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Title: The Edge of the Sword
Author: Fred M. White
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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Edge of the Sword
Author: Fred M. White

* * *


THE EDGE OF THE SWORD.
BY
FRED M. WHITE.


Author of "The Nether Millstone," "The Corner House," "The Scales of
Justice," "Craven Fortune," etc., etc.

*

Published in The New Zealand Herald in serial form commencing Saturday
19 January, 1907.

* * *


CHAPTER I.--ACCUSING CONSCIENCE.

LIONEL HARVEY turned over the card with fingers that trembled slightly.
There was nothing that he hated more than being disturbed in his study
hours, when he was on one of his stories, and he had given strict
orders that he was not to be disturbed.

The maid stammered something in the way of an apology. "I--I'm very
sorry, sir," she said. "But the lady seemed so disappointed when I told
her that you never saw anybody in the morning. She said it was a matter
of life and death, that she must see you, that you would be angry if
she went away, and--and, sir, she is such a beautiful young lady."

"I know that," Harvey said, absently. "Seeing that--but no matter. Did
she ask for me by name or under my pseudonym of Rodney Payne?"

"Well, sir, she called you Mr. Payne. And, of course, I knew she meant
you. She said she had managed to get your address from the Daily Record
Office. She said, too, that she would be quite a stranger to you."

Lionel Harvey smiled grimly, yet his eyes were very sad. His hands were
trembling again now as he pushed his copy-paper away from him. He half
hesitated for a moment, as if struggling with some terrible emotion.

"Very well, Maria," he said, curtly. "I'll break my rule for once. Show
the lady up."

There was a timid tap at the door presently, and the slim figure of a
girl entered. The maid had made no mistake, the intruder on the privacy
of the novelist was certainly very beautiful. One might have called her
expression very sweet and spiritual as a rule, but now she was pale
and drawn with some great trouble. But nothing could detract from the
perfect contour of the features, or dim the liquid blue of those eyes,
or take the warm gleam of sunshine from the golden hair.

"I am sure I beg your pardon," his visitor gasped. "My unaccountable
intrusion--Lionel! Mr. Harvey! What does this mean? I imagined that I
should find----"

The girl broke off and started back; she laid her hand on her heart;
her breast heaved as if she had run fast and far. Then gradually the
pink and white confusion of her face gave way to a frosty coldness and
disdain. Harvey stood there like a statue. He had the advantage over
the girl, for he had known what to expect.

"If I had only known," the girl murmured--"if I had only known!"

"You would have stayed away, Elsie. I beg your pardon, Miss Armstrong.
I would remind you that this interview is no seeking of mine. Probably
the maid told you that in no circumstances did I suffer callers in the
morning."

"Oh she did. I came to see Rodney Payne. I had no idea----"

"That the author who calls himself Rodney Payne and your
old--lover--Lionel Harvey were one and the same person. I guessed that
when your card was brought up to me. It was my impulse to decline to
see you. But I am not one of those who forget so easily. I have not
succeeded in eradicating from my memory the recollection of the old
days. I daresay you regard me as one of those men who deserved little
or no consideration at the hands of a woman; and yet, if you knew
everything, I am quite certain you would come to the conclusion that
your own conduct is not beyond the reach----"

Harvey paused abruptly, and walked up and down the room with impatient
strides. He was a great deal more upset by this sudden and dramatic
meeting than he would have cared to own, and, manlike, he disguised
this feeling as far as possible. He did not notice the shy and
timid way in which the girl was looking at him. He did not heed the
half-pathetic expression in her eyes. His mind had gone back to the
past. He was living certain scenes and situations over again, and yet,
though he was striving hard to keep up his coldness, it needed but
little on the girl's part to break down the barriers of his pride had
she only known it.

The silence became embarrassing, and at length the girl forced herself
to speak. The words came hesitatingly from her lips.

"I hope you do not think," she said, "that I have any ulterior motive
in coming here to-day. You see, it is hardly possible for me to have
been aware of the fact that Rodney Payne and my old----"

The girl broke off abruptly, and a vivid crimson stained her face.
Harvey guessed what word the girl was going to use, and a bitter smile
trembled on his lips.

"Why not finish your sentence?" he said. "Why not be candid? Still, I
am quite prepared to believe that you did not know who I was when you
came here. You are the same, yet, not the same. You have grown older,
but no less beautiful. Remember, I have not----"

"Don't you think you are speaking beside the point?" Elsie said,
coldly. "I was under the impression that all that kind of thing was
relegated to the past. I am only sorry to find that I have placed
myself in so cruel a position. It is open for you to put the worst
construction you like on my conduct. For instance, you might imagine
that I came here with some trumped-up story, anything to get an
interview with you. After all is said and done, though you disguise
yourself under the pseudonym, it is not such a very difficult matter to
ascertain the real name of a writer. I beg to tell you that nothing was
further from my thoughts."

"Always suspicious," Harvey said, bitterly. "With the many beautiful
points which I know exist in your character, it seems such a lamentable
thing that you should be spoilt by that one little strain of hysterical
jealousy. What do you take me for? Do you think because I am a soured
and disappointed man that I impute the lowest of motives to all
mankind? I don't wish to blow my own trumpet, but you know that all
my life I have always been ready to help others. I would help even my
bitterest enemy if he came to me and asked my pardon for the wrong he
had done me. I am going to help you now. If I can be of the slightest
assistance to you I shall only be too pleased. Your eyes tell me that
you have some dreadful trouble. If you will tell me what it is----"

"You are very good," the girl said, humbly.

"Indeed, I am nothing of the kind," Harvey went on. "I never could
refuse anybody in distress, and you must forgive me if I forgot myself
for the moment and alluded to the past. After all, I cannot forget the
fact that I have not set eyes on you for two years. And the maid said
it was a case of life and death. Elsie, Elsie, if there is anything I
can do for you----"

The girl flung out her hands with a passionate gesture. "You are
cruel," she said. "You dare take that tone to me because you know that
I am in deep distress. I came here prepared to humiliate myself----"

"But why? You must be perfectly aware that there is nothing I would not
do for you. I am not the kind of man to change. We parted two years ago
irrevocably. I accepted your decision as final, and bowed to it. But
that did not cure me of my passion for you. Because you regarded me as
a scoundrel and your brother as an injured man I loved you none the
less. I love you just the same, you have the same power over me, Elsie.
Oh, you may toss your head in proud scorn, you can turn from me, but
the fact remains. And now you have come to me to assist you. What call
I do?"

"I came to see Rodney Payne. How could I know that you were Rodney
Payne! And yet if I had known I should have been compelled to come all
the same. To come and stand here and let you insult me with words of
love. If you had any feeling----"

"Stop! I have had enough of this. I was learning to forget, to be
resigned, when you forced yourself on me in this fashion. Do I look
like a liar?"

Elsie Armstrong turned her eyes upon the stern, clear-cut face, with
its fine chin and clean-shaven, sensitive mouth. It was not precisely a
handsome face, but it was a good one, and the eyes were pleasantly grey
and honest. Elsie had not forgotten him in the old days. Children and
dogs had always come quite naturally to Lionel Harvey.

"You--you don't," she admitted, grudgingly. "You never did. But I am
merely wasting your time with these idle recriminations. What I want to
know is why you are persecuting us in this way. At first I could not
understand it at all. You see I did not know who Rodney Payne was. I
was reading the serial story by 'Rodney Payne' at present appearing in
the Daily Record, and it struck me that the author must know my brother
and myself. His description of Dick was exact, his likeness of me a
little flattering, but there were touches that enabled me to identify
myself."

"But what has all this to do with your visit here?"

"Oh, I am coming to that in good time. As the Daily Record story
developed so it grew on me. I was forced to the conclusion that the
author knew both Dick and myself. Certain reference to discreditable
episodes in my brother's past was made in the story. Then he escapes
from a great danger, and finally becomes secretary to a newly-made
nobleman, who is the possessor of a vast fortune. That is exactly what
has happened to Dick. The peer in the story has a lovely daughter, and
the secretary falls in love with her. That is precisely what has taken
place in Dick's case!"

"Really!" Harvey murmured. "It is a rather remarkable coincidence."

"Coincidence! Do you ask me to believe that? But I have not gone far
enough. It becomes pressingly necessary for the bold young secretary
to procure a large sum of money to replace some which he has lost on
the turf. He has forged a certain signature, and unless the money is
forthcoming to cover the forgery he is lost. So goes your story, and so
goes mine."

"Oh! Your brother has done that same thing," Harvey cried. "Well, there
is nothing so very remarkable in that. Thousands of young men do the
same thing every year. It struck me, too, as quite a commonplace plot
when I was writing the story. I might have created something different,
but I let it pass. So your brother is in immediate danger of losing his
liberty. When I left the firm of Hudson and Co. two years ago there
was a cloud over my name. I was suspected of robbing my employers. Had
not my father been in the same bank for 40 years I should have been
prosecuted. For your sake I refused to clear myself and point, as I
could have done, to the real thief. I told you who the real thief was,
and you ordered me out of your house. After what you have just told
me are you prepared to take your brother's word in preference to mine
still?"

The blue eyes filled with tears. Lionel could see the crystal drops
hanging to the long dark lashes. A great wave of pity came over him.

"Forgive me," he said, gently. "Think how for two years I have
suffered. For months I was on the verge of starvation. Until I
discovered that I had the trick of imaginative writing I hardly earned
my bread. I took the name of Rodney Payne because my story was known
to more than one. Perhaps in writing the Record story my imagination
was coloured by the recollection of your sweet self; perhaps,
unconsciously, I drew my villain from your brother Dick. As to the rest
I know nothing."

