of familiarity. She
turned to look at the large frame of photographs hanging in the
doorway, and saw to her surprise that the figure in the centre was
that of Vera Barrington. It struck Elsie as strange that she should be
keeping an appointment outside the very theatre where the brilliant
actress was engaged. A moment later a tall, graceful figure flitted
through the entrance hall towards a brougham standing by the pavement.
Elsie caught a glimpse of a pale, pathetic face, and, with a thrill,
recognised that it was the tragedienne herself.

"She finishes early," Elsie heard one man say to another. "Beautiful
woman, isn't she, but cold as ice."

The brougham drove away, and presently there was a sound of music
within the theatre and the distant notes of the National Anthem.
Evidently the performance was over, and almost immediately crowds of
people in evening dress thronged the vestibule. Outside a couple of
commissionaires were bawling hoarsely for carriages and the shrill
sound of cab whistles filled the air. The clock had struck eleven, and
with some dismay Elsie felt the appointment would not be kept. As she
stood uncertain what to do, her eye fell upon the jaunty form of a
little messenger-boy, who started forward as he met her glance.

"Miss Vane?" he said. "If so, I have a letter for you."

Elsie grabbed at the envelope and tore it open. Inside was a short
message.

"Could not come," it said. "Go at once to 12 Regent Terrace and ask to
see the mistress of the house. Go boldly without fear. Your presence is
anxiously awaited."




CHAPTER III.--THE TOY OF CIRCUMSTANCE.

Elsie stood for a moment oblivious to her surroundings, her whole
attention fixed upon the letter in her hand. Here was a development
which she had not expected. Not till now had she realised how much she
had counted on the hope of seeing Dora Carney again. Nor could she be
absolutely sure that the letter had come from the dramatic agent's
daughter. Elsie knew little of the world, but, like most people who
live in country places, she had read a daily paper carefully, and some
weird stories came into her mind. Was this some subtle plot to lure her
into a situation fraught with danger and difficulties?

Then Elsie's common sense came to her rescue, and she put the
disturbing thought aside. The letter must be from Dora Carney. The girl
had been prevented from keeping her appointment, and the appearance
of the messenger-boy was the natural sequel. Doubtless Elsie had been
described to the lad, and his sharp wits had been answerable for the
rest. Elsie would have asked a question or two, but the boy had already
vanished.

To go or not to go, that was the question. The letter in Elsie's hand
was probably a passport to a comfortable lodging with respectable
people, and perhaps the offer of regular employment. It was getting
late and there was only one cruel alternative to the somewhat
peremptory letter. If Elsie decided to have no more to do with it, she
would have to carry out her original programme and throw herself on the
mercy of the police.

And supposing they doubted her word? Supposing they regarded her as an
impostor? In that case Elsie wondered if they could send her to prison.
She had heard of country magistrates doing that kind of thing, when a
man came before them charged with having no visible means of support;
and it was an absolute fact that Elsie had no way of getting a living.
There was nothing for it but to take her courage in both hands and
boldly face the future. When this resolution was come to Elsie felt
the better for it. A healthy craving for food gripped her. For one so
vigorous, the amount she had eaten during the day was barely enough
to sustain strength. She drifted down the Strand looking for some
policeman so put her in the way of reaching 12 Regent Terrace. She
wondered what all these happy, well-dressed people pouring out of the
theatres would think if they heard her story.

To Elsie's alarm she found she had a considerable distance to travel.
By the time she reached Marylebone-road her limbs were dragging
painfully and her breath was coming fast, and with a feeling of
thankfulness Elsie reached her destination. This was the place right
enough. A row of magnificent houses gleaming white in the rays of the
electric light. So far as Elsie could see, No. 12 was somewhat more
important than its neighbours. The house seemed to be brilliantly
lighted and a flight of marble steps led to the front door. For a
moment the girl hesitated; then she laid a shaky hand on the electric
bell and heard the ripple far below. There could be no drawing back now.

A footman in neat livery threw open the door and politely waited for
Elsie to speak. She was not in the least surprised to notice that the
servant was a negro. The circumstance seemed to fit in with her strange
adventure.

"I have come here by appointment," Elsie said. "I--I do not know the
name of the lady of the house, but I have a letter here which will
explain everything to her."

"That is all right madame," the negro said, speaking perfect English.
"Will you be good enough to come this way?"

Elsie's nervousness had vanished, and she felt sure there was no danger
ahead. It was absurd to identify a house like this with anything in
the way of crime or vulgar intrigue. Tired as she was and utterly
exhausted, Elsie could not help noting the perfect appointments of the
house. On more than one occasion in her father's time she had dined at
the castle of the Duke of Sidmouth, one of the show places in her part
of the country, but she had seen nothing finer than the suite of rooms
through which she was now being conducted.

She came at length to a small apartment at once refined and homelike;
a fire of logs and coals was blazing on the hearth. The warmth was so
grateful to Elsie that she dropped into an arm-chair and closed her
eyes. It was only for a moment that the fit of fatigue held her, then
she realised that the negro was addressing her in tones of deference.

"I was directed to bring you here," he said. "It is not long before
my--my--the owner of the house will see you. Meanwhile, you will permit
me to offer you refreshment."

The negro indicated a table which Elsie had not previously noticed.
She saw that a supper for one had been laid out, a dainty supper,
perfectly served, and a gold-necked bottle stood by the side of the
plate. Without waiting to be told, the servant opened the champagne,
and gravely tendered Elsie a glass.

"Presently," she said. "After I have eaten something."

The servant pulled up a chair and vanished. Elsie was not sorry to be
alone. She was too wolfishly hungry to care about being watched. Then
gradually the feeling of hunger passed away, and she raised the glass
to her lips and swallowed the champagne, which coursed through her
veins like liquid fire, and braced her for anything that was likely to
happen.

The house was strangely silent, but Elsie put that down to the
thickness of the carpets on the floors. By and by she heard a sound of
voices in angry altercation. One was the voice of a woman, pure and
sweet, the other that of a man who spoke in commanding accents. While
Elsie was still wondering, the door opened and a woman came in.

She was tall and dark, and gave Elsie the singular idea that she looked
older than her years. At the same time she was haunted by the fancy
that she had seen this beautiful, well-dressed woman before. Then it
suddenly burst upon her, and she gave a cry of surprise and pleasure.

"I see you know me," the lady said with a smile.

"Not actually till this afternoon," Elsie responded, "and then only by
a kind of accident. I happened to be in the Park, and someone pointed
you out to me as Miss Vera Barrington. It is remarkable that I should
have the privilege of making your acquaintance so soon afterwards."

Elsie spoke simply and naturally, and was under the impression that the
great actress was in some way pleased with her. At any rate, the woman
smiled and held out her hand.

"We are all the sport of circumstance," she said. "I dare say you
envy me, and imagine that if we could change places you would be the
happiest girl in the world."

"I think I should be," Elsie ventured to say.

"Ah, yes; I have been told that before. My child, I like you. I have
taken a fancy to your face. I am certain that you are pure and good and
innocent, and that you have courage and resolution as well. I want you
to help me."

"Do you need help from anybody?" Elsie asked.

"Ay, indeed I do. A word in your ear. I am the most miserable woman on
the face of this earth to-day."

The words came with a hissing whisper, with an electric thrill behind
them, and for an instant the speaker's face changed to an expression of
the most unutterable sadness.

"You have been very kind to me," Elsie stammered, "and I am very, very
grateful. If there is anything I can do for you, pray command me, and I
will do it gladly. When I come to reflect upon where I might have been
at this moment--but of course, you know nothing of my story."

Vera Barrington indicated an arm-chair by the fire.

"Let us sit down and talk," she said. "I have managed to avert the
danger for the time being. You will be astonished to hear that I
know more of your story than you imagine. You are a friendless girl,
and have come from the provinces with an idea of making a name for
yourself on the stage. That is one of the saddest fates that ever could
befall a woman. The public only know of the adulation and flattery,
of the meretricious dazzle of the life behind the footlights. Ah, my
dear child, I could show you another vision. I will show you another
prospect if necessity arises. But we need not go into that now. Like
many a girl before you and many a girl to come after you, you fell
a prey to the class of rogue that battens upon innocent ambitions
like yours. Roger Carney robbed you of every penny, and then put you
out with an excuse that the company in which he had procured you an
engagement had broken down. That story is told again and again to no
end of victims, who believe it implicitly. When you left Carney's
office this morning you were penniless and without friends, save one."

"I can guess who that one friend was," Elsie said. "I am glad my
instinct did not play me false. You are speaking of Carney's daughter
Dora. I feel sure she is a good girl."

"One of the best," Miss Barrington said with feeling, "and I can
remember the time, too, when Roger Carney was an upright and honorable
man, low as he has now fallen in the social scale. You would not take
him to be a man who once gave promise of a distinguished career in the
army."

"Indeed, I should not," Elsie murmured.

"I am only telling you facts," the actress went on. "But for your
courage and good nature this morning, Roger Carney would by this
time have found himself in gaol. One of his victims happened to be
acquainted with a solicitor, who set the law in motion. It was very
fortunate that Dora Carney happened to be present or you would not be
seated here now. She is a good girl, and would have kept her promise
to you but for an accident. Still, you are here, and you may consider
yourself amongst friends. It will be no fault of ours if you are ever
in need again. At the same time, I warn you that your courage will be
put to the test. Do you think you could undertake a mission involving
real risk, in which you must ask no questions and do exactly as you are
told?"

Vera Barrington's manner had changed abruptly. There was something cold
and almost stern in her manner of speaking.

"I think so," Elsie said, after a short pause. "As you are aware, I
am friendless and without means. I am ready to earn an honest and
honorable living."

"Make your mind easy on that score," Vera Barrington rejoined. "I would
never ask you to do anything degrading. You have seen something of this
house. You know something of my career. People envy me my success and
the good fortune it has brought me, but would they do so if they knew
the story of my life? I think not. In the course of your reading, did
you ever come across that extraordinary poem of Tom Hood's called 'The
Haunted House'?"

"I know it," Elsie said. "It is weird and fascinating; but you don't
mean to tell me----"

"Indeed, I do," the actress said in a hoarse whisper. "This house is
haunted by disgrace and crime. You would not think it, but the fact
remains. The shadow has spoilt my life; it is making me old before my
time, and unless I can find some means to lift it, the worry must go
on to its certain end. Circumstances have inspired me with some hope,
and when Dora Carney told me your story this afternoon, I began to see
a way whereby you could be useful to me, and in return you shall never
complain of my ingratitude."

"I will do anything you like," Elsie said. "If you will only confide in
me, and let me know what you want."

Vera Barrington appeared as if about to speak then she checked herself,
and rose in a listening attitude. From somewhere overhead came a
rumbling sound, followed by loud voices and a heavy fall as if a blow
had been struck. With the celerity of some graceful animal, Vera
Barrington sprang across the room and switched off the electric light.
Then she reached over and grasped Elsie by the arm with a grip that was
almost painful.

"Come away at once," she whispered. "The trouble has broken out afresh.
I would give five years of my life to prevent your presence in the
house becoming known. Do not stop to ask any questions, but come at
once."

Elsie made no demur. She followed up a flight of stairs into a bedroom
that was all in darkness. With a whisper to her to keep up her courage,
Vera Barrington closed the door and locked it on the outside, leaving
Elsie to her reflections.




CHAPTER IV.--THE DEAD FACE.

As far as Elsie could make out the bedroom was as superbly furnished
as the rest of the house. A ragged, waning moon behind the bank
of clouds served presently to pick out various objects. It was
possible to discern objects here and there, which indicated that the
room was occupied by a woman. The dressing-table was littered with
silver-mounted trifles, and a great wardrobe with open doors revealed
many toilettes. In a spirit of natural curiosity Elsie ranged round the
room, trying to keep her courage in hand, and succeeding more or less
indifferently. She would have been grateful for a light, but though
she could see a score of electric fittings she did not dare to try
the experiment. Some fascination drew her towards the bed, and to her
surprise she saw that the counterpane was literally smothered with the
most beautiful flowers.

They were all white, and when Elsie came to look at them she saw that
they were not scattered about heedlessly, but arranged artistically
and systematically. A wreath of lilies particularly aroused Elsie's
admiration, and she stooped to smell them.

A moment later and she started back with a suppressed cry, for in the
middle of the wreath was a white, cold face, still in death. It was
not a repulsive sight, for the face was young and beautiful, and the
marble forehead was half hidden under a veil of gleaming hair. Elsie
stood fascinated, almost crazed with fear, and struggling to keep back
the scream of hysterical laughter that was forcing itself to her lips.
She did not realise that someone was shaking her by the shoulders
vigorously. Indeed, it was not until the person behind her pinched her
arm savagely that she came to herself. She turned to find herself face
to face with Dora Carney. The latter's face was white as her own; her
eyes were filled with tears, and she spoke with difficulty.

"Ah, I see I am only just in time," she said. "How thoughtless, how
reckless of Vera to bring you here! I suppose the danger broke out
suddenly, and she did not know what to do."

"I am glad you came," Elsie replied. "Another moment and I should have
screamed aloud. But, tell me, how did you get here?"

Dora explained that she entered by means of a dressing-room, which
opened out on the main corridor on the staircase.

"I could not meet you as I promised," she said. "I had a nasty fall,
and was quite stupid all afternoon, but if you will come this way I
will take you to my room, where you will be safe."

"Do you live here?" Elsie asked.

"Yes and no," was the strange response. "But I cannot go into that now,
it will take too long. All in good time you shall learn the sad story
of myself and the brilliant unhappy creature who is mistress of this
house. I believe it lies in your hands to save us, Elsie. I hope you
won't mind me calling you Elsie, but you are so good and kind----"

"I shall be very glad," Elsie replied. "I am only too thankful to think
that I have fallen amongst friends, and am ready to do anything to
repay their goodness. I am ashamed of my timidity. But when I looked
down and saw that dead face----"

"We will not talk about that," Dora said, with a shudder. "It is part
of the mystery and intrigue, which poison the happiness of this house.
But come, where we can be more comfortable, and where I can tell you as
much as you ought to know."

On the opposite side of the corridor Elsie found herself in a
comfortable room where a fire was blazing. She noticed that Dora took
the precaution to lock the door.

"I have not yet thanked you for your kindness this morning," the girl
said. "But for your presence of mind, I tremble to think what would
have become of my unhappy father. He spoke the truth when he said he
had no money for you. If he had had means I should have compelled him
to refund every penny."

"Perhaps it is as well as it is," Elsie smiled. "In that case I should
have gone my way and we should have seen no more of each other. By this
time I should have been in some lonely room, worrying myself as to the
future. It must be awful for a girl to be alone in London. Now I am
sure I have found two good friends, and I am quite looking forward to
the adventure before me."

"I envy your courage," Dora said. "I envied it this morning. I must
tell you something about my father, greatly as the subject pains me.
Not so many years ago he was spoken of as one of the most promising
officers in the Service. It was after my mother died that things began
to go wrong. We found ourselves in need of money. I suppose it must be
some strange defect in my father's character, for after he took the
first downward step, he never stopped. It was only by the influence or
a distinguished general officer that a terrible scandal was averted.
For a long time after that we drifted from one obscure foreign town
to another, living in a way that I blush to think of. My father had
always been fond of theatricals, and so learnt a great deal about the
inner life of the professional. That is how he became an agent. But,
mind you, my father is a man of genuine if misdirected ability, and
when he told you that he was on the verge of making his fortune he
spoke the literal truth. I should have liked to explain everything
to you then, but, unfortunately, there was no time. When I saw the
resourceful manner in which you behaved I thought of Vera Barrington
and her trouble, and it occurred to me that you were the very girl she
requires. You have an ambition for the stage, and though you have made
but an indifferent start, you will have an opportunity now of playing a
part the like of which has never yet been presented to an audience."

"You rouse my curiosity," Elsie said.

"I have perhaps gone a little too far, seeing that I cannot gratify
your natural desire to know everything. The explanation must come from
Vera herself."

At that moment there came a gentle tapping at the door, and Dora turned
the key in the lock. Vera Barrington came into the room. It seemed to
Elsie that her face lighted up with a look of relief when she saw that
her visitor was safe.

"I owe you a thousand pardons," she said. "I ought never to have put
you into that bedroom, but the danger was so close that I had no
alternative. Possibly you did not discover----"

"Indeed she did," Dora cried. "Imagine what a shock it was, especially
after the trying ordeal poor Elsie has gone through to-day. I found her
bending over the bed with her face as white and ghastly as--as----"

"Oh, I know," Vera whispered. "Few women could have endured a trial
like that without screaming for assistance."

"I should have screamed in another second," Elsie confessed, "only Dora
came in and shook my scattered wits together."

"I can hardly forgive myself," the actress said, "but no great harm has
been done, and the danger is past, for the present, at any rate. Now,
Elsie, will you kindly come this way? I hope you are feeling strong and
well, for there is much to do before morning."

Elsie followed, asking no further questions in the meantime. She came
at last to a large room on the ground floor, which appeared to be the
library. Standing before the fire was one of the handsomest men Elsie
had ever seen. His tall, well-set-up figure was all the more emphasised
by reason of the mess uniform he was wearing. He seemed to be one mass
of scarlet and white and gold lace. As he moved his spurs jingled. As
far as Elsie could judge, he was a man who held a high command in one
of the crack cavalry regiments. In age he appeared to be some sixty
years, though there was not a grey hair on his head or in his long
black moustache. Directly he spoke Elsie recognised the voice of the
man whose tones she had caught almost as soon as she had come into the
house.

"So this is the young lady," he said. "Let me have a good look at her.
Yes, on the whole, I should say she will do very well indeed."

"This is General George Rashleigh," Vera explained. "You must not be
afraid of him. He is a very terrible-looking person, and supposed
to be the strictest martinet in the army. He has to take all these
precautions to hide his kindness of heart or he would be terribly
imposed upon."

The General smiled, then he turned and addressed a few kind words to
Elsie. She felt that he was a man who would be a real friend, and yet
who, at the same time, could be an equally determined enemy. He flashed
a significant glance at Vera Barrington, and nodded as if he were quite
satisfied.

"You had better get along," he said. "There is no time to waste. I
suppose you have not explained to Miss Vane what she has to do. I
am certain she will carry out her task with courage and tact and
resolution."

The speech was a dismissal, or so Elsie deemed it. Vera Barrington
put her hand through her arm and led her up the stairs to one of the
bedrooms. It was brilliantly lighted, and contained every appointment
necessary for a fashionable woman's toilet. The actress smiled, but
looked restless and uneasy.

"We will dispense with a maid," she said. "Indeed, her presence would
be a source of danger. Now, if you will undress and put on some of
those things, I will explain in a few words what I want you to do."

"How delightful!" Elsie exclaimed. "I have never seen such beautiful
things before. I only hope they will fit me."

"I have not much doubt about that. We had to get everything in a hurry,
and guessed your measurements from Dora's description of you. Imagine
you are going to a dance."

It was impossible to resist the beauty of the things, and Elsie fell
in with the humor of the situation. At the end of half an hour she
stood smiling softly at herself in the long cheval glass, completely
attired except as to her dress, which lay a glittering, shining heap on
the bed. Vera Barrington's deft fingers had been busily employed with
needle and thread, so that by the time Elsie was ready to don it there
was nothing wrong or out of place to mar the harmony.

"Now for the crowning touch," Vera said, in a voice that shook a
little. "There, I declare the whole thing fits as if it had been made
for you. Really, you look most charming."

Elsie drew a long breath of delight as she turned to the glass once
more. The girl thought she might have been a bride being arrayed for
her wedding morning. As she stood there, Vera came behind her and
dexterously cast a long, sweeping veil over her head. Before Elsie
could expostulate, the veil was fastened with a couple of diamond pins
and the whole edifice crowned with a tangle of orange blossoms. Elsie's
sudden cry was almost one of dismay.

"A bride?" she faltered. "Actually, I am a bride. Tell me, do tell me
what this masquerade means."

Vera held her hand to her side as if in pain.




CHAPTER V.--A FAMILY SKELETON.

Elsie waited patiently for Vera to speak. Up to now the latter had been
calm and collected, but at this point she appeared to be fighting hard
against some overpowering emotion.

"Won't you tell me what it is?" Elsie asked. "Please do not be afraid.
You know I will do anything for you, so long as I am not asked to stoop
to deceit. Why have you dressed me up like this at this hour of the
night?"

"Perhaps I had better begin at the beginning," Vera replied. "I saw you
were impressed with the personality of General Rashleigh. You thought
him an exceedingly fine man, didn't you?"

Elsie admitted that she did.

"He was just as favorably taken with you," Vera went on, "and, indeed,
you have come to us like an angel unawares. I have been searching
everywhere for a girl, of character--brave, resolute, well-educated,
and good-looking. When Dora Carney told me of what had happened at
her father's office I felt sure I had found the woman I required. I
am going to take you into our secrets, because I believe you can be
trusted. In the first place, let me tell you that General Rashleigh is
my father. Perhaps you noticed the likeness between us?"

"Now you mention it," Elsie said, "I recognise it."

"You may be surprised to hear," Vera resumed, "that until a few months
ago I had no idea I had a father alive. In fact, I had no idea what
my real name was. From my present mode of life you will hardly guess
that until my twenty-first birthday, I was brought up in the most
puritanical fashion by a narrow-minded aunt who thought all pleasure
sinful. It is almost impossible to describe how dull and monotonous my
life was. Though she professed to be an exceedingly religious woman,
my aunt hated me for some reason or other, and I was only too glad to
escape from her house. I ran away and drifted on to the stage. After
my success I became acquainted with General Rashleigh, who professed
to see in me a likeness to his late wife. One question led to another,
and on investigation it came out that the General was my father. It
appeared that my mother was a very passionate and headstrong woman, and
that after I was born she disappeared from home, taking me with her. My
father advertised for her in vain; he never succeeded in discovering
the quiet country hiding-place where my mother had sought refuge.
You can imagine how interested I was to learn all this. When I met
my father he was nearly on the verge of ruin in consequence of some
rash speculations, and my brother has had to abandon his career in the
army and go into an office in the city. All these things have happened
during the past twelve months. As soon as I could, I freed my father
from his difficulties, and tried to induce him to come here to live.
That he would not hear of. But all seemed going happily till a few
weeks ago, when my brother got into fearful trouble, and to make a long
story short, was forced to flee the country lest he should fall into
the hands of the police. It was a shocking business, and so complicated
that I do not know the ins and outs of it. It is such a sad thing,
for my brother is a dear, good fellow, and almost as handsome as his
father, which is saying a great deal."

"Is he safe now?" Elsie asked.

"Far from it. And this brings me to the point. The pursuit is so hot
that Gerald has been forced to come home again, and hide himself in
this house, where he is at the present moment. I am almost certain
the police have a clue to his retreat, and that is why you are here
to-night."

"Indeed," Elsie exclaimed. "What can I do?"

"I think you can do everything we need," Vera said. "Our great idea
is to get Gerald out of the house. I shall know no peace till that
is accomplished. Roger Carney is blackmailing me on the strength of
his knowledge. Of course you do not know that Carney is a relation of
mine. He is my mother's only brother. There is another and still more
terrible danger, but that I need not allude to just now."

"As you please," Elsie murmured.

"Now, to put it briefly, this is my scheme. You are an actress-friend,
and come here this evening to induce me to accompany you to a
fancy-dress ball at Covent Garden. It is your idea to go in the
character of a bride, because I saw my way to fitting you out in that
character without unnecessary trouble. Of course, I am not going with
you to the dance, but you will take your maid with you. As the house
is being watched, no suspicion will be excited by the sight of a young
lady in fancy dress accompanied by her maid. Do you understand?"

Elsie's eyes sparkled; she was beginning to enter into the spirit of
the adventure.

"I follow you perfectly," she cried. "My maid will be your brother."

"Quite right," Vera said approvingly. "That is the plan exactly. I have
the tickets for the dance, and must leave you to get through the next
two or three hours as best you can. I know it will be a trying time for
you."

Elsie recognised that, too. She was feeling nervous and excited--to be
alone, as it were, amongst a thousand people, was something she looked
forward to with dread. Never in her life had she been to a dance, much
less a public ball of this description.

"I'll do my best," she said. "I suppose I am to come back and report
myself?"

"Precisely. My brother will see you into the ballroom, then he will
take a cab and proceed to a place of safety. You need not remain more
than a couple of hours; but you would like to see my poor brother?"

Before Elsie could reply there was a noise downstairs which followed
swiftly on a banging at the front door and an angry voice was heard in
altercation. Elsie glanced at her companion as if mutely asking for an
explanation. She saw that Vera Barrington had turned white to the lips,
and that her whole form was quivering.

"I half feared this," Vera said hoarsely. "He is coming this way. Don't
say more than you can help, and fall in with whatever suggestion I
make."

The door of the bedroom was burst violently open and a man staggered
in. His well-cut features were spoiled by traces of excessive
dissipation, for the face was blotched and red stained, and the
naturally fine eyes were blurred and watery. From his gait it was clear
that he was not sober. He lurched across the room and gripped Vera so
savagely by the arm that livid red marks stood out on the firm white
flesh. With a cry of pain Vera wrenched her arm free.

"Why do you come here?" she demanded. "Why do you break our compact in
this fashion? You promised me----"

"I know I did," the man said suddenly. "I promised to keep away from
you as long as you behaved yourself. Don't forget that you loved me
once, and that we were quite happy----"

"Until you took to drink, and became the degraded wretch you are," Vera
cried. "My love for you is dead and buried, but if you have a single
spark of affection left for me----"

"I have never ceased to care for you," the man said with hoarse
passion, "and you know it. There isn't a woman in the wide world who
could take your place in my heart. You should pity my misfortunes.
There is a demon in my blood that calls day and night for drink, and
when the demon is aroused I am not fit company for the vilest of
humanity."

"Spare me this," Vera said coldly. "I can only remind you that you are
breaking our bargain. I give you a third of my income on the distinct
understanding that you do not come near me or molest me in any way."

"Neither would I," the man said sullenly. "But you are not keeping your
side of the compact. At the present moment there is a young man living
in the house, and you are concealing the fact----"

"Do you dare to insinuate?" Vera cried passionately; her cheeks aflame
with anger. "But I will not demean myself by discussing the matter with
you. If you say one word more on that subject I will never give you
another penny."

The man turned with a scornful laugh and fixed an insolent gaze on
Elsie. She colored under his scrutiny, and turned to Vera for an
explanation.

"Who is this lady?" the intruder demanded.

"She is a friend," Vera said. "Miss Elsie Vane. She came to persuade me
to accompany her to a fancy-dress dance. I told you, Elsie, that I have
more troubles than a woman ought to be called upon to bear, and when
I inform you that this is my husband, you will see that I am speaking
no more than the truth. The proverb says that those who marry in haste
repent at leisure. I know the truth of that from bitter experience. Yet
when I became Mrs. Edward Greatorex, I thought I was one happiest girl
on earth."

The man muttered something and turned to the door. He called Vera
on one side, and for a few moments they were engaged in a whispered
conversation. Presently Greatorex went down the stairs and the front
door closed behind him.

"Now you know something of my life," Vera said. "It is only two years
since I first met that man, and he won my heart at once. I could not
tell you what I went through with him for twelve months. It may be that
alcoholism is a disease. It may be that he is utterly and entirely bad.
The strange fact remains that he is sincerely and passionately attached
to me, though. I could show marks of his ill usage which I shall carry
to the grave. When the madness is upon him, Edward Greatorex is a
veritable savage. A little time ago I gave him a large sum of money on
condition that he stayed on the Continent. You see, he knows nothing
whatever about my father and brother, and is insanely jealous because
he believes I am harboring a man here. You know in what sense that is
true, but I dare not tell Edward because he would detail to the first
man he met all the circumstances of the case. That is another reason
why I am so anxious to get Gerald out of the way. Come with me and I
will introduce you to my brother. He is anxiously waiting to see you."

The house was quiet and the servants appeared to have gone to bed. In
the library Elsie found herself face to face with a youngish man who
bore a strong likeness to Vera Barrington. His manner was subdued,
his voice low and pleasing. He did not strike Elsie as the kind of
man who would stoop to a vulgar crime. Perhaps she was prejudiced in
his favor. At any rate, she was satisfied there must be some terrible
misunderstanding.

"I have heard about you from my sister," Gerald Rashleigh said. "It is
good of you to come to our help. I never heard of anything more heroic
and self-sacrificing. Why you should aid complete strangers is one of
those things which----"

"But I do not regard myself as a stranger," Elsie smiled. "Do you
know that when I came here to-night I was desolate and alone. It is a
real pleasure to help you, as I am sure it will be to your sister to
help me. She would be as good and kind to me if I could do nothing in
return."

"That she would," Rashleigh exclaimed. "I trust you will not judge me
harshly until you know everything. I swear to you that I am innocent
of the dreadful charge that hangs over my head. I hope before long to
be able to stand up before the world and prove myself blameless. The
reason why I did not give myself up before is that I had serious lung
trouble. I am practically cured, but I know that even the few weeks
that I should have to remain in gaol would be fatal. I don't know
whether Vera has told you this----"

"It doesn't matter," Elsie said. "I am quite sure, Mr. Rashleigh, that
you are an innocent man. My belief may seem illogical, but women are
supposed to have an instinct in these matters."

"You are as good as you are beautiful," Rashleigh cried. "And you are
running all this risk for a man you never saw before. I will not forget
it as long as I live."

"You can thank Elsie later," Vera said with some impatience.
"Meanwhile, time is flying, and we are keeping others waiting. Now,
assume your disguise at once and I will whistle for a cab. Heaven grant
our scheme does not fail at the last moment. I believe it would break
my heart if anything went wrong. This suspense is getting more than I
can bear."




CHAPTER VI.--THE WRONG HOUSE.

The front door stood wide open, and Elsie and Vera could see across
the street. To passers-by they were two young and beautiful women
chatting together as if they had not a single trouble in the world.
The situation spoke for itself. One woman was going to a fancy-dress
ball and the other was standing to witness her departure. Some way off
down the street, was the sound of horse's hoofs as a cab came along in
response to Vera's whistle. She wore a smile on her lips, but the words
she spoke convinced Elsie of the danger ahead.

"Don't appear to be too curious," she said, standing with her back to
the door. "But if you take a quick glance across the road you will see
two figures lingering there. They come and go in various guises, and
have been hanging about for the last few days. They are watching the
house."

Elsie's sharp glance took in the outline of the two skulking objects in
the shadow opposite. At the same moment, neatly disguised as a lady's
maid, Gerald Rashleigh came along the hall carrying a bundle of wraps
over his arm. In a deferential way he proceeded to envelope Elsie's
glittering dress in one of the wraps. She turned to him in a haughty
manner, which was entirely assumed for the benefit of the watchers.
Then the group went towards the cab.

"I think that's about all," Vera whispered. "Good luck be with you. I
will know no peace till you return. Let us hope our little scheme has
baffled those people across the road."

"I am not so sure of that," Elsie remarked. "If you look down the
street you will see a cab at the corner. Why should a cab be loafing
there at this time of night? I fancy it is waiting for these detectives
if they happen to want one in a hurry."

Vera said nothing, and the cab started. It was very late, and vehicular
traffic had almost ceased. With a foreboding of evil, Elsie looked out
of the window, and saw that another cab was following. It was the cab
she had seen at the corner of Regent Terrace, for she recognised the
grey horse. A sigh escaped her.

"What is it?" Rashleigh asked anxiously. "Anything wrong?"

"It is just what I anticipated," Elsie explained. "That cab is
following us. Still, I don't want to imagine disaster. The men may
merely be taking precautions. If they had penetrated your disguise they
would have arrested you as you left the house."

"That seems logical," Rashleigh responded. "I expect they are following
us on the chance of picking up a clue. Still, we must shake them off if
possible."

The opportunity came sooner than Elsie and her companion had expected.
In Piccadilly they were held up by a block of traffic. A great function
was in progress, and the whole street was jambed with horses and
carriages, so that the vehicles were brought to a standstill. A badly
steered motor caused a pair of high-mettled animals to swerve and
prance, so that the carriage-pole came sharply round and caught the
wheel of Elsie's cab with a violent impact. A moment later and the cab
was lying on its side. The whole thing had happened so quickly that
Elsie had not even time to be frightened. Willing hands rescued her and
her companion. The cab-man lay in the gutter insensible.

"I am very sorry for the man," Elsie whispered, "but we cannot stay. It
would be too dangerous. Look behind you. There is the cab with the grey
horse, and the occupants are wondering what has become of us. We could
not have a better chance of dodging them. Let us walk on."

"Impossible," Rashleigh cried. "Look at the state of the pavements, and
you in white satin shoes and stockings. How will they look by the time
you reach the Covent Garden? Unfortunately, there is not another cab to
be seen."

Elsie admitted that Rashleigh's objection was sound. As she gazed
about her seeking for some conveyance her eyes fell upon a neat little
auto-car drawn up by the pavement. A sudden inspiration seized her.

"This is no time to be nice," she whispered eagerly. "Look at that car
left unattended. Did you ever learn to drive one of these things? If
so----"

"I see," Rashleigh said. "I understand exactly what you mean. I know
that kind of car, and have driven one hundreds of times. I am willing
to risk it if you are."

"I am prepared to risk anything," Elsie said impatiently. "I am anxious
to finish my task and return to your sister. You know how concerned she
will be."

A moment later and the two were seated in the car. There was a flash
of the lever, a quivering of the car, then it slid away as if it were
alive. Not more than a hundred yards or so had been covered before
there was a great shout, followed by the blowing of a police whistle.
Rashleigh turned swiftly into the comparative obscurity of a side
street.

"They have discovered their loss," he said, "and we are being pursued.
If we get to Covent Garden all right the rest will matter nothing.
The only thing that puzzles me is what to do with the car when we get
there. It won't take many minutes to trace us, and no doubt several
people in the crowd saw your fancy dress. The police will put two and
two together, and come to the conclusion that the thieves are on the
premises of Covent Garden Theatre. My dear young lady, it seems that I
am going to lead you into serious trouble."

Elsie set her teeth firmly together.

"It can't be helped," she said. "I have given my promise, and I won't
go back upon it. So long as you are safe, I don't care what happens. If
I am discovered, I suppose I shall be fined, and, besides, it will not
be difficult to get rid of the car. When we reach our destination you
have only to give a couple of loafers half a crown each to take it to
some fictitious address. Mr. Rashleigh, I am really beginning to feel
quite like a criminal myself. I hope I shall wake up presently and find
it nothing but a dream."

"Heaven grant we both may?" Gerald said fervently. "But here we are at
the theatre. But what on earth is the matter? The place is in darkness.
There is not a light to be seen anywhere. Has Vera, in the excitement
of the moment, mistaken the night?"

She took the card of admission out of her pocket and examined it by the
aid of a street lamp. A cry of dismay escaped her lips as she turned to
Rashleigh.

"You have guessed it," she said. "Vera has made a mistake. The
fancy-dress dance is on the seventeenth, and this is the eleventh. The
error is partly excusable because the figures are very badly printed,
and the 17 might be read for 11. Your sister has been so worried and
harassed that we must excuse her. But what is to be done?"

"Upon my word, I don't know," Rashleigh admitted. "It is a terrible
dilemma, and the worst of it is that within an hour my friends will be
waiting for me. I can't do anything till the appointed time."

Elsie grasped the arm of her companion eagerly. Her quick eye had
noted the presence of two constables, on bicycles, coming from
Tavistock-street.

"Start the car again," she cried. "Drive ahead anywhere as fast as you
can. I am sure these officers are after us. No doubt the police have
been using the telephone freely. It doesn't matter where we go so long
as these men lose sight of us."

Rashleigh did not need a second bidding. The car leapt forward at a
high rate of speed which would have been dangerous at any other time
of the day, and in a few minutes they were racing down Oxford-street.
Then they left the Marble Arch behind them, and by a circuitous route
reached Grosvenor Crescent. Once again they were in the thick of
traffic, for a dance was being held at Lady Starfield's. The great
doors of the mansion were thrown back so that one could see into the
brilliantly-lighted hall and mark the guests as they flitted up and
down the marble staircase. A chance remark made by some bystander
attracted Elsie's attention. Her eyes were gleaming and her mouth was
set in a firm line of determination. At a sign from her Rashleigh
stopped the car.

"What have you got in your mind?" he asked.

"Here's the chance to escape," Elsie said. "These people are giving a
fancy-dress ball. I haven't the remotest notion who they are, but that
does not matter. Let us leave the car in one of side streets, and then
I will explain."

Rashleigh obeyed without further question. The car had been turned into
a yard and the fugitives were just leaving it when a policeman strolled
up. He had a scrap of paper in his hand which he began to compare with
the number on the motor. Rashleigh realised the danger in a flash. His
right hand shot out and landed full on the side of the policeman's
head. The man went down like a log and lay half-insensible upon the
pavement.