"But you must, you are bound to," Elsie cried. "How could this be
mere coincidence? I am prepared to grant you the characters, but the
rest is too great a strain upon my credulity. Can you say you didn't
know that my brother had left the bank and taken up the position of
secretary to Lord Manningtree? You have described the man, you have
drawn an excellent portrait of his daughter, you have even indicated
the position in the library where the safe stands--the safe containing
his late wife's famous emerald!"

Lionel started. He was more interested than he cared to say. "I swear
to you that it is mere coincidence," he cried, hotly. "Most of us
dramatise the common incidents of life, with crime and cunning to
add colour to the picture. These kind of things are happening every
day, Elsie. There are scores of serial writers like myself, there are
literally hundreds of sensational stories published every year. If
you will consider the matter you will see how easy it is to hit upon
a chain of events that is happening to somebody. I have heard of Lord
Manningtree, of course, but I have never been in his library, and I
have no idea that his safe contains his late wife's emeralds."

"But you mentioned those jewels in to-day's instalment of your story,"
Elsie Armstrong protested. "You actually speak of the emeralds! You
accentuate the fact that the secretary--in other words, my brother
Dick--means to get them. In your story there is a certain Kate Bradley,
a mysterious, anaemic pensioner of the family. Are you going to make
her responsible for the robbery that you foreshadow; and who is she?"

"Really, you try my patience," Lionel protested. "Did I not tell you
that the whole thing was pure fiction and nothing else. Kate Bradley is
a mere subordinate character----"

"Who exists in real life," Elsie interrupted, breathlessly. "I forgot
what she is called, but there is a creature just like her who has a
place in Lord Manningtree's household. It is absolutely impossible for
me to stand here and believe that----"

"You may believe what you like," said Lionel, coldly. "I have already
explained to you how these things come about. As to the prototype of
Kate Bradley----"

"I have not finished," Elsie went on. "Please hear me to the end.
I can't rid myself of the idea that you know far more than you are
prepared to admit. I came to you, Rodney Payne, because you are a
clever man, and because you might save me from a great unhappiness.
You can get your characters into desperate situations, and you can get
them out again. Nobody could do that better than a novelist. If I were
a desperate criminal flying from justice, I should go to some writer
like yourself and ask him to scheme me an avenue of escape. I would far
rather have his advice than that of the greatest detective at Scotland
Yard. But it is not for myself that I ask this favour, but for Dick's
sake. In to-day's instalment of your story you indicate the fact that
your nobleman is found in his library half-dead by the side of the
safe, the key of which is missing. And here comes the most amazing part
of my story. Lord Manningtree----"

"Elsie! For heaven's sake don't tell me that he was--was----"

"Found early this morning on the point of death, outstretched in his
library before the safe. And the key is missing. That is exactly what I
came to say!"




CHAPTER II.--THE MYSTERY DEEPENS.

Lionel had no words to say for the moment. He was a firm believer
in the long arm of coincidence; he had seen too much of it to be a
scoffer. Truth is ever stranger than fiction. There are mysteries,
rejected of editors as too improbable, which find more than their
parallel in the daily press. And yet here was a case that staggered a
hardened offender. In his imagination he had actually drawn a series of
true happenings. He had finished the story before they began.

"I begin to understand," he said presently. "You have come to regard
the author, Rodney Payne, as a malignant foe who was gloating over your
misfortune. And instead of that you find a man who used to be, nay,
still is, your lover. Well, that accounts for certain things, but it
does not account for everything. As I said before these coincidences
frequently happen. They had done so in my case. I once hit upon what
I considered to be a fine series of eventful happenings, and I placed
them in the form of a long story. I had disposed of the story to a
magazine, and it was going to be published, when I was attracted by the
title of a dramatic book published by a well-known author. The title
suggested my tale. I read the book, and I found that the other man had
practically written my story. I don't think that the editor of that
magazine has ever quite forgiven me, and he still cherishes the idea
that in some way I picked the brain of the other man. Elsie, can it be
that there is anything in the theory of mental telepathy? Could your
brother's brain in some way have communicated his idea and plans to
mine? In my story the nobleman's secretary half-kills his master and
steals the gems. And your brother has apparently done this----"

Lionel paused; the stricken misery on Elsie's face forced him to
silence. He had a shrewd idea of what was uppermost in her mind. She
did not know what to think or how to act. She had come to him, half to
save her, half to ask his advice.

"My mind is in a ferment," she said. "I half anticipated some attempt
at blackmail on the part of Rodney Payne. He seemed to know so much of
our doings, he seemed to take a malignant pleasure in letting me know
that he was in advance of our ideas. And when I had a telegram from
Dick this morning telling me what had happened, I could not contain
myself any longer. I was bound to see this Rodney Payne without delay.
For the sake of old times you will help us, you will try to get to the
bottom of the mystery?"

"It looks as if we had already done so," Lionel said, sadly. "After
what you have told me about your brother, after what I know----"

"Yes, yes. My eyes have been opened lately. It is a terrible thing. But
I am sure that Dick had nothing to do with this outrage. He has fallen
deeply and sincerely in love with Gladys Manningtree. For her sake he
was going to do letter. Of course, Lord Manningtree knew nothing of
this; the engagement was a secret from him. You may argue that the
whole business is slightly irregular, and I am not going to disagree
with you. After reading your fiction, and studying the extraordinary
parallel facts, I have come to a certain conclusion. You may laugh at
me, but there it is. Now, in the story still to be finished, do you
make the secretary steal the jewels?"

"No, I don't," Lionel admitted, with a faint smile. "My idea has been
to keep up the mystery that surrounds the character of the girl Kate
Bradley."

"Oh, I knew it, I knew it!" Elsie cried. "I thought that that anaemic
woman was going to develop strangely. I have felt it from the first.
What an extraordinary medley it all is--the jumbling together of fact
and fiction. I am glad that I came to you now, Lionel, more glad
than I can say. Supposing that the prototype of Kate Bradley, Lord
Manningtree's pensioner, I mean, reads the Record story as well as
other people. There is no reason why she should not do so. Don't you
think that she would have felt nervous and anxious and frightened, as I
have done the last few days?"

"Very likely she would, if she had a conscience, Elsie. My dear girl,
you have interested me in spite of myself. The study of criminology has
always had a certain fascination for me. These disclosures of yours
appeal to me personally. I am going to devote myself to the case. I am
going to act on your suggestion--I am going to try and get you out of
the mess. There is no reason why the imaginative novelist should not
beat the detectives. We will suppose for a moment that your brother is
innocent----"

"Oh! he is, Lionel. I can prove that at once. He was in London last
night, he only went back to Manningtree Hall by the early mail his
morning."

"If he can prove that there is an end of the mystery as far as we are
concerned."

A shade of anxiety crossed Elsie's pretty face. "I hope he won't be
asked," she whispered. "He was not supposed to be in London. He came up
in a secret way. Oh! I can't tell you why, I promised not to."

"Promised that you would not tell me?" Lionel asked.

"Tell anybody. Do not forget the fact that you--as you--had not
entered into my calculations an hour ago. But you may take my definite
assurance for it that Dick was not in the house at the time of that
tragedy. He had nothing to do with it."

"Which proves nothing," Lionel said, thoughtfully. "He might have had
the emeralds all the same. And there is a new danger that you have not
considered. You were wondering if the alter ego of my Kate Bradley
has read my story. If she has, and if she has anything to do with the
tragedy, she would make suspicion point to your brother if she was a
woman of that kind. On the whole I shall make it my business to meet
this creature."

"I had not thought of that," Elsie said, with a pale face.

"Still," Lionel went on, "if the worst comes to the worst, Dick must
tell the truth at all hazards and clear himself. Already an idea
has occurred to me. I feel as if I was making up a new story which
fascinated me. Where are you staying?"

"I am still at the old place." Elsie explained. "If you want to see
me----"

"I will call. I will come and see you to-morrow night at half-past ten.
It is a little late, but I have much to do in the meantime, Elsie. I
am glad you came; I am glad to find that you are mistaken in 'Rodney
Payne.' A little later, perhaps----"

Lionel checked the warm words that rose to his tongue. But Elsie
understood, for her face flushed a dainty pink and her blue eyes sought
the floor.

"I am detaining you," she said, coldly. "I have stayed too long
already."

Lionel said no more; he felt, perhaps, that the time was not ripe for
it. He sat and mused for a long time after Elsie had gone, and, on the
whole, his reflections were not pleasant ones. Then, gradually, the
extraordinary story that the girl had told took a grip on him. There
was a fascination about it that precluded all idea of further work. He
began fitting the pieces of the puzzle together, and then gradually the
way to the solution of the problem came to him.

He took a hearty lunch and walked off immediately to the office of the
Daily Record. The news editor, who was previously responsible for the
story page, was in, and ready to see his visitor. Lionel's explanation
was brief and to the point.

"I want to make a slight alteration or two in the instalment of my
story for to-morrow There is a little discrepancy I have discovered,
not much in itself, but it may be spotted by some lynx-eyed reader, who
will write you on the matter."

"I know 'em," the editor growled. "Make the alterations if you like.
I shall be glad of it. I'll ask Morris to bring down the copy of the
story that was given out to-day. You can sit at that desk and work it
out at your leisure."

The work did not take long; it was merely a few words added by a
cunning hand, but it entirely altered the "curtain" of the instalment.
The Record always insisted upon a strong "curtain" at the end of each
portion of their serials, and it seemed to Lionel that he had added to
the strength of his story. With a few words of apology he turned to
leave the office. He began to feel pretty sure of his ground now; he
had only to wait in patience for a day or so.

"By the way, there was a lady asking for you to-day," the editor said.
"An exceedingly pretty girl, too. You might have been a long-lost
brother by her anxiety. I told her that we did not give the names of
our writers in a general way, but she looked at me so pleadingly that I
couldn't resist. I hope you didn't mind my giving her your address?"

"Not at all," Harvey said, coolly. "As a matter of fact, the young lady
in question is an old friend of mine, whom I had lost sight of for some
time. She called on me to-day."

"Well, that's all right," the editor said, cheerfully. "We had a
letter, too, to-day from a lady in Essex who desired your address.
Said she was a relative of yours lately from Australia. I sent her a
postcard. If you get a begging letter from somewhere in Essex, blame
me. I'm afraid that I chucked the letter into the waste-paper basket."

Lionel went on his way, without giving further thought to the matter.
He was pretty used by this time to getting letters from strangers by
post asking for all kinds of things, from his advice on a manuscript to
a request for an autograph. He had no time to ponder over these things
now, he was far too busy for that. He decided to put away his work for
the next day or two, and devote himself to the mystery that surrounded
the assault on the Earl of Manningtree. The papers that came out late
were full of the mystery. The noble victim was not dead--indeed, strong
hopes of his recovery were held--but he was still unconscious and
likely to remain so for some time longer. Nobody could say whether or
not robbery was the motive; nothing appeared to be missing, but the
safe was locked and the key was gone. Till the Earl grew better it was
impossible for any definite steps to be taken.

Lionel went down to New Scotland Yard, but he could learn nothing new
there.

He was bound to admit that he had not made much progress as he walked
back to his rooms about ten o'clock the following night. He was going
to call upon Elsie presently, but there was something he had to do
first. He took his latchkey from his pocket, knowing that already
his prim landlady and the prim maid had gone to bed. As there were
no other lodgers, Lionel was surprised to find a key in the door. He
was surprised also to see the landing gas was lighted, and that the
pin-point of flame had been turned up in his room. A woman passed him
hurriedly on the stairs, a young woman with a veil over her face. She
was poorly dressed, but Lionel did not fail to note the valuable rings
on her slim hands.

"May I ask," he began, "whether or not you have made----"

"It is all right," the stranger said. She did not stop to explain.
"I--I used to lodge here. I came to see Mrs.--Mrs.----I used my old
latchkey. I'll leave it in the door. You will please give it to the
landlady to-morrow. I shall miss my train."

The slim figure flitted away before Lionel could say any more. He came
back after closing the front door and wondered what it meant. On his
table lay a flat box, and on the top of it a note addressed to himself.
The note, was short, only a few lines:

"For heaven's sake cease to persecute me. If you knew my story you
would pity me. Take these and keep silent. They are worth a queen's
ransom."

Hastily Lionel tore the cover off the box. As the light flashed on the
contents he staggered back.

"As I'm alive, the Manningtree emeralds!" he cried, hoarsely. "The gems
from the safe! What a story--if you could only get an editor to believe
it!"




CHAPTER III.--THE LADY IN THE BOX.

Beyond doubt Lionel Harvey was holding in his hand the Manningtree
emeralds. He was no particular judge of such things, but even his
untrained eye could see no flaw in these shimmering, shining stones.
But why had they been sent to him like this? Why had the thief made so
strong an appeal to him to keep silence? These jewels had been offered
to him as a bribe.

Lionel sat himself down to think it all out. The motive by which the
thief had been inspired became clear presently. Evidently more than one
person had been reading the serial story in the Daily Record, evidently
more than one person had appreciated the similarity between the story
and the course of current events taking place at Manningtree Hall.

"I have succeeded in fairly frightening my prey," Lionel told himself.
"It must have been the alteration in yesterday's instalment of the
story that did it. Upon my word, I have a very great mind to go down
to Manningtree to-morrow and investigate for myself. As I said before,
what a story this would make! And yet one reads more extraordinary
stories every day in the papers."

There was nothing more to be done for the present, and Lionel decided
to sleep on it. When he came down to breakfast the following morning he
found that a letter from the editor of the Daily Record awaited him.
Would he go round to the office in the course of the afternoon? The
request somewhat interfered with the plan that Harvey had laid out for
himself, but Hilton was a power whom it was impossible to disregard.
And Harvey was a journalist as well as an author of fiction. For once
Hilton had abandoned his studiously calm manner. He seemed quite
excited about something.

"Sorry to worry you," he said, "but there's a little thing that needs
explaining. The matter was pointed out to me late last night. Do you
know anything of Lord Manningtree?"

Lionel started and hesitated. There was no reason why he should tell
Hilton anything.

"Only by name," he said. "He was made a peer the other day to the
general surprise of most people, who regarded him as a mere city man
who had made a large fortune in mines, or something of that kind."

"We know all that," Hilton said, impatiently. "I mean as to the inner
life of the man. Do you happen to know his niece personally or his
secretary?"

There was no fencing the question any longer. Hilton's eyes fairly
burnt behind his gold-rimmed pince-nez. Nothing could be gained by
concealment.

"I was not aware that he had a niece," Lionel replied. "The secretary I
knew because I was at school with him, and afterwards we were together
in the same bank. But I only knew the day before yesterday that Richard
Armstrong was Lord Manningtree's secretary."

"Very strange," Hilton murmured. "But perhaps I had better tell you
what I am driving at. Your story in our paper exactly forecasted the
tragedy at Manningtree. It reads as if you know all the parties, and
were in a position to say what was going to happen. There is the body
in the library before the safe; there is the hint that the secretary
could tell a story if he liked; there is the missing key of the safe,
a safe which by jove! was supposed to contain emeralds. And what
happens in your story in to-day's issue? Why, the safe is opened and
the emeralds are gone! I took the trouble to look up the page of 'copy'
that you altered yesterday, and I find that you have fitted the whole
thing closer and closer into the crime. And yet you stand there and
tell me that you know nothing whatever about Lord Manningtree!"

Hilton's voice had grown cold and suspicious. Lionel began to see that
it would be necessary for him to speak. He fenced up to the point by
asking if Hilton regarded him as in any way responsible for the matter
under discussion.

"Well, not directly," the editor said. "But you can hardly expect me to
believe that there is nothing more or less than coincidence in this.
And, besides, you can help the paper; which brings me to my point. This
crime has become a popular sensation. It has caught on with the British
public. They are thirsty for any details, and Lord Manningtree is not
in a position as yet to throw any light on the matter. He was brought
up last night by road, on a specially quiet car, so that his case could
be properly gone into in a hospital--X-rays, and all that kind of
thing, such apparatus as could not be taken into the country. I have
two special men down in Essex getting all the news they can. I've just
had a wire to say that the key of the safe has been found, and that the
safe has been opened in the presence of his lordship's lawyer. Now, I
wonder if you can guess what was discovered inside the safe?"

"Probably nothing," Lionel smiled. "You are going to tell me that the
emeralds are gone."

"Well, it does not require any vast amount of cleverness to guess
that," Hilton went on. "The emeralds have vanished--just the same as
they vanish in your story. Suspicion at once attaches to the people who
are most nearly connected with his lordship's household. I am speaking,
of course, of the niece or the secretary. On the whole, it is the most
extraordinary complication that I ever came in contact with, and,
unless I am greatly mistaken, you are in a position to solve the thing
right away. Is not that so?"

"Well, it may be," Harvey admitted, guardedly. "But I tell you frankly
that I am not going to stand here and be bullied into a confession that
I have overstepped the bounds of fiction and given you a story that is
taken from real life. That kind of thing is very dangerous, as I knew
to my cost. Not so very long ago, I used some singular incidents that
were told me by a friend, and found out afterwards that I had given
great pain to some perfectly innocent people, who were suffering also
from pecuniary loss owing to my unfortunate use of the facts. The whole
thing proved somewhat expensive in the long run, and cost me a great
deal more money than I could well afford. I am not very likely----"

"Why are you wandering from the point like this?" the editor asked.
"Like yourself, I always have the fear of a libel action in my eyes;
and that is the reason, or, at least, one of the reasons, why I sent
for you this morning. If you mean to tell me that your story which is
now running in our paper is nothing more than a mere coincidence, why,
in that case----"

"I said nothing of the kind," Harvey interrupted. "What I said was
that the coincidence followed the story, and when you come to talk
of coincidences, in which you don't seem to believe, though you are
a newspaper editor, allow me to tell you of one that happened to me
not long ago. I had started a series of short stories, and sent in
the first two for the inspection of the magazine editor, when, to
my astonishment, I received them back with a curt intimation the
effect that they had been borrowed, both of them, to put it mildly,
from stories published only a few months before by one of our most
prominent novelists. I give you my word of honour that I did not know
of the existence of any stories similar to mine, and yet the plots in
both instances were absolutely the same. I did not trouble my editor
again; in fact, to this very day there is a coolness between us, and
I don't suppose he will ever believe in the unfortunate coincidence.
And now comes the strange part of my narrative. I destroyed those two
stories, but I did not abandon my main idea, so, therefore, I wrote
the whole series afresh and sent them to another editor, by whom they
were promptly accepted. When the first story came to be published it
appeared exactly the same month as a precisely similar narrative by
another novelist, and in both instances the plot of the story turned
on the poisoning or drugging of a horse that was a strong favourite
for the Derby. Now, what do you think of that? But I have not told you
everything yet. The next story of the series duly appeared, and related
to the robbery of the gold plate at Windsor Castle. You may believe me
or not, but the other novelist also in his series had a yarn all about
the robbery of the gold plate at Windsor Castle."