"That was a close call," Rashleigh whispered. "No, I don't think the
man is much hurt. We must get away. If only you hadn't that conspicuous
dress on."

"The conspicuous dress is going to save us," Elsie said coolly. "You
want to know what I am going to do, and I will tell you. I am going as
a guest to the fancy-dress dance at the big house round the corner and
you are coming as my maid. There is a risk, but positively I am looking
forward to the adventure. It will give us an hour or two to turn round
and make our plans complete. I dare say you will be asked into the
servants' hall, where I can send for you when I need you. I will call
you Mapp. It is an ugly name, and one is not likely to forget it. Now,
please, come along before my courage oozes at my finger-tips. I dare
not wait any longer."

Coolly, as if she had been brought up to this kind of thing all her
life, Elsie walked into the house and handed her wraps to Rashleigh.
Then she turned to one of the liveried servants and bade him take her
maid to the servants' quarters. She did not wait to give her name, but
ran lightly up the steps to the suite of rooms which had been given
over for the dance. Fortunately the hostess was busy with a batch of
new arrivals, and did not appear to notice Elsie at all. Elsie consoled
herself with the reflection that possibly the large lady in the
magnificent diamonds did not know half her guests by sight.

The girl stood in that glittering throng, trying to still the beating
of her heart, and praying for an assumption of self-possession. For a
moment she lost herself in the beauty of the scene, the like of which
she had never looked upon before. A tall figure in the dress of a
courtier of the time of Charles II. came smilingly up to her and held
out his hand.

"How do you do, Miss Vane?" he said. "Really, this is a most unexpected
pleasure. When did you come?"




CHAPTER VII.--DANGER!

Elsie did not know whether to laugh or to cry. After all she had gone
through the shock was a cruel one, and none the less so because it
was so utterly unexpected. She glanced round the magnificent room as
unconcernedly as she could, whilst racking her brains for some excuse
to escape the attentions of her companion.

Not the least trying part of the ordeal was the fact that she had not
the remotest idea who the man was. He looked pleasant, his face was
kindly, and Elsie thought him to be trusted.

Anyway, he must have met the girl somewhere at some time, or he would
not have accosted her in such a familiar fashion. Meanwhile he had been
holding out his hand for Elsie to take it.

"Are you so afraid of me!" he asked. "Do you suppose I am some
fascinating swindler who has found his way into the house with the
amiable intention of playing the confidence trick on the first likely
person?"

Elsie laughed in spite of herself. There was something about this man
that she liked. If the worst came to the worst she could make him a
friend, and induce him to take part in the conspiracy. There was a
humorous twinkle in his eye which gave Elsie an impression that he
rather enjoyed the situation than otherwise.

"I had better confess it," she said. "But I have not the remotest idea
who you are."

"Well, that is too bad," the young man exclaimed. "I suppose that I
must flatter myself that I have changed for the better in appearance.
You used to say I was the plainest boy you ever knew--all red hair
and freckles. Surely you will not have the cruelty to say you have
forgotten Edgar Sefton."

Elsie's heart thrilled with a spasm of gratitude. She recollected the
name perfectly well. Indeed, some years before Sefton had been a pupil
at the old rectory. It was possible to make out some sort of likeness
to the harum-scarum youth who had never been so happy as when he was up
to his eyes in mischief.

"I know you now," Elsie said. "You have certainly changed for the
better. But what are you doing here?"

"I have come to the dance, of course," Sefton replied. "The last time
I saw you you were in short dresses with your hair down your back, and
yet you have not changed very much. How comes it that the dear old
Rector has allowed you----"

"I would rather not speak of that," Elsie said in a low voice. "My poor
father has been dead for some time. I am quite alone in the world, with
my living to get."

Sefton elevated his eyebrows, and from the expression of his face Elsie
could read exactly what was passing in his mind. It was by no means
usual for a girl dependent upon her own exertions for her daily bread
to be masquerading in a costume which could not have cost a penny less
than two hundred guineas.

"I can't explain now," Elsie said, with a fine flame of color in her
cheeks. "The story is too long, and too romantic."

"I wish you would confide in me," Sefton pleaded. "Don't you remember
what chums we used to be in the old days, despite your rude remarks
about my hair and freckles? I would do anything in the world for you,
Elsie. Perhaps I ought not to call you Elsie now, but the name slipped
out."

"I am sure that you mean everything that is good and kind," Elsie said
gratefully, "and whatever has happened to me the world seems to have
gone very well with you. You used to be rather stupid at lessons, and
always declared you would enlist for a soldier."

"Well, I didn't," Sefton laughed good-naturedly. "It sometimes happens
that the stupid boy does fairly well in after-life, and I fancy that I
am going to make a successful man of business. I was fortunate enough
to inherit a few thousands, and I invested them in a business in the
City; but I don't suppose you are interested in that."

"Indeed, I am," Elsie said. Gerald Rashleigh uppermost in her mind for
a moment. "Circumstances have so ordained it that I am quite interested
in City matters. Do you happen to know the name of Rashleigh by any
chance? I mean a young fellow whose father is a general officer in the
army."

"I know him well. We were college mates. Till recently he was in the
employ of Weiss and Company, a very big firm; but don't you know that
Gerald Rashleigh has got himself into trouble----"

Sefton paused as if fearful of causing pain.

"I have the best of reasons for knowing that," Elsie went on. "But for
him, I should not be here to-night. I am told that Gerald Rashleigh has
disappeared from the City, and that it is rumored that he has embezzled
a large sum of money belonging to his firm."

"I don't believe a word of it," Edgar Sefton said warmly. "There is
some underhand business going on which I should like to get to the
bottom of. Weiss has the reputation of being an exceedingly rich man,
but no one knows who he is or how he came by his money. There are lots
of such men in London to-day; they spring up in a night like mushrooms.
Sometimes there is a solid basis to their wealth and they become great
people. Sometimes they find their way to Mayfair, where they cut a
tremendous dash with their dinners and their diamonds, and presently
are heard of no more. A gaol or a bullet generally puts an end to
their careers; indeed, people have got so used to this kind of thing
that even the yellow press has ceased to make a feature of it. Between
ourselves, I know Weiss, and look upon him as an adventurer, and when
matters come to be investigated, Gerald Rashleigh will have little
difficulty in proving his innocence. But let us talk about ourselves.
How long have you been a friend of her ladyship's?"

"Whose?" Elsie stammered. "I don't understand you."

"Well, my question was plain enough. How long have you been a friend of
the mistress of the house?"

Elsie decided to make a clean breast of it. She could not lie to or
prevaricate with this old friend of hers.

"I don't even know her name. I dare say you will be astonished to hear
me say this."

"Well, yes," Sefton admitted somewhat coldly. "It is rather a mild way
of putting it. I cannot associate my old friend Elsie with anything
that is wrong and underhanded, and, when I look into your face, I
am convinced that you would do nothing against the dictates of your
conscience."

"Oh, that is so," Elsie said eagerly. "Pray believe me when I tell you
that half an hour ago I did not dream of finding myself here. It was
by the merest accident that I came to enter this house, but the police
were after us----"

"This is terrible," Sefton groaned. "The police? Do you want me to
understand that you have gone so far----"

"Oh, no, no," Elsie cried. "I was shielding somebody else. I came to
London early this morning only to discover that I had entrusted all
my money to a scoundrel who left me penniless, without employment,
and without friends. I am the sport of circumstance, the toy of fate,
drifting hither and thither in a desperate attempt to obtain the
necessaries of life. My dear Edgar, you do not know how near I was to
sleeping to night on a doorstep, or the carnal ward of a workhouse.
Then an accident brought me in contact with Gerald Rashleigh----"

"Oh, stop," Sefton exclaimed. "You make my head whirl. Let us go away
to some quiet corner and discuss the whole thing."

A sudden babel of voices attracted Elsie's attention, and she turned
round. An enormously stout man with a face ludicrously like that of
a parrot was talking to the hostess and gesticulating angrily. With
him was a red-faced woman almost as stout as himself, and literally
smothered in diamonds. The third of the trio was in striking contrast
to the other two. She was a tall, slim girl in white, her dress devoid
of ornaments of all kinds. Even in that moment of stress and confusion
the girl reminded Elsie of an old picture that used to hang in the
library at home.

"A most extraordinary business, Lady Starfield," the fat man cried. "We
stopped at my club in Piccadilly, and as it was a cold night we decided
to go inside and wait for Parker. There was a note from Parker saying
he couldn't come, so we went back for the car and it had gone. As I
was driving it myself, having told my man to meet me here, we left the
motor empty by the pavement. As we were pushing our way through a crowd
that had gathered round an accident, we saw two women get into the car
and drive away. Never saw anything more impudent in my life. I shouted,
but it was too late. Still, I should know the people again, though I am
not quite certain about one of the women. The other girl was evidently
an actress, for she was wearing a fancy dress which showed out from
under the cloak she was wrapped in. I could swear to her anywhere."

It was fortunate for Elsie, that Sefton was standing so close by her
side. She swayed a little, and he caught her arm to steady her. With an
effort Elsie recovered herself.

"Who is that man?" she stammered.

"The very person we were talking about," Sefton explained. "That is
Samuel Weiss. He appears to be excited about something. Rather a cool
thing, though, wasn't it, to go off with a man's car in that fashion.
No wonder he is mad."

"He mustn't see me," Elsie whispered. "For Heaven's sake, take care
that he doesn't see me. Thank goodness, you found me out to-night or
who knows what might have happened to me within the next hour? I dare
not think of it."

"But what has Weiss got to do with you?" Sefton asked.

"Everything," Elsie went on. "Didn't you hear him say he could identify
the woman who was an accomplice in the theft of his car? My dear Edgar,
I am the very woman who took part in that audacious theft."

Sefton whistled softly to himself.

"Well, I can't say or do anything till I know the history of the case,"
he said. "You have only been in London a day, you say, but you have
crammed a rare amount of fun into the past twenty-four hours."

"Don't laugh at me," Elsie pleaded. "If you only knew my terrible
position you would be sorry for me. Just think of it. Here am I,
little better than a penniless adventurer, masquerading as one of Lady
Starfield's guests. If that is discovered I shall be handed over to the
police. If that dreadful red-faced creature recognises me, he will show
no mercy. Worried and harassed as I am, I am curious to know what that
tall, Madonna-like girl can have in common with people like Mr. Weiss
and his wife."

"Strange as it may seem, she is their daughter, Iza. Everybody is
puzzled to think that she can really be of their flesh and blood, but
surely we have more important matters to discuss. What fiend put it
into your head to elope with Weiss' car? Surely, with so many cabs
about----"

"There was not a cab to be had for love or money. We were blocked in
a crowd caused by an accident to our own cab, and there is not the
slightest doubt that we were being followed by the police."

"Oh stop," Sefton murmured. "Really, my poor brain won't stand it. Who
were being followed by the police?"

"Why, Gerald Rashleigh and myself. But I have forgotten that I did
not tell you anything about that. You see, I was being used as the
instrument to get Mr. Rashleigh out of the way. My disguise as a bride
formed part of the scheme. We were being closely pressed by the police,
and when we saw the empty motor car it seemed like flying in the face
of Providence not to take it."

"I suppose I shall understand this muddle in time," Sefton said
resignedly. "You ran off with the motor and came here."

"Only because the police nearly caught us red-handed when we were
getting rid of the car. Mr. Rashleigh knocked the policeman down, and I
am afraid hurt him considerably, only we could not stop to ascertain.
We heard a passer-by say that a fancy-dress dance was going on here,
and as I was attired for such a function, I hit upon the desperate
resolve of trying to pass myself off as one of the guests. By sheer
good luck, when I reached the ballroom, you came up and spoke to me."

"Amazing," Sefton said. "And yet people say that romance is dead.
Perhaps you will tell me by what ingenious method you managed to save
Rashleigh as well as yourself?"

"He is in the servants' hall at present," Elsie said, "disguised as a
lady's maid--my maid, in fact."




CHAPTER VIII.--THE DANGER DEEPENS.

Nothing but the grave, pained expression on Elsie's face saved Sefton
from an outburst of laughter. He did not fail to grasp the gravity of
the situation, but could not blind himself to the farcical side of the
case.

"This is the most extraordinary thing I ever heard of," he said. "My
duty lies quite plainly before me. I ought to go up to Lady Starfield
at once and tell her everything that has happened. Only in a big
crash like this where a Society hostess is merely on nodding terms
with half her guests could such a thing happen. My dear Elsie, do you
know what a serious thing it is to be the accomplice of a man for
whose apprehension a warrant has been issued? Lady Starfield is very
particular, too, and she would never forgive us if she knew that we had
imported an embryo convict into her house. Of course, I will not say
a word about this affair, and I must devise some means of getting you
both away without a moment's delay. A flight of steps at the end of
the next room leads to the garden which, for the time being, has been
transformed into a huge conservatory. You will be safe there, and not
likely to encounter Samuel Weiss. Leave everything to me, and I will
see you come safely out of the trouble."

"You are more than good," Elsie said gratefully, "and I will do
everything you tell me. Only, please, do not be any longer than you
can help. I have had such a trying day, a day which would break down
anybody who has not led so healthy and simple a life as I have. Think
what it has been for me since I left the old place this morning. A
little more, and I will collapse."

Sefton nodded in sympathy and was presently lost in the crowd. A sense
of loneliness and desolation came over Elsie. She had to wrestle hard
with an impulse to fly from the house and leave Rashleigh to his fate.
Still, the temptation had to be resisted at all costs, and Elsie was a
little more herself when she reached the great tent outside filled with
most luxurious foliage. There was something calm and soothing about it,
and Elsie felt strong enough to wait further developments. Half an hour
passed, and she was growing impatient for Sefton's return. A dance had
just finished, and there was a rush of dancers into the comparatively
cool winter garden. Then, suddenly, a man brushed through the screen of
palms in front of Elsie's seat and glanced at her casually as he passed.

For the life of her Elsie could not restrain the desire to shrink back
and hide her face. Perhaps had she done so the thing would have passed,
but an exclamation left her lips and her face had grown white and
guilty-looking. The man stopped and gazed at her insolently.

"I never forget a face," he said. "A fine memory for faces and dates
has been the foundation of my fortune. Do you happen to know who I am
young lady?"

Elsie was regaining her self-possession by this time, and looked the
speaker in the face, with a cold and haughty expression.

"Really, I have not the faintest idea," she said. "I never saw you
before."

The man laughed unpleasantly. His short, fat figure and his vulgar
features, seemed strangely out of place in refined surroundings, but,
as Elsie had already heard, there were no social barriers where money
was concerned.

"That may be," Weiss replied. "I am quite prepared to believe that you
never cast eyes on me till this moment. There is an old-fashioned law
that more people know Tom Fool, than Tom Fool knows. I have seen you
before and not so very long ago either. It was in Piccadilly this very
night."

Elsie looked eagerly about her for some means of escape. She began to
wonder if Sefton would never return. It was of no use arguing with this
man who had the dogged, determined nature of one who listens to no
reasons but his own. Unless something speedily happened, Elsie would
be dragged before Lady Starfield and the most disgraceful scandal must
come out.

"You are exceedingly rude," she said. "It is impossible you can be one
of Lady Starfield's guests."

"That has got nothing to do with it," Weiss said surlily. "You are one
of the two people who stole my motor car, and I will swear to you in
any court in England. You are an adventuress, that's what you are--an
audacious minx, who has forced her way into this house to pick up all
she can in the way of valuables. It is not the first time such a thing
has been done, but it is unfortunate you hit upon the very house that I
was visiting. Come, turn out your pockets, and let us see what you have
managed to get hold of."

Tears stood in Elsie's eyes and trembled on the lashes. Was Sefton
never coming? She made one last despairing effort.

"The man is mad," she said, scornfully. "I tell you. I know nothing of
you. If you dare to insult me any further----"

"Oh, come, none of that," he said coarsely. "You've got to accompany me
to Lady Starfield, and if you are a friend of hers, I'll apologise and
there will be an end of the matter. Now then."

The man laid a rough hand upon Elsie's arm and dragged her from her
seat. She was on the verge of a confession, when, to her great relief,
Sefton appeared. She was face to face with the man who held Gerald
Rashleigh's honor in his hands. But Elsie had not much time to think of
that. She noted, however, that Sefton had taken in the situation at a
glance, and was prepared to deal with it.

"What is the meaning of this?" he asked.

"Something about a motor-car," Elsie managed to say. "This--this
gentleman accuses me of running away with his motor car, and also of
coming here to pick up such valuables as I can lay my hands on. Will
you be good enough to tell him, Edgar, that you have known me nearly
all your life? Perhaps it may be the means----"

"Certainly," said Sefton sternly. "I have known Miss Vane for many
years. She is not in the habit of frequenting houses for the sake of
ill-gotten gains. You have behaved extremely foolishly, Mr. Weiss, and
I hope you will apologise."

Weiss was not that sort or man, for he shook his head stubbornly. His
eyes blazed with anger.

"Oh; it's you, Mr. Sefton," he said. "There is nothing against you, but
as I told this young woman just now----"

Sefton's hands suddenly clenched and his arm reached out in the
speaker's direction. He had almost forgotten himself in an access of
rage, and it was only Elsie's imploring glance that saved Weiss from
measuring his length upon the ground.

"I never forget a face," the latter repeated. "It may be that the lady
was only indulging in some such freak as, I am told, happens in Society
sometimes, but I don't like those tricks played upon me, and I won't
stand them. I am certain that your young friend and another woman ran
off with my car to-night and, what is more, nearly killed the policeman
who caught them in the act of hiding the car in a back yard. I won't
apologise till I know that I am wrong, and nothing you can say or do
shall prevent me from laying the facts before Lady Starfield and taking
her opinion on them. You can't stop that anyway."

Once more Sefton's fist clenched, and once more Weiss was within an ace
of physical pain.

"You are mad," Sefton said. "And despite your money a very good house
in London will be closed to you if you persist in making a scandal of
this business. You are mistaken----"

"I shall be willing to admit it," Weiss said doggedly. "The thing lies
entirely in your hands. If this young lady will come with me and have
the matter out with Lady Starfield, no more need be said. If I am
wrong, I shall be ready to apologise and, what's more, I will give her
a diamond necklace as a solace for her wounded feelings."

"Upon my word, you are an impossible creature," Sefton said coldly. "Do
you suppose that Miss Vane would accept a present from you? All she
asks you to do is to believe that she has nothing to do with your late
adventure----"

"Nonsense," Weiss exclaimed. "She is the girl right enough. I haven't
the slightest doubt about that. And how am I to know that you are not
shielding her for some purpose of your own?"

Sefton repressed his anger manfully.

"Very well," he said. "It shall be as you like, only I will ask you to
remain while I induce Lady Starfield to accompany me here where there
are fewer people about, and that strident voice of yours is not likely
to attract so much attention."

As Sefton spoke he shot a significant glance at Elsie. Doubtless he
had formed some plan to extricate her out of this terrible impasse. A
few anxious moments passed, and then there appeared, not the expected
form of Sefton, but the disguised figure of Gerald Rashleigh. With
the greatest possible difficulty Elsie kept her countenance. She was
wondering what Weiss would say or do if he only knew who was beneath
the apparel of the lady's maid. Rashleigh was evidently prepared for
his part, for he cast his eyes down and demurely announced that he
understood Elsie had sent for him. He ignored Weiss, who was looking at
him with eyes that were starting from his head.

"Well, if this doesn't beat all," he burst out. "Hang me! if this isn't
the other one. I shall wake up presently and find that I have been
dreaming."

Rashleigh took no notice, but intimated that Lady Starfield wished to
see Elsie at once.

"She is in the little room at the end of the tent, miss," he said. "If
you will be so good as to step that way----"

"Yes, and I'll step that way, too," Weiss muttered. "Come along, we'll
have it out together. This is either the greatest piece of audacity or
the most cunning trick I have ever encountered in my life, and I have
seen a good few."

Elsie took no notice of him. She felt certain that some scheme had
been evolved whereby she was to be rid of her tormentor. The trio
advanced across the big tent to a smaller screened enclosure beyond.
Beyond this again was the open garden, with the stars shining in the
clear blue sky. The cool, crisp breath of the night was like wine to
Elsie's jaded nerves, and a new courage filled her veins. She took a
pace backwards at a sign from Rashleigh which was unseen by Weiss. The
next moment Rashleigh stumbled against the form of the obese financier,
and together the pair staggered into the garden. Then, like a flash,
Rashleigh leapt at the other man and bore him to the ground. A sweet,
pungent smell filled the air as Weiss' head disappeared into a large
black cloth; there was a short desperate squirming, and the fat man lay
still as if in death.

"Go back to the ballroom at once," Rashleigh said breathlessly.




CHAPTER IX.--A WELCOME INTERRUPTION.

Elsie stared helplessly at Rashleigh. The whole episode had been so
extraordinarily rapid and dramatic that it had taken her entirely by
surprise and her faculties were more or less numbed. Perhaps Rashleigh
noted something of this, for he showed no irritation or impatience with
her, but touched her gently on the arm.

"I dare say you are astonished," he said, "but not more than myself.
Fancy plunging headlong into an adventure like this; but we are wasting
time and increasing our danger."

"You haven't killed him," Elsie whispered.

"I am afraid not," Rashleigh said grimly. "I should very much like
to have done so, and I don't think my conscience would have troubled
me, though I suppose the law would call it murder. I have drugged the
fellow with a mixture of chloroform----"

"But where did you get it?" Elsie asked.

"That was Sefton's scheme. How lucky you met him! The whole thing must
have come out if you hadn't done so."

Elsie shuddered at the bare idea of it. It was indeed a blessed thing
that Sefton had happened to be at Lady Starfield's dance.

"I left him to settle matters," she said, "feeling that I was safe in
his hands. But how did he arrange things so promptly?"

"As far as I can gather from Sefton's hurried information, he could
think of no other plan but the desperate expedient of drugging Weiss.
He hastened to the nearest chemist's shop and procured the chloroform.
Then he sent for me as if he were conveying a message from you. It had
come to this, you see, either Weiss' mouth had to be closed for a time,
or the scandal with all its possibilities would have become public here
and now."

"How long is he likely to be unconscious?" Elsie asked.

Rashleigh shrugged his shoulders indifferently, and intimated that
Weiss was of secondary importance compared with other things.

"Why should we trouble about the scoundrel?" he said. "He has been the
ruin of me. When he comes to he is sure to make a fuss, but by that
time we shall be out of the house and in a place of safety. There is
bound to be a row, but no human ingenuity could prevent that."

"All the same, I don't like it," Elsie protested. "It is getting very
cold, and it might be dangerous----"

Elsie broke off suddenly, conscious that she and Rashleigh were no
longer alone. She was glad to find herself once more in the tent, for
the night was very chilly and the cold penetrated her flimsy garments.
She had hardened her heart to think no more about Weiss, and was
therefore a little startled to see his daughter. Troubled and agitated
as she was, Elsie was struck by the statuesque beauty of the girl, but
considered that her perfect features would have been more attractive
had they been tinged with a little animation. It was the face of one
who wears a mask behind which all emotions were concealed. The girl
came forward and addressed Elsie coldly.

"What is going on?" she asked. "I came to look for my--Mr. Weiss. I
am sure he was here just now, and I am equally positive that he did
not return to the ballroom by means of the passage. I did not intrude
upon your conversation, neither do I desire to know what you were
quarrelling about."

"Quarrelling?" Elsie stammered. "I don't understand."

"I think you do," the girl went on in her icy way. "I overheard a few
words of the conversation. It seems almost an incredible thing, were
it not that incredible things are happening every day, but did not Mr.
Weiss accuse you of being one of the two people who stole our car in
Piccadilly to-night?"

"He certainly did," Elsie was fain to admit. "But I assure you----"

Words faltered on Elsie's lips, but refused to be uttered. She could
not tell a lie with those dark eyes fixed upon her, and whatever the
other girl was--whether she was of the same flesh and blood as Weiss or
not--Elsie felt that she at least was honest and honorable.

"I see you cannot deny it," Iza Weiss said coldly. "Now I come to look
at you, I know my surmise is right. I do not intend to stir a yard from
here until I know what you have done with my father. It is singular
that a girl with a face as good and pure as yours should be mixed up in
such a low and disgraceful adventure."

Elsie turned an imploring glance to Rashleigh, who stood demurely
by, not for a moment forgetting his role of lady's maid. There was a
twinkle in his eye and an encouraging smile on his lips now.

"Perhaps I may be permitted to explain," he said. "Evidently my
disguise is excellent. Don't you know me, Iza?"

The tall, pale girl gave a cry as Rashleigh pushed back the hair from
his forehead and removed the glasses he was wearing. No longer had
Elsie cause to wish that Iza Weiss would show some animation. Her face
flamed and a look of anxious tenderness crept into her dark eyes.

"Gerald," she whispered. "You here and in this guise! What does it
mean? Surely it is not possible----"

"No woman is absolutely perfect," Rashleigh said, somewhat coldly. "And
you, Iza, are no exception to the rule. There is only one little flaw
in your character, and that is a certain unreasoning jealousy. This
young lady was a complete stranger to me a few hours ago, and yet,
despite that, she has run the gravest risks to save me from gaol. If
you want a further testimonial to her character you had better consult
Edgar Sefton, who has known her for many years, but there is no time to
explain now."

"I am very sorry," Iza said. "I ought never to have doubted you,
Gerald. Perhaps later--but what have you done with my father? Really,
his presence is greatly needed."

"But we had to take steps to get him out of the way. He would have made
a fearful scene, which would inevitably have resulted in landing Miss
Vane and me in gaol. To make a long story short, he is lying in the
garden suffering from an overdose of chloroform. If you can suggest any
way----"

"Now, where has that man got to?" a high-pitched voice suddenly broke
in upon the conference. "That is the worst of being a millionaire,
everybody seems to want his advice. My dear young lady, who has
spirited your father away?"

Lady Starfield herself uttered the words. She came smiling down the
tent in her eager way. She looked at Elsie as if trying to recollect
where she had seen her face. It was fortunate that Edgar Sefton came
hard upon the heels of his hostess.

"That is an exceedingly taking dress of yours," Lady Starfield said. "I
don't know whether you are a bride or not, but you ought to be, because
that dress suits you so well. Of course it is very reprehensible of
me, but I have forgotten your name. I hope you will not be angry if I
ask----"

"It would be an odd thing if you did remember everybody's name, Lady
Starfield," Sefton put in. "And that is why you Society hostesses are
allowed great latitude. Still, if you never take the trouble to try to
recollect people, your memory is liable to play you false. Don't tell
her your name, Elsie, let her try to guess it. Now, Lady Starfield,
here is a chance for you. You shall have half an hour to think it over,
and when you do arrive at the right name, you will wonder why you
didn't think of it before."

Elsie forced a smile to her lips, and breathed more freely. For the
moment at any rate, Sefton had saved the situation. Lady Starfield
tapped him with her fan.

"You tease!" she said. "But it shall be exactly as you say. Really,
one might make a new game out of this kind of thing and give handsome
prizes to the hostess who guessed the name of the greatest number of
her guests. I want Mr. Weiss badly. I am interested in some shares
about which his advice would be invaluable."

"I'll go and find him," Sefton said. "He had a fancy to look round the
garden. Pray go back to your guests and make your mind easy. You shall
see your millionaire."

Lady Starfield skipped away perfectly satisfied and absolutely ignorant
of the drama that was being enacted under her eyes. Sefton took out his
handkerchief and wiped his heated forehead.

"That was a close call," he said. "Thank goodness! my nerves are in
good order or they would have been put to a severe test to-night. And
now what is to be done?"

The problem was solved so far as the little group was concerned, by the
unexpected appearance of the man who was the cause of all the trouble.
Rashleigh saw him first, and dropped discreetly into the background.
Obviously he could take no part in the play, seeing he was supposed
to be nothing but a humble dependent, a mere lady's maid. Weiss came
forward furiously. Despite the severe struggle he had recently gone
through, he did not appear any the worse for it, save that his face
had a blue-white tinge from the effects of the drug. His aspect was
threatening.

"You--you----," he stammered. "I'll teach you to serve a man in my
position like this. I am going straight to Lady Starfield to tell her
everything. Scandal or no scandal, I will insist on having the police
called in and the guilty parties punished. Now stand out of my way,
for----"

"No!" The word came crisp and clear from Iza Weiss's lips. "You won't
do anything of the kind. Understand once and for all, you will do
nothing of the sort."

Commonplace as the words were, they had an extraordinary effect on
Weiss. The angry look faded from his face, and he became the picture
of perplexity and confusion. His mouth hung open, and he bore an
extraordinary resemblance of a fat overgrown boy, just deprived of some
dainty morsel.

"Why not?" he asked in whining tones. "I tell you that girl yonder was
the very one who stole our car----"

"I know it," Iza said, in the same calm, dispassionate tones. "You
shall hear the young lady admit as much herself if you like, but you
are to do nothing and say nothing, and let the whole thing pass as if
it had wholly escaped your memory. Now if you dare go outside these
instructions it will be the worse for you."

Elsie wondered if she were dreaming, or if her senses had failed to
take in the full significance of this extraordinary speech. It was not
a daughter speaking to a father, but some queen rebuking a rebellious
subject and threatening to end his life if he did not make an ample
apology for his misdeeds. Iza stood motionless as a statue. Not for an
instant did she doubt the effect of her words.

"It's a great shame," Weiss almost whimpered. "I don't see why I should
be treated like this and then have to behave----"

"Really it does not matter what you think," she said. "There are things
connected with this business of which you know nothing, and of which
you are likely to remain in ignorance. It was fortunate for me and for
others that I came on the scene at the moment when I might be useful.
You have nothing to gain and nothing to lose by maintaining strict
silence about to-night's absurd adventure. Surely, you have seen enough
of the world to know that Miss Vane is a lady, and that she meant
nothing disgraceful when she rode off in our motor to-night. The whole
thing was an escapade, which would only make you the laughing stock of
your friends if they knew about it. But why do I waste time arguing
with you in this fashion? As I said just now, you must not mention this
thing again. I don't ask you to promise not to do so, because I know my
word is law to you. And now be so good as to go back to the ballroom,
as Lady Starfield is anxious to have your advice on some business
affair."

Without another word of protest, Weiss crept away bearing a strong
resemblance to an overgrown dog that had been chastened for some fault.
Iza watched him with her marvellous dark eyes, until he had disappeared.

"I dare say you are astonished at what you have just heard," she
said, still speaking in the same icy tones, "but there are reasons
why my--why Mr. Weiss should do exactly what I told him. But this
is neither the time nor place to discuss that. I hope to have an
opportunity of seeing Miss Vane again, for I confess that I have taken
a great liking to her, and another danger threatens of which she knows
nothing."




CHAPTER X.--AN UNEXPECTED VISITOR.

Without waiting for more remarks Iza Weiss walked away towards the
ballroom, her manner implying that for the present, she did not desire
to take further part in the drama.

"I had no idea you knew Miss Weiss so well," Elsie said, as she turned
to Rashleigh. "You are old friends."

"We are rather more than that," Rashleigh replied. "It is a profound
secret, even from those impossible people whom Iza calls her parents,
but we are engaged to be married. There are urgent reasons why
this should be kept a secret and you and Sefton will respect my
confidence. Iza has got us out of a very tight place, and we ought to
be exceedingly grateful. It is past the time when my friend should be
waiting to convey me to a place of safety, and the sooner we get out of
the house the better."

"No doubt about that," Sefton said heartily. "I had better call a cab
for you two, so that you can slip away without delay. We need not
trouble about Lady Starfield. She is very kind and good-natured, but
extremely forgetful, and no doubt the little bride whose name she could
not recollect has already faded from her memory."

A little later Elsie found herself once more in a cab with Rashleigh.
When she was safe, reaction set in, and she trembled in every limb.
She was about to faint, but contrived to throw off the feeling. She
endeavored to keep her mind fixed on the point that she had been
successful in the night's task. Whether or not the police had followed
her from Regent Terrace did not matter now, for most assuredly they had
afterwards been thrown off the scent. The cab stopped at Rashleigh's
instigation, and he got out.

"I shall never forget your kindness," he said fervently, "but I will
try to prove all I feel on some more fitting occasion. My friends are
waiting close by, though you cannot see them, and in a minute or two I
shall be absolutely safe."

Rashleigh turned away, and in a moment later was swallowed up in the
darkness. With eyes half closed and senses drugged with fatigue, Elsie
threw herself back in the cab, and recollected nothing till she found
herself in the hall of Vera Barrington's house, trying to give the
latter some sort of description of what had happened during the last
few momentous hours.

"Really, I can't recollect anything," she said helplessly. "All I can
contrive to keep in my mind is the fact that your brother is safe. He
told me to tell you that, and that you were to have no more anxiety
about him. As to the rest, it is all mixed up in my head in a most
extraordinary jumble. It will come clear after I have had a good sleep,
yet there was one thing I was very anxious to tell you. Oh, yes, I know
what it was. Can I have some sandwiches and a small glass of wine? I am
famished with the want of food."

"Poor, dear, brave little creature," Vera Barrington said, as she
stooped and kissed Elsie affectionately. "I had not forgotten that.
Come into the dining-room and I'll look after your creature comforts.
And I promise that I will do my best to restrain my curiosity till
to-morrow, eager as I am to know."

Elsie had a confused dream of eating a few delicious sandwiches and
drinking a glass of champagne. Then it seemed to her that someone
carried her upstairs and undressed her, and that presently, she was
lying on a couch of down and floating through rose-colored space. When
she opened her eyes again it was well into the forenoon, and Vera
Barrington was standing by the side of her bed.

"How do you feel?" the latter asked.

"Perfectly splendid," Elsie replied. "You will be glad to know that I
have not forgotten a single detail of what happened last night, and
after I have had some breakfast I will tell you everything."

Elsie found an attentive listener in Vera Barrington. Not one word of
interruption came from her till the whole of the exacting story was
concluded.

"You have behaved splendidly," the actress said. "And I am glad to find
that Dora Carney and myself were not mistaken in you. With a face like
yours, you are bound to possess courage and resolution. Believe me, you
will not find me ungrateful. There is not one girl in a million who
would have done this kind of thing for a total stranger. If I could
find words----"

"But what have I done?" Elsie protested. "And, remember, you have been
exceedingly kind to me. If it had not been for your great goodness,
I should not have lain snug and warm in that comfortable bed last
night. It looked at one time as if I should spend the weary hours on
a seat in one of the parks. One favor I wish to ask of you. You know
that I possess nothing in the world except my wardrobe and a very good
education. If you could only find me some situation or some kind of
home or institution----"

"Bless the girl, what is she talking about!" Vera Barrington exclaimed.
"But I see you are brave and independent, and I respect you all the
more for it. But you are going to take your time over it and pick and
choose, even if it takes you twelve months. I owe you a deep debt of
gratitude, and I shall be grieved if you do not consent to remain here
as my guest till you can find something perfectly suitable. Now, don't
interrupt me, please, because I have only a few minutes to spare before
I go to rehearsal. I will be back about three, and we can have a long
afternoon together. Meanwhile, you will be only too glad to stay in the
house and spend a lazy morning."

Elsie was disposed to fall in with the suggestion, but she was not
destined to have the morning entirely to herself, for a little
before one a servant came to say that Mr. Edgar Sefton was in the
drawing-room, and wished a few minutes' conversation with Miss Vane.

Sefton was delighted to see Elsie. He held her hand in his warmly.
There was a look in his eyes that brought the color to her cheeks.
Somehow her heart warmed towards him.

"This is a wrong time to call," he said, "but I longed to know if you
got back safely. You are interested in the welfare of Gerald Rashleigh,
whom I believe to be innocent of the charges against him. I wish you
would tell Miss Barrington what I say, and ask her if I could be of any
assistance in the matter. Rashleigh is an old friend, and I will do all
I can to help to clear his name. Besides, I owe it to him for bringing
us together again. When I saw you last night the recollection of the
happy days came back to me with vivid force, and I realised why I had
remained a bachelor."

The color crept into Elsie's cheeks, but, audacious as the speech was,
she could not feel angry with the speaker. She had never forgotten
Edgar Sefton, and was filled with a great gladness in the knowledge
that he had not forgotten her.

"You must not speak like that," she said gently. "I am quite sure you
do not mean----"

"I mean every word I say and more," Sefton protested. "I am most
fortunate to have met you again. Many a time I had intended to run down
to the old rectory to see how little Elsie was getting on, but Fate
always intervened. And now, as to your future. Tell me what you are
going to do? A little later I hope to induce you to place that future
in my hands, unless I have left it too late and there is some person so
happy as----"

"Indeed, there is no one," Elsie said, tell-tale color still mantling
her cheeks. "We met so few people--but, don't you think we are getting
on a little too fast, Edgar? My father gave me an excellent education,
and I could take a responsible post in a high school, but there is
not the same anxiety about the future that there was yesterday. Miss
Barrington has pressed me to stay as her guest for the present, and
I shall be glad to do so, because I know she would feel very much
hurt if I left her. Besides, my dear Edgar, to be practical, I have
nowhere else to go. The more I think over matters, the clearer it grows
that everything has fallen out for the best. In the first place, I
have made a sincere friend of Miss Barrington; and, secondly, I have
found you again. Now that I have you both to rely on I shall be less
anxious about what is going to happen to me. And, another thing, I have
been cured of my foolish ambition. It is a life that would have been
unsuitable to me."