"Wonderful," the editor said, drily. "But all this is not very
interesting to me just now, though you seem to have proved your point
pretty conclusively. Suppose we go back again to the subject which
we started on. I was saying just now that the emeralds belonging to
Lord Manningtree vanished. Suspicion at once attached to the niece or
the secretary--the same as in your story. And you tell me that Lord
Manningtree's secretary is an old friend of yours. I believe that you
could tell me a great deal more, and I want you to do so. It would be
a great scoop for the paper if we could solve the mystery. That's why
I asked you to come and see me. If your story is nothing more than an
amazing coincidence----"

"It isn't," Lionel hastened to say. "My dear fellow, it is not so
amazing, after all."

"Oh, isn't it? Well, I beg to differ. And when I come to think of it
a woman in Essex wrote and asked me for your address. You remember my
telling you about it. I shouldn't be surprised to find that that woman
was on the same track as myself. Keep on it, Harvey, forecast a little
further. Tell us where the missing jewels are?"

"Certainly I will," Lionel said, on the spur of the moment. "They are
at present locked up in a cupboard in my bedroom. They came into my
hands last night."

It was one of the editor's boasts that nothing ever astonished him. He
lost his record now. He stared at Lionel in blank amazement.

"You had better tell me the whole story," he panted. "My word! what a
'special' this will make! Let us have it from the beginning."

Lionel told his story word for word; he concealed nothing. He knew that
he would have to disclose the facts to somebody sooner or later. And he
did not want his editor to spoil everything by a premature disclosure
of a portion of the facts. And when the plain unvarnished truth came to
be told, Hilton could quite see that the coincidence played the greater
part in the mystery. Besides, Hilton was on his honour now.

"I never heard anything like this in my life," he said. "We can't spoil
the story by giving it to the public in small doses. We'll have the
thing solved first. And what do you propose to do with those emeralds?"

"Upon my word, I don't know what to do with them," Lionel admitted.
"You see, I have not the slightest evidence to prove that they belong
to Lord Manningtree at all. My story may have played on the tender
conscience of another set of people altogether. Of course, we know
where those gems came from, but that is not evidence. I thought of
handing the things over to the police. I can't keep them, of course."

"Of course not," Hilton agreed. "But I would not go to the police yet.
As a proof of your bona fides you have confided your story to me, you
have handed over the emeralds to be locked in the office safe for the
present. What do you say to that?"

Lionel could see no objection whatever. So far as he was concerned
he did not want the police in this business. And by handing over the
emeralds he saved himself from what might sooner or later prove to be
an awkward situation.

"Very well," he said. "I'll bring the stones here later on, say about
half-past nine to-night. Do you want to employ me as your special
commissioner in the matter?"

That was exactly what Hilton wanted, as he proceeded to explain to
Lionel. He must put everything else aside for the moment. Feeling a
little easier in his mind, Harvey returned to the office of the Daily
Record later in the evening and passed over the gems to Hilton. The
editor desired to see him later, but not much before midnight. As
Lionel was leaving the office one of the literary staff touched him on
the shoulder.

"Just the man I want to see," he said. "There is a telephone message
come on the off-chance of your being here from the Central Theatre.
A lady desires to see you there as soon as you can go round. She is
in the last row of the dress circle, near the middle exit. Name of
Armstrong, I fancy."

Lionel muttered his thanks, and made his way to the nearest cab stand.
Surely Elsie had need of his services urgently, or she would never have
sent a message like that. And, moreover, she had sent it direct from
the theatre over the theatre's own telephone. Therefore it must have
been something that had taken place after Elsie had reached the place
of amusement in question. Also, it was good to look forward to seeing
Elsie in any case. Perhaps the clouds that had come between them would
be cleared away now and the old sweet relationship recovered. Lionel
built up quite a pretty romance as he drove along the Strand.

He came to his destination at length and explained his errand at the
box-office. As he knew the general manager of the place there was no
difficulty. The curtain had just come down after the second act of the
comedy, and the orchestra was playing. There was an odd seat by Elsie's
side and Lionel stepped into it. The girl welcomed him with a tender
little smile. She held out her hand impetuously, and Lionel kept the
small palm in his own for a moment. He had never ceased to care for
this girl, and he began to believe that she had never ceased to care
for him. Her eyes told more than she would have cared to admit.

"This is very, very good of you," she said. "I hope you didn't mind. I
got one of the assistants here to telephone to the office of the Record
on the chance of finding you. I came here to-night, quite alone, to
distract my thoughts. During the first act I saw nothing to attract my
attention; I was quite absorbed in the piece. It was after the end of
the first act that I began to look about the house. Do you see the box
on the left-hand side of the stage--the upper box?"

The box was obvious enough, but it conveyed nothing to Lionel, for the
simple reason that it was empty. He satisfied himself on that point by
standing up to see.

"The box is there all right," he smiled. "But so far as one can judge
there is nothing out of the common in that. Besides, the box is empty."

"Ah! that is because the girl has left it. I hope that she has not gone
altogether. I don't know why she fascinated me from the first. She was
dressed in green, and has a deathly-pale face and great black eyes that
are terribly sad to look at. And I don't believe that she has glanced
once at the stage."

"That is rather a weakness with society ladies, Elsie."

"You will be more interested before I have finished," Elsie said,
quietly. "The curtain is going up again."




CHAPTER IV.--THE THREE CANDLES.

The music of the orchestra died away, the house suddenly darkened, and
the curtain once more rose. At the same moment a solitary figure came
into the upper box and took a seat close to the stage. There was just
enough light from the footlights to see the face of the stranger, who
appeared to be all alone. As Elsie said, she was very pale, her dark
eyes seemed to be frightened and startled, and she was evidently paying
little attention to what was going on. She gave Lionel the impression
that she was watching for somebody.

"She seems familiar to me," he whispered. "She identifies herself with
one of my favourite characters in fiction. Elsie, is she not like
the girl I drew in my present story in the Record? The niece of the
nobleman, you know."

"That is exactly how she struck me," Elsie whispered in reply. "That is
why I have been watching her so closely. Why did she come here? I asked
myself. What pleasure can she see in visiting a theatre alone? The same
remark might apply to me, but I came to distract my thoughts, and she
seems to be plunged in them. But this might or might not be a singular
coincidence. Why I telephoned for you was this: A little time ago a man
came into the box. He hardly stayed a moment and then he went. I could
just see the light shining on his face. It was my brother Dick!"

The last words came in a thrilling whisper. Lionel was clearly
startled. He had not expected anything so dramatic as this.

"You are absolutely certain of your discovery?" he asked, eagerly.

"Absolutely. I am as certain as if I had been in the box. It was after
that that I thought of the telephone and that you might be found at the
office of the Record. Oh! Lionel, you used to care for me at one time."

"I love you now and always, and you know that," Lionel whispered. "If
you did not believe that I would do anything for you, you would not
have sent for me to-night. Now tell me, what do you want me to do? You
have only to command my services."

"You are very good," Elsie whispered, gratefully. "I want you to help
me to get to the bottom of this dreadful business. I want you to find
out who that woman is, and why Dick came here to see her. Dick pretends
to confide in me, he swears that he is innocent, and yet he appears in
a mystery like this. In the first place, do you think that you can find
out who is the lady in the box?"

Lionel thought that it would be fairly easy. He knew the stage manager,
and, indeed, he was acquainted with most of the people about the
theatre. He would go off and make inquiries without delay. He came
back presently and stepped into the seat by Elsie's side aflame with
suppressed excitement.

"Well," Elsie asked, eagerly, "have you done any good?"

"I have, at any rate, made a most important discovery," Lionel
whispered. "Your instincts were not far wrong, Elsie. The lady you are
interested in is no less a person than Miss Ada Moberley, niece of Lord
Manningtree!"

Elsie thrilled; she had not expected anything quite so exciting as this.

"What a strange thing!" she said. "I pictured your character in fiction
as being very like her. And now she turns out to be the same being in
the flesh. It seems now as if my brain could not grasp it altogether.
Is this actually the girl who was in the house with Lord Manningtree?
But he may have a great many nieces. And if it was the same girl she
could not be here but with her uncle down in Essex."

"Lord Manningtree has been brought to London," Lionel explained. "And
this is his favourite niece, the one who lives with him, for the
manager told me so. Manningtree very often comes here, and the girl
is generally with him. I call her a girl, but I'm told that she is
a good deal older than she looks. And if ever I saw a woman who is
suffering from some great mental strain, it is Miss Moberley at the
present moment. On the whole, it was a very good thing you sent for me
to-night, Elsie."

Elsie had no more to say. She was feeling a little faint and giddy, the
heated atmosphere of the theatre was too much for her. She whispered
something of this to Lionel, and they went out together. Once in the
open air Elsie felt better.

"The matter can't rest here," she said. "Lionel, what are you going to
do?"

"I am going to wait till Miss Moberley leaves the theatre," Harvey
said. "I have a pretty shrewd idea that she will not go back to
Cardigan Place, which is Lord Manningtree's London house, direct. When
she comes out, I shall put you in a cab and send you home, and then I
shall follow the lady."