The conversation drifted into more personal channels, and then Sefton
rose to go. He seemed reluctant to depart. He hoped that Elsie would
allow him to call frequently. There was a fresh joy and gladness in the
girl's heart when she was again alone. One man cared for her more than
for any other woman. How strange the world seemed, how different from
the grey old planet which had been so depressing yesterday! Thoughts
like these were still running in Elsie's mind when Vera Barrington
returned. When they had lunch they settled down for a long cosy chat.
Naturally the events of the night before kept cropping up in the course
of conversation.

"What struck me as most strange about the whole business," Elsie said
musingly, "was the extraordinary way in which Miss Weiss seemed to rule
her father. He behaved like a man who is hypnotised. She had only to
say a thing and he obeyed her as implicitly as a schoolboy obeys his
master. If the situation had not been so full of danger, I should have
never met Miss Weiss, though probably your brother told you----"

"My brother told me nothing," Vera replied. "I didn't even know there
was a Miss Weiss. But she must be an uncommon girl if all you say about
her is true, and I have not the least reason to doubt it. I don't see
how it is to be managed, but I should like to become acquainted with
the beautiful creature who has promised to become Gerald's wife. How
strange that one so refined and pure should be the daughter of a vulgar
person like Weiss. But we must not forget that there is my brother
to consider. I assume he is safe because we have heard nothing from
him, and, indeed, if anything had happened we should have seen it in
the papers this morning. And now, what would you like to do? Will you
dine with me, or wait till later? Perhaps you would like to go to
the theatre? Who is it, Wilson? I told you I could see no one this
afternoon."

The servant hesitated, holding out a tray with a card upon it. He was
understood to say that the visitor had come on pressing business. Vera
glanced at the card and her expression changed.

"Ask her in," she said. "Elsie, here is an extraordinary thing. My
caller is Miss Weiss herself."




CHAPTER XI.--THE ICE MAIDEN.

"How very singular!" Elsie exclaimed. "Fancy, the one being that is
uppermost in our minds appearing like this! I suppose you don't happen
to know anything about her?"

"Nothing whatever," Vera admitted. "But we shan't solve the problem by
chattering. Let her come in, and we shall see what she has to say for
herself."

Iza Weiss entered the room and bowed in her cold, stately fashion to
Vera and her guest. The former admitted that Elsie's description of
the stranger's personal appearance was not exaggerated, and yet she
would have been much more charming but for that icy mask which made her
almost repellent. Looking at her in the broad light of day, Elsie could
not help admiring the courage of the man who had asked this woman to
be his wife. Perhaps there were times when Iza Weiss could unbend, and
Elsie could imagine her to be very charming at such moments.

"I hope you will pardon my intrusion," the visitor said quietly. "But
after what happened last night, I could not keep away. I am wondering
if Mr. Rashleigh told his sister that we are something more than
acquaintances."

"Indeed. I heard nothing till my friend here returned," Vera said. "Of
course, she has told me everything that happened last night, and when
my brother informed her that he was engaged to be married to you, she
was naturally very much surprised."

A bitter smile flickered over the visitor's face.

"I can understand that," he said. "But we will discuss these matters
presently. It is imperative that I should know all the circumstances of
what happened last night without delay. But tell me, Miss Barrington,
is your brother safe?"

The last words came out impetuously as if the girl, for the moment, had
feelings and emotions like other people.

"So far as I know, yes," Vera replied. "We made very elaborate
precautions. In ordinary circumstances, my brother would have given
himself up and faced the consequences, but it was vital to his
interests that he should have a few days' liberty. I presume from what
you say that he has not tried to communicate with you."

"It would be too dangerous," Iza said, "seeing that I am living under
the same roof as the man who is supposed to have suffered at the hands
of your brother."

"You are speaking of your father?" Vera asked.

"Oh, yes," Iza said, with biting contempt. "I had forgotten. But we
are travelling too fast. I want to know how Miss Vane came into this
business, and what she was doing at Lady Starfield's last night."

Vera gave a detailed account of the way in which Elsie had come on the
scene and been dragged into the whirlpool in which so many beings were
involved. Iza listened with wrapt attention, her dark eyes fixed on the
speaker's face. For a moment or two the mask dropped from her features,
and she seemed to grow soft and human. Here was a girl to like and to
trust, Elsie thought.

"That was very good and kind of you," Iza said with a tremor in her
voice. "It was a splendid thing to undertake on behalf of a stranger.
Under Providence, you are going to be the means of saving a good man's
reputation, to say nothing of the happiness of one who has known little
else but misery during the past five years. More than than this I
cannot say at present. The result must be left to time."

"Still, I must confess I am a wee bit disappointed," Elsie said. "I
thought you had come to tell some interesting story, so far as Mr.
Rashleigh is concerned----"

"Do not judge me harshly," Iza said. "I came here to make friends with
you both. Gerald wanted me long ago to be introduced to his sister,
but I refused on the grounds of danger. But after what happened last
night, I feel bound to undertake certain risks. At any rate, I had a
great longing to see more of the brave girl who did so much for the
man I love. You are thinking that I am not a girl capable of a great
affection. Ah, if you could only look into my heart!"

"One never can tell," Elsie said quietly. "But now, as to this charge
which is hanging over the head of Mr. Rashleigh. Like the rest of us,
you regard him as innocent."

"Innocent!" Iza cried passionately. "Of course he is! He is the victim
of a foul conspiracy set on foot by--no, I must not mention the name. I
tell you this is one of the blackest and vilest things ever perpetrated
by the wickedest man it has ever been my ill fortune to know. But I
mean to get to the bottom of the whole business before I am done, and
when the time comes you must help me. They say that Gerald Rashleigh
has taken advantage of the confidence of Samuel Weiss to rob him of
twenty thousand pounds. Oh, they have made out their case clearly
enough; trust them for that! The money is missing. It has been traced
to Gerald; it has even been passed through his private banking account.
On the face of it, his explanation of the circumstances sounds wild
to the last degree. No jury would believe it. And yet things just as
extravagant are happening every day, as the newspapers testify."

Iza had forgotten her coldness and reserve. The words poured from her
lips in a burning stream, as she paced restlessly up and down the room.
She was utterly transformed, and Elsie could see in her now nothing but
a very woman aflame to right the wrongs of the man she loved.

"Pardon me," Vera suggested, "but I hope I am not going to hurt your
feelings by what I am saying. Am I to infer from your manner that this
cruel conspiracy against my brother has been set on foot by your--I
mean Mr. Weiss?"

"You need not trouble about my feelings in the matter," Iza laughed
bitterly. "I am not going to lose my temper because you make an
accusation like that. Mr. Weiss is at the bottom of the business. In
fact, he has engineered the whole thing."

"That is a painful confession for a daughter to make," Vera said. "It
must be a great shock to you."

"Oh, there are daughters and daughters," Iza cried. "You will know
sooner or later why I have nothing but contempt for the man I call my
father. I wish I could tell you everything. I wish I dared take you
into my confidence, but there are things I must not speak about, at
least not yet. One matter I must allude to before I forget it. Like all
men of his class, Mr. Weiss has satellites who do his dirty work, and
conspicuous amongst them is Roger Carney, whom, I believe, you have the
misfortune to call your uncle."

"That is so," Vera admitted. "A degraded wretch, a blackmailer, who at
one time, incredible as it may seem, was regarded as one of the most
promising officers in the British Army. He has a daughter, for whom I
entertain a sincere affection, otherwise he would never see the inside
of this house. But you don't mean to tell me that Roger Carney is in
this conspiracy against my brother?"

"That I am not sure about," Iza went on. "I have my suspicions, and I
think that I shall not be doing wrong in taking Dora Carney into my
confidence."

"But you don't know her," Elsie exclaimed.

"Not yet, but I want you to bring us together. At least, I want you to
invent some pretext whereby I can become acquainted with Dora without
the introduction coming through you. You will, therefore, see the
necessity of keeping my visit a secret. It would never do for Samuel
Weiss to know that I had been calling upon Gerald Rashleigh's sister."

Vera saw the need of caution clearly, and already was casting about in
her mind for some means by which her visitor and Dora Carney might be
brought together.

"Can't you manage it yourself?" she asked. "According to what you say,
Roger Carney is a frequent visitor at your house. You might go out
of your way to make friends with him, and announce your intention of
calling on his daughter."

"Yes, I might do that," Iza said, somewhat doubtfully. "But it is a
loathsome thing even to be barely civil to a man like Carney. Hitherto
I have treated him with the greatest contempt, and I fear that he hates
me proportionately."

"I don't think you need worry about that," Vera said with a smile.
"Roger Carney can always put his pride and his passion in his pocket
whenever money is to be made, and he would undoubtedly encourage a
friendship between his daughter and the only child of the rich Mr.
Weiss."

"Very well," Iza assented. "We will leave it at that. There are many
difficulties and dangers ahead. We must have patience and courage, and
no doubt everything will come out right in the long run. All I want is
justice for Gerald, and freedom for myself. People call me proud and
cold and distant. They say I have no heart, and no feeling. If I had
not learned to restrain these, I should either have gone mad or else
felt myself impelled to rid the world of one of the greatest scoundrels
that Providence for its own inscrutable purpose has ever permitted to
live. And now I have one thing to ask in conclusion. I cannot ask you
to come to me, Miss Barrington, but there is no reason why I should not
visit you. May I come when and how I like, and will you tell me when I
am most likely to find you at home?"

"Come, and welcome," Vera said heartily. "I shall always be delighted
to see you, as I am rarely out between twelve and three. If I get any
message from my brother, I will not fail to let you know."

Iza rose somewhat reluctantly, as if loth to depart from that congenial
atmosphere. She looked wistfully at Vera and half held out her hand.

"I hope you won't mind," she said. "I am terribly lonely, and I am
afraid I am too prone to shut myself within myself like a sensitive
plant. If you could only, both of you, be friends with me, I should be
the most grateful----"

The speaker broke off suddenly, as if unable to continue. She could not
have done better or made a more eloquent appeal to her listeners. With
the quickness of the born actress Vera read Iza's feelings like an open
book. She took the other by the shoulders and kissed her affectionately.

"There," she said, "that will show you what my feelings towards you
are. Silly child, can't you realise that there are others who have
their trials and tribulations? Elsie has been in the house long enough
to know the cross I have to bear. Now run away and say no more about
it, and come back whenever you please, always bearing in mind that I am
going to be proud of the girl who is going to be my sister-in-law."

Iza murmured something about kindness, and a feeling of happiness, to
which she had been a stranger. She was finding the world a better and a
brighter place than it had been an hour ago. She walked along Regent's
Park, her head high in the air, a smile upon her parted lips. She was
so transformed, so entirely different, that Sefton, going towards
Vera's house, almost failed to recognise her. Could this really be the
ice Maiden? Any doubts on the subject were dispelled by Iza holding out
her hand to him.

"I believe you were going to pass me," she said. "We may be nothing
but acquaintances, but I think that last night might have placed us
upon a somewhat different footing. I presume you are going to see Miss
Barrington."

"That is my intention," Sefton admitted. "And if I may make a guess, I
should say you were just returning from there. By the way, that reminds
me, I have not yet thanked you for saving us from a dreadful scandal
last night. It is strange to find Mr. Weiss's daughter taking such an
interest in Gerald Rashleigh."

"I do take a great interest in him," Iza said with rising color, "and
if you will tell Miss Barrington that you met me she will probably
tell you why I am on the side of her brother. I understand that you
are his good friend also. But I must not detain you longer, for I have
serious work to do. It is fortunate that Gerald has so many brave and
determined allies to fight his battles for him."

Iza shook hands with Sefton warmly and went her way, leaving him
marvelling at the change which had come over the girl who was known to
most young men about town by the name of 'The Ice Maiden.' Many of them
were needy and daring enough to marry anyone in the way of an heiress,
but so far none had ventured to lay himself at Iza's feet.




CHAPTER XII.--THE BLACK POODLE.

The great gong clashed and clattered in the hall, and reverberated
through the mansion in Park Lane, where Samuel Weiss had elected to
take up his abode. It was fortunate for a girl so cultured and tasteful
as Iza that Weiss had taken the furnished house from a noble lord who
could not afford to live in it himself. By the irony of fate, the owner
of the mansion had lost most of his money in the very speculations in
which Weiss was believed to have found his fortune. At any rate, the
house was a museum of artistic and beautiful things, and not even the
presence of Samuel Weiss could defile it.

Iza came slowly down the stairs, a dazzling vision in the white she
always affected. No single ornament broke the severity of her attire,
her face had lost its animation again, and she was once more the cold
statuesque creature which the world knew.

The family were dining alone to-night, a long solemn meal, which was
passed almost in silence. For such small functions Iza would have
infinitely preferred one of the morning rooms, but Weiss loved the
glitter and pomposity of it all. He had a fair eye for color, and loved
to surround himself with the glitter and ostentation of his position.
Half a dozen footmen tumbled over one another in their efforts to find
something to justify their existence.

The meal came to its end at length, to Iza's great relief, and the port
and cigarettes appeared upon the table, and the last of the gorgeous
footmen disappeared. In ordinary circumstances Iza would nave gone to
her own room, but she remained now, outwardly frozen and indifferent,
yet in reality alert to catch any word which might be of use to her
later. She sat by the fire, screening her features with a fan, and
occupied with a large black poodle, which she was teaching to balance
two lumps of sugar on his nose at once. Mrs. Weiss sat at the table,
engaged in eating her third peach, and listening to her husband's
comments upon things in general.

"Heard anything of young Rashleigh?" she asked.

"No, I haven't," Weiss growled. "Though there was very little doubt
that he was hiding himself for a day or two in his sister's house.
Still, the police tell me he has got away, and they have lost trace of
him altogether, confound him! All the same, he is bound to be picked
up sooner or later, especially now that I have offered a reward of a
thousand pounds to anybody instrumental in arresting him."

"Scandalous! disgraceful!" Iza said, without heat or passion. She was
still bending over her dog, her mind apparently concentrated upon her
experiments. "You know that Gerald Rashleigh is an honest and honorable
man in the clutches of a scoundrel--the most contemptible scoundrel
unhanged."

Weiss looked at the speaker with a face distorted with passion.

"That's strong language," he said. "However, you are bound to have your
own way, and we can't prevent you. Why you stay here is the thing that
puzzles me. You hate and despise us both from the bottom of your heart.
You look upon us as dirt beneath your feet, and yet you stay eating our
bread----"

"You know why I stay," Iza said, in the same cold, dispassionate voice.
"I stop because I have a secret to discover, and when that secret is
mine, I shall trouble you no longer; you are bound to be civil to
me, because I know too much. What would not the police give for my
knowledge? What would the authorities at the Cape say if I told them
where they could put their hands upon the notorious Jim Blake? Jim
Blake, the greatest diamond thief who ever smuggled stones out of the
colony. Ah, we could tell a story, Fuss, couldn't we?"

Weiss forced a laugh to his lips; the dog seemed to understand what was
said, for he turned his intelligent head to Weiss, then back to Iza
again, and gravely laid a black paw against the side of his nose. Weiss
laughed once more.

"Wonderful dog, Fuss," he said. "I drink a glass of wine to you, Fuss,
for you are the founder of the family fortunes. Don't go speaking like
that in the house, Iza. Supposing one of the servants heard you, what
would they think?"

"Sometimes I don't seem to care what anybody thinks," Iza said wearily.
"There are moments when this life becomes almost insupportable, and
yet I must drag on for the sake of the secret which you withhold from
me----"

"Which I have got to withhold from you," Weiss growled. "I don't trust
you, my girl. In fact, experience teaches me that it is a mistake to
trust anybody. And don't forget yourself and drive me too far, else,
maybe, you will be sorry for it."

"Oh, I know what you are capable of," Iza said. "You are capable of
murdering me, both of you. You are ready and willing to put me out of
the way. Not so very long ago you very nearly succeeded in doing so,
but I found a means to prevent that, to make you civil to me, though
you would give half your fortune to see me lying in my coffin at the
present moment. But you know now that if any accident happened to me,
or if I died, that a witness from beyond the grave would testify to
the truth. If I cease to exist to-morrow, a certain firm of lawyers
in London would open a particular envelope wherein the whole truth
is written. If they fail to hear from me once a week, they have
instructions to open that packet and read it. If they did so, what
would become of the great millionaire, Samuel Weiss? How much longer
after that would it be before the police captured the notorious Jim
Blake? No, no, I am not in the least afraid of you, though you have
every reason to dread my anger. You keep the secret that I am seeking,
and, in return, I hold my tongue--for the present. Yes, as you said
just now, even the dog could tell a story if he could speak. But, I
presume, you have turned respectable, and those exciting episodes are
done with for ever. When I think of the way in which I was made the
innocent tool, I could almost forget my woman-hood and thrash you."

"Oh, don't keep on like this," Mrs. Weiss implored. "I declare you
get upon my nerves to such an extent that I can hardly eat my dinner.
But you two will never agree about anything. I am going into the
drawing-room, where I may get a bit of peace and quietness."

"That's right," Weiss said approvingly, "and you go, too, Iza."

The ample form of Mrs. Weiss disappeared towards the hall, but Iza made
no attempt to move. She was teaching the dog a fresh trick, which he
seemed to pick up quite in a human fashion.

"I am comfortable where I am," she said. "Besides, now that we are
alone, I have a few words to say to you. You have always accused me
of being cold and self-contained, and caring nothing for anybody but
myself, but like most other people, you are utterly mistaken. To begin
with, I am interested in Mr. Gerald Rashleigh, whom you are trying to
ruin for some purpose of your own."

"What do you mean by that?" Weiss growled. "Do you mean to suggest that
the whole thing is a put-up job----"

"I am certain of it," Iza said calmly. "Of course, it is impossible for
me to follow all the rascally schemes of which you are the author, but
I know that Mr. Rashleigh has robbed you of nothing. Therefore, you
will be good enough to discover that the whole thing is a mistake----"

"The girl's mad," Weiss said hoarsely. "Now, listen to me. You can push
me to a certain extent, and you can make me look small, as you did last
night, for instance. But there are limits beyond which it is dangerous
to shove me. If you choose to defy me, then, do so; tell the story of
Jim Blake and the diamonds and the little black poodle. After that, you
can whistle for the secret of----"

"Mr. Carney to see you, sir," the voice of a servant broke in suddenly.
"He says he is sorry to trouble you at this time of night, but his
business is important."

"Ask him in," Weiss said, at the same time turning a suspicious glance
at Iza.

"You need not mind me," Iza said indifferently. Apparently she was
thinking about nothing but the trick she was teaching the dog. "If
there is anything you want to say to Mr. Carney, you had better take
him into the library where----"

The speech was cut short by the entrance of Carney himself. He was hot
and excited about something, and did not notice the presence of anyone
besides Weiss in the room.

"I have had a bit of real good luck," he said thickly. The man had been
drinking more than was good for him. "It's young Rashleigh. By a mere
fluke----"

"Fool!" Weiss hissed. "Can't you see that we are not alone. And I
am not sure that I haven't changed my mind about Rashleigh. It is
fortunate you came in this evening, because I am very anxious to see
those figures which I asked you to get for me."

Weiss winked solemnly at his visitor, and the latter grinned,
knowingly. He was sober enough to realise that Weiss did not want Iza
to hear anything, but that what he had to say must be jotted down in
writing. The girl was playing with her dog in the same earnest fashion.
She had ignored Carney's presence altogether, as she usually did, and
yet she was following every word intently. She guessed exactly what was
taking place. With an effort she restrained herself from looking up,
when Carney produced a piece of paper on which he seemed to scribble
some figures. Presently the paper was tossed over to Weiss, who grunted
as he cast his eye over the pencil scrawl.

"Good!" he muttered. "You have done very well indeed. Don't stay
loitering here, but go off and see Harris without delay. The figures
are satisfactory, and if you can get Harris to take the same view it
will be a good night's work for you."

Carney discreetly vanished, and Iza rose to her feet. She must see
that scrap of paper at any cost. As she swept by the table, her sleeve
brushed the surface, and the scrap of paper fluttered to the floor.
Then Iza made a little sound with her lips, and the black poodle looked
up eagerly. Iza pointed with her finger to the scrap of paper, and the
dog seemed actually to nod, as if he knew exactly what she required.
As if nothing had happened, Weiss lifted the paper from the floor and
dropped it with affected carelessness on the table. The dog watched him
with a positively human expression.

"Come to the library a moment," Iza said. "I want to show you
something. I had by no means finished what I was going to say when
Carney came in."

Weiss followed obediently. He had forgotten about the paper on the
table. Then, as they were crossing the hall, Iza made another sound
with her lips and immediately the dog turned and crept back into the
dining-room. Ten minutes later Iza was in her own room, which appeared
to be empty. Once more she made a little sound with her lips, and from
under the bed the black poodle crept with the scrap of paper in his
mouth. Iza snatched at it and read as follows:--

"Have found where Rashleigh is hiding. Can lay hands upon him to-morrow
night certain."




CHAPTER XIII.--TO THE SLUMS POST HASTE.

For a while Iza sat gazing into the fire. She was not blind to the
desperate nature of the situation. At the same time she decided that
nothing could be done in a hurry. A false step might mean the ruin of
Gerald Rashleigh's carefully-laid plans. Yet delay was dangerous in the
extreme. Gradually a plan began to shape itself in Iza's mind. There
could be no holding back now.

"I must manage to get out of the house," she said to herself. "In
ordinary circumstances this would be easy, but it is possible he may
have detected my ruse. This thing will have to be carefully worked."

Iza rang the bell. Outwardly she showed no signs of the trouble that
bore so heavily on her mind. She turned to the maid who entered and
bade the latter shut the door.

"I hope there is nothing wrong, miss," the maid said.

"Nothing that you could prevent, Mary," Iza replied. "It is only
another phase of the old trouble. I want you to do something for me at
once. I know I can trust you implicitly. Get a sheet of notepaper and
an envelope--plain paper, mind--and write a letter purporting to be
addressed to me by some intimate friend, say, Mrs. Clayton Philips."

"A kind of forgery, miss?" Mary asked.

"You have guessed it exactly, Mary," Iza went on. "Mrs. Mary Clayton
Philips wants to see me immediately. Seeing you write so good a hand,
the deception will pass easily. Make the note short and mysterious."

"I think I can manage that, miss," the girl said. "And after that what
am I to do with it?"

"Slip out of the house and go to the nearest telephone call office and
ask for a messenger-boy. Give him the letter and a shilling and ask him
to deliver the note. It will be brought to me, and I shall have to sign
for it. What I wish to do is to get out of the house for an hour, and I
want a plausible excuse for doing so. Now run along and get this little
matter settled. There is no time to waste."

Mary departed on her errand, leaving Iza with no doubt as to the
successful way in which she would accomplish her mission. Then, coolly
and calmly, as if she had not a single trouble on her mind, Iza
returned to the dining-room, where Weiss was smoking before the fire.

"I cannot understand," she said presently, "why you tolerate the
presence of that man Carney. Haven't we enough shady people about us
without adding Carney to the number?"

"He is useful to me," Weiss chuckled. "In fact, they are all useful
to me. Besides, the fellow is a gentleman by birth, and can be quite
fascinating when he keeps from the drink. A few years ago he was a good
deal thought of."

"Really?" Iza said coldly. "I should not have thought it. I am told
he has a daughter who is quite different from him. One or two of my
friends who know her say she is charming. What a dreadful fate for any
poor creature to be tied up to such a parent as that!"

"I believe she is a nice girl enough," Weiss said carelessly.

"I am strongly disposed to look her up," Iza went on. "You don't know
where they live?"

Iza asked the question without daring to look at her companion. She
would have given much to know whether or not his suspicions were
aroused, but she had to risk that. But Weiss spoke quite naturally, and
had no hesitation in giving Iza the desired information. The address
did not sound very promising, but it had been obtained, and that was
the great thing. After that Iza turned the conversation adroitly,
and began to speak languidly of other matters. She showed no sign of
perturbation, and by-and-bye a servant came in with an envelope on a
tray.

"An express letter for you, miss," he said.

Iza took the note with a gesture of annoyance. She expressed a hope
that no one wanted her at this time of night. The frown between her
eyes was very artistically done. Nevertheless, she read the letter
carefully. It was well and cleverly written, and calculated to deceive
anybody. Iza tossed it somewhat impatiently on the table, and turned to
the footman.

"I must go out," she said. "Will you please send my maid to my room?
Strange how some folk always seem to be getting into trouble."

Iza walked away, leaving the letter behind her. She knew that Weiss
would read it, which was perhaps the main reason she did not put the
note in her pocket. She had not the least objection to Weiss gratifying
his curiosity.

When she was outside the room, she flew up the stairs, and found her
maid waiting for her.

"It was quite successful, Mary," she said. "I could not have done it
better myself. Now put me out a walking dress, something plain and
unattractive. Then go downstairs and call in a cab. There is no time to
be lost, for I must be back here by midnight. Fortunately, Mr. Weiss
goes to bed early, so he will know nothing about my return."

A little later and the hansom was rolling along in an easterly
direction. With Carney's address fixed in her mind, Iza knew exactly
what to do. The cab crossed Waterloo Bridge at length, and just before
reaching her destination Iza stopped it.

"I am getting down here," she explained. "I suppose you know this part
of London fairly well. Perhaps you can tell me how to find Parker's
Buildings?"

The cab-man intimated that he "rather ought to know the locality, miss,
seeing as how he had been born in the neighborhood."

Parker's Buildings, it appeared, was not very far off, and Iza reached
it soon. She congratulated herself upon having put on plain attire, for
the district was distinctly shady. Seedy-looking men and women lounged
about the pavements. The gutters were full of children. Iza wondered
how the children of the very poor never seemed to have any bedtime.

Parker's Buildings was a large block of tenements more or less attended
to by a gruff-looking porter, who gave Iza the impression of having
spent most of his life in the Army. A judiciously-invested half-crown
produced a certain amount of civility in his manner, and the man
recognised that he was speaking to a lady. He was ready to give any
information in his power.

"I want to see Mr. Carney," Iza explained. "At least, I don't so much
want to see him as to ascertain whether or not he is at home. Will you
find that out without letting him know that I am here? You can easily
manage that?"

There was the suspicion of a wink in the eye of the porter as he
departed on his errand. He came back presently with the information
that Carney was not in.

"He doesn't generally get back before eleven, and it wants some half
hour to that yet; and I won't disguise from you, miss, that nine nights
out of ten when he does come home, he ain't exactly in a fit state to
discuss matters in what you might call an intelligent way."

"I understand," Iza said coldly. "Miss Carney is in, of course? Yes? I
thought so. Take me as far as her room, and I will announce myself."

A minute later Iza was tapping at a door, and a gentle voice bade her
come in. It was a shabby furnished room in the plainest and meanest
fashion, though Iza did not fail to note that the place was both neat
and clean. A pretty girl rose from a chair near a mere handful of fire,
and looked somewhat doubtfully at her visitor. Iza closed the door
behind her.

"Pray don't be afraid of me," she said. "No doubt you have heard your
father mention my name--Iza Weiss."

"Your name is quite familiar," Dora Carney said timidly. "My father has
said more than once----"

The speaker paused and broke off in confusion.

"You need not say more," Iza smiled. "I am aware that your father does
not altogether approve of me. I have never taken any pains to show the
amiable side of my character, for to be candid, I do not altogether
approve of him. My dear child, there is a strain of similarity in our
cases."

"But you are not poor," Dora protested.

"Not in that sense of the word," Iza went on. "I mean as to the men
we call our fathers. We both have reason to despise them. Still, I
can save you much suffering and anxiety, and I want you to let me be
your friend. In the proper sense of the word I have no friend, though
by great good fortune I have made the acquaintance of two girls of
whom I am going to be very fond. I am speaking of Miss Barrington, the
actress, and Miss Elsie Vane."

A smile broke out on Dora's face, and she began to feel less afraid of
her cold and stately visitor.

"I know them both," she said, "though Miss Vane is quite a recent
acquaintance. In fact, I was the means of bringing her and Vera
Barrington together. You see, Miss Barrington has a brother, Gerald
Rashleigh, who is a friend----"

"Of mine," Iza said with a smile. "Till lately he held an important
post in Mr. Weiss's firm. Perhaps you will cease to doubt me when I
tell you that I am engaged to be married to Mr. Rashleigh. You may
think I would not care very much for any man, but you would be wrong,
because I love Gerald from the bottom of my heart. He is a fugitive
from justice at present--but I am wasting your time and mine by going
into this matter, since you were in the plot to get him safely away
from his sister's house. How successful you were----"

"Really successful, I hope," Dora murmured.

"That brings me to the point, and explains the object of my visit. I am
alarmed to discover that Gerald is by no means so safe as we suppose. A
visitor called upon Mr. Weiss to-night and I heard their conversation.
The gist of the interview was summed up in a few words scribbled on a
piece of paper, which the visitor left behind. By a little strategy I
managed to read the paper. Imagine my horror when I learned that the
visitor had discovered Gerald Rashleigh's hiding-place, and he would
be arrested in a few hours. My dear child, can't you guess the name of
that visitor?"

Dora looked up with a puzzled expression on her face. Then suddenly her
features flamed, and a cry escaped her.

"Oh, I know," she said. "It was my father. Not that he has said
anything to me about it. He conceals all his rascalities from me,
and I was not aware till this moment that he knew anything about Mr.
Rashleigh, or most assuredly I should have let Miss Barrington know.
Now, what do you wish me to do? How can I prevent this dreadful thing
from happening? Command me in any way!"

"I thought of a plan as I drove here," Iza said. "Your father is a
pretty frequent visitor at Mr. Weiss's house, and I know something of
his failings. I suppose his downfall is attributable to the cause which
has plunged many a promising man into the depths--I mean the demon
drink."

"You have guessed it correctly," Dora admitted. "It is a curse, and
the worst of it is the victim does not bear all the punishment. His
innocent family have to share the burden with him. Scarcely a night
passes without the repulsive sight of my father in a state of--but I
need not go into that. It is too horrible."

"I am sorry for you," Iza cried. "You must try to benefit now by your
father's weakness. Indeed, I have reckoned upon that as I came along.
You may be sure he has in his pocket the address of the house where
Gerald Rashleigh is hiding. Dora, you must procure that address and let
me have it. If necessary, I will stay here half the night and get it.
My people believe I have gone to see a friend and my maid will wait up
for me. When you hear your father come in, you must hide me in your
bedroom."

"I could manage to do that," Dora said, indicating two doors which led
from the sitting-room. "That is mine on the right. But, tell me, what
will you do if I procure this address for you?"

"We will talk about that presently," Iza said. "Who is that coming up
the stairs?"




CHAPTER XIV.--A KING'S RANSOM,

Once more the cruel red flush stained Dora's face. She did not need to
guess at the identity of the footsteps. She knew them only too well.
They came halting and staggering up the stairs, reeling across the
landing, and then a heavy figure stumbled across the door.

"Hide me at once," Iza whispered. "Whatever happens, he must not see
me. Let us wait and watch events."

Before the door could be opened, Iza was standing back in the shadow of
the bedroom. Without herself being seen, she was able to observe all
that was going on. She saw Carney blunder across the floor and drop
sideways into an armchair by the fire. The man was frankly intoxicated.
His speech was thick and incoherent, but he seemed to be pleased with
himself.

"Sitting up for me again," he stammered. "Why do you do it? I have so
often told you not to."

"I could not sleep till I knew you were safe," Dora said sadly. "Do you
want anything before I retire?"

"I won't go to bed yet," Carney replied. "I have some good news for
you, my girl. What do you say to a holiday, a real holiday in Paris,
with money to spend? You trust your old father. He may be a fool in
some things, but he is not such a fool as he looks. It's a rare stroke
of business I have done this time."

"So long as it is honest," Dora said, "I don't mind----"

"Honest be hanged!" Carney broke out. "What's the good of honesty in a
world like this? This job is going to be worth a thousand pounds to me.
I have only to wait till to-morrow afternoon and the money will be as
good as in my pocket."

"A thousand pounds!" Dora cried. "Why that is the sum that Mr. Weiss is
offering for information that will lead to the arrest of Mr. Rashleigh.
Father, you don't mean to tell me you have sunk so low----"

"A thousand pounds is a thousand pounds," Carney said, dogmatically.
"And don't come interfering in things you don't understand. Besides,
you don't call that getting money dishonestly. However, it doesn't
matter what you call it, my dear, I have got it all down in my
pocket-book, so that I shan't forget it. After to-morrow we will go to
Paris and have a good time."

The speaker's voice trailed off into incoherent mutterings; then his
head fell back, and snore after snore came from him. Iza crept into the
room. Her face was pale, but her eyes were blazing with determination.

"Now, try to wake him," she whispered. "I want you to see if he is
really sound asleep. I understand that when men get in that state it
is almost impossible to bring them to their senses again, until the
effects of the drink have passed off. Shake him vigorously, pinch him,
shout in his ears."

Dora did as Iza urged, but Carney might have been dead so far as the
girl's efforts were concerned.

"That's right," Iza said. "Now we won't be long. Search his pockets and
find that book he spoke about."

The search was not difficult, for Carney's pockets were empty, with the
exception of a pipe and bunch of keys and a few coppers and odds and
ends. The memorandum-book proved to be in the form of a small diary.
Various mysterious items and hieroglyphics were scribbled on some
pages. On one page a single entry consisted only of an address and the
words "five o'clock."

"This is it," Iza exclaimed. "This is the address we want. Johnson's
Hotel, Wilderness-road. The words 'five o'clock' indicate the time
to-morrow when the arrest will be made. This address has only been
written to-day, the pencilling is fresh and unblurred, and, you see,
it is under the proper date. I am exceedingly thankful I came here
to-night. With a little courage and determination I shall be able to
save Gerald. Doubtless someone has betrayed him."

"But you can do nothing to-night,' Dora urged.

"Indeed, I can," Iza replied. "I must."

"I know Wilderness-road," Dora said. "It is not more than half a mile
from here, and the neighborhood is as bad as this. You cannot undertake
a journey like that alone at this time of night. It would be madness."

"Madness, or not, I am going," Iza said resolutely. "Don't you see that
to-morrow will be too late?"

"I see you mean to have your own way," Dora said, "but you are not
going alone. My father is not likely to wake for some hours, and that
leaves me free. I will go at once to Regent Terrace and tell them what
has happened. Perhaps I had better go to the nearest telephone office
and inform Miss Vane now."

"Ask for her to call up Mr. Sefton and get him to follow me at once to
Wilderness-road. It will encourage me to know that I shall have help."

Iza was already moving to the door. As soon as she reached the street
she walked along rapidly till she met a policeman, and desired him to
direct her to the nearest way to Wilderness-road. The officer looked
at her dubiously, for though Iza was dressed plainly, there was no
mistaking her air and manner, and the policeman had had his spell of
duty in the West End. He inquired pointedly if Iza was going alone.

"I want to see a friend who is in trouble," she explained. "I suppose
it is safe?"

"Well, I wouldn't exactly say it is unsafe," the policeman replied.
"Only it is not the kind of locality where one expects to meet a lady.
If you walk with me, I will put you in charge of the constable on the
next beat."

Iza demurred at this, for it was the very contingency she most
particularly desired to avoid. She got her own way at length, and
walked hurriedly off in the right direction. It did not occur to her
that Wilderness-road was much worse than Parker's Buildings. There were
fewer children about, for the hour was late. One or two seedy-looking
loafers glanced suspiciously at her as she passed, but no one offered
to molest her. She was walking more slowly and scrutinising the houses
on either side to see if she could find any trace, of Johnson's
Hotel. If Iza had expected that something in the way of a private
boarding-house, she was doomed to disappointment. When she reached it,
Johnson's Hotel resolved itself into a flaming public-house of the most
flashy variety. The place, in its glare and glitter of electric lights,
was one mass of resplendent mirrors, strangely unfit surroundings for
the squalid, poverty-stricken men and women who passed in a steady
trickle through the swing doors of the bars. Iza's heart sank within
her as she realised that this was her destination. What to do next
she had not the least idea. It was maddening to think that Gerald was
within a few yards of her, and wholly unconscious of the danger which
threatened him. As Iza stood there one half-drunken lounger made a
remark which brought the blood flaming into her face. Another loafer
jeered and laughed, and Iza hastily crossed the road. She was dazed
and frightened, and for the moment had lost her head. Before she knew
what she was doing she had passed through the swing doors and into the
centre of the great roaring bar. It was well for Iza that she bethought
herself of the black veil which her maid had thoughtfully twisted round
the black sailor hat she was wearing. At any rate, she could hide her
features. She had hardly done so before a heavy hand was laid on her
arm, and she turned in terror to find a big man at her side.

He was tall and muscular, but his fairly good-looking face was marred
with traces of dissipation. There was a reckless air about him which
spoke plainly of a turbulent spirit within. On the whole, though, what
with his rough hair and long red beard, the man looked out of place. He
would be much more at home in a mining camp or a ranche.

"Well, the world is a small place," he said, "and I have long since got
over any feeling of astonishment at finding old friends everywhere.
But to see you here of all places in the world, you who were always so
cold and distant and haughty. I bet my bottom dollar on one thing. You
didn't come here to get a drink."

"Absurd," Iza stammered. She was trembling from head to foot with fear
and anger. "I am looking for a friend, Mr. Ford. It was necessary for
me to come, but you can imagine----"

"Oh, I can imagine all that," the man called Ford declared. "And as to
friends, why you have a good one in Ned Ford, bad as he is, and bad as
he is likely to remain. It isn't you I have a quarrel with, but the
man I'm looking for is Jim Blake, and when I last saw that infernal
scoundrel you were in his company. Next time I meet Jim, let him look
to himself. I have sworn to have that rascal's blood, and I'll have it,
if I have to hang for it. Look here, my dear, see what I have got in my
hand. No reason to ask you to guess what they are, for you know as well
as I do."

"I know what they are," Iza stammered. "They are uncut diamonds, worth
a king's ransom."

"Right you are, my girl, and there are plenty more where these came
from. I got them in the good old-fashioned way, plenty of danger in it.
Nothing like danger to make a man appreciate good fortune when it comes
his way. Those stones are worth a king's ransom, as you say, and every
one of them is yours if you will only tell me where I can lay hands on
Jim Blake."

"I would not touch them if I were starving," Iza cried. "I was never
with you in that disgraceful business. I was no more than a tool
of Mr.--I mean Jim Blake and the others. Neither will I give any
information about Blake's movements. No violence shall come through me."

"I like your grit," Ford said admiringly. "Now, let's try you another
way. Supposing you are here looking for somebody you are very fond of;
we will say, if you like, that he has got into a bit of trouble, and is
anxious not to be too friendly with the gentlemen in blue. If I were to
tell you where you can find him at this very moment, will you give me
the information I'm after?"

Iza hesitated. The temptation was terrible. She did not stop to
consider how this man had come to know so much, but made up her mind
rapidly there and then not to accept any aid at the hands of Ned Ford.

"I can make no bargain with you," she said coldly. "If you like to help
me you can, and I shall be very grateful, but I can promise nothing in
return."

"Very well," the man said good-humoredly. "You see that room yonder; if
you go through there you will find a passage on the other side leading
into another room. The place is in darkness, but go boldly along, and
I will see that you are not molested. Wait a few moments and I will
try----"

Iza hurried on, only too thankful to escape from the smell and glitter
and glare of the bar. She was in utter darkness, but the fresh air
blowing on her forehead was cooling and grateful.




CHAPTER XV.--THE POLICE RAID.

Cold and self-contained, it was yet far from easy for Iza to maintain
her fortitude. She would have given much to find herself in the street
again, and there seemed nothing to prevent her going. But to do that
would be to waste the precious work of the past hour, and Gerald
Rashleigh would be in as grave a predicament as ever. Her danger might
be great, but his was still greater.

Moreover, the public-house might be a well-conducted establishment.
True, the place was filled with the dregs of humanity, men and women
from whom the fastidious shrink with a sense of disgust. But everything
had appeared to be open and above board, and Iza had read that the
police of London prided themselves upon the way in which public-houses
are administered. At the same time, it was disquieting that Ned Ford
should have divined the reason why Iza was here at all. How could he
know that she was interested in Gerald Rashleigh when this was a secret
even from Weiss and his wife? Still, Ford did know, and there was no
getting away from it.

"He used to be good-natured," Iza reflected, "a rough, unscrupulous
man, with more than one crime on his conscience. But I cannot recollect
him ever unkind or harsh to a woman. What would people say if they
knew how closely I had been associated with the boldest and most
unscrupulous gang of swindlers that ever baffled the police? Oh, I do
hope that Ford won't be long. If anybody came here and asked me my
business, what could I say? But for Gerald's sake I cannot----"

Iza's troubled thoughts were rudely interrupted by an outbreak of
tumult in the bar. She could hear the sound of blows followed by shouts
and cries for assistance, and then, in the street beyond, she caught
the shrill treble of police whistles. Almost before she was aware of
what was taking place the house was in a ferment. Iza could not know
that the authorities had raided the place, and were trying to capture
one or two persons who were badly "wanted." The bulk of the crowd,
naturally deeming themselves the objects of police suspicion, fought
wildly for liberty.

The cries grew louder, the sound of blows became more frequent, and
then the lights suddenly went out, and the whole place was plunged into
darkness. Even if Iza were disposed to leave, she could not have done
so now, for the simple reason that she was too terror-stricken to move.
Nor, in the pitchy dark, could she have seen which way to go; all she
could do, therefore, was to pray that no harm should come to her. Then
a still disturbing thought came into her mind. If the police searched
the house, they would find Gerald Rashleigh on the premises. Although
they might not have come with any thought of finding him, they would
take him off with the rest, and in the morning he was certain to be
recognised. Iza forgot her own trouble in the light of this new peril.
By-and-bye she grew aware that someone was creeping stealthily towards
her. The roar and tumult of the bar had ceased, and a silence that was
almost painful followed. In the stillness Iza could hear the breathing
of the intruder--heavy, labored breathing, as if the unseen person had
just emerged from a great struggle. There was not the slightest sound
of a footstep. Was the stranger crawling hither on hands and knees?
The breathing became less strident presently, and somebody whispered
Iza's name. The mere sound of it startled her so much that with great
difficulty she repressed a scream.

But everything pointed to the voice's being friendly, so Iza whispered
softly, "I am here."

"I am glad of that," came Ford's gruff tones. "I began to think they
had picked you up with the rest."

"What has happened?" Iza asked.

"The police have raided the house," Ford explained. "I suppose they got
the tip that a great deal of betting was going on. At any rate, they
have made their swoop and collared one or two bookmakers whom they have
had under observation. It's not a badly-conducted house, but a lot of
shady characters use it, and when the police appeared pretty well every
man in the bar thought he was wanted, and there's been a fine shindy,
with plenty or wounds, bruises, battered heads, and broken glass.
Luckily for me somebody cut off the light, for two of the police had
me, and if I had not taken strong measures, I should have passed the
night in the cells. I don't know that I'm safe even now."

"Can't you get me away?" Iza asked eagerly. "It is so dreadful to be
in a low den like this, and if I had to appear before the magistrate I
should die of shame. I came here for a special purpose, but my mission
is going to be a failure----"

"Not a bit of it," Ford exclaimed good humoredly. "Don't you give in
yet. Besides, we cannot leave. The police have not finished their
search, and there is sure to be a score of them outside waiting to
examine all who pass in and out. Let me take you to a place of safety
where there is small chance of your getting into trouble. Will you
trust me?"

"Yes, I will," Iza said. "You are a bad man in many ways, but I think
you will keep your word to me. What do you want me to do? I will do
whatever you ask, so long as I can succeed in warning my friend of his
danger and get him safely home."

"That's how I expected you to speak," Ford said approvingly. "Take my
hand and follow me."

Without the slightest hesitation Iza obeyed. It struck her as strange
that Ford knew his way about the house in the dark as well as in broad
daylight. As far as Iza could judge, they passed down a long passage
with a flight of stairs at the end of it. Once arrived at the top of
the steps, Ford paused and listened eagerly. Then he took a box of
matches from his pocket and struck a light. Iza thought they were on
a square landing out of which no doors opened. The place was papered
with a staring pattern of red and yellow. If there were an outlet, Iza
could not see it. Ford, however, knew better. He ran his hand over the
wall paper, as if feeling for something, and presently gave a grunt of
approval. Before the match expired Iza saw that a square aperture had
opened in the wall, disclosing another passage beyond. After carefully
closing the door, Ford led the way through a small sitting-room,
somewhat luxuriously furnished, considering the position and standing
of the house.

"You will have to stay here for a while," he said. "You are quite safe,
unless some spy has given away the secret of the house to the police.
Several most daring robberies have been planned in these rooms. Beyond
this room are two or three sleeping chambers that have been occupied by
famous criminals, but they are all vacant at present. Wait till I come
back, and, mind, you must not have a light."

Ere Iza could reply, Ford had vanished by the secret door. It was a
miserable position for the girl to be placed in, but nothing was to
be gained by repining. She must possess her soul in patience till
the coast was clear, and then perhaps Ford might help her to find
Rashleigh. If she succeeded in that, Iza felt her trouble and danger
would not have been in vain.

She stood in the darkness straining her ears to listen, but no sound
broke the silence. Doubtless these rooms were at the back of the house,
or it would have been possible to hear noises from the street. Iza
would have given anything for a light. Her position then would have
been a little more endurable, but to remain for an indefinite period
in that cavernous gloom was terribly trying to nerves already strung
to the last point. The girl was worn out and her limbs trembled under
her. She felt she must sit down. Cautiously she groped her way about
the room till her hand came in contact with a ricketty little table on
which some china stood. The table went over with a crash, followed by
the rattle of broken crockery. Immediately a voice called out to know
what was going on. Iza made no reply; she could not have spoken to save
her life.

"Who is there?" the voice repeated. "Who is it?"

"Gerald!" Iza gasped. "It is Gerald."

"Iza! Oh, I must be dreaming. It surely cannot be you."

"Indeed, it is," Iza almost sobbed. "Where are you? It is so dark that
I cannot tell the direction of your voice. You know the place. Will you
not come to me? I am in the little room that leads off the landing. I
came to warn you, and I pray Heaven I am not too late."

"How did you find me?" Rashleigh asked. "But you must defer the
explanation till we are at closer quarters. I will come to you."

In a minute or two Rashleigh was by Iza's side, holding her hands in
his. His very presence gave her fresh courage and resolution. It was
good to know that they were once more together. For a little while
Iza fairly gave way, and cried gently with her head on Rashleigh's
shoulder. Even as she lay there, it came whimsically to her mind
what her friends would say if they saw her then. They would have had
great difficulty in recognising the stately, frigid creature, who was
supposed to be entirely unfeeling and heartless.

"Don't cry," Rashleigh said tenderly. "It hurts me. Try to control
yourself and tell me what brings you here."

Despite her efforts at self-control, it was some time before Iza was
collected enough to proceed.

"It was almost an accident," she said. "How little we know what the
passing of an hour will produce. Two or three hours ago I never dreamt
that I should be called upon to go through an adventure like this. I
was sitting in the room after dinner trying to get some information
from Mr. Weiss when Carney came in. I knew by his manner he had
something serious to impart to Mr. Weiss, and I was confirmed a moment
later when he mentioned your name. As soon as he did so, Mr. Weiss
checked him and he wrote something on paper. I guessed that Carney had
found out your hiding place, and made up my mind to see that paper.
With the help of my dear doggie I succeeded in getting a look at the
paper without Mr. Weiss' knowledge. It was as I expected. Carney had
found out where you were, and hoped to have you arrested to-morrow."

"Now, how did he manage that?" Rashleigh muttered. "I thought I had
laid my plans so carefully that only a very few intimate friends knew
my whereabouts. I am glad you have told me this, because I begin to see
daylight in a rather dark place. Beyond question, Carney has been one
of the tools used by Weiss to ruin me."

"That does not matter much now," Iza replied. "I thank Heaven that I
have been successful in my mission and warned you in time. When I came
here I was in despair what to do next. I expected Johnson's Hotel would
be a boarding-house in a respectable street, and not a place like this.
I was so frightened by a remark made to me in the street that I lost
my head and walked recklessly into the house. I was puzzling what to
say when I was accosted by a man named Ford, whom you may have heard me
speak of."

"Ned Ford?" Rashleigh said. "He was one of Weiss' accomplices in South
Africa before the villain made his fortune. I remember the name. But
how singular you should find Ford here, of all places in the world!"

"I thought so, too, at first," Iza replied, "but now I am not so
surprised. This is a very involved business. There are so many wheels
within wheels that I am bewildered, and you will be astonished to learn
that Ford was aware that you were hiding here."

A cry of astonishment broke from Rashleigh.

"You don't say so!" he exclaimed. "Why, I have never met the man in my
life."

"Nevertheless he knows," Iza said. "Tell me, can you make anything of
this new complication?"




CHAPTER XVI.--THE PERIL DEEPENS.

"For the life of me, I can't," Rashleigh confessed. "Here is a vagabond
supposed to be at the other side of the world turning up unexpectedly
and interesting himself in the affairs of a man who is a total stranger
to him. However, I take it that he is well disposed towards me or you
would not be with me at this moment."

"That is so," Iza said, "and the strange thing is that Ford is hunting
everywhere for Mr. Weiss, with the full intention of destroying him at
the first opportunity. He offered me a handful of diamonds if I would
give him Mr. Weiss' address, which I refused. He has not the smallest
idea of Mr. Weiss present position, or he would have no difficulty in
discovering that person for himself."

"Which is evidence that Ford has only recently returned to England,"
Gerald said. "Weiss is so prominent in finance and Society that Ford
must find him sooner or later. And so he brought you here?"

"That is so. He knew where you were, though I have had no opportunity
of learning how he became interested in your movements. He tells me
that these rooms have been used by some of the most famous criminals,
and that this hiding-place is unknown to the police."

"Quite right," Rashleigh replied. "Perhaps you will wonder how I come
to be lying perdu here, seeing that my acquaintance with the criminal
classes is so limited. One of my friends is a prominent journalist who
is a great student of crime and its followers. He has know this place
for many years, and arranged for me to come here. Hitherto there has
been no danger whatever, but now that Carney and Weiss know where I am
I shall have to flit."

"At once," Iza said eagerly. "I implore you not to delay. Carney has
given Mr. Weiss your address, and he expects to get a thousand pounds
for his services. Knowing Mr. Weiss as well as I do, he will not be
above saving that expense by any shabby move that occurs to him. Why
should he not bring the police without waiting until to-morrow, and
have you arrested?"

"I had not thought of that," Rashleigh said.

"Well, the police have been here already," Iza proceeded to explain.
"They did not come for you, and have not the slightest idea where you
are. Ford says the house was raided for bookmakers and betting people.
The police are now in possession, and the merest accident might lead
to----"

Iza's sentence was never finished. From without arose sounds and cries,
followed by the splintering of wood and the tearing of paper. The
noises were so near that Iza screamed aloud.

"They are coming," she whispered. "They have discovered this
hiding-place. What can you do?"

"Nothing," Rashleigh said grimly. "I can only try to make the best of
my ill luck."

"Go back to your room at once," Iza whispered. "Let me come with you.
Perhaps I can hide myself. There is no time to be lost."

Rashleigh caught Iza by the hand and hurried her towards the inner
room. It was the work of a moment to conceal her in a large empty
wardrobe, and then there was nothing for it but to wait on the march of
events. From the little sitting-room came the sound of heavy footsteps
and the voices of men talking excitedly.

"Well, you see, Mason was right," one of the voices said. "I have long
suspected there was some secret room here, only I could never get hold
of a decent excuse for raiding the house, but Scotland Yard has scored
at last, as it always does in the long run."

"That's so," another voice said, "but I must confess that I looked on
Mason's story as a mere conjecture to earn money out of. Mason is a
sneak, and at heart a criminal, without the pluck to carry any scheme
into execution. Those sort of fellows are very useful, I admit, but I
hate them more than I do the culprit himself."

"Well, we needn't discuss that now," the first speaker said. "The fact
remains that we have discovered one of the most ingenious hiding-places
in London. I don't suppose there is anybody here at present, but we can
have a look."

Through a crack in the wardrobe Iza saw the two lanes of light from a
pair of lanterns that were flashing about the room. A low chuckle from
one of the inspectors told her that Rashleigh was discovered.

"Hallo! Where did this bird come from?" one of the officers asked. "You
see the nest is not empty."

"He is a stranger to me," the other inspector said, "and looks like
a gentleman, too; though that is nothing to go by. Now, my good man,
tell us who you are and why you are hiding here? Give an account of
yourself."

"Pardon me," Rashleigh said coolly, "that is your business. There is no
reason why I shouldn't be here, and you have no charge to make against
me. You may make whatever investigation you please, but you will
discover nothing against my character."

"There will be plenty of time to go into that," the inspector said. "We
had better arrest him as a suspicious person who refuses to give any
account of himself."

"Can you really do that?" Gerald asked.

The inspector nodded and made a significant gesture. The other man
dexterously slipped a pair of handcuffs on Rashleigh's wrists, despite
his vigorous protests.

"We will deal with you presently," he said. "Come, Morgan, we cannot
waste time here. Let us finish our investigation and return for this
gentleman when we have done. He hasn't the use of his hands, and he
will find it hard to escape; but you may turn the key on him."

The speaker left the gas alight and quitted the room, his companion
locking the door behind him. Immediately Iza stepped out of the
wardrobe and confronted Rashleigh with a pale face and eyes filled with
tears.

"This is dreadful," she whispered. "What are we to do? I never dreamt
of anything like this. I suppose the raid on the bookmakers was simply
a ruse to enable the police to search the house. Even if you could get
away, Gerald, with those dreadful things on your wrists, escape is out
of the question."

"And it is impossible to take them off," Gerald said. "Nothing but a
file would do that, but it's no use discussing impossibilities. If you
could only procure assistance, it is not yet too late----"

"But how can I leave this room?" Iza asked.

"That is not so difficult as it seems," Rashleigh explained. "This
place has been more cunningly arranged than the police are aware of.
They are very clever, but that window has not been examined. They
naturally supposed that this being an upstairs room, the window must be
twenty or thirty feet from the ground. In fact the window opens into
a corridor from which one may reach the ground by means of an iron
ladder. If you think you can manage----"

"Oh, I will try," Iza said. "I will do anything to get you out of this
horrid place."

Without waiting for further words from Rashleigh, Iza crossed over to
the window and opened it. Feeling with her feet, she touched the floor
of the corridor, and the sensation gave her a sense of safety. At first
it occurred to her to bid Gerald follow, but a moment's reflection
dispelled that idea. It would be safer for him to stay where he was
till she could obtain help, for if the police looked in and found their
bird flown, they would give an instant alarm, which must inevitably
result in his recapture.

Iza felt her way along the corridor till she saw, dimly outlined before
her, the iron ladder which Gerald had mentioned. As she stood fumbling
for the rail, she was startled by the appearance of a figure gradually
emerging from the ladder. She instantly recognised the form of Ford.

"It's all right," he whispered. "I know what has happened, and was
coming to your assistance. Go back to that room at once and hide in the
wardrobe. I am coming with you."

There was nothing for it but to obey this masterful ruffian, who was so
singularly competent to grapple with the intricacies of the situation.
As he entered the room by the window, Gerald looked up with surprise.
Ford smiled, and laid his hands on his lips.

"You mustn't speak," he said. "All you have to do is to sit there, as
if resigned to your fate, and ask no questions. This lady will go back
to her hiding-place, and I will lie down by the side of this couch. I
want you to sit down on it just there."

Ford pointed to a certain spot on the couch, and Rashleigh obeyed
implicitly. Some ten minutes passed in silence, then the voice of one
of the inspectors was heard. The key turned with a click, and the
officer entered. In a bustling tone he bade Rashleigh get up and follow
him. Mindful of Ford's commands, Gerald sat still with his head hung
down as if he did not hear a single word. The officer crossed over
and pulled him roughly by the arm, then, like a flash, Ford rose from
behind the couch and felled the policeman with a terrific blow on the
head. With a cry Iza came from her hiding-place.

"Don't worry about him," Ford said cheerfully. "He's all right. I know
how to hit without doing any harm. There is no occasion to hurry as our
friend won't come round for a few minutes. Now follow me. Confound it,
there's somebody in the corridor!"

There was somebody in the corridor, somebody whose voice was raised in
expostulation. A great change came over Ford. His features turned hard
and white as marble, and his eyes gleamed like burning coals.

"I've heard that voice before," he said, in a tense, metallic tone.
"Young lady, I will not require to bribe you with diamonds again. I
should know that voice amongst a million."

For the man outside was Samuel Weiss.




CHAPTER XVII.--STILL IN DARKNESS.

Ford spoke quietly--indeed, there was something almost playful in
his voice--yet behind it there was a grimness of purpose and a
determination that caused Iza to shudder. She could not see Ford's
face, but she had a pretty good idea what its expression was like.
She had known this man for some years, and was well aware what he was
capable of. He had ever been reckless where his wishes and passions
were concerned, and the fact that he was not now on the veldt, but in
the centre of civilisation, would be no check upon him at all. Iza laid
her hand on his arm.

"What are you going to do?" she whispered. "No violence, I implore you.
Do not forget that I am here, and that any outbreak on your part would
involve me----"

"Have no fear," Ford said. "I have waited too long to spoil my chance
by undue haste. The reckoning between Weiss and me will come later. Let
us keep to the matters of the moment. You can easily guess why Weiss is
here to-night."

"Of course I can," Iza said. "He has come to procure the arrest of
Gerald Rashleigh and to save himself the thousand pounds which he
promised Carney, his jackal. But what are we to do?"

Ford frankly confessed himself to be puzzled. Weiss was close by in
the darkness, no doubt looking for the police to tell them where they
could lay hands on Gerald Rashleigh. Bidding Iza remain where she was,
Ford disappeared into the corridor, and crept cautiously along until
he came to the iron ladder. He peered down into the yard below, then
quickly withdrew his head, for at the base of the ladder stood two
constables, evidently on the watch. As far as Ford could judge, the
man he was looking for was not on that side of the house at all. It
was probable, therefore, that Weiss was at the far end of the corridor
beyond the room to which Iza and Gerald were anxiously waiting. As Ford
crept back a shadow advanced towards him, and a moment later he had
Weiss by the throat. The latter was so overcome by surprise that he
made no resistance whatever. Bulky as he was Ford picked him up as if
he had been a child and bundled him through the window into the room,
following himself and closing the casement behind him. His manner was
cool and collected, but his eyes showed the passion that boiled within.

"Don't make a sound," he said, "if you value that carcass of yours. You
didn't expect to see me here. You look as if the world was treating you
very well, in fact, a great deal better than you deserve. How long is
it since you have taken to wearing evening dress and frequenting the
company of gentlemen?"

Weiss was too upset to reply. His fat, red face had faded to a ghastly
green; his thick lips quivered; he gazed wildly around him, as if
seeking some avenue of escape; he did not even notice that Rashleigh
was looking at him with a smile of contempt on his face. Indeed, so
abject was his fear he could see nothing but the burly form of Ford
towering in front of him. Ford caught Weiss by the shoulders, and
turned him sharply round. At the same time he signed to Rashleigh and
Iza to conceal themselves in the wardrobe. Since Weiss had not noticed
the presence of the man he desired to ruin, there was no need to
enlighten him. It was incredible that Weiss should be so blind, but his
terror had deprived him of his reason for the moment.

Before Weiss could turn round again, Iza and her companion were
ensconced in the wardrobe. By this time Weiss was slowly coming
to himself. He jerked out a few broken words which Ford ignored
contemptuously. He would have grovelled at the latter's feet, but a
look from Ford showed him the futility of it.

"What do you want?" he stammered. "For Heaven's sake, don't look at me
like that. You fill me with fear. I feel as if I were choking. I know I
treated you badly----"

"Don't go into that now," Ford said sternly. "There will be time by and
by; for the present you can lay the flattering unction to your craven
soul that you are not going to die yet. Listen to me, and pay close
attention to all I say. Whatever I have been and whatever I am, no man
can ever say that I broke my word. If you don't do exactly as I tell
you, your minutes are numbered. I will not be in the room with you
during the little comedy that is coming along, but I shall see and hear
all that goes on. All you have to do is to lie and to lie freely. That
is not asking you too much. It will come easy to a practised hand like
you. Here!"

Ford called to Weiss as if he were a dog in need of chastisement. The
coward instantly obeyed, and followed to the other side of the couch,
but started back when he saw the prostrate form of the policeman.

"Good God! you haven't committed murder?" he faltered. "Don't tell me
there has been any more violence. If you have killed that man and you
want me to help you to make away with him, I shall hang with you if we
are caught. I couldn't do it, Ford."

"You can do anything I ask you," Ford said grimly, "and how long is
it since you have been so nice about the shedding of blood? Have you
forgotten that night at Kimberley?"

"Uh-h-h!" Weiss shuddered. "Shall I ever forget it? I dream of it and
wake up in the night drenched and terrified. If you want me to do a
similar thing again, I tell you----"

"Tell me nothing," Ford said impatiently. "You chattering, craven fool,
there is nothing wrong with this man at all. I had to knock him out of
time, but, as you see, he is recovering, and it is to him that you will
tell the fairy tale of which I will now give you the main outline. You
are to wait till he comes to. When he does so he will ask you if you
have seen anything of a prisoner he had left here handcuffed. You will
tell him that as you came into the room you saw the prisoner strike him
a blow and dart for the door. You tried to stop him, but he was too
quick for you, and got away."

"What is he supposed to be like?" Weiss asked in a docile tone.

"What is he supposed to be like?" Ford said contemptuously. "As if
you don't know him as well as I do! He is supposed to be like a young
good-looking, clean-shaven man, with blue eyes, and bears a strong
resemblance to a gentleman who till very recently was engaged in the
City. You know him, and I am wasting time in describing the personal
appearance of Gerald Rashleigh. What are you making that noise about?"

Weiss gave a cry which might have been alarm, or surprise, or fear. His
cheeks once more assumed the peculiar green line which had come over
his face when he first recognised Ford.

"There is no time to waste," Ford went on. "You must do as I have
bidden you. As for myself, I will get through the window yonder and
close it, except an inch or two at the bottom; then I shall be able to
see and hear everything that goes on, and if you betray me, or if you
so much as wink at our friend in blue, I'll put a bullet through your
brain as sure as I am a living man. You never knew me break my word,
and on this occasion no consideration on earth would induce me to do
it."

Without further warning, Ford disappeared through the window and shut
it to within an inch or two of the bottom. Looking furtively in that
quarter, Weiss, despite his disordered imagination, saw the blue ring
of a revolver barrel pointed in his direction. But he had other matters
to occupy him, for the inspector had staggered to his feet, and was
gazing stupidly about him.

"What is the matter," he asked. "What has happened to me, and why have
I been lying here."

"I can hardly explain," Weiss said. "I came by appointment to see
an inspector, and found the place in confusion and the lights out
everywhere. My name is Weiss. I have a house in Park Lane----"

"I know about you now, sir," the inspector said respectfully. "And I am
beginning to recollect what happened. I discovered a man concealed here
who refused to give any account of himself, and took him into custody
on suspicion. Just as I had fastened on the handcuffs he dealt me a
tremendous blow, and I lost consciousness. It was a clever trick, and I
wish I knew how it was done. By the way, how long have you been here,
sir?"

"About a quarter of an hour," Weiss said. He was lying glibly, spurred
on by knowing that he was covered by Ford's revolver. "As I came in
a man rushed out and knocked me over. Now you mention it, there were
handcuffs on his wrists. I dare say he has been picked up by one of
your men outside."

"That is more than likely," the inspector said. "No one else has been
in the room, I suppose?"

"Not a soul. It gave me considerable trouble to bring you round, and at
first I thought you were dead. If you feel up to it, wouldn't it be as
well to see if the prisoner has been taken."

"Perhaps it would," the Inspector replied. "I appear to be all right
except for a shakiness of limb and a racking headache. Won't you come
along with me, sir?"

Weiss hesitated. Nothing would have pleased him better, but he had Ford
and his revolver to think of. At the same time, having exhausted his
instructions, he hardly knew what to say. The faint click of a pistol
trigger decided him. Weiss had heard it too often not to know the
sound, and he resolved to remain where he was.

"I'll stay here," he said. "There's light in this room, and I have no
fancy to a blow on the head in the dark. Besides, if you recover your
prisoner there will be nothing more for me to do."

The inspector nodded and left the room. Hardly had the door closed than
Ford appeared once more, a smile of grim approval on his face.

"You did that very well," he said. "And it is evident the policeman
believed every word you said. It is a good thing he doesn't know you.
As far as the prisoner is concerned, the officer may make his mind
easy. He is not likely to see him again, despite the handcuffs. Did you
see anybody when I dragged you into the room?"

"I saw nothing," Weiss said. "Your sudden appearance scared me almost
to death, and I don't mind owning it. I wish you would not look at me
like that. It makes me shake from head to foot, and if you don't want
me any more perhaps you will let me go. It is getting late----"

"Don't leave me," Ford said. "You will stay as long as I choose.
Besides, I think you will be glad to have a chat with an old friend.
And you don't get an opportunity like this every day."

Samuel Weiss wriggled uneasily. His florid face was bedabbled with
perspiration, and he moistened his dry lips. Beyond question the man
was in a terrible state of fear as he had every reason to be. He had
known Ford for many years, and had seen that desperado in various
moods. He knew from bitter experience that Ford was never so dangerous
as when he spoke in that jocular fashion.

But he made an effort to pull himself together and assume a semblance
of manhood, which only served to deepen Ford's intense amusement.

"Look here," Weiss, said, with some show of bluster, "I am not afraid
of you. We are not in the wilds of South Africa now. We are in London,
where no man can commit an outrage with impunity."

"Think of that," Ford sneered, "but you seem to have forgotten that at
present there are scores of undiscovered crimes in this town. Excepting
yourself, nobody of any consequence has seen me here. I could cut your
rascally throat with perfect safety, and go away with an easy mind and
a healthy appetite. Upon my word, when I think of the opportunity, I am
amazed at my own moderation. Sit down and talk it over."

Weiss was rather glad of the chance.

"That's right," Ford said encouragingly, "sit down, and carefully
follow what I have got to say."




CHAPTER XVIII.--SHADOWED.

Two days passed uneventfully. Elsie had not seen Gerald Rashleigh
again, nor had Vera Barrington's husband put in another appearance. The
house had resumed its normal aspect, everything moved on oiled wheels,
and the well-trained servants were a revelation to Elsie. There was a
certain number of callers, but Vera did not encourage them, so that the
two girls saw a good deal of each other, and the farther Elsie saw into
the mind of her companion, the more favorably impressed she was.

Outwardly, at any rate, there was no sign of the actress about Vera
Barrington. She hardly ever mentioned the theatre, and there was
nothing in her dress to indicate her profession. She longed for the
time, she said, when she could get away from it all, and retire to a
quiet place in the country. And it was obvious that she meant this, and
was not posing in the least. Later perhaps she might be able to gratify
her wish, but her degraded husband was a great drag upon her, and,
besides, there was her brother to think about. Till he was safe she
could do nothing.

"I dare say people believe I am mistress of all I survey," she said to
Elsie once. "It is true, this house is not so expensive as you imagine,
for I entertain very little, and my personal tastes are simple, but
my husband appropriates all my money. I dread a scandal; it takes me
all my time to prevent scenes, and I would pay anything to avoid them.
No, I can't get rid of the man; he is too cunning for that. But I am
always worrying you about my affairs. I must go down to the theatre
this morning, because we are to rehearse a new piece, and I shall have
to throw you upon your own resources. That reminds me that you haven't
been out of the house for two whole days. You really must get a walk.
Why not go as far as Kensington Gardens? It's a lovely morning, and you
will feel yourself in the country there."

The prospect was not unpleasing, and by and by Elsie passed through the
sunny streets, with the feeling that London was a desirable place on a
bright summer's morning. It was delightfully fresh, and she appreciated
the well-dressed people and the elaborate shops. She had nothing on
her mind, had no anxiety for the morrow, and the alert vigor of youth
flowed in her veins. It was, therefore, some time before she realised
that she was being shadowed by a man on the other side of the road,
who loitered when she loitered and copied her every movement with a
fidelity that became annoying. Her first vague sense of alarm began to
give way to strong indignation.

There had always been a directness in her methods; so she crossed the
road and turned to face the stranger.

He was attired like a shabby clerk out of work, had a pronounced beard
and whiskers of nondescript color, and his eyes were concealed behind
smoked glasses.

"Why are you following me?" Elsie demanded.

For the moment the stranger was taken aback.

"Then you don't know me? Well, that's a good thing, anyhow. I have a
message for you. I must have done my work very badly, or you would not
have spotted me in this way. Then you don't know who I am?"

"Nor am I in the least curious," Elsie said coldly.

"But I don't want to annoy you," the stranger went on; "in fact, I am
Roger Carney. You will guess why I am disguised. Aren't you staying
with Miss Barrington?"

"I have no doubt you are aware of the fact," Elsie replied, "but you
cannot have any message for me, and I must decline to speak to you.
You make me sorry that I interfered on your behalf at all. And if you
follow me farther, I will give you in charge."

Carney appeared nonplussed with this reception, but made one more
effort to deliver his message.

"Don't be so fast," he muttered, "for you are a poor girl, and, I
believe, clever, too. Now, if I can put 100 in your pocket, what will
you say to such a suggestion?"

"I should decline it at once," Elsie said firmly. "I should know that
it was some rascally schemed yours. Be good enough to take yourself off
at once, or I shall call the police."

But Carney lingered, greatly disappointed with his failure. Elsie, too,
was in a dilemma what to do next. She dreaded a scene, and it was with
feelings of the liveliest satisfaction that she discovered Edgar Sefton
coming towards her. Acting on the spur of the moment, she clutched
eagerly at Sefton's sleeve, and indicated the mean figure of Roger
Carney.

"I am so glad to meet you," she cried; "this man is molesting me. I
cannot get rid of him. I have threatened him with the police, but he
does not seem to mind."

There was no need to say more. Sefton towered over Carney, and there
was a look in his eyes which the adventurer did not relish. He
staggered back at the first hint of violence, and shuffled rapidly
across the road. A dainty pink crept into Elsie's cheeks as she noticed
the joyful expression on her companion's face.

"I am very glad to be of service to you," Sefton said. "Don't you think
there is a Providence in these things? I helped you out the other
night, and am fortunate to be of assistance to you again."

"I can't sufficiently thank you," Elsie answered, "and now I must be
getting back to Miss Barrington's."

"Really, that is too bad," Sefton remonstrated. "It is plain you have
nothing to do, yet you try to avoid me. Candidly, didn't you come out
for a walk? Haven't you all the morning before you, and didn't you mean
to sit out in the Gardens and read for an hour or two? You had better
confess, because the book in your hand gives you away. Come, let us sit
down and have a chat for half an hour."

Elsie attempted to frame a refusal, but somehow she could not utter a
word. It was so pleasant to meet Edgar again, so sweet to hear him talk
as he had done only a couple of days ago, and there was a pleading look
in his face she could not resist. It was very quiet, too; so they found
a seat to themselves, and in a short time all Elsie's reserve melted
away. Yet she did try to restrain Edgar's enthusiasm and to give him
the minimum of encouragement, but--well, it was a delightful morning,
and Elsie was young, and, besides, she assured herself that this was
not likely to happen a third time.

Ere she could realise it, however, Edgar resumed without delay
the tender and intimate speech on which he had ventured in Miss
Barrington's house. With heightened color that made her look lovelier
and more adorable than ever, Elsie deprecated his impetuosity.

"What is the good of talking like that?" he asked, in the old
straightforward way Elsie knew so well, "as if you didn't know what my
feelings are. When I met you in such strange circumstances the other
night, I knew I had been waiting for you all this time. And, darling,
you never told me you didn't care for me. If you had done so, I would
have gone away at once, and tried to banish you from my thoughts.
I believe you didn't tell me that because you couldn't, because it
wouldn't have been true if you had. Would it Elsie?"

It was good to know that this man loved her, nor did she disguise from
herself the fact that Edgar Sefton was by no means indifferent to
her. In the circumstances it was impossible for her, embarrassed and
confused as she was, to look him in the face and deny his statement. On
the contrary, she was hoping he would not notice there were tears in
her eyes, though her delicate face was flushed to the roots of her hair.