It was very quiet in the open space in front of the theatre, so
that the pair could stand and talk without attracting the notice of
passers-by. A long row of cabs and carriages had already drawn up in
one of the side streets.

"I want you to take this thing in hand," Elsie said. "I want you to
help me to clear my brother's character of the accusation that sooner
or later will be brought against him. I feel that he will be implicated
in the business. I feel quite certain that when that safe comes to be
opened the emeralds will be missing."

"They are missing," Lionel replied. "They told me so at the Record
office to-night."

Harvey did not volunteer any further information. He was not disposed
to tell Elsie anything about the amazing occurrence of the night
before. Whatever might have been the impulse of the thief, the
confidence had been more or less sacred. Nor was Lionel disposed to
regard the thing as a mere vulgar robbery--something more than a desire
for gain had actuated the person who took the stones. And if Elsie had
known she would never have kept the secret from her brother.

"You seem very certain of your brother's innocence," he said.

"Oh, I am," Elsie exclaimed. "He has been very wild and foolish in
the past, but all that has gone now. And he loves Gladys Manningtree
sincerely."

"And yet you infer that he forged a document to get money," Lionel
said. "He came very near to wrecking my career. There are a few people
now who look the other way when I pass them in the street."

"What do you mean by that?" Elsie asked, with a pale face.

"I am going to tell you; it would have been better had I told you
long ago. It is quite natural for you to regard Dick's faults with
toleration. But in your own showing he is a gambler and a forger. He
has adopted the latter course to clear himself in the eyes of the girl
that he loves. But he had no mercy on me when I tried to clear myself
in the eyes of the girl that I love. I tried to tell you, but you would
not listen to me. When I left the bank I was in position to prove who
the thief really was. But that would have killed your mother, who was
very fond of me. She was in her last illness then. Before I take up the
matter, and try and save your family honour, there is one thing you
must promise me. You must demand that Dick tells you the truth, for
there will be a great surprise in store for you."

Elsie looked up quickly. Perhaps she read the truth in Lionel's eyes.
"Is this true?" she faltered. "Is it possible that my brother could
be--Lionel, I could not believe it. You were so silent at the time that
I took your silence for guilt."

"I know that," Harvey said, with some suggestion of bitterness in his
tone. "You need not remind me of it. I won't say any more at present.
Go home, and I will come and see you to-morrow. Perhaps than I may have
something of importance to tell you. See, the people are coming out of
the theatre, and I don't want to miss the young lady. Let me call you a
cab. And don't you worry about me. I shall be all right."

Elsie might have said a great deal, only the words seemed to stick in
her throat. All this had come with the force of a terrible surprise to
her. She allowed herself to be placed in the cab, with merely a feeble
handshake from her companion--Lionel had other and more pressing things
to occupy his attention. He loitered on the steps till at length the
woman for whom he was waiting emerged. As he had expected, no carriage
was waiting for her. She walked alone to the end of the street, and
then entered a cab. Lionel could not catch the address, but that did
not matter in the least. He had only to call another cab and give his
driver careful instructions not to lose sight of the conveyance in
front.

It was not a long way they had to go, only as far as Arlington Gardens,
where she got out of her cab at the bottom of the street. The houses
were small but respectable, and most of them were dark by this time.
Lionel followed suit, and, keeping quietly on the other side of the
road, waited whilst his quarry approached the end house. He had half
expected her to knock at the door, but she did nothing of the kind. She
produced a latchkey and let herself into the house in the most natural
way.

So far as Lionel could see the house was all in darkness. There was not
so much as a glimmer of gas in the hall. Presently the door closed, but
no rattle of chain or bolts followed. Evidently the street door had not
been fastened. In ordinary circumstances Lionel would have gone home,
satisfied with what he had discovered up to now. But, as the street
door had not been fastened for the night, it was clear that somebody
else was expected and he desired to find out who that somebody was.

Harvey waited there grimly and doggedly. He had to dodge a passing
policeman now and then, but that was no very difficult matter. So
far as he could see the house opposite was still in total darkness.
Presently, in one of the upper windows, the light of a candle was
dimly outlined against the blind. Then came two more candles standing
on a lower level, so that the three of them formed a singular kind of
pyramid. Lionel grinned with satisfaction, for here was evidently a
signal of some kind.

He had barely time to jump back before the figure of a man emerged from
the porch of a house opposite. Lionel could see now that the house in
question was an empty one. So the man had been standing there for some
time watching for the signal. Lionel hoped that his own suspicious
movements had not been noted by the stranger. But apparently the
stranger had not noticed anything, for he sauntered across the road
with his hands in his pockets, looking neither to the right nor the
left. As if the place belonged to him he ran up the steps of the house
and opened the door. The door closed softly, but by no means in a way
that suggested any attempt at concealment, and Lionel noticed that
the latch was not fastened. Evidently, therefore, the stranger was
not going to stay, but was here for the express purpose of keeping an
important appointment. Almost immediately the living-room on the ground
floor burst into a blaze of light.

"By jove!" Lionel whispered to himself. "Hang me if I don't try it."

He crossed the road and tried the door softly. It yielded to his touch.
A minute later and he was standing breathlessly in the thick darkness
of the hall.




CHAPTER V.--SIDELIGHTS.

Lionel Harvey stood there in the velvety darkness, half sorry that he
had come at all. He turned his face in the direction of the doorway
with an inclination to abandon the whole business. After all, this
was rather a mean undertaking of his; it savoured of the spy and the
eavesdropper. But Lionel thought of Elsie and his promises to her, and
his heart was hardened.

As his eyes grew more accustomed to the gloom, he began to make out
certain objects around him. A little light came from the transom over
the door frame. So far as Lionel could judge, the house was well
furnished. He could feel the thick pile of carpet under his feet, the
dull gleam of great vases caught his eye, the air was heavy with the
fragrance of flowers.

All this was very well, but it was not leading to anything. It was
not helping in this quest that Elsie had so closely at heart. For
Elsie's sake there must be no going back now. Lionel and Elsie had come
together in the most dramatic manner, and there must be no separation
again.

Lionel boasted no more than an average share of pluck, somewhat
disconcerted in his case by a vivid imagination. And it is imagination
more than anything else that makes the coward. He could feel that his
heart was beating a little faster than it usually did.

But it was no use to stand there speculating. If any secret confidences
were going on they most certainly would not take place in the hall.
And Lionel had plenty of evidence of the fact that there were at any
rate two people in the house. He had seen Miss Ada Moberley, Lord
Manningtree's niece, come here, and she had been closely followed by
what looked like the figure of a man. It was no discredit to Lionel
that he remembered the slender proportions of this individual.

Lionel stood there quite long enough for his eyes to become accustomed
to the darkness of the place. He could make out now that three rooms
led from the hall. Very quietly he tried the doors, one after the
other, and all yielded to his touch. Was it imagination, or did he hear
something like a woman's dress rustling? Certainly there was a sound
like that, which gradually died in the distance.

Lionel dismissed the fancy from his mind. He could see right in front
of him the velvet curtain that appeared to veil a passage. He pushed
behind the curtain and looked down the corridor. There was a light at
the end of it, a shaft of clear-cut light that came from an open door
and cleft into the blackness of the night. Beyond the light came the
murmur of voices.

"Now for it," Lionel muttered between his teeth. "Now the play begins.
I wish that I did not feel quite so mean over it, but here goes. If
I get caught it will take all my fertility of resource to pull me
through."

Very quietly Lionel crept along the passage. The door of the room
from whence the light came was open, and it was an easy matter to
see inside. No man's form was visible, as Lionel had expected. Two
girls were there, one whose face was familiar to him, and the other a
stranger. The taller girl was Miss Moberley.

Even now, at the very last hour, Lionel hesitated. There was no getting
away from the fact that he was doing an exceedingly mean thing in an
exceedingly mean way, and the only excuse he had, the only salve for
his conscience that he possessed, lay in the knowledge that he was
doing everything for the best. Still, he was man enough of the world
to know that good intentions very frequently lead people into serious
trouble.

All the same, he could not find it in his mind to tear himself away
since he had gone so far. From where he stood he could see the figures
of the girls and dimly follow their conversation. He noticed that the
occupants of the room seemed to be in some kind of trouble, so far as
he could judge from the expression on their faces; they both seemed
white and troubled, and, just for a minute or two, they spoke in tones
so low that it was impossible for Lionel to follow, though here and
there he caught certain words.

As he stood there he attempted to justify his line of conduct. He had
half a mind on the spur of the moment to make himself known and offer
his assistance in elucidating the mystery in which he had found himself
compelled to act as a central figure. He was greatly taken with the
appearance of the taller girl, whom he knew to be Miss Moberley. There
was something about her face that he was inclined to trust. He could
not imagine her for a moment engaged in any mean or underhand task.
No woman with eyes like hers could be guilty of that kind of conduct.
Lionel moved a little closer to the door, and as he did so the tall
girl rose and advanced towards him. It was only for an instant or two,
then she was back again in her seat. Lionel wondered if, after all, he
might not be mistaken in his decision that here was "Kate Bradley."

Certainly she had some sort of a likeness to the Kate Bradley of the
Daily Record story. Kate Bradley was the millionaire's niece of the
tale, and the one who was to be implicated in the loss of the jewels.
But Lionel felt that Elsie Armstrong would never have recognised the
chance likeness in the theatre had it not been for Dick Armstrong's
visit to Miss Moberley's box.