"I don't know what to say," Elsie murmured, "and I don't think you
ought to speak to me like this. You know I am alone in the world, and
it----"

"Oh, what nonsense!" Sefton replied, "you have known me for years. I
tell you now you are the only girl I ever loved. The fact that you are
alone in the world, therefore, is all the greater reason why I should
think of your future. I have more money than I want, and there's a
beautiful home in the country waiting for its sovereign lady--really, I
have hardly patience to discuss the matter. Why----"

"One moment," Elsie said. "Of course, you know how my father died? You
were not with us then, but you must have read it in the papers. The
mystery of his death was never properly cleared up. Many people say he
met with foul play, and sometimes I am disposed to agree with them.
But others think he died by his own hand, amongst them the doctor who
attended us for the last twenty years. The matter was hushed up at the
inquest, partly for my sake, I believe, and partly because the people
in the village respected my father. The police had their view of the
case, and I have heard are investigating the mystery to this day. But
after what the doctor told me, I haven't much doubt as to the cause of
his death. Can you realise how this worries me? There is nothing more
terrible than insanity in a family. Think what would----"

"I decline to believe anything of the kind," Sefton said stoutly. "It
is absurd to suppose that my dear old friend took his life. He was
far too courageous to do that. If he had any troubles he faced them
like a man. He wasn't bothered by money affairs, and though, like a
poor parson, he left nothing, yet he had no debts. Moreover, he had
travelled all over the world, and had a wonderfully ripe and balanced
mind. I never knew a man less likely to commit a rash act. So this
stands in the way, does it? But do you think that I mind that?"

Elsie shook her head resolutely. It was, however, very hard to resist
such brave and confident pleading, such staunch friendship.

"I cannot say more," she murmured, "some day my father may be cleared
of this stigma--but, no, it is impossible."




CHAPTER XIX.--CLEARING THE WAY.

Elsie returned to Regent Terrace with a fine glow of color in her face
and a sparkle in her eyes. She had forgotten her fears, and was happy
in the knowledge that she was no longer alone in the world, and had at
least two friends. She had long ago put Edgar Sefton out of her mind,
and had tried to forget him, but there were times when she confessed to
herself she was glad she had failed. She had, however, neither hoped
nor expected to see him again, but since he had come into her life
again, they seemed somehow in accordance with the eternal fitness of
things. As Edgar himself had said, there is a special Providence in
these things, and Elsie was fully disposed to believe it.

At present she had not the least intention to marry Edger Sefton, or
any other man, until she was satisfied that there was no hereditary
taint of insanity in her blood. But, oh! it was very nice of Edgar to
let her know that he had not changed in the least. Apart, too, from the
happiness it yielded her, it was very soothing to Elsie's vanity.

She had promised to meet Sefton again; he would not let her go until
she did so. He had asked endless questions about the extraordinary
adventures in which she had become involved, and, in the circumstances,
she had not been justified in refusing to answer them. It was singular
that he should know Rashleigh, and still more remarkable that he should
have been at Lady Starfield's dance, ready to act the part of the god
in the car, and turn disaster into success.

"It's not the slightest use being obstinate," Edgar said, as he bade
Elsie good-bye, "you may be quite sure that I won't lose sight of you
again. I can't marry you by main force, but some day you will weary of
saying no. Of course, if there is anybody else----"

"You know there isn't," Elsie said, unguardedly. "There, that is a
nice confession you have tricked out of me! But, Edgar, I am perfectly
serious. I will never marry until the mystery surrounding my father's
death is cleared up."

Sefton smiled and let it go at that. Perhaps he had his own views on
the subject.

"And you will meet me to-morrow?" he asked. "That's all right. Two
negatives you know, make an affirmative. You may tell Miss Barrington
that I will call upon her. Rashleigh is my friend, and I am convinced
that he is the victim of an infamous conspiracy. I am certain of his
innocence, and he would have been wiser to have come forward, and stood
his trial."

"But that was impossible," Elsie argued. "Miss Barrington said her
brother had just recovered from a serious illness, which had left his
lungs in an exceedingly delicate state. But perhaps you did not know
that."

"He could have gone into hospital," Sefton observed.

"But could he? I understand there is often considerable delay in
dealing with such cases, and a single night in a cold, damp cell might
be fatal. It is very good of you to take so much interest in him, and
Miss Barrington will be exceedingly grateful. You have established a
claim to be consulted in this matter. But do you think you can help us?"

"Wait and see," Sefton said, after a pause. "I happen to know a good
deal about Mr. Weiss, and have knocked about the world to some purpose.
I have what may prove to be a brilliant idea, but can say nothing of it
for the moment. But I will think it over and let you know. Tell Miss
Barrington I will call to-morrow afternoon, when we can discuss her
brother's affairs over a cup of tea."

Elsie felt happier than she had done for a long time. She had a mission
in life now, and longed for an opportunity to return the kindness Vera
Barrington had shown her. A dainty lunch was partaken of with relish,
and she looked forward to Vera's return confidently. By and by Miss
Barrington entered, looking very white and tired.

"I have had a most distracting morning," she exclaimed, "and everything
seems to have gone amiss. I shall be so glad to see the end of it. If
girls only knew what stage life was like, very few would set their
hearts upon it."

"I suppose it is very hard work," Elsie murmured sympathetically, "and
yet I once thought I should enjoy it immensely. I know better now."

"I congratulate you upon learning your lesson so soon," Vera laughed.
"Why, the sheer drudgery alone would frighten most girls. For every one
who succeeds there must be a hundred who hardly get a living. But I did
not come back to talk shop. I am glad to see you have had lunch. You
can order dinner at any hour you like. We professionals can't eat at
rational hours like other mortals. I dine about 4 o'clock and my next
meal is usually about midnight. Then, as a rule, I breakfast in bed
about eleven, which I dare say sounds very dreadful. But there is no
help for it."

"But you were down before me this morning," Elsie said.

"Ah, but that was exceptional. Now that you will stay with me, I shall
fall back on my old habits again. But how fresh and bright you look!
Positively your eyes are shining with happiness. Shall I guess what it
means? You have met Mr. Sefton."

Elsie colored slightly.

"You are a witch," she cried; "to be quite candid, I did meet Mr.
Sefton. It was rather strange I should run up against him quite
casually."

"Not in the least," Vera said demurely. "How delightfully ingenuous you
are! I dare say he has found the air of Regent's Park invigorating,
and has spent a good deal of time in the neighborhood. I wonder if you
realise how charming you are. If I were a man I should fall over head
and ears in love with you. But you must not mind me talking like this.
So you saw Mr. Sefton and had along talk with him. Did he ask if we had
heard anything from my brother?"

"Of course he did," Elsie said, "he was really very nice and
sympathetic. He says he will do all he can to help, and will call upon
you to-morrow afternoon. I rather fancy he may prove to be of the
greatest assistance. He has travelled far and wide during the last
year or two, and seems to know a lot about Mr. Weiss. I gather he has
already thought out some clever scheme."

"It is very kind of him," Vera replied. "I like Mr. Sefton very much,
and will value the help of a friend I can rely upon. My father is too
impetuous to be of much use, and the less said about my husband the
better. There is danger----"

"Yes, of course," Elsie interrupted. "I had forgotten that. We have
enemies on all sides, and the house is being watched. I had not gone
far this morning when I saw my steps were being dogged. I felt alarmed
at first, but at last plucked up courage to order the man about his
business. It turned out to be Roger Carney."

Vera looked uneasy.

"Is that really a fact?" she asked. "Imagine the audacity of the man?
After what you told me about him, I wonder he has the assurance to show
his face in the street, but perhaps he has found some way of satisfying
the police."

"I don't think so," Elsie went on. "He was thoroughly disguised. But he
must have been watching the house, else how could he have discovered
that I am staying with you? It all tends to show how careful we must
be. I don't believe Carney is in town on his own behalf. I can't tell
you what he wanted, but he spoke to me in the most barefaced fashion.
He offered no apology for his behaviour to me, and did not even pay me
the compliment of believing that I am honest. He was good enough to
remind me that I was penniless, and that he could put me in the way of
earning 100--of course, by doing something mean and dishonorable; but
I didn't give him the chance of explaining. I was so indignant that I
came very near to giving him into custody. I believe I should have done
so, if I hadn't thought of his daughter and her kindness to me."

"Still, its rather disturbing," Vera said, "I almost wish you had
pretended to fall in with his views and ascertain what he wanted."

"That was Mr. Sefton's opinion, too," Elsie replied; "I am afraid I
shall never make a diplomatist."




CHAPTER XX.--A QUESTION OF PEDIGREE.

Faithful to his promise, Edgar Sefton turned up at Regent Terrace the
following afternoon. His reception was flattering enough to please a
vainer man, though Elsie said little, sitting in the drawing-room for
the most part in silence.

"We shall be able to talk to our hearts' content," Vera Barrington
said. "I have given orders that I am at home to no one. Another cup
of tea, Mr. Sefton? Well, if you won't have any more, let us talk
business. I can see from the way your hand is moving towards your
waistcoat pocket that you are unconsciously feeling for your cigarette
case. You may smoke if you like; in fact I shall be glad if you will.
Now, tell me if you think anything can be done for my poor brother."

"Have you heard from him?" Sefton asked.

"Not a word. I haven't the remotest idea where he is. But I suppose he
is safe, otherwise we should have read the bad news in the papers. We
thought it better he should not communicate with me."

"Oh, quite so," Sefton said; "it would be madness on his part to write.
Depend upon it that we are all being carefully watched, and that Weiss
is leaving no stone unturned to lay his hands upon your brother. Now,
I have the best of reasons for believing that Weiss is a scoundrel.
He occupies a swagger position, but nobody heard much about him until
eighteen months ago. He is supposed to be a big South African merchant
who has opened a branch in London; that means nothing, and I can't
learn that very much business is done. Weiss is received in society
of a sort, but that is an easy matter nowadays, when a man with heaps
of money obtains a welcome often denied to blue blood that is tainted
with the crime of poverty. I came into contact with Weiss some eighteen
months since in Capetown, and became interested in him in consequence
of a few queer stories current about him. Oddly enough, I also met a
man who knew him three years ago, when he had a furnished house at a
place near Ross, in Herefordshire. This house was only four or five
miles from where Miss Vane was born and bred."

"It sounds interesting," Elsie interpolated.

"I think I shall interest you more before I have finished," Sefton
resumed. "Did you ever hear of any people named Weiss in your old
neighborhood?"

"I don't remember them," she said.

"Perhaps not, but your father knew them, I know. They lived in the
house that belonged to the Harleys, a family of some standing, I
believe."

"They were not particularly rich," Elsie explained, "but came of a very
good stock; we used to think them crazy on the subject of pedigree. I
was never in their house, but I met the girls occasionally at tennis
parties. They struck me as proud and exclusive--what we used to call at
school 'stuck-up'--and decidedly stupid into the bargain. Now I come
to recollect it, they did let their house about the time you mention.
We rather wondered at their letting it to a stranger, but Mrs. Harley
said her son had just gone to Oxford, and they had to economise. It
was rumored the house had been rented by a German scientific man. But
if the tenant's name hadn't been Weiss, I daresay Rumor wouldn't have
bothered about his nationality. When I saw Mr. Weiss the other night he
didn't strike me as a German, but perhaps I am wrong."

"Oh, no," Sefton said, "you are quite right, though the fellow's people
were probably of German origin. Beyond a doubt Elsie's father, Mr.
Vane, knew Weiss when he was in Herefordshire. Weiss, however, did not
stay long in the country. He departed more or less mysteriously some
months before his tenancy expired. Elsie, what became of those black
poodles?"

Elsie smiled at the inconsequence of the question.

"What an extraordinary remark?" she exclaimed. "What have the poodles
to do with your story?"

"What dogs were they?" Vera asked.

"We had a lot of dogs," Elsie proceeded to explain. "My father was
extremely fond of dogs. How the black poodles first found their way
into bur kennels, I don't know. My father knew people in all parts of
the world, and in his younger days had spent a good deal of time in
France. Stay, let me think. I seem to remember, when I was a little
girl, two black poodles arriving from Paris, and my father telling
me they were sent by the Marquise de la Zouche. I didn't take much
interest in them, because I preferred dogs of a nobler type. But I
believe the poodles were very valuable, and my father made money
out of them. They were wonderfully clever, and almost human in some
things--but how I am running on. It is your fault, Edgar."

"I accept the responsibility," Sefton said. "These dogs are going to
play a very important part in the unmasking of Samuel Weiss. Did your
father ever give or sell one of these poodles to Weiss?"

"I really cannot tell," she answered.

"I am sorry for that. Is there no means of finding out? It is most
important?"

"There should be no difficulty about that," Elsie said. "Keeping dogs
for profit, as my father did, is a regular business. The puppies used
to be registered in the stud book of the Kennel Club, and when one
found a purchaser the price was entered, along with the name of the
new owner. When my father died his dogs were disposed of and fetched a
considerable sum."

"Were the buyers county people?" Sefton asked.

"Not all, by any means," Elsie explained, "but I was so full of trouble
at the time that I didn't take much interest in anything. I understand
that fanciers usually keep to only one breed, and when my father's
kennel was sold the animals probably went all over the country. In
their way the poodles were famous. Why not write to the secretary of
the Kennel Club, and ask for the names of the fanciers who bought the
Reverend George Vane's poodles?"

"How will that help me? Sefton asked.

"The purchaser of such dogs would demand the pedigree; he wouldn't, in
fact, take them without it. This would necessitate application to the
Kennel Club and the secretary would, in furnishing the information,
record the fact of the sale and the name of the purchaser. He will tell
you whether Samuel Weiss bought any of my father's poodles."

"What a capital business woman she is," said Edgar. "I never thought of
that. I will write at once, and let you know in due course."

"What put the poodles in your head?" Vera asked.

Sefton shrugged his shoulders carelessly.

"Well, it arose in a roundabout way, not apropos of anything in
particular. When I was in South Africa I heard a good deal about
illicit diamond dealing, but had forgotten the matter. In consequence,
however, of certain reports that reached me, I had a notion that Samuel
Weiss could tell an interesting story on the subject. I made it my
business to pay him some attention, and he invited me to dinner the
other night. I went, expecting to pick up some unconsidered trifle
that might help dispel the air of mystery that surrounds the man. He
introduced me to his daughter Iza. I cannot believe that such a man
could have such a daughter. She is tall, beautiful, and distinguished,
but is said to be haughty and reserved. I don't think she is anything
of the kind. The girl has some secret trouble which she is hiding from
the world, and I liked her. We got on rather well together. Most of
the guests were purse-proud people, a vulgar lot, and the dinner was
atrociously dull. Later in the evening I was alone with Miss Weiss.
She was showing me some South African views in the morning-room, when
there came in a black poodle. Miss Weiss said the dog belonged to her
father, but she was very fond of it from which I gathered she is not
so cold and indifferent to things about her as she is alleged to be.
At any rate, the dog seemed greatly attached to her, and she put him
through a number of tricks which considerably astounded me. I began
to ask a few questions, and ascertained that the poodle had been at
the Cape with the Weiss', and that it originally came from a vicarage
in Herefordshire. Hence my interest in black poodles, and especially
in the stock that came from your father's house. I have been forming
a theory, which is not yet ripe for disclosure, but I hope before
long to have information by which I can compel Weiss to refrain from
prosecuting Gerald Rashleigh."

"But my brother is innocent," Vera said proudly.

"My dear lady, I am quite aware of that. But there is no reason why we
should not extricate your brother out of his present danger, no reason
why he should not come home again, and remain here free from anxiety
until we can establish his innocence. Nor should I be surprised if we
proved much more than that. I should not be astonished to learn that
Samuel Weiss had a hand in the death of Elsie's father."

All the blood left Elsie's face.

"Oh! if you would only prove it," she exclaimed, "if you would only
prove it. But you are speaking at random."

"No, I don't think so," Sefton said. "But I ought not to have mentioned
it at such an early stage as this, and you mustn't build up hopes on
the statement. Still, I know that Weiss left Herefordshire about the
time that Mr. Vane died, and that there was a swindle in connection
with a parcel of diamonds."




CHAPTER XXI.--A NEWSPAPER PARAGRAPH.

Sefton left Regent Terrace quite satisfied with his afternoon's work.
He had a good deal to think about, but as far as he could judge,
everything was going smoothly, and he hoped in a day or two to be able
to call upon Samuel Weiss, and dictate terms to him. He sat alone
in his room till dinner-time, smoking innumerable cigarettes, then
dressed himself and went to his club. There he dined quietly alone,
and afterwards turned into the smoking-room, which he found to be
comfortably filled.

The habitues were talking excitedly, and it was evident that something
had happened. A moment or two later Sefton caught the name of Weiss.
He moved up to a group of men he knew, and saw that one of them had an
evening paper in his hand.

"Anything fresh, Thornton?" he asked.

"Rather so," Thornton replied. "Another scandal, but I never liked the
man myself, and you might say I am prejudiced."

"That's so like Thornton," another of the group observed, "he will
never give a straight answer to a straight question. He would have made
a most admirable village gossip; you know what I mean, Sefton--the sort
of man you meet in a country place, who gets hold of a bit of news and
takes about a week to tell it. As a matter of fact, he's talking about
Weiss."

"What about him?" Sefton asked impatiently.

"Vanished! At any rate, nothing has been heard of him for two days. I
don't understand how he ever got elected here. It only shows that any
bounder can get into a good club if he only has money enough. Well,
there seems to be an end of Weiss, and I don't pretend to be sorry."

"But what's he done?" Sefton demanded. "Has he committed suicide, or
absconded, or become bankrupt? Are his affairs in confusion? Are the
police after him?"

"Well, I don't think it's as bad as that," the other said reluctantly,
"the police seem to suspect foul play. According to this evening's
papers, everything appears to be in order, and Weiss' manager in the
City has emphatically denied that anything is wrong financially. It
is hinted that Weiss has enemies of various political shades, and
the theory is advanced that he has been kidnapped. But read it for
yourself, if you take any interest in the fellow."

So saying, the speaker handed the paper to Sefton, and began to talk
on other topics to his companions. The paragraph was displayed, with
appropriate headings, on the third page:--



"Considerable excitement has been caused in City circles by the
mysterious disappearance of Mr. Samuel Weiss, the well-known merchant,
whose offices are situated in Leadenhall-street. Mr. Weiss has not been
in London very long, but for some years past has occupied a prominent
position in South Africa, where he is widely known and respected. So
far as it has been possible to ascertain, Mr. Weiss left the City the
day before yesterday at five o'clock, according to his usual custom.
There is no question that he was expected back on the following
morning, because he made important appointments by letter, which,
however, in the circumstances, he could not keep. On the evening of
his disappearance, Mr. Weiss dined quietly at home with his wife and
daughter, and afterwards retired to the library to smoke a cigar and
read certain papers, which was his usual habit when he had no social
engagements on hand. Only one visitor called during the evening, and he
did not stay long, leaving, according to the testimony of the butler,
shortly after ten. At that time Mr. Weiss was in the library, but when
the butler entered the room at a quarter to eleven, Mr. Weiss was no
longer there. Thinking his master had gone out, the butler said nothing
and presently retired, leaving the front door on the latch. It was late
on the following morning before the discovery was made that Mr. Weiss
had not come back all night. Mrs. Weiss was not at first alarmed by
this discovery, but as the day wore on and there were no signs of the
missing man, she became frightened and sent round to Scotland Yard.
It was then found that Mr. Weiss had not been near the City, and up
to the time of our going to press nothing has transpired as to his
whereabouts. The disappearance is all the more remarkable in view of
the fact that we are informed on the highest authority that Mr. Weiss'
business affairs are in absolute order. The missing gentleman, too,
was in perfect health, and, so far as can be learned, had nothing to
trouble him."


Sefton dropped the paper and lighted a cigarette. He wanted to think
over the matter quietly. He knew more about Weiss than anybody in
the club, or, for that matter, in London. No doubt Weiss had enemies
besides himself, and some of these appeared to be both bold and
unscrupulous. All the same, Sefton was annoyed to find the thing taken
out of his hands in this way. He had thrown himself heart and soul into
the fight with Weiss, and it was vexatious to have his hand forced
in this fashion. It was, however, a consolation to know that as long
as Weiss was out of the way Gerald Rashleigh was safe! The question
was how long would he be absent? He might return at any moment, or he
might be away for a month, or for ever, or might even be now in his
house. It might resolve itself into a case of lapse of memory, such as
frequently happens. But, at all events, Sefton's plans were confounded
for the present. He felt he must go to Weiss' house and ascertain the
very latest details. The members had forgotten Weiss by this time, the
smoking-room company had passed on to more interesting topics, and none
noticed Sefton as he threw the end of his cigarette in the fireplace
and left the club. When he reached Weiss' house, a few lights were
burning. In answer to his summons the butler came to the door, looking
scared and agitated.

"I beg your pardon, sir," he said, "but I thought you were the police.
They have been coming and going all day, till it's got on my nerves to
such an extent that every time I hear the bell it brings my heart into
my mouth. No, sir, we haven't heard a word about master in any shape or
form."

Sefton asked a few questions, but elicited nothing fresh. He turned
away disappointed, and walked slowly along the deserted street. Then
he grew conscious that someone was coming behind him with rapid steps,
and presently a trembling hand was laid upon his arm. He turned to see
a pretty domestic, regarding him with a white face and quivering lips.
Under the arc light he noticed the imploring look in her eyes.

"I beg your pardon, sir," she said, "but are you not Mr. Sefton? Yes,
I thought you were. My mistress has said to me more than once that if
anything happened to her I was to come to you."

"Try to calm yourself," Sefton said, sympathetically, "but you haven't
told me who your mistress is."

"Miss Weiss, sir," the girl whispered. "I think there's trouble, and I
don't know what to do."

Sefton was startled.

"Yes, yes; but what has happened to your mistress?"

"I can't tell," the girl said tearfully; "she went out last night, and
has not returned."




CHAPTER XXII.--A LAPSE OF MEMORY.

Samuel Weiss sat in the semi-darkness glaring at his tormentor. To do
him justice, he did not lack courage, and was ready to try conclusions
with Ford, but he could not tell how such a struggle would end,
and, as a fact, he had done this man a grievous wrong. This latter
consideration did not count for much with Weiss, yet it was not without
its moral effect. Weiss knew, too, that Ford had been hunting for him
over two continents, and would slay him without compunction but for the
fear of detection. Even this risk would not have deterred Ford if he
had been quite sure of a certain thing. Until this matter was settled
Weiss felt secure. But it was maddening to be detained here at the
mercy of Ford, when there were so many pressing reasons why he should
be at home.

"How much longer is this going on?" he demanded, rising to his feet.

"Were you speaking to me?" Ford replied. "Don't adopt that tone with
me, for I won't stand it. You will remain here as long as I choose. I
have several questions to ask. In the first place, where is my wife?"

Weiss stood sullen and silent. Ford repeated the question with an
emphasis which left him no alternative.

"I don't know," he said.

"That's a lie," Ford said, without the slightest feeling. "What is the
use of your telling me such a story? People call you clever, and I
suppose you must be, but even clever men make mistakes. Now, Weiss, I
will make a bargain with you. You are rich and prosperous, and appear
to have turned over a new leaf. Mind, I only say 'appear.' I dare say
you've made a good thing out of diamonds, and have come to England
to settle down and, as the papers put it, take your proper place in
Society. Before long you'll have a fine mansion in the country, be made
a J.P., and get a seat in the House. Fancy you a magistrate! It makes
me laugh even to think of it. But you won't be the only rascal on the
bench, lecturing poor wretches on their shortcomings. I heard something
from another quarter and have come here to spoil your little game. My
idea was to expose you first and shoot you afterwards. But I don't see
what I shall gain by that, so am ready to strike a bargain with you.
Tell me where I can find my wife and child and I will not trouble you
again."

Weiss shook his head doggedly.

"I don't know," he said. "I wish to goodness I did, so that I could
be rid of you. I have not seen your wife for three years. She was to
have come to a place near Kimberley to get her share of the money that
belonged to us, but she never turned up, and from that day to this we
have not met."

"You didn't look for her?" Ford asked.

Weiss was goaded into sudden fury. He hated to be cross-examined like
this, and it cut his self-esteem to find himself a mere puppet in
Ford's hands. Had he been less furious he might have been more guarded
in his reply.

"No, I didn't," he said, "why should I worry? Your wife was quite
capable of taking care of herself, and I had other things to think
about."

"You are not speaking the truth," Ford retorted. "I am certain my
wife came to you, and that you refused to give her anything. That
was about the time when it was reported I had been killed by natives
in a row near Kimberley, and you thought you'd heard the last of me.
You had all the diamonds in your possession, the whole of a colossal
fortune, and it struck you as an excellent idea to keep everything
to yourself. If you could only get away, my wife could starve or die
for all you cared--a solitary item in the vast African continent--and
there would be an end of her. I am not talking at a venture. I have
been a heedless, creedless, Godless blackguard, but I was fond of my
wife, and she might have made a decent man of me if she had only had
the opportunity. She trusted herself to me; she knew what I was, and
married me. I ought not to have left her alone, but I saw my way to
making a fortune in double-quick time, and that is how the trouble came
about."

"How much longer are you going to be?" Weiss asked, with an affectation
of being bored.

"I am in no hurry. Nobody knows you are in this den. Haven't I warned
you that I could put you out of the way and walk out of the house
unsuspected, and to-morrow all London would be asking why Weiss had
blown his brains out in a low public-house. I have hardly a friend in
England, and no one knows I am here. But you needn't be afraid. I have
a better plan than that. We will wait till the coast is clear, and then
I will go home with you and talk matters over."

This suggestion found favor in Weiss' eyes, for he almost ventured to
smile.

"Very well," he exclaimed, "it shall be so. Then you will find that you
have been quite mistaken, Ford, that I am not the man you take me for."

Ford did not care to dispute the point. He moved cautiously to the
door, and bade Weiss remain till he came back.

"Don't move," he said threateningly; "don't play any of your tricks on
me. And remember that the police may still be watching the house. You
don't want to fall into their hands."

With these significant words Ford left the room. He was gone so long
that Weiss became uneasy. He could hear a clock strike the hour of one,
and the whole world seemed to have grown suddenly still and silent.
But the minutes crept on and on, until half an hour had passed, and
there was as yet no sign of Ford. In the intense stillness Weiss could
hear the creaking of the floor boards; a mouse scratching behind the
wainscot sounded loud and distinct. By and by he thought he detected
someone breathing regularly and steadily, and had a queer, creepy
feeling that he was not alone. He stood, impatient and restless, until
he could endure the solitude no longer and groped his way towards the
door.

His sight was not good, and he felt in his pocket for his glasses,
but they were not there. Probably he had lost them in the confusion,
and would have to do as best he could without them. He could only
dimly discern the outline of the door, and found himself presently
in a passage which, however, seemed to lead to nowhere. He could not
discover the stairs, and tried to recollect how he had reached the spot
where he was standing. His helplessness was most annoying, especially
as he could have got clear away without seeming to break faith with
Ford, for he could easily have said that he imagined Ford had fallen
into the hands of the police.

Weiss gave a grunt of satisfaction as he found at length what he was
looking for. A rickety flight of stairs turned abruptly to the right,
and down these Weiss picked his way cautiously, but he had hardly
reached the second step before the whole crumpled under his feet, and
he fell heavily head first to the floor below. He experienced a dull
feeling of pain, then a grinding horrible jarring from head to foot,
and finally passed into a state of unconsciousness.

How long he lay there he never knew. When he opened his eyes again it
was still dark, though faint streaks of the coming dawn were visible.
He lay in a small courtyard surrounded by dilapidated buildings. The
place was silent; the police had done their work thoroughly, and nobody
was left in the house. Standing faint, dizzy, and confused, Weiss
attempted to realise where he was. So far as he could tell, he showed
no outward mark of injury, no sign of blood, not even a bruise. He
could even walk and, to his surprise and relief, felt little the worse
for his adventure. But what appalled him was that an extraordinary
cloud had come over his brain. He had no recollection of yesterday or
the day before, and the more he tried to recall the past, the more
impenetrable did that veil become. Then suddenly he seemed dimly to
understand his peril, a profuse perspiration broke out upon his face,
and he trembled from head to foot. He knew he had sustained a severe
concussion, which he feared had reduced his mind to a perfect blank.
What if he had lost his memory? He fumbled for a pocket-book or card
case. But could find neither. He had removed them the night before.

"I wonder who I am," he muttered; "am I an honest man or a rogue? And
how did I get here?"




CHAPTER XXIII.--IN HIDING.

These questions Weiss repeated over and over again in the most helpless
fashion. He sat down with his head between his hands, trying to puzzle
it all out until his brain reeled, and he began to have doubts as to
his own sanity. It was getting daylight, and before long somebody
would turn up and ask him what he was doing there. The best thing,
he concluded, was to go to the nearest police station and explain
to the inspector what had happened. In an odd sort of way Weiss was
still debating about his identity and what sort of life he had led
previously. He had a strange feeling that he had a good deal to conceal
and would have to be very careful what he said to the police. He had
not the least idea what his financial standing was, but it was some
consolation to know that he was well-dressed and that his linen was
of the finest and most expensive quality. He had, too, a costly gold
watch, but this conjured up a fleeting picture of a dastardly crime in
which he had played the part of the chief actor. All this passed in a
flash, but it rendered him very hot and uncomfortable.

Then by natural gradation he took to wondering if he belonged to the
criminal classes. Had he been engaged in some nocturnal errand and met
with an accident? What would happen if he were arrested at the police
station as a notorious criminal who was wanted by the authorities.

"This is dreadful," Weiss groaned, "if I could only get a glimpse into
the past! If I only knew my name! I must be a villain of the deepest
dye or my mind would not be preoccupied with crime."

By and by he proceeded down a passage into the street. Weiss saw that
he was in a squalid neighborhood, entirely unfamiliar to him. There
was nothing here to give him a clue to his lost identity. He wandered
on, restless and miserable, on the off-chance of finding somebody to
whom he might explain his trouble. But the few people about at that
early hour did not inspire confidence. It was too early for the laborer
and artisan to be on their way to work, and the casual wayfarers who
drifted by were nighthawks of the worst possible type. As he loitered,
faint and confused, he was unconscious that he was being closely
observed by two suspicious characters on the other side of the road.
Possibly his watch chain had attracted their attention, for they came
across the street, and stood one on either side of him.

"Anything wrong, guv'nor?"

Weiss made some vague reply, while one of the strangers relieved him of
his watch and chain. They winked at one another exultingly, for a man
who had passed the night not wisely but too well was an easy victim.
But a policeman hove in sight, and the two thieves promptly took to
their heels. Then there was the sound of a whistle close at hand,
followed by another in the distance, and Weiss speedily found himself
in a police station making a feeble effort to account for himself. The
inspector in charge gave up the case with a shrug of his shoulders.

"It's no use, Jones," he said to a subordinate, "not for the present,
anyhow. He's been drinking, that's what's the matter with him. And if
he hasn't been drinking, he's been lured into some night-house and
drugged."

The other constable nodded his head as he looked at Weiss' white face
and lack-lustre eyes.

"That's more like it," he said approvingly. "It don't look like a case
of ordinary drunk to me. The best thing is to leave the gentleman to
himself until he comes round. There's nothing on him to give us a clue
to his name. His pocket's been picked of his watch and chain, but we'll
probably have these back before the day is out. We know where the
culprits are, and it can't be long before they're nabbed."

Weiss listened in a dull, mechanical sort of way, until it gradually
dawned on him that he was the subject of the conversation. He made a
valiant attempt to explain who he was, but the endeavor was hopeless.
He did not like his surroundings either, and was anxious to get away.
His money was still intact, a piece of good fortune that consoled him.
Perhaps his memory might return during the day, and in the meantime he
would take a room at some small hotel, and lie low there until he was
in a position to return home. With this idea uppermost in his mind he
approached the inspector's desk.

"I am sorry to give you all this trouble," he said, "but the fact is
I have been very unfortunate. I found myself in a row last night,
and when it was over I helped to take a man into a house close by. I
was foolish enough to drink some whisky they offered me, and almost
instantly I knew it was drugged. I have been wandering about ever
since, and it is only during the last two or three minutes that my mind
is becoming clearer. I think I am all right now."

"What did I say?" observed the police constable.

"Never mind that," the inspector replied. "I suppose, sir, you couldn't
tell me where this happened? No? I was afraid you would say that. You
are a stranger in these parts?"

"Oh! quite," Weiss agreed. "I came down to look up an old servant, and
failed to find him. I took a wrong turning to cross the river again, or
I should have been back home hours ago."

"You have lost your watch and chain," the inspector suggested.

Weiss clapped his hand to his waistcoat with a cry of dismay.

"So I have," he muttered. "I suppose I have seen the last of that, and
it was a valuable watch, too."

The inspector explained that the robbery had been witnessed, and the
police hoped to recover the articles before long. Perhaps the gentleman
would give them his name and address, so that they might communicate
with him later. This was the last thing Weiss desired. Even had he felt
certain of his identity it must not be disclosed until he had carefully
considered whether it were discreet or not to appear in police court.
He made a show of searching his pockets for a card.

"I shall be very glad to have my watch," he said, "but in the meantime
I must be going. My wife and family will be wondering what's become of
me. Perhaps you had better take my name and address--Mr. Reuben Farr,
of 116 Brampton Gardens, Blackheath. I shall be pleased to hear from
you if you get any news about my watch."

With a fairly brisk step Weiss bustled out of the office, but he did
not breathe freely until he had put several streets between himself and
the police station. He walked on for a long distance, still keeping
to the river, until he reached a district which, though strange to
him, was respectable. It was now nine o'clock. The shops were open,
and the bustle of London life was in full swing. He came presently to
a public-house, where he found he could have a room. The deposit of
a sovereign allayed all suspicion on the score of the new customer's
want of luggage. After making a few purchases, he partook of a hearty
breakfast, and then, on the plea that he had been travelling all night
retired to his room with instructions that he was not to be called till
dinner time.

Weiss slept soundly all day, and woke up in the evening greatly
refreshed and feeling himself again, except that the cloud had not
lifted from his mind. It was still in the same blank condition, and
ponder as he might he could not recollect anything that happened before
his accident. At first he thought of consulting a doctor, but discarded
the idea ultimately, resolving to let it stand for a day or two. He
dined as heartily as he had breakfasted, and in the evening went to a
theatre, where he saw a play which in some way was familiar to him,
though he had no recollection of ever witnessing it before.

But four days passed, and Weiss still found himself in the same
hopeless position. He was getting short of money, too. He passed bills
on the wall offering a reward for his own discovery, but they conveyed
nothing to him. On the evening of the fourth day as he was entering the
inn, a constable in plain clothes accosted him.

"You are Mr. Samuel Weiss, sir," he said quietly.

Weiss nodded in the most natural way.

"Quite right," he said. "I had no idea of it myself till you mentioned
it. How did you come to find me out?"




CHAPTER XXIV.--THE WATCH IS FOUND.

Edgar Sefton was astonished at what Iza Weiss' maid said.

"Let me understand you. You are Miss Weiss' maid and are in her
confidence. You tell me she went out last night, and has not come back.
Do you mean this?"

"Yes, sir," the girl answered, "and I don't know what to do. You say
I am in the confidence of my mistress, and to a certain extent it is
true. But there are many things I don't know, and it is not my place to
ask questions."

Sefton waved the point aside impatiently.

"You had better keep to facts," he said. "Now, go on, and tell me
everything you know."

"Well, it's like this, sir," the maid explained. "Miss Weiss is not
happy at home. She doesn't get on with her people. I have known her
hardly speak to her parents for a week at a time, and they don't behave
as if they were her father and mother. For some reason, they are afraid
of her. My mistress wanted to go out last night, but wished for an
excuse to get away without it looking as if the thing were what you
might call premeditated. I forged a letter for her, and had it brought
to the house by a messenger-boy. When she went out she told me she
should be very late, and I was to slip downstairs after everybody had
gone to bed and let her in."

"Has this happened before?" Sefton asked.

"Oh, well, sir. Miss Iza has been out very late on several occasions. I
may say it has only been lately, but I have let her in at three o'clock
in the morning, and up to now we have managed to keep the secret.
Sometimes she has been out all day, and Mrs. Weiss has been led to
believe that she was in bed with a headache. But nothing like this has
ever happened before, and I am terribly frightened. No one knows about
it so far. They think she is in bed, not well enough to get up. I have
gone through the form of taking meals up to her on a tray, but you can
see for yourself, sir, that this can't go on much longer. What do you
advise me to do?"

Sefton thought it over for a minute or two.

"I appreciate your difficulty," he said. "From what I know of Miss
Weiss, it is impossible for her to do anything underhand. She must be
very hard pressed indeed to be driven to these expedients. I can't
believe that anything very serious has happened to her, and she is
capable of taking care of herself. But at the same time it is your duty
to speak."

The girl's tears began to flow afresh.

"It is so easy to give advice," she said, "but if I go to Mrs. Weiss
and tell her and Miss Iza turns up again, she will be furious with me.
She will say I have betrayed my trust. There is no knowing what damage
I might do, meaning good all the time."

"I see that," Sefton said. "Wait until to-morrow morning. In the
meanwhile I will make a few inquiries. I know something of the trouble
which is on Miss Weiss's mind, and may be able to relieve it. If she
comes back you can telephone to me, can't you? I will write my number
down on a card for you. Perhaps you had better telephone in any case;
it won't be difficult to do so from your house."

The girl agreed, and Sefton went on his way thoughtfully. He was more
disturbed by this piece of intelligence than he cared to admit. He
was not at all sure that that no harm had come to Iza Weiss, though
he felt pretty certain her appearance had something to do with the
disgrace which was hanging over the head of Gerald Rashleigh. He could
do nothing that night, so he returned to his rooms. It was nearly two
o'clock in the morning before he decided to go to bed. His hand was on
the switch of the electric light, when the ripple of the telephone bell
brought him up with a start.

"Are you there?" he asked. "Who is it?"

The reply came almost in a whisper. It was as welcome as it was
unexpected.

"I am Iza Weiss," the voice said, "I hope you'll catch what I am
saying. I have to speak very quietly, because the household are in bed,
and I don't want anybody to know I am using the telephone. I have been
talking with my maid. It seems she got frightened, and told you about
my escapade. I can't blame her for that, because I told her if anything
happened to me, she could not do better than communicate with you. I
wonder if you can guess what has kept me from home?"

"I think I could," Sefton replied. "Gerald Rashleigh had something to
do with it."

"He had everything to do with it," was the quiet reply; "he was in a
position of great danger. I was able to warn him, but I don't want to
talk about myself just now. I have managed to get back home without
anybody but my maid suspecting anything. At present I am more concerned
with Mr. Weiss. We have heard nothing of him."

"You are speaking of your father?" Sefton asked.

"My father! Oh, dear, yes. He is in a position of real danger. Whether
he has met with an accident or not I don't know, but a man named Edward
Ford is thirsting for his blood. You may remember Ford? He was a
prospector in South Africa----"

"I remember him," Sefton interrupted, "a big, harum-scarum fellow, one
of the most desperate men I ever came across. He will be dangerous to
anyone who has crossed his path. Is he an enemy of Mr. Weiss's?"

"Very much, but I cannot tell you more now. I thought you would like to
know I was safe, and that my adventure had brought no harm to anybody.
I shall be much obliged if you will come round to-morrow morning under
pretence of asking about my father. I have certain information which
you may be able to convey in a in a diplomatic manner to the police.
When may I expect you?"

Sefton arranged a time and went to bed feeling easy in his mind, but
when he called on Miss Weiss next morning he was told she was not at
home. He was inclined to question the correctness of the message, but
the butler, who gave it, was quite convinced. He had taken letters to
Miss Weiss which came by the ten o'clock post, and almost immediately
afterwards had called a cab for her. She left the house saying she
would not be back for a day or two.

Sefton turned disappointedly away, and indeed it was nearly the end
of the week before he received a note from Iza Weiss asking him to
call upon her the same afternoon. He found her in the library with a
clean-shaven, astute-looking person, who, Sefton was not surprised to
learn, had come from Scotland Yard. The visitor has just laid on the
table a gold watch and chain.

"I won't detain you a minute," Iza said. "I have to attend to all the
business connected with the disappearance of my father. My mother is
too much overcome to be of the slightest use. The inspector has called
to inquire if I could identify this watch and chain. He is convinced it
belongs to Mr. Weiss, for it tallies with the one he was wearing the
last time he was seen. I have no doubt of it myself?"

"How did it come into your hands?" Sefton asked.

"That's easily explained, sir," the detective replied. "It was pawned
by two pick-pockets who are now in custody, and when we knew what
jewellery Mr. Weiss was wearing, we came to the conclusion that this
was his watch. This leads us to another important discovery. We have
ascertained that Mr. Weiss met with a serious accident, which resulted
in an injury to his brain, which induced loss of memory. The morning
after he disappeared, he was actually in one of our stations in South
London, and there gave a false name and address. But we have nearly
succeeded in tracing him, and I think he will be home again this
evening."

"Are you you going to leave the watch?" Sefton said.

"I can't do that, sir," the officer explained. "At present it is our
property."

When the door closed behind the inspector, Iza Weiss turned eagerly to
her companion.

"You have made a discovery?" she said.

"I have indeed," Sefton replied; "that watch may belong to Mr. Weiss
now, but it was once the property of Miss Vane's father. But I cannot
say more just now."




CHAPTER XXV.--HANDCUFFED.

If Iza Weiss's maid had only known the perils her mistress was going
through, she would have had graver cause for alarm. It was a desperate
enterprise on which the girl had embarked, but for some years she had
lived in an atmosphere of intrigue and trouble, so that adventure was
to her almost a relaxation. And, besides, her lover was in imminent
danger, and that sufficed. After numerous hair-breath escapes, she had
found him, but even then it looked as if her efforts were in vain.

Most unexpectedly Ford had come to the rescue. Iza had known Ford
in South Africa, was aware for years he had been associated with
Samuel Weiss, and that the men had worked together in more than one
questionable transaction. She knew, too, there had been a deadly
quarrel between them, and that the chief motive for Weiss's return was
a desire to be as far away from Ford as possible.

Despite his wild nature and extravagant outbursts, Iza had always liked
Ford. Side by side with the potentialities of a blackguard, he had many
sterling qualities which the girl was bound to admire. Women could
trust him, and children were fond of him, and more than once he had
gone out of his way to do Iza a real service.

And he had behaved splendidly to her now. But for his resourcefulness
and courage George Rashleigh would at that very moment have been in the
hands of the police. When he was arrested, his case looked hopeless. It
was true the police had no notion who their prisoner was, but directly
inquiries came to be made the truth would come out.

But thanks to Ford, Rashleigh had every chance to get clear away. The
danger was not wholly past, because the police might return. Gerald
stood for a while in the room, almost afraid to move. For a time there
was silence. Then Iza began to get impatient.

"It must be very late," she whimpered. "Don't you think we might try to
escape?"

"Wait a little longer," Rashleigh replied. "I suppose the excitement
has been too much for me."

Rashleigh's voice was so hoarse and strained that Iza was startled.
There was a note of pain in it, too, and he seemed to have difficulty
in his breathing.

"Aren't you well, Gerald?" she asked.

"I am afraid not, dear," Rashleigh said. "I ought not to have come
out. I hope I shall manage to keep up for the next hour or so, but my
breathing is getting worse."

Rashleigh broke off abruptly, and Iza began to fear the worst.

"Then we must make an effort," she said. "The only thing I can think of
is to take you to some hotel, and send for a doctor. But I have very
little money."

"That's a very good suggestion," Rashleigh gasped. "You needn't worry
about money, because I have plenty. Let us go. If it wasn't for those
wretched handcuffs I should feel fairly safe."

"Oh, I daresay we can manage," Iza said eagerly. "I will button your
overcoat over your arms, and make it look as if you had met with an
accident."

A few moments later they found themselves in the street. The ghastly
pallor on Rashleigh's face filled Iza with alarm. It was imperative
he should be conveyed to some warm room at once, and be attended by
a medical man. The streets were almost deserted, but an occasional
passer-by glanced curiously at the man, who appeared to have lost the
use of his arm. A policeman watched them, and Iza's heart came into her
mouth. Presently it became clear that someone was following them. With
difficulty Iza repressed a scream as a hand was laid upon her shoulder,
but to her intense relief, she saw that it was Ford.

"You are taking big risks," the latter said grimly. "Why didn't you
wait until I gave you the tip? However, Weiss is safe enough, and the
police have cleared out. This is no business of mine, Miss Weiss, and
we all have our troubles, but I shall be ready to help you if you will
let me. I suppose this is a friend of yours who has got into a scrape?"

"He is the gentleman I am engaged to," Iza said quietly. "And he has
to thank Mr. Weiss entirely for his present position. There is a foul
conspiracy on foot, Mr. Ford, and I am here to prevent it. You can help
us if you know the neighborhood. Mr. Rashleigh is dreadfully ill, and
must get comfortable quarters at once."

"I am sorry," Ford said, in his rough way, "but I know no more about
this locality than you do. But there must be plenty of hotels close by
if you have got money, but how will you manage with this gentleman,
tied up as he is? You can't take a man in handcuffs into a hotel and
pass off as respectable people. I thought of that, and that's why I
followed you into the street. You see the difficulty?"

"If I only had a file I could manage," Iza said. "We could take a
private room, and before the doctor came I could rid Mr. Rashleigh of
those horrible things."

Rashleigh took very little interest in the conversation. He was
breathing with greater difficulty than ever, and his face was white and
set. Ford smiled as be plunged his hands into his pockets and produced
a file with the air of a conjurer.

"It isn't very large," he said, "but you'll find it of excellent
quality. I always used it in South Africa as a rough and ready way of
testing diamonds. Now I must be off. I have an account to settle with
Mr. Weiss, and no doubt the longer I detain him the better he will be
pleased."

Ford turned away and strode down the street. With the file tightly
grasped in her hand, Iza urged Rashleigh along. She was alarmed to
observe how painfully he walked and the increased difficulty he had in
keeping up with her. She was so engrossed in her companion that for
some time she did not notice a black poodle which was jumping up and
fawning upon her.

"How did Fuss get here? How extraordinary to follow me here! And how
dangerous! What do you mean by it, sir?"

The dog seemed to understand what was said, and laid hold of
Iza's skirt, bent upon dragging her down a side street. It was a
respectable-looking street of small houses, and on the spur of the
moment Iza made up her mind to go that way. It did not matter which
way she turned, however, for she was as likely to find an hotel in one
direction as another.

"Very well, Fuss," she said resignedly, "you shall take charge of the
party. Perhaps your instincts will help us. Go on."

The dog trotted ahead, barking joyfully, and paused before a house,
where he whined and scratched at the door. A moment later the door was
opened by a tall, refined-looking woman, with dark hair and regular
features.

"You naughty dog!" she said, reprovingly, "why don't you go home? What
brings you here so late?"

A sudden exclamation of thankfulness broke from Iza's lips. She rushed
forward and placed her hands on the woman's shoulders.

"Kate Ford!" she exclaimed, "don't you know me? I am Iza Weiss, and in
terrible trouble. Are you alone in the house? Do you live here?"

"I am alone in the house, and it is my own place," the woman replied.
"I did not recognise you for the moment. Well, this is an unexpected
surprise! I won't ask you what you are doing here at this time of
night, but if you are in distress, I shall be only too pleased to help
you. Come inside."

She followed Mrs. Ford into a comfortable sitting-room where a fire was
burning, dropped into a chair, and burst into tears. It was only for a
few moments, and then she was her own courageous and smiling self again.




CHAPTER XXVI--FORD'S WIFE.

The dark woman standing by the fireplace said nothing. She looked like
one who had seen trouble and suffering in her time, but the expression
in her eyes was kindly, and the hard, proud lines of her mouth softened
a little. She even expressed no surprise as Iza placed Rashleigh in a
chair and removed his overcoat, displaying his fettered wrists beneath.
Iza looked at her appealingly.

"You were always kind-hearted and thoughtful," she said. "Many a thing
you did for me when I was a child, and you won't turn your back on me
now. This is Mr. Gerald Rashleigh, and I am engaged to be married to
him. He is the victim of a conspiracy, which is being worked by the
man whom I call my father. The police are after him, Kate, and there
are urgent reasons why he should not fall into their hands. He is
very ill. Oh! if you are alone in the house, help us. You might keep
Mr. Rashleigh here till he is well. There is no question about money.
We shall be able to employ a trained nurse, and you will be able to
recommend a good doctor."

"Just as if I wouldn't do anything for you, Miss Iza," Mrs. Ford said
reproachfully. "And goodness knows! I have had trouble enough of my
own, and that generally makes one feel for other people. I'll help
you now and ask questions afterwards. I am alone in the house; I know
nobody hereabouts, and it will be a godsend to have someone to talk to.
And if you can find a more capable nurse than I am, I should like to
see her. But before we do anything we must take off these handcuffs."

With a broken murmur of thanks, Iza produced a file, and Kate Ford went
to work with her strong capable hands. Rashleigh lay back in his chair
as if the proceedings had no interest for him. Half an hour later Iza
and Mrs. Ford managed to get him into bed and a cheerful fire blazed on
the room.

"How can I thank you?" Iza said.

"There is no need to," Mrs. Ford answered. "I am only too pleased to
help you. You shall tell me presently how Mr. Rashleigh got into this
scrape. And since he is hiding from the police wouldn't it be more
prudent if you went back home and left Mr. Rashleigh to me? I must
concoct some story, of course. Mr. Rashleigh must pass for my brother.
But if I were you I wouldn't see the doctor. You are too well-dressed
and aristocratic for a neighborhood like this. The less suspicion we
arouse the better."

Iza fell in with this suggestion. She was only too glad to have the
burden of responsibility lifted from her shoulders, for now she was
feeling the strain. She lay back in her chair with her eyes half closed
and the black poodle curled up at her feet. She was dimly conscious of
Mrs. Ford's return to the house; then she heard the sound of subdued
voices, and, a considerable time afterwards, the front door closed
again. Then Mrs. Ford bustled into the room.

"What does he say?" Iza asked anxiously.

"Well, it's pretty serious, my dear," Mrs. Ford replied. "A touch of
pneumonia. But everything has been done that can be done, and the
patient is getting on nicely. You can trust him to me, and you mustn't
come here oftener than you can help. You must lie down, too, or I'll
have a couple of patents on my hands, which will be more than I can
manage. And how about the old folk at home? Won't they be terribly
anxious about you?"

Iza smiled contemptuously.

"They will be more anxious to get rid of me altogether," she said. "But
I am not running the risks you imagine. For all Mr. and Mrs. Weiss
know to the contrary, I am safe in bed, and my maid is to be trusted
implicitly. She would shield me even if I did not turn up to-morrow.
And I can't go back yet. I couldn't return until I knew that the danger
was over. But what will your husband say?"

Kate Ford stared at the speaker in undisguised amazement.

"My husband!" she exclaimed. "Why I haven't seen him for two years! It
is a sore subject with me Miss Iza, and I shall be glad if you won't
refer to it. I could never understand why he should send me a message
saying he never wished to see me again. I married him with my eyes
open, knowing all about his past and directly again at the wishes of
my friends. I felt that Ned had good qualities, but I was a fool to
think I could reform him. I never thought he would go away and leave me
amongst strangers, and absolutely penniless. I inherited a little money
after that and came back to London and took this house. You will think
me foolish and sentimental, but if Ned came back I should welcome him.
Still, that's all past and done with."

"But is it?" Iza asked eagerly. "I feel sure you are mistaken. There
is some more of Mr. Weiss's work here. You wonder why I speak so of a
man whom the world regards as my father. He is no relation of mine at
all. There are reasons why things must remain as they appear to be,
but I hope it will not be for much longer. But I am forgetting. I was
going to tell you about your husband--it is not so long since I was in
his company. The very file you were using belongs to him. He ran after
us in the street and gave it to me. But perhaps I had better explain
everything to you."

Kate Ford nodded her head slowly. She was unable to speak. There was an
eager look in her eyes, but her face was pale and her lips trembled.
She asked never a question until Iza had finished. It was only then
that she grasped the meaning of it all.

"It seems like Providence," she remarked. "I never expected to hear
anything like this. You mean to tell me my husband is in London. You
think he is looking for me. Why, I might run against him in the street;
I might meet him at any moment! You are right Miss Iza, this must be
some of Samuel Weiss's rascally work. He had some reason for parting
Ned and me, and did his work effectually. I cannot tell you how glad I
am you came here this evening. What brought you?"

"I suppose it was the dog," Iza replied. "He found me in the street. At
first I thought he had followed me from home. Then he dragged me down
here, and in the excitement of discovering you, I forgot all about him.
But does Fuss often pay you a visit? He disappears for hours at a time,
but we never worry about that, as he always come back."

"Oh, the dog knows me," Kate Ford said. "We were very good chums in the
African days. Fuss came up to me one day in Piccadilly and renewed his
old friendship, and insisted on following me here. I was going to try
to find his home when he suddenly vanished, but he turns up regularly
about three times a week. But never mind the dog; tell me about my
husband."

There was little more for Iza to tell. It was getting near daylight and
Mrs. Ford urged Iza to go home. But the girl found it hard to leave
until she could take good news with her. She lingered until the doctor
paid his morning visit. She was still there when he called in the
evening. It would be more prudent, she said, for her to return after
midnight, when the Weiss household would be sure to be in bed. Her maid
would be on the watch for her, and she was certain the Weiss family
would not have the slightest idea that she had been outside the house.

"I know I have done right," she said. "Think how much happier I shall
be, now that I have heard what a cheerful account the doctor has given
of Gerald. After to-morrow I can get away for a day or two and come and
help you to nurse him. You won't mind, would you?"

Kate Ford smiled pleasantly.

"I understand, my dear," she said. "If you can manage without any risk
I shall be willing. I had better lend you a wrap or something. Your
dress is rather conspicuous. Don't you worry about the patient. He'll
be safe in my hands."

Iza was content. She was easy in her mind, and did not fail to realise
that Gerald Rashleigh was in capable hands. It was very late before
she reached Weiss's house and gave the signal to her maid, which was
immediately answered. It was then she heard that Mr. Weiss had not
yet returned. She smiled as she went up to her own room. She had no
occasion to be displeased with the result of her adventure.




CHAPTER XXVII.--WEISS'S RETURN.

Iza listened with great interest to what Sefton had to say about his
discovery of the original owner of the watch Weiss had been wearing
on the night of the accident. Sefton's exceedingly guarded language
satisfied her there was something he was concealing.

"Am I not to be trusted?" she asked.

"That is not the question," Sefton said hesitatingly. "I have found
out something which has given me food for thought. If you were not Mr.
Weiss's daughter----"

"You could tell me more, I suppose," Iza interrupted. "But as it is,
you have a natural delicacy in speaking freely. Well, the time has come
when we must be frank. Mr. Weiss is no relation of mine, but I ask you
to keep this secret for the present; there are reasons why the presumed
relationship should continue unsuspected for a little longer. You
need not scruple to pronounce Samuel Weiss a cold-blooded scoundrel,
for I am already aware of the fact. He would gladly remove me if he
could, because I have a hold upon him. Yet he is powerless, because
if anything happened to me, disclosures would follow, and he would be
ruined."

"I am not altogether astonished to hear this," Sefton said. "I may
admit now that it has always been a mystery to me how you could be his
daughter, or he your father. Your avowal puts a different construction
upon matters. The watch we were speaking of belonged to the Reverend
George Vane, Elsie's father. I don't suppose you are aware of it, but
according to popular opinion, Mr. Vane committed suicide. He was found
dead in circumstances that seemed to indicate that he had taken his
own life. Vane was too fine a fellow, too good a sportsman, to do so
cowardly an act. When he died his watch was missing. I don't think
enough was made of the point at the the time, but that is beside the
mark. It is almost incredible that Samuel Weiss should wear the watch
of the man he murdered, but your hardened criminal is both reckless and
foolish. Some of the most astute have betrayed themselves by the most
childish mistakes. Now, Weiss----"

"One moment," Iza exclaimed. "You are going too fast for me. Do you
mean to say that at one time Weiss was on friendly terms with Miss
Vane's father? I didn't know it."

"I had forgotten that for the moment," Sefton went on, "but it is a
fact. I suppose it must be about three years ago, roughly speaking.
Were you in England then?"

"No, I wasn't," Iza said. "I was at school in Paris."

"Ah! that would account for it. Weiss took a house in Herefordshire,
not very far from Mr. Vane's. I don't know what he was doing in the
country, but we may be sure he was up to no good. Perhaps London or
Capetown had grown too hot to hold him, and he thought the country
would be cooler. He became very friendly with Mr. Vane, who had a
decided bent for science, and, from inquiries I have made, I think it
likely he hoaxed with a process he had invented for the manufacture
of diamonds. Knowing so much about diamonds, it would be easy for him
to pose as a specialist and hoodwink a guileless parson. The men saw
a good deal of each other, though I cannot ascertain that Weiss ever
visited Mr. Vane's house. What was the outcome of this partnership we
shall never know, because Mr. Vane met his death in a tragic manner,
was, as I have said, supposed to have put an end to himself. I do not
believe it, and never believed it. I fancy Mr. Vane found Weiss out,
and threatened to expose him. He was a just and righteous man, and
would have done what he deemed his duty fearlessly. I believe Weiss
murdered Vane, and arranged the details so cunningly that the whole
thing pointed to suicide. I am not talking without book, for I hold
certain proofs, though I am bound to admit they are not quite complete.
But you will see for yourself that the evidence of the watch is pretty
strong. I recognised it in a moment. You will, of course, say nothing
about this."

"Of course not," Iza said. "But how horrible the whole thing is. Fancy
living under the same roof with such people! And yet one must dissemble
for a little longer."

Sefton expressed sympathy and was about to say more when the front-door
bell was violently rung, and two men alighted from a four-wheeler cab,
leading a third between them. They saw at a glance that this was Samuel
Weiss. He came quietly up the steps and walked into the hall with the
air of a stranger. He looked with idle curiosity around him, and it was
plain he had not the least idea where he was, or that he had ever been
there before. He entered the library and dropped into a seat with a
weary air, suggestive of utter boredom.

"Why did you bring me here?" he asked petulantly, "and who is this
gentleman? I suppose he is the master of the house?"

The two plain-clothes constables exchanged glances; obviously it was
unnecessary to detain them. Sefton sent for the doctor and loitered
until Weiss's regular physician came. Then as he turned to go, Iza
followed him to the door.

"Looks like a case for a doctor and a set of nurses," Sefton said. "I
wonder how he has got into that state. By-the-bye, I forgot to ask if
you had any news of Gerald Rashleigh. I have to see his sister this
afternoon, and she will be anxious to hear."

"You can take her good news," Iza smiled. "Gerald is safe, and in
excellent hands. But it was a very near thing. I got him into a house
just in time to avert an acute attack of pneumonia. He is going on
quite nicely. Between ourselves that's where I have been the last few
days. You will see me again when there is anything fresh to tell, won't
you?"

Sefton gave the desired pledge and went his way. He had plenty to
occupy his attention. In the first place he took a cab and paid a
hurried call on Vera Barrington, who was greatly cheered by the tidings
about her brother. Then he drove to an address off the Waterloo-road.
He had some difficulty in tracing the house where Mr. James Cutler
lived, but found it presently in a blind alley. The yard in front was
filled with scores of cages containing all sorts of animals, and at the
rear were a set of kennels which would have done justice to a ducal
establishment. The kennels were mostly filled with poodles of various
colors and sizes, and though Sefton was not a judge he could see that
the dogs were exceedingly valuable.

He had expected to find someone of the ordinary dealer type, but the
man who came forward and proclaimed himself to be Mr. Cutler was well
dressed, and had excellent manners.

"No, I don't live here, sir," he explained. "I only use this as
a convenient kind of office. I generally motor from my place at
Waybridge. Besides, it is so much easier for my customers in London to
call here. Do you want a dog?"

"No, I don't," Sefton explained. "I am afraid I have come to give
you some trouble. I understand your poodles originally came from Mr.
Vane in Herefordshire. Mr. Vane was a great friend of mine, and I am
interested in tracing a dog which was either sold or given some two
years ago to a man named Samuel Weiss. I believe Mr. Vane's studbooks
passed into your hands. I suppose it would be possible to trace this
transaction? I shall be pleased, should it take time----"

"There is no occasion for that," Mr. Cutler smiled. "I shall only be
too happy to place the information I have at your disposal. There need
be no question of fee. Will you come to the office? When I bought
Mr. Vane's dogs I had a lot of papers, and I fancy they don't all
refer to kennel affairs. But you can look through them for yourself.
Really, I ought to have sorted them out and returned them to Mr. Vane's
executors. You might overhaul them, whilst I try to trace the dog
transaction."

So saying, Cutler led the way into a neat little office and opened a
safe, from which he took a number of books relating to his business.
There were, besides, a lot of volumes mostly bound in black, and when
Sefton turned over the pages he saw they were in Mr. Vane's neat
handwriting. His eye caught the name of Samuel Weiss in several places.

"I wonder if I might borrow these?" he asked. "I will give you my name
and address. And when I return in a day or two, perhaps you will have
the other information for me. Are you sure you don't mind?"

"Certainly," Cutler replied. "Take them with pleasure."




CHAPTER XXVIII.--THE FIRST DIARY.

Sefton hurried home with his find, and lost no time in getting to work
upon the manuscripts. For an hour or two he waded through a mass of
more or less trivial details. They were not uninteresting in their way,
for they threw a considerable light upon the life of a man for whom he
had always had the highest regard. He was still poring over the pages
when his dinner was announced, and he had not yet dressed when that
meal was laid upon the table. He sat down just as he was and hurried
through his dinner. When he had finished and his cigar was lighted and
the lamps were lit, he sat down in real earnest with no intention of
going to bed until he had reached the last page of the diary.

There was nothing in the book to indicate the type of man who was
likely to take his own life. The diaries were interesting, even from a
literary point of view. They spoke of many things in which the writer
had borne a leading part, and told of his travels and researches in
many lands. It was not until Sefton had come to the middle of the third
black-bound volume that he lighted on the name of Samuel Weiss. He read
with enhanced zest.

"The world is a very small place," the diary began. "The more I see
of it, the surer I am. I had taken my gun to go through some of the
spinneys on the off chance of finding a stray rabbit or two. It was a
beautiful morning, following a spell of lovely weather, and I noticed
that in one of the orchards the daffodils had begun to bloom. It is
a long time since I have seen anything of this kind at the end of
March. But I did not sit down to my diary to discourse upon daffodils
in March. I think my text was the smallness of the world. I had shot
as many rabbits as I wanted, and had sent them home by a small boy
at an outlay of sixpence when I sat on a stile to smoke a pipe in
comfort. It was at this point the adventure began. Along the pathway
through the woods there came presently a man whom I judged to be about
fifty odd years of age, and one who was apparently a stranger in the
neighborhood. He was dressed like a countryman, that is to say, his
Norfolk suit was quite correct, and the same remark might apply to the
rest of his attire. But there is no deceiving an old hand. I knew at
once the fellow had been turned out by a Bond-street tailor, and that,
except outwardly, he was no country man at all.

"I knew he was a stranger, but at the same time his face struck me as
exceedingly familiar. Yet I must confess it was a face that did not
appeal to me much. In the first place it suggested dissipation; in the
second, greed; and in the third, cruelty. Nevertheless, the man had a
suggestion of power about him, and he accosted me like one who is used
to command and to be obeyed. I dare say if I had not been a lonely man
I should have thought no more about him, but in a dull place like this
a new face is a luxury.

"'Good morning to you, sir,' I said.

"He looked at me shrewdly from under his eyebrows. Perhaps he thought
I wanted something, in which he was mistaken, save perhaps that I
certainly wished to gratify my curiosity. Then I asked him if he was
aware that he was trespassing.

"'Am I?' he said. 'Upon my word, I am not aware of it. I have lived so
long out of England that I have almost forgotten what trespass means. I
believe I have lost my way. Could you direct me to Harley Lodge?'

"I pricked up my ears at this. I had heard some little time before that
the Harleys had let their house, but I had no idea who their tenant
was, nor what manner of man he would prove to be. From what he said,
I gathered he had spent most of his time abroad, and indeed there was
something about him that suggested the colonial. And yet all the time I
was haunted by the feeling that I had met him before. I felt sure I had
seen him in circumstances which did not redound to his credit. I had to
put the idea aside, because it was illogical, and, apart from the point
of view of a parson, uncharitable as well. Still, I confess that my
curiosity was piqued, and that is why I lingered after I had given the
stranger the information that he desired.

"'Well, I suppose you are the parson?' he asked, in his blunt way. 'Do
you live near here?'

"'That is my unhappy fate,' I replied. 'My name is Vane. May I venture
to ask yours?'

"He volunteered the information that his name was Weiss, and his
Christian name Samuel. It is not a pretty combination, and I am bound
to confess that I did not like it. It suggests the city shark too
much, with the requisite admixture of the respectable. And ever since
I can recollect I have always detested the name Samuel. If I were a
woman I would never marry a man named Samuel. It is strange how this
combination of words, which I never heard before, struck a familiar
chord. I rather disliked Mr. Weiss at the very first sight, and now I
began to distrust him altogether, and yet I lingered in conversation
with him, until finally he asked me to go over one day next week and
lunch with him. I don't think I should have gone even then, but Mr.
Weiss spoke of certain specimens he had which I was particularly
anxious to see. From what he said I gathered that he had a poor opinion
of the people of the neighborhood, and I should say that when he
becomes known this feeling will be mutual.

"As I walked home, having arranged to go over to Harley Lodge on
Tuesday, I wondered what had brought Mr. Weiss to such a quiet part
of the world as ours. He had told me that he cared nothing for sport,
that he was not particularly fond of the country, and that he deplored
he had no telephone. Perhaps he has come for rest and quietness. But
really it has nothing to do with me. I am getting quite as curious as
my neighbors. . . .

"This afternoon I went to Harley Lodge, and had the pleasure of
lunching with Mr. Weiss and his family. Incidentally, I made a great
discovery. I knew now why I thought I had seen Mr. Weiss before. I
knew that in this instance I was not mistaken. I suppose it must
be twenty-five years ago, when I was a young man, that one of Lord
Hillmouth's servants got into trouble owing to the disappearance of a
valuable family ring. I had taken a certain interest in this youth,
because I had found him unusually clever in the handling of ferrets. I
recollect, as if it had been only yesterday, that the young footman had
a peculiar tattoo mark on his left arm, which there was no mistaking.
Of course, I had forgotten all this years ago, and it only flashed
across my mind while Mr. Weiss was showing me the specimens I had come
over on purpose to see. Some object caught Mr. Weiss by the arm and
dragged up his coat sleeve, and there, sure enough, was the tattoo
mark I have spoken about. I am positive that this prosperous-looking
Samuel Weiss is the same young man who was prosecuted for theft by Lord
Hillmouth a quarter of a century ago. Of course I said nothing about my
discovery. It is not for me to judge other people, and possibly my host
has been leading an exemplary life ever since his early lapse. I don't
think he has myself, but I will give him the benefit of the doubt. But
a little later, when I suddenly introduced the name of Hillmouth, I was
curious to see what effect it would have upon Mr. Weiss.

"I saw him start and change color, then a sullen look came over his
face, and there was a vindictive gleam in his eyes.

"'Never heard the name,' he said bluntly.

"'Oh, that's quite possible,' I replied. 'The family used to be
a considerable one in these parts, but the late Earl was a very
extravagant man, and after his death the Castle was let for a term of
years. The present owner lives entirely abroad very quietly, in the
hopes of paying off the mortgage.'

"'These great families are all alike,' Weiss replied. 'The time has
gone by when they could do as they pleased, and owe everybody money
without the slightest intention of paying it. Do you happen to know the
present lord?'

"I replied that I hadn't that pleasure; indeed, no one has ever seen
him in the county.

"'But I am very sorry for him,' I went on. 'I understand he has had a
great deal of trouble. His favorite sister made a wretched marriage
with a common soldier, who ran away with her, and they have never been
heard of since. But I suppose this doesn't interest you.'

"Mr. Weiss said bluntly that it didn't. He had quite recovered himself,
except that he seemed to regard me with a touch of suspicion. But
one person at the table followed every word I uttered with the most
flattering interest.

"It is strange I have written so far in my diary without making the
slightest allusion to Miss Iza Weiss. As a man of the world I claim
to know something about women, and I have had the pleasure of meeting
many beautiful and fascinating ones in my time. But I never yet saw
one who appealed to me more strongly than does Miss Weiss. She is tall
and fair, and her beauty is of a very striking type indeed. Yet she
impressed me as being exceedingly cold and distant, as if she were
conscious of something to be ashamed of, at the same time betraying an
anxiety to let a stranger know how indifferent she is to his opinion."




CHAPTER XXIX.--MORE LEAVES FROM THE DIARY.

"I suppose it is because I am a lonely man that I take such a keen
interest in my neighbors. I flatter myself that few people have ever
appealed to me in vain when they were in trouble, and perhaps it was
this trait in my character that drew me unconsciously towards Iza
Weiss. I felt sure she was in distress, that her hauteur was unnatural
in a girl of her age. There were certain soft lines about her mouth
which suggested a sweet and generous disposition, and presently, a
little later, she forgot herself and smiled at something that was said.
That smile came as a kind of revelation to me. I knew that behind the
frost and snow there was real womanliness, though it was only for a
moment she smiled ere her features grew hard and set again.

"Here is some great and abiding sorrow beyond a doubt. Perhaps the girl
has had a disappointment in love, perhaps she has bestowed her heart
upon an unworthy object, but whether this is so or not, I am certain
she has confided in nobody. And another thing I notice. The girl is not
happy in her surroundings. She has nothing in common with her parents.
To begin with, Weiss belongs to the vulgar class of money-makers, and
probably is none too scrupulous in his methods. As to Mrs. Weiss, she
is frankly common. She is of the housekeeper or small shopkeeper type,
and I can easily imagine her running a boarding establishment, and
robbing her lodgers of trifles. This is not a very charitable remark
for a parson to make, but it is confided exclusively to my diary, and
I feel sure I am right. Therefore, it is inexplicable how these common
people with coarse red faces and blunt hands, should have a child so
refined and graceful as Iza Weiss. She may not mean to treat them
with contempt, but that is the impression she gives to an outsider.
She takes no interest in what they say, and answers their questions
as if it were an effort to do so. There is an aloofness and an air of
detachment about her which I cannot understand. I think I must call
again and see how matters are progressing. After living most of one's
life amongst dull, respectable, commonplace people, it is a mental
tonic to come in contact with a mystery like this.

"I was racking my brain for some ingenious excuse to appropriate Miss
Iza to myself for a time, when the opportunity presented itself.
Mrs. Weiss had vanished. She made no secret that she indulged in an
after-lunch nap, and at that moment a messenger came in with some
letters, which Weiss declared he must answer at once.

"'I shan't be more than half an hour,' he explained. 'Iza, perhaps you
will show Mr. Vane round the gardens. They are supposed to be very
fine. They don't interest me, but some people may like them.'

"He grabbed up his letters in his hard, stumpy hand, and went off to
the library without further delay. I could see a faint contemptuous
smile on the face of my fair companion.

"'I hope you properly appreciate Harley Lodge,' I said.

"The smile on the girl's face intensified.

"'I think it is perfect,' she said, in her low, pleasant voice. 'I am
sure I should get to love it in time.'

"'You are quite different from your father,' I ventured to say.

"'To whom?' she asked; 'Oh! I beg your pardon, yes, my father, of
course. No, we have very little in common. I think this place is a
perfect dream of delight. I like to picture these rooms as they were
two or three hundred years ago, crowded with ladies in hoops and
farthingales and gallant cavaliers, all brave in silk and satin. I am
told that King Charles II. once hid in this very house. How well the
pictures seem to go with the old panelled walls! If I were alone in the
world and had plenty of money, there is nothing I should like better
than to live in a house like this. And of course you know the gardens
too. How delightfully quaint they are with those prim yew hedges and
that grand avenue of elms! This is a splendid place in which to forget
one's troubles. I never realised till I came here what Tennyson meant
when he speaks of "a haunt of ancient peace."'

"Now here was something in the nature of a miracle. The girl was
transformed. She had lost every atom of repellent coldness. Her face
was glowing with the inspiration of the place and a faint tinge of
color in her cheeks rendered her indescribably charming. I did not fail
to notice the sparkle in her eyes. Her pleasant voice vibrated with
feeling. Whatever trouble it was that weighed upon her, it had nothing
to do with blighted affections. She would not have talked like that if
it did. She might pass amongst some people as cold and heartless and
unfeeling, but they would be hopelessly at fault in so reading her.
We walked up from the grounds presently, and it was my privilege for
the next half-hour or so to give Miss Iza the history of the old house
and its surroundings. I could not have wished for a more attentive
listener. It was impossible to believe that this was the same white,
chilling personality who had sat opposite to me at table.

"'How long are you going to stay here?' I asked.

"'I am sorry to say I don't know,' the girl replied. 'Not very long I'm
afraid. There is nothing here to amuse Mr. Weiss. He sees nothing but
drawbacks.' It was strange the girl should speak in this way of her
father, but I had to let that pass.

"'Did you persuade him to come?' I asked.

"'No,' she answered. 'I never persuade him to do anything. I was
always a poor hand at asking favors. But Mr. Weiss had had a sort of
breakdown, and his doctor told him he must go into the country. I
never thought he would take such a delightful place as this, and had
he seen it, I doubt if he would have given it a second thought. But he
was annoyed, and didn't want to come, nor would he have done so if his
doctor hadn't frightened him. He had left the matter entirely to an
agent, and I have been invoking blessings on that agent ever since. It
will be a genuine grief to me when we turn our backs upon Harley Lodge.'

"'You don't find it dull?' I asked.

"'Dull?' the girl said with a glorious smile. 'Not in the least. No one
possessed of a single spark of imagination could be dull in a house
like this. Besides, I have all my books, and especially my poets, and
whatever better company can a girl need?'

"'It is good to have friends occasionally,' I said.