The girl was pale enough, and the dark, shining eyes suggested sorrow
and tragedy, care and suffering--eyes of one who would do desperate
things if driven too far. But it was not a bad face, and there was
nothing of the furtive and distrustful in it. Lionel could easily have
imagined the girl as the heroine of some fearful tragedy; he could
imagine her making great sacrifices for others and paying the penalty
herself alone. He had seen a face like that in a criminal court, the
face of a woman who had killed her child to prevent the little one
falling into the hands of a bad father. And those eyes were glowing now
with some great emotion.

The other girl was different altogether; she was small, but exquisitely
moulded, and she had lovely, regular features and brown liquid eyes
full of courage. On the whole, Lionel liked the other girl's face.

"Why did you do it?" the girl with the brown eyes asked. "Ada, why did
you do it?"

"I don't, know, Gladys," the taller one replied, dully. "You wouldn't
understand."

But Lionel did, to a certain extent. The mention of the brown-eyed
girl's Christian came came in the light of a revelation. She had been
called Gladys. And Gladys was the name of Lord Manningtree's daughter,
the one to whom Dick Armstrong was secretly engaged.

"I shall certainly not know unless you tell me," the girl called Gladys
said, impatiently. "Why do you persist in treating me like a child?
Surely I have come to years of discretion by this time, and if anything
happened to you I should be left alone in this dreadful mist with not a
soul in the world to advise me."

"I had not forgotten that," the other girl said, sadly. "You ask me why
I did it, and I can only reply that I acted on the spur of the moment.
I believe that my nerves are in such a dreadful state that I am afraid
of shadows, and I am so terribly frightened of that man because it
seemed to me that he was aware of everything."

"I don't agree with you at all," Gladys said. "Surely it is no more
than a curious combination of circumstances. One hears cases of this
kind happening every day. When you come to consider the hundreds of
men who write stories for a living, and the hundreds of stories they
publish, it is not very remarkable that one of them should hit upon a
scheme which embraces a series of incidents which comes in our daily
life. Of course, I know I am talking a little like a book at present,
but I think you know what I mean."

"Impossible," the other girl cried. "The thing is too real, too
absolutely true to life for one to try and close one's eyes to hard
facts in this way. I shall not rest till I have got to the bottom of
this thing. I shall know no peace until I have seen the author of this
story and had it all out with him."

"You would never do that," Gladys cried. "He would regard you in the
light of a mad woman."

"I shall risk it," Ada said. "You don't quite know even now why I am
here this evening. But that we can discuss presently. You do not really
understand exactly how things are."

Assuredly the plot was growing thicker. What was Miss Manningtree doing
here so far from home at this time of night?

"It you tell me I will try to understand," Miss Manningtree said.

"I am not quite sure that I understand myself," Ada Moberley said,
wearily. "All my lifetime I have been a creature of impulse. I do
things on the spur of the moment and repent them afterwards. Sometimes
my instinct plays me fairly, sometimes it plays me false. And I was
so desperately afraid of that man. He seemed to know everything. Day
by day, as I watched that story unfolding in the Daily Record, I felt
quite sure that the author knew all of us, that he had learnt our
secret. When he told of the loss of those jewels I felt certain of it.
He was going to blackmail us, he knew that I had the emeralds in my
possession. Oh, don't tell me that this is one of the stupid things we
call coincidences! That man was--and is--an enemy in the guise of an
author.... A sudden terror gripped me. I found out who the man was, and
where he lived. And yesterday, when I had satisfied myself that he knew
everything, I sent him the emeralds."

Lionel followed every word with the most breathless interest. So his
surmises and anticipations had proved to be absolutely correct. This
was more or less the scheme of the tragi-comedy that he had worked
out in his mind. Ada Moberley had read with avidity every word of the
Record story. She had sent him the jewels as the price of his silence.
It was a strange tangle, but things quite as strange happen every day
in real life. And in Ada Moberley he had the real passionate poetic
nature to deal with.

"Ada, you must have been mad," Gladys Manningtree said.

"Mad! Of course I was mad. How could anybody with a nature like mine
undergo all the hideous torture of the past few months without at least
a temporary loss of reason! I felt that I was being followed, that all
my movements were being observed, that there was some dreadful power
near me reading my secret thoughts. Yet it might have been no more than
coincidence. I have heard of two musicians composing the same piece
of music, though they had been hundreds of miles apart and were total
strangers. It might have been that the author had, by some strange
chance, evolved from his brain a set of characters and circumstances
that had a parallel in real life. But when those gems came into my
hands, as they did into the hands of the girl in the story, I became
frightened. I acted on the spur of the moment, and I sent those gems to
the author of the story. They were to be the price of his silence."

"It sounds like a dream," Gladys Manningtree murmured. "And yet all the
time you never told me a word about the Daily Record story."

"My dear, I was afraid to. I was fearful lest it should get on your
nerves as it has gripped mine. I watched it develop, aroused at first,
then curious, then alarmed, then frightened to death. And I only tell
you now, when I have to account for the loss of the emeralds. If Mr.
Harvey is an honest, man----"

"What did you say the name of the author was?"

"Harvey--Lionel Harvey. It is not possible that you are acquainted
with----"

"Not possibly, Ada. But it so happens that I know a great deal about
him. I have heard Dick--I mean Mr. Armstrong--speak of him. They were
at school together, they were in a bank together. From what I can
gather Mr. Harvey at one time was engaged to Mr. Armstrong's sister
Elsie. Then there was something wrong over some money, and Mr. Harvey
tried to fasten the guilt on to Dick. It was a dreadful business
altogether, but finally it was hushed up. There was no prosecution,
mainly because Mr. Harvey's father had been in the bank for over forty
years. Ada, you might have found somebody more worthy of your folly,
somebody with honourable ideals, at any rate."

Lionel clicked his teeth together. He was feeling very bitter against
Dick Armstrong at that moment. Armstrong's conduct had been bad enough
all along, but there had not been the slightest occasion to repeat the
lie for the benefit of a stranger. It seemed to Lionel that it had been
better had he not met Elsie again. And here he was now, working on
behalf of the man who had so disgracefully traduced him.

"Perhaps I might have done better," Ada Moberley said, wearily. "As I
said before, I acted on one of my uncontrollable impulses. And I am not
altogether prepared to accept Mr. Armstrong's verdict on the question.
I can give a very good guess what your feelings are, Gladys, but I do
not like Mr. Armstrong. There is something furtive, about him. But we
are wasting precious time staying here. If you were followed!"

"Oh, I was not followed. Nobody could have recognised me in that long
Chesterfield coat and the bowler hat. I looked quite like a man as I
came here. As I came to the top of the road a policeman touched his
helmet and said, 'Good night.' I have no fears on that score, Ada."

Lionel began to understand that he had made a mistake. He saw that the
slender figure he had taken for a man was Gladys Manningtree, after
all. But what was she doing here, and why had she come so disguised?
The conversation between the two girls so far had not thrown any light
on that important point.

"We shall have to tell mother," Ada Moberley said.

"Of course," came the prompt reply. "Poor little gentle mother! What
a shame it is to drag her into this sorry business. I'll go and fetch
her."

The speaker turned suddenly and left the room with a light, swinging
step. She came quick and agile as a fairy, so quick that Lionel had not
time to get out of her way or avoid her. The widely-flung door shot a
stream of dazzling light into the passage. It fell full upon Lionel's
anxious, eager face!




CHAPTER VI.--THE HUMAN INSTINCT.

There was no escape for Lionel now; indeed, he did not commit the folly
of attempting anything of the kind. Besides, he was interested in these
girls; it was in his heart to help them if he could. He stood there,
a little surprised at his own coolness and audacity. Something like a
cry was strangled on Gladys Manningtree's lips, but she was not afraid.
With a quickness and resolution that aroused Lionel's admiration she
pulled the door to and gripped his arm.

"This requires an explanation," she whispered. "Will you kindly come
this way?"

Lionel raised no objection. The little hand lay on his arm with the
detaining grip of a policeman in the execution of his duty, and with
the consciousness of the weight of the law behind him. Lionel began to
take enjoyment in the situation, it appealed to his imagination, it
was quite a new situation for a story. He said nothing till at length
Gladys Manningtree led him into a room in the front of the house, then
there was little click, and the room was filled with light. Lionel
turned and looked at the white, resolute face before him.

"I presume that you followed me here?" the girl asked.

"Not at all," Lionel replied. "As a matter of fact it was Miss Moberley
whom I followed here. I saw you enter the house, but I mistook you for
a man. I know now that I have the pleasure of speaking to Miss Gladys
Manningtree."

"You have been listening to our conversation! How noble of you!"

"It was not vulgar curiosity," Lionel hastened to say. "Believe me. I
am not actuated by such mean motives as that. If you only knew who I
am!"

"Wait!" the girl said, holding up her hand with an expressive gesture.
"There is no occasion to complicate the extraordinary chain of
circumstances that has brought us together. This all comes of silly
hysterical girls reading too much sensational fiction. My instinct
tells me that you are Mr. Lionel Harvey."

"You have guessed correctly," Lionel said. "Please go on."

"No, sir. It is for you to go on. It is for you to explain why you
are intruding here like this in a private house. If Miss Moberley
and myself choose to come here in certain circumstances that demand
secrecy, it is no affair of yours. Still, I am glad to have met you.
You have come into possession of certain property."

"You are alluding now to the Manningtree emeralds, I presume?"

"Of course I am. You probably know now why those gems were sent to you.
You will quite understand that they will have to be delivered up!"