"'I suppose it is,' was the thoughtful answer, as if I had put the
matter in a fresh light to her. 'Yes, it would be nice to have a friend
or two. I have read that a trouble is half healed when it is shared
with some sympathetic friend. But I have never had the chance of making
friends. Circumstances have prevented me from doing so.'

"A sudden idea occurred to me. This would be a charming companion for
my Elsie. There are very few people of Elsie's age in the neighborhood,
and more than once she has complained of being somewhat dull. I used to
think so myself. I ventured to broach the matter.

"'It is only a few miles to my house,' I said; 'we make nothing of that
in the country, it is not more than half an hour in the pony trap or on
a bicycle. My daughter Elsie is about the same age as yourself, and I
am sure you would get on with her. She will be very glad to call upon
you. Shall I tell her you would like to see her?'

"Naturally enough, I expected the girl to express her willingness. But
she is not made on conventional lines. The smile faded from her face,
and she grew cold once more.

"'I would rather not,' she said. 'I have my own reasons for making few
friends, and your daughter would find things very dull here.'

"Of course there was no more to be said after that, but I was a little
disappointed. A man of my age who takes an interest in a pretty girl,
and experiences a sincere pleasure in her society, is apt to be hurt by
a rebuff like that, when administered when he appears to stand well in
her good opinion. Perhaps it was my vanity that was wounded more than
anything else.

"There was nothing for it but to change the subject and I plunged into
a earned dissertation concerning the roses, which are a show feature at
Harley Lodge in the summer months. After what had happened, I was not
surprised to discover, when I turned to my companion, that she had not
paid the smallest attention to my discourse. There was a faraway look
in her eyes, her lips quivered slightly, then she gazed at me with one
of those quick changes which I found so charming in her, and held out
her hand.

"'I hope you will forgive me, Mr. Vane,' she said. 'But I am afraid
that I was rude to you just now. Indeed, indeed, I appreciate your
kindness. And I am sure I should find your daughter as pleasant and
sympathetic as yourself. You are a gentleman, and will understand me.
It isn't often I have the chance to speak to a gentleman.'

"This appeared to me to be somewhat of a reflection upon Mr. Weiss, but
it was not for me to make any comment.

"'There are reasons,' she went on, 'why I cannot make friends. I should
very much like to, but, situated as I am, it is impossible. And now I
hope you will forgive me.'"




CHAPTER XXX.--THE DIARY CONTINUED.

"There was nothing to forgive. And even if there had been, I should
have pardoned her freely, if only to see the fleeting smile which
hovered on the girl's lips once more. Speaking as a clergyman, I
suppose it was my duty to have admonished Miss Iza for the way in which
she spoke of her parents, but I deemed it prudent to let that pass.

"'I dare say you have your own reasons,' I said. 'But if you change
your mind, I know that Elsie will only be too pleased to come over. I
am anxious to see a good many more of Mr. Weiss's specimens, and he has
been good enough to ask me to call on Saturday."

"There was no time for further speech, for at this point Weiss came
bustling down the garden path, saying that he had finished his letters,
and that his time was now at my disposal. I thought he glanced rather
suspiciously in my direction, and then he turned to my companion and
intimated in a tone of positive dislike that she might go.

"The girl had frozen again, and become once more cold and repellent.
But for her, I think I should have made some excuse for taking my
departure, with the firm resolve not to appear in Harley Lodge again,
so long as the present occupants remained in the house. As it was, I
loitered till nearly tea time, in the hope of seeing Miss Iza. But she
had not put in an appearance when I left . . . .

"I fully intended going to Harley Lodge on Saturday, but I had
a message at breakfast time from Mr. Weiss saying that he was
unexpectedly called to town on important business, and that he would
not be back for a few days. On Monday afternoon I had gone into the
woods with my botanical case in search of a rare wild flower I had
heard of, when I came across Mr. Weiss again. I was grubbing by a big
gorse bush, when I heard voices on the other side. I had not intended
to be a deliberate listener, but I recognised Weiss's strident tones,
and something he was saying arrested my attention. Before I realised
what I was doing I was eavesdropping in the most shameless fashion.

"'I tell you I have had enough of this,' Weiss was saying. 'I am a
dangerous man to play with, as you know. Why do you follow me here?
What do you want Kellett?'

"'Oh, I am taking no risks,' the man addressed as Kellett replied, 'and
besides, I never went near the house. Nobody knows that I am not in
London. I tell you there's no danger. I tracked you here, because it
struck me as a nice quiet place for a little conversation.'

"'That was very daring of you,' Weiss said grimly. 'Nobody knows you
are here, and nobody knows there is any connection between us. Now
suppose you were found a little later with a bullet through your brain,
lying stone dead in this plantation. It would be impossible to connect
me with the affair, and you would be buried in a nameless grave. Upon
my word, when I came to think of it, the temptation is almost stronger
than I can resist.'

"Kellett laughed uneasily.

"'I have heard you talk like that before,' he said. 'But you are not in
South Africa now. That kind of bluster doesn't pay here, and if I am to
go on with this business of yours, I must have more money.'

"'And where do you expect I am going to get it?' Weiss asked hoarsely.
'I have one or two irons in the fire, but it takes all I have to keep
them hot; indeed I was never so hard up in my life. You'll have to
wait.'

"'It's all very well to talk like that,' Kellett said doggedly. 'By the
time I get back to London, I shan't have five shillings in the world,
and I am getting sick of your promises. If I don't get some money
to-day, I shall take my information elsewhere.'

"'Indeed,' Weiss sneered, 'do you suppose it would be worth a penny to
anyone but me?'

"'You have forgotten the girl,' Kellett persisted. 'She'd be glad to
hear what I've got to say. I don't suppose I could get much from her
now, not more than a few pounds to go on with, but later she would be
worth a good deal more to me than you are. I am not going to fool on
like this any longer. I have done most of the dirty and dangerous work,
and you have had most of the plums. I mean to have fifty pounds to-day,
or you had better look to yourself. If I go away without it, I shall
act on my own hook in the future, and so I warn you.'

"'But I haven't got it,' Weiss said impatiently. 'I tell you I haven't
got it. I can't do impossibilities.'

"Kellett turned upon his heel as if the interview was over. 'Very
well,' he said surlily, 'in that case there is no more to be said.
Don't blame me if I take steps to prevent myself from being landed in
London without a penny in my pocket. And I will be candid with you as
to what I intend to do. I will go straight away to see the girl, and if
that brings trouble, you have only yourself to blame.'

"All this time I was feeling very uncomfortable, but I could not leave
without making my presence known to those two scoundrels, and perforce
I had to stay and hear the end. Through the gorse bush I could see
Kellett's figure, as he turned his back on Weiss, and before I could
realise what was happening Weiss felled his companion to the ground.
It was plainly my duty to interfere, but the men were equally matched,
and presently Kellett was getting the better of the encounter. It was
a grim struggle on both sides, but by-and-bye Weiss had had enough of
it. His lip was cut and bleeding, and he had an ugly lump over one eye.
These signs of punishment filled me with satisfaction. I was pleased I
was not destined to witness something in the nature of a tragedy. The
fight was over.

"'Will you have any more?' Kellett asked.

"'I was a fool,' Weiss admitted sulkily, 'to lose my temper in that
fashion. Look here, Kellett, we shall gain nothing by quarrelling
like this. If you think you will better yourself by going to the
girl, you are mistaken. She may pay you a few pounds to go on with,
but as soon as she realises how far the conspiracy goes, she will use
your information, and treat you like so much dirt beneath her feet. I
suppose you regard her as a silly child.'

"'So she is,' Kellett panted.

"'Is she? You wouldn't say that if you knew her as well as I do. She
does not lack courage, and is as clever and far-sighted as you or me.
She found me out years ago, and I would get rid of her, if I could,
but she's too artful for that. She has laid her plans so that if
anything happened to her, the police would be down upon me instantly.
Come to the house and talk the matter over. When I told you I had no
money, I was speaking the literal truth. I couldn't draw a cheque for
a five-pound note to save my life. But that doesn't prevent me from
giving you something you can dispose of.'

"The rascally Kellett grinned all over his face.

"'That sounds better,' he said. 'I had forgotten you are living in a
grand old house crammed with treasures. Did they let you have the loan
of the plate before they went away? What a chance for you!'

"'No they didn't,' Weiss said curtly.

"Kellett shook with laughter.

"'What a game it is!' he chuckled. 'Fancy being let loose in a place
like that! If they only knew you as well as I do, they would be here
by the first train. Still, it works out all right for me. Just give me
an odd bronze, or a bit of rare Dresden, or a cabinet picture, and I
shan't trouble you for some time to come. But what a pity they didn't
leave the plate!'

"'You always were a fool,' Weiss said angrily. 'You never had an idea
beyond a vulgar burglary. Why, I am flying at much higher game. I will
give you something that you can pawn, on the strict understanding that
you send the ticket to me, so that I can replace the thing as soon as I
am in funds again. Now come along.'

"There was nothing further to hear, but I had heard enough already.
Perhaps I ought to acquaint Mr. Harley at once with the kind of man his
tenant was, but probably the rent had been paid, and no great theft was
contemplated. At any rate, I had time to think it over. I rose from my
uncomfortable position and started homewards over the very spot where
the two rascals were struggling together a few minutes before. Then
my eye caught sight of a little black-covered notebook which one of
the combatants had dropped during the fray. I glanced at the inside of
the volume, and slipped it in my pocket. I anticipate some interesting
reading after dinner."




CHAPTER XXXI.--THE BLACK POCKET-BOOK.

"It seemed strange to associate a quiet neighborhood like ours with
crime and tragedy. We have always pursued such a humdrum existence that
the mere suggestion of anything out of the common frightens us. We
leave our front doors unfastened at night without the least concern on
the score of burglars, and in all the years I have been living here, I
don't recollect any of my parishioners getting into trouble, except for
an occasional outburst at Fair time.

"And yet we are right in the midst of duplicity and crime of the vilest
description. I was intuitively afraid of it before I examined the black
pocket-book, but I was not prepared for such extraordinary disclosures.
It is very remarkable that I above all men should have been chosen by
Providence as the instrument to bring these dark things to light.

"I have said more than once that I could not understand the connection
between Miss Iza Weiss and the people she calls her parents. It seemed
impossible that these two persons could be her father and mother,
and now I know for a fact that I was right. The girl who passes as
Iza Weiss is no relation whatever to them, and turns out to be the
grand-daughter of old Lord Hillmouth, who was head of the family many
years ago when I first came into the parish. All this I gleaned from
the little book I picked up in the wood yesterday. There is a mass
of other information which conveys nothing to me, though I have not
the slightest doubt that it would be plain enough to the heads of the
Criminal Investigation Department at Scotland Yard. I think it will
be my duly to send it to them with an account of how it came into my
possession. But this is by the way, and has nothing to do with the main
issue.

"I suppose Kellett to be a tool of Samuel Weiss, but I can't understand
what either has to gain by withholding certain information from Iza.
That she is antagonistic to the Weisses is clear. She knows what they
are, and despises them accordingly, and I am sure she would rather cut
on her right hand than take part in any of their schemes. She knows
they are no relation of hers, then why does she remain with them. I
have asked myself this question a good many times since I laid the
little black book aside last night. What does she suspect, and is she
remaining with Weiss and his wife to try and find out the mystery
of her birth? Have they money which belongs of right to her? It is
plain they possess information which would be valuable to the girl,
or Kellett would not have threatened to go to her as he did before he
fought Weiss in the wood.

"What I learn from the book bears out what I knew already, namely, that
the present Lord Hillmouth's sister became infatuated with a soldier,
and ran away with him. I suppose I shall ascertain sooner or later what
his name was, but I am bound to dispense with that information for the
present. For the moment it will suffice to know that Iza is a child
of that unfortunate union. This fact is beyond dispute, for there are
entries giving dates and the names of places where certificates and
other evidence of identity can be obtained. From hints in the black
book, I infer that Iza is entitled to a considerable sum of money,
which Weiss has probably got hold of. It appears likely that the money
probably came from some distant member of the family, though it is
impossible to speak definitely. It is certain, however, that Iza's
father was a friend of Weiss, and no doubt this will account for the
position which he is taking up. I cannot let the matter remain where
it is, and if necessary I will go to France and see the present Lord
Hillmouth. But ere I do that I must talk the matter over with Iza.

"I have had a long and interesting talk with Iza. I was fortunate in
catching her alone, for Mrs. Weiss had gone to London, and Mr. Weiss
was engaged with a man who had driven over from Ross. I found Iza in
the garden, much interested in a bed of tulips which had come out since
my last visit. She was alarmed lest a poodle which had accompanied me
should do damage to the flowers.

"'You need not be afraid of that,' I said. 'Fuss is one of the
cleverest dogs in the world.'

"Whilst showing her some of his tricks, in which she was deeply
interested, Weiss joined us. I should not have expected him to care
anything for the antics of a dog, but to my surprise he followed
everything with rapt attention.

"'I saw you from the library window,' he explained. 'I hope you won't
go home till I have had a little conversation with you. I will be
engaged for half an hour or so, but as soon as my visitor leaves,
I shall come back to you. You are not disposed to sell that dog, I
suppose?'

"I replied that Fuss was not for sale. Weiss astonished me by offering
a fancy price, which, to say the least of it, was tempting. I would
not accept it, however, greatly to his annoyance and disappointment.
I could not do less than offer him one of my young poodles, but he
received the suggestion in a spirit the reverse of courteous. With
hardly a word he returned to the house. To tell the truth, I was glad
to see him go, and, a little later, I was seated in an arbor in the yew
avenue, deep in a confidential chat with Iza.

"I told her what I had discovered, and how the information had come
into my hands. She already knew a great deal, but it was plain that
much was fresh to her.

"'I don't know how to thank you,' she said, 'for all the trouble you
have taken on my behalf. Isn't it remarkable that these things should
come to light close to the place where my mother was born? It is an
extraordinary coincidence that Mr. Weiss should take a house in this
particular neighborhood.'

"'I don't think so,' I replied. 'It strikes me forcibly that it is
simply because your mother was born near here that he has become the
temporary tenant of Harley Lodge. It is nonsense to say that he is
broken down in health, and has come here for a rest. I should say he
has never been better in his life. Depend upon it, he has come here for
certain information, and that is why he is always prowling about the
country. Now, can you supplement my news?'

"'I fear not,' Iza answered. 'Of course I have been aware for some time
that the Weisses are not my parents. I began to suspect that when I
was about fourteen. It was after I left school that I discovered what
sort of people the Weisses are, and fancy I have been the means of
preventing more than one crime, and though they would gladly be rid
of me, only I refuse to leave till they tell me who I am. The enmity
between us is undisguised, and I believe they would have put me out
of the way had I not taken such steps as rendered it impossible for
them to do so, without the gravest consequences to themselves. In
one respect they tolerate me, for they consider me a credit to the
establishment. The reason why they have kept me in the dark about
my parentage is that they want my money, and for all I know to the
contrary they may have succeeded.'

"'I don't think so,' I said. 'If they had, they would probably have
sent you adrift before now. But you must see for yourself, my dear
child, that matters cannot stay as they are. If you like, I will go to
France with you to see Lord Hillmouth, and I have not the slightest
doubt that he will be willing to make some provision for you, and
safeguard your interests.'

"The girl hesitated. She gave me the impression that she was
withholding some of her confidence. She sat gazing thoughtfully at
the bed of tulips, while with her right hand she caressed the dog at
her feet. Then she turned suddenly and asked me to let her look at
the little black book which had played so important a part in these
proceedings. I was vexed to find that I had not put it in my pocket. I
recollected that I had left it on the writing table in the study. All I
had were a few loose leaves which I had slipped into my pocket. It was
extremely careless, but I reflected that nobody was likely to enter the
study in my absence. I explained to Iza how negligent I had been, and
showed her the loose leaves, but there was nothing on these that had
any reference to her case.

"'I will bring it to you the next time I call,' I said.

"At that moment Fuss jumped up suddenly and began to bark furiously.
Apparently he imagined that some enemy was hidden on the other side of
the thick hedge, and no scolding had the smallest effect on him. Iza
rose with a sudden exclamation and darted through one of the archways
cut in the thick green fence. She returned a moment later, accompanied
by Weiss, who looked annoyed and uncomfortable. There was a suspicious
gleam in his eyes which I did not like. He muttered an excuse for
his presence which did not sound convincing. He said he had dropped
something, and having found it, he must go back to the house at once.
He was most anxious I should stay to luncheon, but I made no promise.

"'Well, don't go till I come back,' he said. 'I shan't be many minutes.'

"When he was at a safe distance, Iza turned to me eagerly and laid her
hand on my arm.

"'Don't you understand?' she whispered. 'I thought the behaviour of
your dog would have warned you. All the time we have been speaking, he
has been listening behind that hedge, and while we are loitering here,
he will ride over to your house on his bicycle to steal that black
book!'"




CHAPTER XXXII.--THE END OF THE DIARY.

Such effrontery had not occurred to me. Iza, however, knew the man
and his subterranean methods and her surmise was probable. There were
several reasons why Weiss should not obtain possession of the book.
Unfortunately, it would be impossible for me to reach my house before
Weiss. When I was younger I might have outstripped and outmanoeuvred
him by taking short cuts across the fields, but I was not vigorous
enough now, and had no time to get a trap. Suddenly the way out of the
difficulty flashed across me. I called the dog to me and allowed him to
sniff at the few loose leaves. Then I bade the sagacious creature go
and seek, and in a few moments he was scampering off to the Rectory.
I was satisfied now that I had got the best of Weiss, and that within
half an hour Fuss would bring me the book. The good dog accomplished
his mission with complete success, and the book was duly consigned to
my pocket, secure from Weiss' sinister intentions.

"When Weiss appeared he was disconcerted, as I had expected, and had
very little to say. I was allowed to go without a renewal of the
invitation to luncheon. Unfortunately, too, I had to leave without
making arrangements for seeing Iza again.

"Next morning I had a letter from Iza saying she had gone to London for
a day or two, and that she would see me on her return. I ascertained
from my gardener that a man answering to Weiss' description had
dismounted from a bicycle and entered the front gates, obviously
with a view to calling upon me, at the very moment that Fuss crossed
the lawn with the book in his mouth. The gardener did not attach any
importance to this incident, for he knew that I often sent Fuss for
things, but he was amused to see the stranger trying to coax Fuss to
give up the property he was carrying. I made light of the incident, but
nevertheless it disturbed me not a little, because it indicated how
malignant and persistent an enemy Weiss was.

"I find that Iza has not yet returned, but there is no hurry on that
score. There is, however, another thing which does not serve to allay
my suspicions. For the last twenty-four hours nothing has been seen
of Fuss, and I imagine he must have been stolen. He is not the dog
to follow anybody, and, unless he is closely watched, is certain to
come back. In casting about in my mind for the probable thief I am
impelled to believe that Weiss could throw some light on this mystery.
He was greatly taken with the dog, and offered me a fancy price for
him. Perhaps he thought Fuss would be invaluable in carrying out some
of his nefarious projects, and I cannot suppose he would kill the
poodle simply out of spite at being checkmated in the matter of the
book. I will go to Harley Lodge to-morrow on a secret expedition of
inquiry. . . . .

"I have played the amateur detective. There is very little doubt that
my suspicions are correct. Of course I didn't call at the house.
On the contrary, I approached it from the meadows, and reached the
outbuildings by way of the garden. I have my own way of calling my
dogs, and after I had given the signal two or three times I heard Fuss
whining and barking, as if he were making an attempt to get to me.
So far I was satisfied, and made no attempt to force matters. When I
had reached the road and turned homewards I saw Weiss coming in my
direction. He had lost all his sullen manner, and greeted me in the
friendliest fashion; indeed, his manner was a trifle too friendly.
He was very anxious I should return to lunch, but I pleaded urgent
business, and he did not press me further. I made no allusion to my
lost dog, and naturally Weiss did not refer to the subject.

"As we were parting he paused, as if a new idea had suddenly occurred
to him.

"'By the way,' he said. 'You remember our first meeting? You were
shooting rabbits in the woods near your house.'

"'Perfectly well,' I said. 'It is a favorite spot. I always get rabbits
there, and it is famous for the variety and beauty of its wild flowers.'

"'So I am told,' Weiss replied, 'not that I care for plants. Yesterday
I met a man called Roscoe, who tells me he is a friend of yours. He is
an enthusiastic ornithologist, and I am interested in birds.'

"I was surprised to hear it, but said nothing. Weiss did not strike me
as being a field naturalist. But there was no reason why he should tell
me an untruth about so trivial a matter. I know Roscoe well, and have
spent many hours in his museum.

"'Roscoe said he shot nearly all his birds in these woods,' Weiss went
on. 'I have been prospecting myself once or twice and saw a specimen of
the great spotted woodpecker. It was a female bird, and I can show you
the nest. I did not see the male, but no doubt he was close by. Doesn't
that interest you?'

"Really, it did interest me. One ought not to destroy these rare birds,
but the collector has no conscience, and I knew that if I didn't get
these specimens Roscoe would. I urged Weiss to take me at once to the
spot where he had seen the bird, but he could not do so then, he said,
as he was in momentary expectation of a telegram which would have to be
replied to immediately. Nor could he promise to meet me later in the
afternoon.

"'And I may have to go to London to morrow,' he said. 'But I'll tell
you what I'll do. If I don't go I'll meet you in the wood at eleven
o'clock. Bring your gun with you, because you will have to do the
shooting. I am a fair hand with the revolver, but a wretched shot with
a sporting gun. If I can avoid going to town, I will meet you in the
middle of the wood by the gorse bushes.'

"I promised readily enough. My dislike of Weiss was lulled, and I even
forgot the loss of my favorite poodle. I went into the wood on my way
home, but I saw nothing of the rare bird Weiss had mentioned. I felt
inclined to go again later in the afternoon to see whether I could get
a shot, but that did not seem fair to Weiss, who was apparently as keen
about the matter as I was.

"Perforce, therefore, I had to wait till the morning. Iza will soon
be back, and then I shall be able to develop the plans I have been
pondering for her benefit. I wish to take her away from these people.

"I am writing these few lines to kill the time before going to the
woods to meet Weiss. Perhaps I ought not to trust that man, perhaps I
ought to have a companion, but surely these are groundless fears. I
hope I am not losing nerve in the 'evening of my days.' I have nothing
to be afraid of, and, besides, I shall be armed----"

The diary broke off abruptly at this point, and Sefton set it down with
a sigh which testified to the intensity of his interest. It was as if
he had been reading a serial story which broke off at the very point
where the reader's attention was strung up to the highest pitch. There
was not another word or line, and for a long time Sefton sat revolving
the matter in his mind. He had not wasted his time, for here was matter
of the deepest importance shedding an entirely new light upon the death
of the Reverend George Vane.

Sefton had never believed that his old friend committed suicide, and
now he had overwhelming evidence to justify his faith. There was not a
word in these diaries to show that Vane's mind was unsettled, nor any
suggestion of trouble. An enthusiastic sportsman and collector like
Vane would not have laid violent hands upon himself. The longer Sefton
pondered the matter the more convinced did he become that he was on the
verge of clearing up the mystery to the satisfaction of everybody.

"Amongst my own documents," he soliloquized, "there ought to be a copy
of the newspaper containing the account of the inquest. If I find that,
I can verify the date of his death. I am sure I had one, and I am also
certain I never destroyed it. I have hidden it away too carefully."

Sefton hunted everywhere for the missing paper, and found it at length
neatly folded and placed away at the bottom of a drawer in his writing
table. From it he learned that the date he was in search of was the 1st
of May, 1903. Having made a note of this, he turned again to the diary
on the off-chance that the entries appeared under regular dates. It
was as he had hoped and expected, for at the head of the final passage
was the date which the local paper gave as that on which the Reverend
George Vane had met with his death.

"This is more than interesting," Sefton reflected. "On the 1st of May,
1903, George Vane died. On the same day he sat down after breakfast and
noted in his diary that he was going to meet Weiss in the wood to shoot
a rare kind of woodpecker. Probably the bird existed only in Weiss'
imagination, but that is a point I need not trouble about at present.
But it is suspicious that a man like Weiss should suddenly display
so much interest in bird lore and name the depth of a wood as the
rendezvous. It was smart, too, to whet Vane's appetite by suggesting
that another collector might forestall him. That made Vane's presence
almost a certainty. Now, if Weiss were in the wood, as undoubtedly he
was, why did he not turn up at the inquest? Why didn't he find the
body? Even if Vane committed suicide. Why didn't Weiss volunteer his
evidence that he had been in the wood with Vane that morning? He must
have known there was a chance of somebody seeing him and Vane together,
and a dubious construction would be placed on his silence. I know
pretty well how poor Vane came by his death, and it certainly wasn't
suicide. Probably the authorities will call it by an uglier name."




CHAPTER XXXIII.--THE TRAIL BROADENS.

Sefton was now able to correct certain conjectures he had formed at the
outset of his inquiries. He had to abandon altogether his theory of a
partnership between Vane and Weiss in the matter or a diamond deal. He
might never learn the reason why Weiss had gone into Herefordshire, but
that didn't very much matter. Probably some more or less shady business
connected with schemes centring round his supposed daughter was at the
bottom of his residence in the country. Sefton began to see his way to
saving Gerald Rashleigh. He could put such pressure on Weiss as would
effectually stop all persecution in that quarter. What to him was of
greater moment was that his would be the happiness of proving that Mr.
Vane had not perished by his own hand. The knowledge that her father
had been murdered would be a shock to Elsie, but at any rate this would
be infinitely more tolerable than the hopeless misery of feeling that
there was insanity in her family.

Sefton was morally convinced that Samuel Weiss had murdered George
Vane in cold blood, because the parson had grown to suspect--and in
such case suspicion is practically knowledge--Weiss, and might prove a
dangerous person. Owing to the providential recovery of these diaries
the story of that tragedy would now come to light. It was an unexpected
find. What Sefton had set out to try to establish was the fact of a
connection between Samuel Weiss and the dog Fuss, and he had also hoped
to elicit some damning evidence pointing to diamond robbery. That there
was something like this in the background he felt certain. The poodle
could have unfolded a story if he could only speak, and it was absurd
to suppose that Weiss stole Fuss merely for the sake of stealing. In
working out a theory based on information he had picked up in South
Africa, Sefton had stumbled upon a more important clue. The first thing
to be done was to see the man who had purchased Mr. Vane's poodles.
Cutler had made a close examination of the books in the meantime, and
he could find no trace of any transaction between Mr. Vane and Weiss.
He offered to go through the books again, but Sefton politely declined
the suggestion.

"I don't think I need trouble you to do that," he said. "I have come to
the conclusion there never was a transaction. My suspicions have been
confirmed, and the dog I am inquiring about was stolen from his owner.
I suppose this frequently happens."

"Oh, dear, yes," Cutler said with a smile. "There is almost as much
rascality in this line as in horse dealing. If a man can't get what he
has set his heart on by honest means, he will resort to dishonest ones.
But didn't the diaries help you? You haven't brought them back, I see."

"Well, to be candid, I haven't," Sefton explained. "I want to keep them
a little longer. I am aware you don't know much about me----"

"But I do," Cutler replied. "Several of your friends are friends of
mine, and you can keep those diaries as long as you please."

"That's very good of you," Sefton said. "Mr. Vane was a great friend,
for whom I had a profound respect. It is generally thought he committed
suicide, but these diaries throw another light on the matter. I believe
that, purely by accident, I have hit upon the history of a cruel and
deliberate crime. Mr. Vane was murdered, and I have more than a shrewd
suspicion who the culprit was. You may be required to give evidence in
the case yourself. You may have to prove how these diaries came into
your hands. In the meantime, I must ask you to keep this entirely to
yourself."

Cutler gave the assurance readily, and Sefton went in search of Iza. He
had a great many questions to ask her. If she had had any suspicion of
what had happened, why had she remained silent all this time? Iza was
not at home, and the butler did not know when she was expected back.
She might be home by dinner-time, but he could not speak definitely.
Sefton left the house disappointed. Eager as he was to prosecute his
inquiries, he could do nothing more until he had had an interview
with Iza. As he walked away, he noticed that Fuss was following him.
Presently, instead of following, the dog took the lead. He was telling
Sefton plainly that he had better come with him. Gradually it dawned on
Sefton that this was not the first time he had crossed Waterloo Bridge.

The man and the dog at length reached the street where Mrs. Ford lived.
Fuss began to scratch at the door of the house. A woman opened it, and
glanced at Sefton half-defiantly, and yet with a look of fear in her
eyes. He knew where he was. This was the place where Gerald Rashleigh
was hiding, and probably Iza was in the house.

"What do you want?" Mrs. Ford demanded.

"Sorry to trouble you," Sefton replied. "My name is Edgar Sefton. Miss
Iza Weiss is a great friend of mine, and would like to see me."

Mrs. Ford's face cleared, and the suspicion died out of her eyes. She
held the door open hospitably.

"Come in, sir," she exclaimed. "I have heard all about you. Miss Weiss
is here, and so is somebody else, as you probably know. But one has to
be careful, and at first I thought it might be a dodge of the police.
But how did you manage to find your way?"

"You must ask the dog," Sefton answered. "I simply followed his lead.
How is your patient?"

"Well, sir, he doesn't get on as well as I should like. He is getting
better of his illness, but is listless and spiritless, as if he didn't
care what happened to him. He is beginning to lose heart. What he wants
is a bit of encouragement. If you could give him a piece of good news
it would do him more good than all the doctor's stuff."

"Well, I can promise that," Sefton said. "But before I see Mr.
Rashleigh, I must have a talk with Miss Weiss. Would you send her down
to me? But don't let Mr. Rashleigh know I am here."




CHAPTER XXXIV.--A GOOD REASON WHY.

Iza was astonished to see Sefton. As she looked into his face her own
grew pale, for instinct told her he was the bearer of important news.

"You have discovered something," she whispered, as she held out her
hand. "You have something to tell me."

"I have much to say," Sefton answered gravely. "I have made most
important discoveries, and will show you how to save Rashleigh from
further persecution at the hands of Weiss. We may be able to compel
Weiss to confess that Gerald is entirely innocent. But won't you sit
down? My story is a long one."

"I am all impatience," Iza murmured.

"That's natural," Sefton smiled. "It has often puzzled me why Weiss
manufactured this charge against Rashleigh. I understand that there
has been no formal engagement between Rashleigh and you, and that the
arrangement was supposed to be a secret. But mightn't it somehow have
come to Weiss' ears? Do you suppose he never saw anything to arouse
suspicion?"

"I don't think so," Iza said. "But it was always hard to deceive him,
and he may have had his doubts. But that was no reason why he should
have behaved in this outrageous fashion."

"I cannot agree with you," Sefton replied. "You forget you are entitled
to a large sum of money, and that Weiss knew the secret of your birth.
Now, can't you imagine that Weiss had this inducement to fabricate his
charge against Gerald Rashleigh? As long as you remain single and in
his family he has the uncontrolled use of your money. You know he was
a needy adventurer and as poor as a church mouse. I don't know why he
came to England, or why he stays here, for he can't make a pile by
smuggling diamonds with the assistance of your dog Fuss."

"Well, you are clever," Iza cried. "How did you find all that out?"

"I can't take much credit to myself, but the first time I saw Fuss in
Weiss' house and you put him through his tricks, I knew the poodle had
been used for the purpose of smuggling diamonds. I had a hint as to
that when I was at the Cape. Then I began to put two and two together,
and it was not long before I found out where Fuss originally came from.
But I need not tell you that, because you knew Mr. Vane well, and he
was very much in your confidence at one time. Is not that so?"

"Wonderful!" Iza murmured. "I declare I am afraid of you. I have heaps
of questions to ask, but am so puzzled I don't know where to begin."

"You had better wait till I am finished," Sefton said. "Some years ago
I was resident with Mr. Vane. I was a pupil of his. I was quite grown
up when I went to him. My idea was to read international law and other
subjects for the diplomatic service, but I soon abandoned that idea,
because I fell in love with Elsie Vane and wanted her to marry me. I
don't know why she rejected me, because I had dared to hope that she
cared for me, and recent events have proved I was right. But after
her refusal I could not stay any longer. I grew restless, and the
wanderer's fever seized me. I roamed over the world, passing part of my
time in South Africa, where I heard that story of the poodle dog and
the diamonds coupled with the name of Samuel Weiss and his proud and
beautiful daughter, who was suspected----"

"Never," Iza cried passionately. "I give you my word that I had nothing
whatever to do----"

"You need not tell me that," Sefton went on. "The notion is ludicrous.
The first time I met you all my doubts vanished. When I came home again
my old friend George Vane was dead; they told me he had committed
suicide. I sought in vain for Elsie everywhere, and had given up
all hope of ever seeing her again till our dramatic meeting at Lady
Starfield's dance. I needn't recall the events of that night, nor
repeat the story of the ensuing tangle, nor how my sympathies were
enlisted on behalf of you and Gerald. When I learned that Weiss had
lived in Herefordshire, and that you had known Mr. Vane, I began to
ask myself a few questions. The clever smuggling dog reminded me that
Mr. Vane had several fine poodles, and it suddenly occurred to me to
ascertain if your Fuss had originally belonged to Vane. It turned out
that he did, and I inferred that Weiss stole him. Whilst pursuing my
inquiries I acquired information about how Mr. Vane came by his death,
and the name of the man who slew him. Miss Iza, I am going to ask you
a plain question. You were in Herefordshire when Vane died. You lived
near him, and no doubt read the account of the affair in the papers.
Did it never occur to you that this was not an accident, nor even the
deliberate act of a man who was weary of life? Did Mr. Vane strike you
as a man who would do that thing?"

"The last man in the world to do so," Iza answered, emphatically. "It
was an awful shock to me, for I liked Mr. Vane very much."

"I know you did," Sefton went on. "To some extent you made him a
confidant. Perhaps you may remember that Mr. Vane found a little black
book in a wood, where it had been dropped by a man named Kellett during
a scuffle with Samuel Weiss."

"Nothing is concealed from you," Iza said. "It is marvellous how you
have collected your information."

"I made a lucky coup," Sefton explained. "But you haven't answered my
question. Did you think that Samuel Weiss had a hand in Mr. Vane's
death?"

It was some time before Iza replied.

"I did think so," she admitted. "I thought I would never get rid of
that haunting impression. But I loathed the man to such an extent that
I had to be very, very careful not to be unfair to him. There is no
doubt but that Weiss knew that Mr. Vane was aware of the contents of
the little black book."

"He listened behind the thick hedge while you and Mr. Vane were
confiding in each other, and might have escaped discovery but for the
poodle. Mr. Vane sent Fuss to fetch the book, which Mr. Vane had left
behind, before Weiss got to the rectory. A day or two later the poodle
was stolen, and the very next afternoon Mr. Vane was discovered dead in
the wood about a mile from his house. Am I not correct?"

"Wonderful," Iza cried. "Word for word it is absolutely true. I never
told a soul anything about it, and of course poor Mr. Vane was dead.
Where have you learned these things?"

"They are all set forth in Mr. Vane's handwriting," Sefton said quietly.




CHAPTER XXXV.--FORD TO THE RESCUE.

Iza listened with white face and dilated eyes to this extraordinary
story. Sefton drew from his pocket the last of the diaries, which
contained most of the facts he had just been retailing, and handed the
book to Iza.

"I want you to read this," he said. "It won't take long. It is a voice
from the grave."

Iza pored over the pages with an excitement that was almost painful.
Tears filled her eyes when at length she laid the volume aside.

"This is very strange and very touching," she remarked. "And it's as
true as death. Now I understand what you mean by saying that Mr. Vane
did not die by his own hand. You think he was lured into the wood and
murdered by Weiss."

"The diary is plain," Sefton said. "There cannot be the smallest doubt
of it. Mark how cunningly the trap was baited; note what Weiss says
about bringing a gun with him. He pleaded that he was a bad shot with a
sporting gun himself, but that, of course, meant that no one could say
he carried a gun, while at the fit moment he would kill Vane with his
own weapon. You know what truth there was in Weiss' statement that he
was a very poor hand with a gun."

"It was an absolute lie," Iza rejoined. "Weiss is a magnificent shot.
We shall never know how the thing happened, but there can be very
little doubt that Mr. Vane was killed."

"Yes, but we also know the motive," Sefton went on. "Vane had become
dangerous to Weiss. He knew too much about you. He had been on the
friendliest terms with your mother's relatives, and, had he lived,
would have taken care that you were not robbed of the money to which
you were heiress. Therefore Weiss resolved to put him out of the way.
Of course, Weiss did not know you knew he had been listening behind
the yew hedge, nor would it occur to him that he had been suspected of
cycling to the rectory to gain possession of the black book. No doubt
he had arranged, if the occasion arose, to prove he had been in London
at the time Vane met with his death. Obviously, if he had been innocent
he would have voluntarily told the coroner all about the great spotted
woodpecker and his dealings with Mr. Vane. But we need not discuss this
matter farther. What I have to do is to prove my case. The difficulties
are great. I might spring a mine upon Weiss when he is better, and
overwhelm him with evidence, and so extort a confession from him. In
this way we should save Gerald Rashleigh from further unpleasantness.
But the thing will have to be very delicately handled. We have a clever
man to deal with."