"Stop!" Lionel said, curtly. "You are going a little too far. The
expression of your face and the tone of your voice are too suggestive
of the private detective, who is doing his best to get the better of
the thief by the diplomatic process. Greatly as Mr. Dick Armstrong has
traduced my character it is only his word against mine. As a matter
of fact, Dick Armstrong is a particularly clever kind of blackguard.
And I have not said that the emeralds are in my possession. To prevent
accidents I have taken the precaution of placing those gems in safe
keeping. When they are required they can be produced at any moment,
Miss Manningtree."

"I--I beg your pardon," the girl stammered. "I have gone too far. Mr.
Harvey, you don't look like a man who would do anybody an injury. Why,
therefore, do you persecute us? Why did you write our family story? How
did you learn that certain events were--but I am afraid I am asking you
a great many questions."

"In the circumstances that is quite natural," Harvey said. "Practically
the whole thing is nothing more than an amazing series of coincidences.
I will not deny that I have the last day or so fitted my story to
certain new developments. But we need not discuss that point. Perhaps I
had better tell you the whole truth. I can't do that without alluding
to the character of the man who was once my close friend--I mean Dick
Armstrong. I understand that you are secretly engaged to him. Forgive
my plain speaking. Dick Armstrong is a scoundrel. You need not start
and look indignant; I am in a position to prove it. It was not I who
robbed the bank, but he. And his sister Elsie took his side, and there
was no more to be said. I let the thing pass; I did not care what
became of myself after that. Besides, I was engaged to Elsie and I
loved her passionately. After a time I prospered; I made a name for
myself. Then I wrote that story in the Daily Record. It fitted in with
your home life exactly. Perhaps my villain was a cleverer copy of Dick
Armstrong than I knew. Do you know that he is in dire need of a large
sum of money to cover a forgery?"

"Certainly not," Gladys said, indignantly. "That is where your story is
pure fiction."

"I certainly meant it to be," Lionel went on. "But there I blundered
on to the truth again. I know that what I say is true, because Elsie
Armstrong told me so. Mind you, she had not the slightest idea who
'Rodney Payne,' the author, was. She sought him out to save her
brother, and she found her old lover instead. She implored me to get to
the bottom of this business; and that is why I am here to-night, why
I followed Miss Moberley from the Central Theatre. Miss Armstrong was
in the theatre to-night and saw her brother visit Miss Moberley's box.
It was no great trouble to find out who Miss Moberley was. And now you
will begin to understand why I am in this business. Against my better
judgment I was asked to come in to save Dick Armstrong from the rest of
his crime."

"His crime! What crime is that? Please do not let us have any further
complications."

"Well, the inference is pretty obvious," Harvey went on. "I told you
just now that Dick Armstrong is in dire need of a large sum of money to
escape a charge of forgery."

"I don't believe a word of it," Gladys Manningtree cried indignantly.
"Dick has been wild in the past, but that is all over. It was all over
as soon as he met me."

The girl looked so greatly indignant that Lionel had little heart to
proceed. It was a sorry thing to see so charming a creature with so
perfect a faith in a rascal like Armstrong.

"I am afraid you will have to believe it," Lionel said, sadly. "We
will assume that Armstrong is a different man since he met you. If you
could not save him no power on earth could. But the mischief was done
then. I know this is a fact, because Elsie told me so. It was a sad
confession to have to make to me--the man whom Armstrong had so vitally
injured. But there was no help for it. And to me has been allotted the
task of saving that man from the results of his sinful folly. It you
tax Armstrong with this you will hear him admit it. Nobody could view
his sincere repentance with more pleasure than I should, especially as
he has been the means of bringing his sister Elsie and myself together
again. Imagine what Elsie divined--that her brother would steal your
family emeralds. And at this moment she probably believes that he has
stolen them. I have not told Elsie about the gems, but I shall have to
tell her now, if only to relieve her anxious mind so far as her brother
is concerned. If I could serve you in any way----"

There was a long pause before Gladys replied. She seemed to be studying
Lionel's face with the deepest interest. And she was bound to admit
that it was a very pleasant face--a face in which any girl might place
her trust implicitly.

"What you say has come as a great shock to me," she said at length. "I
had not expected anything like this. It seems rather strange for me to
confide in a stranger like yourself; but, then, you already know so
much about my feelings that----And then there is Dick. For good or ill
my heart has passed into his keeping. I don't think I could give him
up, for I feel that he is trying to be a better man for my sake. Those
dreadful things you speak of had happened before we came together.
Mr. Harvey will you not be our friend as well as Miss Armstrong's?
Heaven knows that we need a friend. I daresay you wonder why I am here
to-night, in this stealthy way, at a time when my father--but that
secret is not my own. I daresay----"

Whatever Gladys Manningtree might have gone on to say was cut short by
the opening of the door and the entrance of Ada Moberley. She paused
with astonishment on the threshold, and turned, with dilated eyes, for
explanation to her companions.

"Mother seems to think," she began, and then stopped. "This
gentleman----"

"Is Mr. Lionel Harvey, at your service," the novelist said. "Miss
Manningtree will explain presently exactly why I am here; we need not
go into that now. Let me assure you that the parcel you entrusted to
my keeping is in safe hands, and that you may have it back when you
please. Let me assure you also that you are not dealing with a novel
form of blackmail, and that the thing that has so frightened you is
nothing more than a sheer set of coincidences. But, as I said before,
Miss Manningtree will explain all this in due course. She has honoured
me by asking my assistance, which I shall be pleased to give."

Ada Moberley's face changed from white to red, and then to a deadly
grey. The dark eyes grew very reproachful as they were turned on Gladys.

"Oh! why did you do this thing?" she asked. "Surely our disgrace was
deep enough without taking a perfect stranger into your confidence."

"No confidence whatever has passed as yet," Gladys said, coldly. "And
you know how solely we need friends at this moment. When I tell you all
that Mr. Harvey has told me you will not hesitate, Ada."

"I am doing my best to prove my worthiness," Harvey said.

"I have certainly been mistaken in you in one respect," Ada Moberley
admitted. "That is in the matter of the gems. I beg your pardon, Mr.
Harvey. And perhaps, after all, you could help us in our need. A
novelist is so clever, he can always see so many ways out of the most
hopeless troubles that----"

Harvey bowed. It was a little curious Elsie should have regarded the
matter much from the same point of view. As he saw a quick, intelligent
glance pass from one girl to the other, he could see that they had
made up their minds. There was a certain suggestion of relief on the
features of both.

"Will you please come this way, Mr. Harvey?" Gladys said, graciously.
"We want to introduce you to one who is very dear to us. In short----"

The girl broke off and said no more. Lionel followed up a flight of
stairs and into a room at the back of the house, where an elderly lady
was seated reading by the light of a shaded lamp. Lionel noticed the
quiet, placid beauty of the face, the dark eyes with the expression of
chastened sorrow, the grey hair on the shapely brow. Altogether it was
a charming picture of beautiful old age. And yet, at the same time, it
seemed to Harvey that the lady was not really so old as she seemed.

"This is Mr. Lionel Harvey," Gladys said. "The friend who is needed so
badly. We are going to place our faith in him, and do as he tells us
implicitly. Mr. Harvey, let me present you to my mother, the Countess
of Manningtree."

And Lionel stood there for a moment utterly at a loss for words.




CHAPTER VII.--A PATH OF THORNS.

Lionel's surprise was complete and absolute. As a journalist it was his
duty to know something of the class of people who are prominent in the
eyes of society; and it seemed to him that there were no details as to
the life of Lord Manningtree that had escaped him. He would have been
prepared without hesitation to say that Lord Manningtree had been a
widower of many years' standing. He seemed to remember that the great
financier and philanthropist had lost his wife abroad.

Yet it was just possible that the lady who sat before Lionel was the
wife of a second, and perhaps secret, marriage. One glance at Gladys
Manningtree settled that question. There was a strong likeness between
the elderly lady and the girl by her side.

Lionel found his voice at last. "I am just a little confused," he
stammered. "I understood that Lord Manningtree----"

"Quite so," the elderly lady said, as Lionel hesitated. "The world
shares the same opinion. Only a very few people know that there is a
Lady Manningtree in existence. But, my dear Gladys, why did you bring
the gentleman here? Why should he be in the least interested in my
little secret?"

Lionel turned an imploring eye on Gladys. It was not for him to explain
how he had found himself in Arlington Gardens. It would be hard to
induce anybody to believe his extraordinary story. There was the
suspicion of a smile on the girl's face.

"Perhaps I had better go back to the beginning of the adventure," she
said. "Mother, I ask you not to laugh at me or Ada. Remember that we
did everything for the best. If you will give me your close attention
for a few moments----"

The story was told at length. The look of sadness and affliction faded
from Lady Manningtree's eyes, she became interested and excited. There
was no suggestion of a smile on her face as the story was told.

"This is amazing," she said presently. "Ada, why did you act like that?
What possessed you to send those jewels to Mr. Harvey?"

"I was frightened," Ada Moberley confessed. "I had stolen the
emeralds--I stole them from the safe as Lord Manningtree lay there, as
I thought, dead. I locked the safe again and hid the key. I wanted to
save you from ruin. I thought that if I kept the emeralds for a time I
should succeed in raising money on them. I knew how necessary it would
be to obtain money before long. And the next morning it seemed to me as
if the writer of that amazing serial story had discovered my secret.
The awful trouble I have gone through lately and the anxiety unhinged
my brain for the moment. Temporarily I was mad. I had obtained Mr.
Harvey's address, and I sent the emerald's to him.... It was as if he
were a blackmailer and I was paying the price of his silence. I blush
to think of my folly now."