"Oh! I know that," Iza exclaimed. "But how did you obtain possession of
this diary?"

"That was a stroke of luck, a proof of the saying 'Murder will out.'
When Vane's kennels were sold the papers relating to the dogs passed
into various hands, and I saw the man who bought the poodles with
a view of tracing how Fuss became the property of Weiss. I did not
anticipate further developments. I found the purchaser of the poodles
an exceedingly decent fellow, and when he knew I was an intimate
friend of Mr. Vane's he produced the diaries, which had got mixed up
with the other documents. He apologised for having detained them, but
he didn't know where to send them, and handed them to me as a friend
of the family. Directly I opened the diary and saw Weiss' name I was
interested. There is little more to say except that I'd be glad if
you would explain one or two things. Despite your knowledge of your
parentage and your suspicions of Weiss, you continued to live under his
roof. Why?"

"Really, it is very difficult to say," Iza replied. "You see I had
nowhere else to go, and, moreover, though I suspected much I knew
nothing. No doubt I should have learned everything but for the tragedy
of Mr. Vane's death. Now, of course, I cannot go back to Mr. Weiss'.
I shall have to throw myself upon your mercy, and ask you to help me.
Perhaps you will see my relations and tell them how things stand. But
why do I talk about myself when Gerald is still in danger? You said you
could see your way to help me."

"So I do," Sefton replied. "Why not take the bull by the horns, now
that Weiss is incapable of interfering. I want someone to help me, and
cannot think of a better man than Ned Ford. Can you tell me where to
find him? I suppose he comes here."

"He came for the first time last night," Iza explained. "I happened
to meet him and brought him. It is a romance in its way. I don't know
how Weiss managed it, but he contrived to separate Ford and his wife,
leaving each under the impression that the other had behaved very
badly. By this devise Weiss contrived to keep a lot of property in
his hands. Whatever Ford may be, he is genuinely attached to his wife
and she has a great influence for good over him. Now that they have
come together again, I feel sure he will lead a different life in the
future. But he is very bitter against Weiss, and I tremble for the
consequences if they should meet. Ford won't be long if you care to
wait for him. And perhaps you would like to have a chat with Gerald."

"Not just yet," Sefton said. "If you don't mind I will wait until later
in the day, when I hope to come back with good news for him. But I will
wait for Ford."

An hour later Ford returned, and for some time he and Sefton were in
close conversation. Sefton deemed it prudent to conceal nothing, so
that when he had finished his story, Ford had an intelligent grasp of
the events which had led up to the present situation.

"You'll do, sir," Ford said approvingly. "It will be a treat to work
with a gentleman like you. I had made up my mind to blow out Weiss'
brains, but it would be a pity to hang for a scamp like that, and now
that I have got my wife back and everything is clear between us, I
can see better days in store. And the law will save me the trouble of
ridding the world of Weiss, so I shall have all the revenge I want
without risk. And now, sir, what would you like me to do?"

"Go to Weiss' office," Sefton explained, "and confront his manager.
Give him a hint of what we have discovered, and tell him we mean
business. You say he is another of Weiss' tools and probably knows all
about the conspiracy against Mr. Rashleigh."

"That's it, sir," Ford agreed. "I am ready to back you up. The sooner
we start the better."




CHAPTER XXXVI.--BEARDING THE BULLY.

Ford strode along with the air of one who has a task to accomplish
and will not be happy till he achieves it. It was a job after his own
heart. Sefton, on the other hand, was wishing it well over. When he
came to think it out, the errand required more diplomacy than he had
expected. They were engaged on a filibustering expedition into the City
of London, and very much depended on the way in which Weiss' manager
received them. If he chose to show fight they were not likely to gain
much, but on this point Ford seemed to have no misgivings. He smiled at
Sefton's arguments.

"I should go straight to the point, if I were you, sir," he said. "I
don't think you want to waste any time in preliminaries. The man is a
coward, though he doesn't look it. Most bullies are."

"You know him then?" Sefton asked.

"Known him for years," Ford said crisply. "We've been in one or two
undertakings together. He's clever and cunning, but when it comes to
the pinch always backs out, so that Weiss and I had to leave only the
business parts of our concerns to him, and attend to the riskier things
ourselves. Physically he is a match for either of us, but he won't toe
the line."

"I am glad to hear that," Sefton said. "I may assume he knows a good
deal about Weiss' affairs."

"You may take it for granted he knows everything," Ford said drily. "If
there is any conspiracy against Mr. Rashleigh, as you think, then the
chap we are after will know all about it. Probably he's at the bottom
of the whole thing. You needn't be afraid there will be any calling
of police or anything of that sort. We shan't be handed over to the
authorities as blackmailers, nor find ourselves charged at Bow-street
to-morrow."

Sefton was willingly taking considerable risks for the sake of Gerald
Rashleigh, but he had no wish to be dragged before the public. He and
Ford at length reached the large building where Weiss had his offices
on the second floor. There was not much evidence of business. A couple
of clerks were yawning over the morning papers, and one of them looked
up presently and asked Sefton's wish.

"I should like to see the manager," Sefton said. "No, it's no use
giving my name, because it will convey nothing to him. You may say I
shan't detain him long."

The clerk reappeared presently, saying the manager would see his
visitor. Sefton walked to the inner office followed by Ford; a moment
later the door closed, and Ford stood with his back to it.

A big man with a short black beard rose from the table and glared
angrily around him. He looked strong enough for anything, except that
there was just a quiver at the corner of his lips, and he had some
difficulty in looking Ford fairly in the face.

"You didn't expect to see me," Ford remarked. "If you put your hand in
that drawer I will knock you down out of hand. I know what you've got
there, and if it's any consolation to you I have no weapon myself. You
ought to know that we don't do business in that way in London. Sit down
and talk the matter over. If you behave properly no harm will come to
you, and when we apply for a warrant against Samuel Weiss on a charge
of conspiracy it will be your own fault if you figure in the dock to
answer to the same count."

The manager sat down promptly. He tried to smile in a superior fashion,
but the attempt was not a success.

"I don't know what you are talking about," he said. "But you won't
gain anything by this tone, and so I tell you plainly. I know nothing
whatever about Rashleigh. I was on the Continent most of the time he
was in the office, and when I returned I was told he had gone off with
a parcel of diamonds, and that Weiss had put the matter in the hands of
the police. If you only knew it, you are merely wasting your time here."

"I'm not sure of that," Ford said.

The manager shrugged his shoulders.

"Well, you had better come to the point," he suggested. "May I ask what
this gentleman has to do with it?"

"Let me introduce myself," Sefton said. "My name is Edgar Sefton,
and Mr. Rashleigh is a friend of mine. He is hiding from the police,
because a warrant is out for his apprehension on a charge of
appropriating certain diamonds, the property of his employer. I may
tell you at once that Mr. Rashleigh is innocent. He is the victim of
a vile conspiracy concocted in this office, and I am taking it for
granted that you know all about it."

"That's devilish kind of you," the manager sneered. "And suppose I
refuse to discuss the matter any further? Suppose I ring the bell and
tell the clerk to send for the police? Suppose I give you in custody
for attempted blackmail?"

Ford burst into a hearty laugh.

"Upon my word!" he exclaimed. "You've got more pluck than I gave you
credit for. I didn't think you had nerve enough to bluff it like this."

"Didn't you?" the manager retorted. "At any rate, I can make it very
awkward for both of you. If I ring my bell----"

"Do it," Sefton said curtly. "Send for two policemen, one for you and
one for me."

The manager hesitated with his hand upon the bell. Gradually the
truculent expression on his face changed, and he smiled in a sickly way.

"Of course," he stammered, "I don't want to do anything offensive. And
you are making no accusation against me."

"Not for the present," Sefton said meaningly. "That will be for you to
decide. If you like to ring the bell for the police, neither Mr. Ford
nor myself will object. It might inconvenience us for a few hours, but
you will find it a deal more awkward for yourself before the day is
out. Are you prepared to listen to us, or do you prefer to ring your
bell?"

Sefton spoke quietly and courteously, but there was no mistaking the
grimness of his meaning. The manager listened to him attentively. He
was palpably disturbed and ill at ease. He signified to Sefton to
proceed.

"I am much obliged to you," the latter went on. "In the first place let
me tell you that I regard your employer as an unspeakable scoundrel.
I know him to be a diamond thief and to be absolutely unscrupulous.
I also strongly suspect that no business is done here, and that this
office is merely kept open as a blind. It enables you and your employer
to deal in smuggled diamonds. You have a quantity at the present moment
in the safe yonder."

The manager snapped out some kind of a denial, but the uneasy glance he
cast at the safe convinced Sefton that his shot had not gone astray. He
smiled contemptuously.

"Oh! you needn't be afraid we have come to rob you," he said. "I have
called for the sole purpose of learning from you the truth about Mr.
Rashleigh."

"But why drag me in?" the manager asked. "And what has Samuel Weiss to
gain by trumping up a charge against Rashleigh?"

"Well, he might gain Miss Weiss' money," Sefton said. "Ah! I see you
know what I mean."




CHAPTER XXXVII.--THE MISSING WITNESS.

The manager moistened his lips with his tongue. He paid Sefton the
compliment of listening carefully.

"It is very good of you to give me your attention like this," he said.
"Now let me see if I can interest you still further. Let us assume
that Miss Weiss has inherited a large fortune, which comes to her
independently of your worthy employer. It is only natural for such a
man to covet this money. We will further assume that the girl who is
known as Miss Iza Weiss is no relation to the estimable Samuel at all.
I wonder if you are prepared to admit this possibility?"

The manager nodded. He was singularly impressed by Sefton's intimate
knowledge. "You are a sensible man," the latter proceeded. "We will
assume, then, that Miss Weiss is not Miss Weiss at all. I can see that
this is no news to you. Probably you have known it for years. And I
have not the slightest doubt you have often discussed the possibility
of obtaining possession of this money. You might have managed it
between you if Mr. Gerald Rashleigh had not intervened. Mr. Weiss
discovered there was some sort of understanding between Mr. Rashleigh
and Miss Weiss. Hence arose the conspiracy against Rashleigh, which was
hatched in this office, and to which you were a party. You won't deny
this?"

The manager seemed to be working it out in his mind, as if it were a
sum in arithmetic.

"That's hardly good enough," he said. "I won't deny what you say about
Miss Weiss, because you are evidently able to prove that. But I don't
think that you can prove I have anything to do with this conspiracy. If
you have any more cards up your sleeve lay them on the table. If you
haven't, you can go to the devil."

Sefton nodded as if he were inclined to allow the point. Apparently
this man was more astute than he had imagined, and had put his finger
upon the weak spot in Sefton's argument. Ford saw it too, for the smile
died from his face and an angry gleam came into his eyes.

"Don't be a fool," he exclaimed. "Don't push us too far or you'll be
sorry for it, Kellett."

The last word shot through Sefton's brain with a dazzling flash of
illumination. For the fraction of a second he wondered where he had
heard that name, and then, in the same infinitesimal space, it came to
him.

He had not expected such pure and unadulterated luck as this. He had
never dreamed of finding in Samuel Weiss' manager the original owner of
the little black book which had indirectly caused the death of George
Vane.

Sefton recovered himself instantly. He saw his advantage, and meant to
press it home.

"You are a trifle too previous," he said softly. "Before we go any
further, suppose we try back a little. Let us go back to the time when
Weiss had a house in Herefordshire. Did you ever hear of a place called
Harley Lodge, Mr. Kellett?"

Kellett had some difficulty in replying. Once more he moistened his
lips, and the eyes he turned upon Sefton were full of nameless fear.

"I have heard of the place," he said. "But I never went near it."

"That," Sefton said slowly, "is a lie; a clumsy lie, too, not worthy of
your astuteness, Mr. Kellett. I believe you were there once, and that
was before this office was open, before you went to South Africa with
Weiss for the last time, when you did such good business in smuggled
diamonds by means of that sagacious poodle. I wonder if you can
recollect the dog's name?"

Kellett muttered something under his breath.

"Really, you are giving yourself away," Sefton went on. "My opinion of
you is not what it was. But if your memory needs refreshing, that dog's
name was Fuss. He was stolen from a clergyman in Herefordshire. Perhaps
you will tell me next you never heard of the Reverend George Vane."

Kellett writhed uneasily to his chair. This merciless cross-examination
was having its effect upon him. Beads of perspiration stood out upon
his forehead and every hair in his coarse beard seemed to quiver.

"I have heard the name," he stammered.

"Of course you have," Sefton said encouragingly. "You went to
Herefordshire to see Weiss because you wanted money badly. That was
before the palmy days of diamonds. You were exceedingly hard up, and
you could get nothing out of Weiss. You met him in a wood within a mile
or two of Mr. Vane's house, and argued the matter out. It was not a
friendly argument, Mr. Kellett, was it? You came to blows, didn't you?
And you got the best of the fight. Was it Weiss' right or left eye you
put temporarily out of action?"

"Good Lord!" Kellett burst out, "where did you get all this from? Who
told you?"

"Oh! that's nothing," Sefton said airily. "A mere child could do it if
he only knew the way. There's another thing I am curious about. When
Weiss induced you to go back to Harley Lodge what did he give you to
take to the pawnshop? It was a disappointment to you that the plate
hadn't been left at Weiss' disposal. But I really am interested to know
whether it was a bronze or a cabinet picture which you selected after
all. And what became of the pawn ticket Weiss was so anxious about?"

Kellett mopped his forehead.

"Oh! go on," he cried in desperation. "Make yourself at home. Enjoy
yourself, as if the place belonged to you. I dare say you think this is
very funny."

Sefton's manner suddenly changed.

"No, I don't think it in the least funny," he said. "You will find it
has a much more serious side. When you had that encounter with Weiss
you lost something. Don't shake your head, because I know better.
You dropped a little black book which contained a deal of valuable
information of great use to a blackmailer. With that book in your
custody you could have gone to Miss Iza and told her who she really
was. You went to Herefordshire with that intention. But Weiss persuaded
you that you would be merely wasting your time. You patched up your
quarrel and returned to Harley Lodge, where I presume you came to some
satisfactory arrangement. You did not know that the little black book
had passed into the hands of Mr. Vane, who afterwards discussed it with
Miss Iza. It was singular my old friend Mr. Vane should be the means
of telling Miss Iza who she was. It was also unfortunate that their
talk should have been overheard by Samuel Weiss. He tried to get the
little black book back, but was frustrated by the dog Fuss, which he
subsequently stole and used to good, but dishonest purpose in South
Africa. Weiss never knew that his eavesdropping had been discovered, or
he would never have gone the length of murdering Mr. Vane. Of course
you know all about that, Mr. Kellett?"

Kellett threw up his arms despairingly.

"I didn't," he screamed. "I swear I didn't. I defy you to prove that
against me. I am innocent."




CHAPTER XXXVIII.--DRIVING IT HOME.

Sefton did not reply immediately. He could afford to pause until the
full weight of the whole revelation had soaked itself into Kellett's
affrighted mind. But Kellett only sat trembling from head to foot,
white, perspiring, and absolutely at the mercy of his antagonists. Then
Sefton went on again.

"I dare say you wonder how I know all this," he said. "Perhaps you
think I was in Herefordshire at the period. In fact, I had not seen my
old friend for some time before his death, and have never heard a word
from him since we last met. But he was murdered by Samuel Weiss, and
I have just told you the reason why. Sometimes messages come from the
tomb, but we have to thank a dumb animal for the proofs I have placed
before you. If there had been no poodle I should not now be enjoying
the pleasure of your society. This puzzles you, but you will have to
remain in the dark for the present. You will probably learn the full
details in the police court. I fear you may not follow the disclosures
with unalloyed interest because you are likely to listen to them from
the dock."

Kellett groaned piteously.

"Ah! Mr. Kellett it isn't a very pleasing prospect. But you were
disposed to defy me, and must take the consequences. I think I have
said all that is necessary."

"Not quite," Kellett answered hoarsely. "There are one or two matters.
I should like to know----"

"I dare say you would," Sefton said drily. "But anything else you'll
have to learn through the medium of the police court. You are
intelligent enough to know the position in which you stand. I will lay
the information I possess before the proper authorities, and you will
pursue your own course."

Sefton turned to go, as if there were no more to be said.

Kellett dragged himself up from his seat and held out a trembling hand.
His voice was husky.

"Stop a minute," he said imploringly. "Why do you wish to leave in
this hurry? It's only fair that having said so much you should tell
me everything. I want to know how you are going to drag me into this
business."

"That you will learn in due time."

Kellett made a gesture of surrender. Every atom of fight had gone out
of him.

"I give in," he whined. "You are too strong for me, but I swear to
you that I had no hand in the death of Mr. Vane. I knew he had my
pocket-book, because Weiss told me. We were both desperately hard
pressed for money, and didn't know which way to turn. It seemed as if
we were about to lose the girl's money at the very time when we had
forged the necessary papers for getting possession of it. Even as it
was it was not too late, could we only contrive to close Mr. Vane's
mouth. We weren't afraid of the girl, because she only knew a few
isolated and unrelated facts. Then Weiss suggested the way out of the
difficulty, though for my part I was completely opposed to foul play.
Weiss arranged the details, but I never believed he would have done
it. I didn't think he had pluck enough. Then the deed was done, though
I never expected it to come out. Since it has come out, I am ready to
tell all I know about it. I don't see why I should suffer for a thing I
had no hand in. I'll put it down in writing, if you like."

"That will not meet my present requirements," said Sefton. "As to the
murder, you will have to give your evidence on oath in the witness-box,
for as soon as Weiss is well enough to be removed from his house, a
warrant for his arrest will be applied for, and he will have to take
his trial for the murder of the Reverend George Vane. That, however, is
a question for the future. What I must insist upon your giving me now,
is a short written statement of the conspiracy against Mr. Rashleigh.
If you play your cards properly you may save your own skin. Now, sit
down and write that confession. No doubt the diamonds which are the
subject of the charge are secure in your safe."

"They're all right," Kellett admitted. "It was easy to trace the
alleged missing stones to Rashleigh. They were only paste, but they
served our purpose. But if you will wait, I will put it all down on
paper. I can't do it yet awhile because my hand is so shaky, but if one
of the clerks will fetch me some brandy I shall be able to manage it
afterwards."

Sefton had no objection. In a few minutes Kellett began to write, and
when he had finished half a dozen sheets, he handed them to Sefton for
inspection. They contained everything that was necessary, and Sefton
slipped them into his pocket. Then he and Ford left the office and
returned to the latter's house. It was a long story that Sefton had to
tell Rashleigh, but Mrs. Ford was right in her prediction that it would
do more good than all the doctor's medicine. The danger was averted,
and Rashleigh was safe. There was a bright smile on Iza's face and a
gladness in her eyes which Sefton had never noticed before, as she
drove back with him to Weiss' house.

"You won't like going back there," Sefton said, "but it will be
unavoidable for a day or two. Much has to be done before we can bring
the thing home to Weiss, and I have a scheme for putting that right. As
soon as Weiss is fit to see anybody, I wish you would let me know. This
afternoon you might go to Miss Barrington's and tell her all that has
happened."

Three days later Sefton received a message that Weiss was considerably
better and his memory clear.

Sefton rang for a cab, and in a few minutes found himself in Weiss'
presence.




CHAPTER XXXIX.--CLOSE QUARTERS.

Kellett sat a long while at his desk after his visitors left. He went
through the formality of telling his clerks he must not be interrupted,
although there was no risk of a rush of business, for practically
nothing was done. Kellett lighted a cigar to aid his thoughts. The
danger was threatening indeed. For many reasons he was anxious to
remain modestly in the background. Sefton had said nothing about
Kellett's own particular past and seemed to have no knowledge of the
relations between him and Weiss, but a man who was so singularly
well-informed on one matter might be equally well posted on another.
And Sefton's information had been amazing. He had brought it down upon
Kellett's head with sledge-hammer force. He had spoken like a man
who knew he was master of the situation. Kellett's head swam when he
thought of it. He had deemed the Vane episode dead and forgotten. He
had thought no living soul had guessed even haphazard at the truth--and
Sefton knew all about it!

Where had he got his information? Even when he was alone and had time
to think, Kellett could not grasp where Sefton had found everything
he needed. He had spoken familiarly about things only known to Weiss
and himself; indeed, Sefton had given the gist of conversations which
Kellett had had with Weiss. Surely Weiss would never have dreamt of
repeating these to a third person. And yet how otherwise could a third
person know about them? The longer Kellett excogitated these things
the more bewildered did he grew. Never a fighter at the best, he now
utterly lost his nerve, for there was something peculiarly terrifying
in fighting this dread and unseen force. And what if Weiss had betrayed
him? Weiss might have made his own story good at the expense of his
unhappy manager, except that--and it was an exception to which Kellett
clung like grim death--Weiss was unable to tell anybody anything.
For the time his mind was gone, and possibly it was hints dropped
unconsciously in his imbecile condition that had aroused Sefton's
suspicions.

Kellett hugged this theory with the energy of despair, and tried hard
to convince himself that if he told the bare truth he could not suffer
seriously. He had had no hand in Mr. Vane's death. On the contrary, he
had tried to dissuade Weiss from a deed so outrageous. Still, he knew
that Weiss had had the murder in his mind, and he was what is called
an accessory to the fact. After the crime the matter had never been
mentioned between them. Kellett had never sought to know how the thing
was done, and Weiss never volunteered to tell him.

Kellett had now made up his mind what to do. He had done fairly well
during the last two years, and was Weiss' manager in effect as well
as in name. Several parcels of stones in the safe could be disposed
of, and then he would discreetly disappear. He would not go to South
Africa. He was too well known at the Cape. But there was plenty of
scope for his genius in several of the South American States. He would
leave England lest he might be wanted, but before he went he would warn
Weiss.

Three days had passed ere Kellett was ready for his voyage. He had
realised all his securities, had transferred his money to a South
American bank, and under another name expected to sail from Southampton
on the following afternoon. He was leaving London that evening, but
there was just time to call upon Weiss, who, so he heard, had more or
less recovered from his accident.

His old employer sat moodily in the library. He was still white and
shaky, but his memory had cleared and he could recollect everything
that had happened up to the moment when the stairs had given way under
him and thrown him with a crash to the ground. He received Kellett with
anything but a good grace.

"Why haven't you been here before?" he asked.

"Because I have had something else to do," Kellett retorted. "If I
weren't a good natured fool I shouldn't be here now. But I've done all
I can for you, and now I must look to myself. I have closed the office.
As no one ever comes there or wants to see us, it doesn't matter.
To-morrow I shall start for South America, and within a few hours your
old pal Kellett will cease to exist. I have realised everything and
paid your share into the bank, so you won't be able to say I haven't
done the fair thing by you."

"But why?" Weiss asked impatiently.

"Because I don't wish to haunt a police court," Kellett said. "I
suppose we're safe here? No chance of anybody listening?"

Weiss glared angrily at the speaker.

"What on earth is the matter with you?" he demanded. "But you were
always an arrant cur when there was any danger about. Why are you
afraid of police court proceedings? Nobody suspects us, and as to the
diamonds----"

"Oh! it isn't the diamonds," Kellett muttered. "It's another matter
altogether. It relates to the death of Mr. Vane."

A startled exclamation burst from Weiss. His angry, contemptuous manner
had vanished. He looked at Kellett with frightened eyes staring out of
a face from which every drop of blood had gone.

"Say it again," he said hoarsely.

"Oh! why should I say it again? Didn't I make my meaning plain? I tell
you they have found out all about it. Two men came into my office the
other day, and Ford was one of them."

"Ford knew nothing of it," Weiss whispered.

"I didn't say he did. He didn't when he came into the office, but as
he heard every word the other man said, he knows all about it now. But
I don't think you need worry about Ford. The real danger does not come
from that quarter. The man you have to beware of was Ford's companion."

"And what is his name?"

"Sefton," Kellett explained. "Mr. Sefton. He knows everything--chapter
and verse. He poured it out on me till he had me as limp as a wet rag.
I have had one or two frights in my life, but never one as bad as that.
I was fairly paralysed."

"Yes, I have seen you like it," Weiss sneered.

"Yes, and I shall see you like it before I've finished," Kellett
retorted. "I was a fool to come here. I ought to have left you to take
care of yourself. This Sefton knows all about Vane's death. He was a
great friend of Vane's, and lived in his house some time before you
went into Herefordshire. From what I can gather, he once thought he
had a chance of being Vane's son-in-law. But, at any rate, he knows
everything. He knows about the little black book, he knows how it was
lost, he knows about our fight in the wood. Why, he even knows that
you gave me something to pawn when I left Harley Lodge. He knows how
you tried to steal the black book from him, and how the poodle bested
you. He knows you listened to Vane's conversation with Miss Iza, and
he knows how you lured Vane into the wood with that story about the
woodpecker. He knows----"

At this moment a servant entered.

"Mr. Sefton to see you on important business, sir. He says it is
absolutely necessary."




CHAPTER XL.--CONFESSION.

Kellett rose from his seat with an oath.

"'Bye, 'bye," he said. "I have no wish to see that devil again. He gets
on my nerves too much."

Without waiting for any reply Kellett bustled out of the room. He
closed the front door quietly, hailed a passing cab, and drove to his
lodgings, and thence to Waterloo Station to take the first train to
Southampton. He did not begin to breathe freely until London was behind
him. He was not himself until the ship cast off from her moorings and
glided into the Channel. He had taken his precautions very well, and
had managed to cover up his tracks, but he had a wholesome respect
and dread of Sefton, and had half expected to find a detective's hand
on his shoulder at the last moment. He had averted that catastrophe,
however, and left his country for his country's good.

Meanwhile Weiss stared at the astonished servant trying to collect
his scattered wits. At first he was inclined to tell the footman to
send Sefton away, but it occurred to him that this would not be a wise
proceeding.

"Show the gentleman up," he muttered.

"I think you have some idea why I am here," Sefton said. "As I was
waiting to see you I saw Kellett leave the house. No doubt he came here
to warn you."

"Warn me as to what?" Weiss demanded sullenly.

"Do you think you will gain anything by fencing with me?" Sefton asked.
"It is evident from your appearance that Kellett has given you some
very disturbing news, but if you don't care to hear me, I needn't
detain you. I can find plenty of interested listeners for a story
like mine. It was eccentric to come here at all. I ought to have gone
straight to Scotland Yard, and have left the authorities to deal with
you."

Weiss pointed to a chair. He had become old and bent and grey all at
once, and yet the look of haggard anxiety died out of his eyes, and he
appeared to resign himself to the inevitable. When he spoke his voice
was steady.

"Sit down, Mr. Sefton," he said. "I won't disguise from you that
Kellett came here with the most extraordinary story. He tells me
you are an old friend of Mr. George Vane's, and are engaged to that
gentleman's daughter. I have had the privilege of receiving you as a
guest on two or three occasions, though I think you came rather as my
daughter's guest than mine."

"That is so," Sefton admitted. "But I think it would be well to call
the young lady by her proper name."

"So be it," Weiss said, as if the remark had been the most natural
in the world. "I recognise that I am dealing with a man of more than
ordinary astuteness. We will say, then, that you came as the guest of
Iza Holland."

"I am obliged to you," Sefton said. "I have been interested for some
time in Miss Holland. I suspected some mystery surrounded her, and now
I know all about it. I derived my information from the diary which Mr.
Vane left and which by great good chance fell into my hands. I know who
Miss Holland is, where her relations are to be found, and where her
money is invested. I am also a friend of Mr. Gerald Rashleigh's and I
am acquainted with the conspiracy you and Kellett hatched against him.
I found Kellett an easy man to deal with, and readily persuaded him to
write a confession of the whole plot."

"Just so," Weiss murmured. He did not seem to be in the least
disturbed, and might have been listening to a discussion about the
shortcomings of a third person. "Yes, we did hatch that plot, because I
desired to acquire Miss Holland's money. You will know presently why I
am so candid with you. But Miss Holland's affairs don't concern me any
longer. You are in a position to clear Mr. Rashleigh's character in the
eyes of the world, and no doubt these two will marry and live happily
ever afterwards on the most approved pattern of the story books. I
admit that she is an exceedingly beautiful girl, and I confess that she
has been thoroughly unhappy under my roof. Not that that troubled me--I
never suffer myself to worry about other people's misfortunes, and I
should have had small mercy upon her if circumstances had not been too
strong for me. You see I am quite frank. Of course I don't feel the
least bitter or disappointed because I have been beaten. A man doesn't
worry over a toothache after he has broken his neck. I understand from
Kellett that you prefer a much more serious accusation against me. You
charge me with Mr. Vane's death."

"I am absolutely sure of it."

"Indeed! Well, you are not the man to say that unless you feel certain
of the facts. But can you prove them?"

"Yes," Sefton said. "You conceived the idea of removing Mr. Vane when
you discovered that he was aware of Miss Holland's identity. You did
not know that you had been detected listening to an interview between
her and Mr. Vane, nor that, when you went to recover the little black
book, the dog you afterwards stole had been sent to anticipate you. It
never occurred to you that Mr. Vane kept a diary, which came into my
possession a few days ago. That diary is fully entered up--there is
even an entry in it an hour before Mr. Vane went into the wood where
you had promised to show him the nest of a bird, which existed only in
your imagination. The diary relates how you persuaded Mr. Vane to bring
his own gun on the plea that you were a wretched shot yourself. Wasn't
that very modest of you?"

Weiss sat listening, with the tips of his fingers pressed together. He
displayed neither feeling nor anxiety, and might have been following
the most commonplace conversation. From time to time he twisted a ring
round the second finger of his left hand and there was the ghost of a
smile on his face.

"Are there any more proofs?" he asked.

A sudden spasm of anger gripped Sefton. This cynicism repelled him.

"Yes," he said curtly. "There are other proofs, but your manner does
not encourage me to proceed."

"Nor is there any occasion," Weiss went on in the same dignified tone.
"Now listen to me. I killed George Vane. I thought it best to put him
out of the way, and laid my plans accordingly. Of course, I did not
know about that diary, nor that I had been suspected of listening to
the fateful conversation between Mr. Vane and Iza Holland. You have
correctly imagined the scene. I lured Mr. Vane into the wood by false
pretences, I managed to get hold of his gun, and I shot him at close
quarters. No eye beheld me, and I was supposed to be in London at the
time. I had the evidence ready to my hand to prove an alibi, should
it have become necessary to produce it. It was easy to leave Mr. Vane
lying in the wood as if he had committed suicide, and, as you know,
this was the general opinion. I was content to leave the impression
undisturbed, because it prevented the police from asking awkward
questions. I could not say more than this if I were to harangue you
for a week. I cannot profess a regret which I do not feel. But I wish
to assure you how sorry I am that I have been found out. Now you may
go and report this to Scotland Yard. But before you leave you will bid
farewell to Samuel Weiss. Do you see this ring? It contains a virulent
poison. If I press the hinge like this, why----"

He broke off abruptly, a spasm of pain shot over his face and he lay
back in his chair as if asleep. It was no idle boast. The career of
Samuel Weiss was finished.




CHAPTER XLI.--A CLEAR SKY.

Sefton would have kept the matter quiet if he could, but that was
impossible. For the next few days people talked of nothing but the
extraordinary way in which the mystery surrounding Mr. Vane's death
had been solved. Certain extracts from the diary had been published,
which demonstrated that it was not a case of suicide. In the excitement
Gerald Rashleigh's affairs were almost lost sight of, but that was a
small matter, by comparison, and mainly concerned Rashleigh and his
intimate friends. He was free to appear in public, and as soon as
he was fit to travel went off to recuperate at Sandgate along with
his sister, Vera Barrington. About the same time the play in which
Vera was appearing had suddenly ceased to attract, so that she found
herself temporarily out of an engagement. She regarded her release as
an unqualified blessing. What most she needed was change of air and
thorough rest from worry and anxiety. Her husband did not trouble her
much, for he was paying the penalty of his follies in the shape of a
complete breakdown, which left him as helpless and vacant as an idiot
child. It would not be long, so the doctors informed Vera, before she
would be free of him for ever.

"I hope you won't think me stony-hearted if I say I am glad," she said
to Elsie. "You cannot conceive what anxiety that poor creature has
caused me. No, I never want to see him again. All I desire is to go
right away and be quiet. In future I shall be able to call my income my
own, and before long be able to save enough money to buy the cottage
that I am thinking about. I am young, and life is not over for me. Now,
what I propose to do is this. There is a place at Sandgate upon which
my heart is set, and I mean to go there for a couple of months. I will
take Gerald and Iza with me. She doesn't wish to go to her own people
although, I understand, they will be glad to see her. We ought to be
happy there."

"I am sure you will be," Elsie said sadly. "But I shall miss you
dreadfully when you are gone."

Vera kissed the speaker affectionately.

"Indeed you won't do anything of the sort," she replied. "What an
ungrateful wretch you must think me. Do you suppose that I will leave
you behind? Why, we owe you a debt of gratitude we shall never be able
to repay. By your courage you saved my brother's life. But for you
we should not have met Edgar Sefton, and Iza would still be in the
clutches of those dreadful people. If you don't come with us I won't
go at all. If you refuse you will spoil my holiday, which won't be for
long in any case."

"What do you mean?" Elsie asked.

"As if you didn't know." Vera cried. "Your pretty face suffused with
delicate pink tells its story. Nay, you needn't turn away your head.
My romance was a failure, but I was happy enough in the first few
months of my married life, and I know what a girl's feelings are.
Why, ever since the mystery of your father's death has been cleared
up, you have been a different creature. You are singing from morn to
night, you wear a constant smile, and your eyes speak things which you
flatter yourself in vain you are keeping from the world. How long will
it be before Edgar follows you to Sandgate? And how long will it be
before he insists upon taking you away altogether? And what a bitter
disappointment it would be if he didn't come at all!"

Elsie laughed unsteadily.

"You are merciless," she said. "But he may have changed his mind. I was
so hard on him----"

"Oh! nonsense; he hasn't changed his mind, and you know it. I will bet
you a new hat that we shall find Edgar Sefton at Sandgate before we
have got into the house and taken our old hats off."

Vera prophesied truly. They had hardly settled down to tea in the
sunlit balcony of a charming house on the cliffs when Sefton put in an
appearance. He came across the lawn with the air of a man who is sure
of his welcome.

"I couldn't get here before,"' he said. "That wretched business has
tied me up entirely."

"It's a good thing you couldn't," Vera said demurely. "You wouldn't
have found us here if you had. Where are you staying? And how long
shall you be down?"

"I am at the Channel Hotel," Sefton explained coolly. "And I shan't
stay a day longer than you do. I think I have earned the right to enjoy
myself a bit. Upon my word! Rashleigh looks as if he had never had a
day's illness in his life, and, Iza, if I may be permitted to call her
so, is another girl."

Iza laughed whole-heartedly. She looked altogether changed. Her reserve
had vanished. She blossomed like a flower in the sunshine. There was
a joyousness about her which none of them had ever seen before. But
Sefton had not come to study the happiness of other people. As he
chatted over his tea, he did not fail to notice that Elsie was the
quietest of the party. By and by Gerald and Iza walked down the garden
and through the gate which led to the range of gorse-covered cliffs
beyond. Frankly they were interested in their own society to the
exclusion of everybody else. Vera turned with a smile to her companions.

"I won't have you here boring me," she said. "And if Mr. Sefton chooses
to force himself upon a Bohemian household, he will have to dispense
with ceremony. I am going to write letters now. When my correspondence
is off my mind I shall enjoy a holiday with a clear conscience."

She sailed away, leaving Elsie and Sefton alone. For a time there was
silence between them.

"Shall we follow the others?" Elsie suggested.

"I am glad to hear you say that," Sefton said. "By all means, let
us follow the others. No, no; I don't mean in that way--I mean in
following their example. Don't rise. I will bring my chair to yours,
where nobody can see us. Elsie, you know why I am here; you know that
you are free on the terms laid down by yourself. Darling! You won't
send me away again, will you?"

Sefton had taken her hand in his, and she made no attempt to withdraw
it. To her the landscape seemed to have suddenly grown blurred and
misty in the setting sun. But she knew well that those unshed tears
twinkling under her lashes were tears of happiness. There was not an
atom of the coquette in her nature, for she loved this man with all her
heart and soul, and she did not care how soon he knew it.

"Never again, Edgar," she whispered, "never again. I am the happiest
girl in the world, and will marry you whenever you like. I'll try my
best to make you a good wife, and if you want me to say more than
that----"

She stopped and glanced shyly at him. But Sefton wanted no more, for he
sat looking out across the wide track of the setting sun and envied no
man his happiness.



THE END.



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