"It is not in the least likely to prove expensive," Lionel murmured.

"Not as things have turned out," Lady Manningtree said. "But why did
you take my unhappy family for your models, Mr. Harvey? From what
Gladys says you seem to have us all in your story. You take Lord
Manningtree and make him a shrewd philanthropist, a financier who
appears to be rich beyond the dreams of a miser, and yet who is on the
verge of disgraceful ruin. Why did you do that?"

"Please don't ask me," Lionel said. "It is nothing more than a curious
parallel. And surely the world has seen enough lately of these
dignified, learned men of means who turn out to be forgers, and worse.
One could mention a score of instances. It struck me as a new note
to make my hollow fraud a peer of the realm. It never for a moment
occurred to me that Lord Manningtree could be identified with the
central figure of my romance. That is where the sharp division comes
between my story and the reality of life."

Lady Manningtree shook her head with an air of sadness.

"That is just where you have hit the bitter truth," she said. "My
unhappy husband is worse than any of the instances you could call to
mind. I tell it you now, the whole world may know it to-morrow."

The words were quietly uttered, but they struck Lionel like a blow. If
anything happened to affect the personal standing of Lord Manningtree
thousands would be involved in utter ruin. It would be almost as bad as
if the Government savings banks had suspended payment. At least a score
of huge industrial undertakings had been floated with great success by
Lord Manningtree. His name was one to conjure with; he was the great
philanthropist among capitalists that the people trusted; he was the
guardian of millions gathered together in small sums. Nobody had even
suggested for a moment that his credit was shaky. And here was this
elderly lady quietly stating that Manningtree's position was rotten to
the core.

"It is past belief," Lionel cried. "I can't possibly believe it."

"Nevertheless, what I say is absolutely true," Lady Manningtree went
on, in the same sad and helpless tone. "It is a very true proverb,
one-half the world does not know how the other half lives. It is also
true that the greater the house the greater is the skeleton that lies
concealed in the cupboard. Whenever I travel about the country and see
some magnificent family mansion, it is always forced upon me that the
owner must have some great sorrow in proportion with the size of his
domain."

"I believe that to be absolutely true!" Lionel said, thoughtfully. "It
has often occurred to me to write a novel having that idea for the
motif of the story. At the same time there are certain people whom one
positively refuses to identify with scandal of the sort you mention.
If there is one man in England whose name stands for purity and truth
higher than that of any other individual, it is Lord Manningtree. Why,
if I were to suggest to a single soul that his probity was doubtful, I
should be laughed to scorn."

"I know that," Lady Manningtree replied. "And yet you cannot look me
in the face and doubt that I am telling you the truth. It is a most
shameful confession for me to have to make, and up to a few moments ago
I never dreamt that I had strength of mind to mention it to anybody;
but I have taken a liking to you. I admire the frank openness of your
face, and, moreover, you have come into our lives in so strange a
fashion that I honestly believe Providence has sent you here. I daresay
you may smile at my sentimentality, but it is a privilege that all
women possess, and without which we should be but colourless creatures."

"I will do all I can," Harvey said. "But when you speak of your husband
in the way in which you have already----"

"Ah, I would give anything to know I was mistaken," Lady Manningtree
continued. "Mr. Harvey, I am going to ask you to help me. You have
come into our lives in the strangest possible way, you are clever and
resolute. And your father was one of the best and noblest men that I
ever knew."

"Was my father a friend of yours?" Lionel cried. "Truly this is a night
of surprises."

"I can't say that he was exactly a friend," Lady Manningtree went
on. "But for nearly forty years he held a most important position in
Hudson's Bank. I have heard my father speak in the highest terms of
yours. I was a Miss Hudson; when I married my husband I brought him a
fortune of over 300,000. What you are pleased to term the Manningtree
family jewels are mine; they used to belong to my mother. Therefore,
so long as I do nothing, nobody can prosecute anyone who took those
stones. But I am wandering from the point of my story. Ada seems to
think that we are on the verge of ruin, but that is not the case. My
own private fortune is considerably larger than it was when I left Lord
Manningtree 15 years ago. But, large as that fortune is, I am afraid it
will not be sufficient for my purpose."

"And if it is not an impertinent question," Lionel murmured, "may I
ask----"

"I am coming to that. I want to save my husband's name and credit; I
want to prevent the widespread misery that must overtake thousands of
deserving people before long. Oh, you may ask me why I do not go to
my lawyers, and the partners in my father's old bank. They could not
help me, they would reply that it is impossible to interfere with a
man in the position my husband occupies. It may be too late, and yet,
on the other hand, we may be in time. If we are in time I am prepared
to sacrifice every penny of my money to avert the coming disaster. If
we could only get my husband out of the way for a time, if we could
only wrest the power from his hands! You are a novelist, Mr. Harvey
you are accustomed to work out problems like this in the way of your
profession. Can't you think of some scheme?"

Lionel admitted that he might. It was not a little curious that Lady
Manningtree and Elsie Armstrong should have approached him with the
same idea. Elsie had come to him and asked him to save her brother, and
now Lady Manningtree was looking to him to save her family honour. And
there was the air of mystery about the latter that appealed to Lionel's
imagination. There was something, too, about these people that he
liked. He began to feel a certain exultation of spirit.

"Give me a little time," he said. "One must be clever and quick to
grapple with such problems as these. Lady Manningtree, tell me, why
do you speak with the suggestion that your husband is not capable of
managing his own affairs?"

"Because that is nothing more nor less than the truth," was the
startling reply. "That is where the danger lies. Lord Manningtree is a
dangerous madman."

Lionel fairly started. It crossed his mind that perhaps the madness,
after all, lay in the speaker. There was such an air of melancholy in
her dark eyes. Lionel glanced at the two girls to see if they shared in
his suspicion. Evidently they were of the same opinion as the speaker.

"You are surprised," Lady Manningtree resumed. "And now you know as
much about the grim skeleton in the family cupboard as I do. You are
a man of intellect and imagination, so, therefore, I can leave you to
guess to what extent this dreadful misery has oppressed me. And the
worst of it is that one has to suffer silently. I have always said
that the sharing of grief with others is to relieve that grief of half
its terrors. Even now, since I have told you this awful thing, I feel
all the better for it. I am quite sure that you will understand my
feelings."

"You touch me very deeply," Lionel said, with feeling. "Indeed, a
lot of people come to me with their troubles. Perhaps they know that
I am sympathetic, or, maybe, there is some magnetism about me which
attracts trouble in my direction. But I will ask you to believe that I
am speaking in all sincerity when I tell you that I will do anything to
help you and relieve you of your burden. My own life has not been so
happy that I am callous to the feelings of others."

Lionel spoke with a thrill in his voice which fairly brought the tears
into the eyes of his listener. Just for a moment she could not speak.
She held out her hands to him and pressed his fingers convulsively.
It never seemed to occur to her that perhaps she was following an
imprudent course in confiding her trials to this stranger. Probably
Lionel's smile reassured her on that point.

"Won't you tell me a little more?" he asked. "Is there nothing that you
are concealing from me?"

"I think not," Lady Manningtree replied. "Suffice it that you know
where the great danger lies. And nobody suspects this--nobody knows.
Ever and again it goes out to the world that Lord Manningtree has given
this or that public building to some poor place, the press sings his
praises, he makes a clear and lucid speech, and his intellectual air is
commented upon. And yet he is a dangerous madman. Not even his doctor
suspects it; only I know for certain. For ten years I lived side by
side with that malignant farce, for ten years I bore my torture in
silence. What age would you take me to be, Mr. Harvey?"

Lionel stammered something. If he had told the truth he would have said
that Lady Manningtree was somewhere about seventy. But she did not
press for a reply.

"I am 42," she said. "I was married at 18. At 28 my hair was as white
as it is to-day. Ah, if you only knew! The only one who does know is my
dear niece here, Ada Moberley."

As Lionel glanced at the girl he saw the shudder that ran over her
frame.

"Even Gladys is more or less in the dark," Lady Manningtree went on.
"My good and faithful Ada has shielded her well. But the time has come
when it becomes necessary for Gladys to know everything. When I parted
from my husband and refused to return to him, he punished me by taking
my child away from me. It was Ada who kept me fresh in the memory of
my daughter; it was Ada who induced me to come back to London from
the obscure little German town where I was living; it was Ada who so
planned it that Gladys can come here from time to time to see me. And
it was Ada who tells me all about the desperate position into which my
husband is drifting. Not that he imagines for a moment that she knows
anything--he is too deeply immersed in his wild speculations for that.
Gladys, it is time you went back to your own home; you will be missed
if you stay any longer. Ada will go along with you. There is no need
for any great secrecy for the present, now that we are assured that we
are not being shadowed by a blackmailer in the person of Mr. Harvey.
Besides, I should like a few words with Mr. Harvey alone."

"I will do all I can for you," Lionel said, when the girls had
departed. "Fortunately we have a little breathing space. Lord
Manningtree's accident is in our favour. It would be interesting to
know who it was that found his way into his lordship's study and
assaulted him so murderously the other night."

"Nobody did," Lady Manningtree said, quietly. "There were no burglars
present. My husband brought his injury entirely on himself; it was
practically self-inflicted!"




CHAPTER VIII.--THE STORY OF A LIFE.

Lionel waited for the speaker to proceed. Evidently she had more to
tell him. Her face never changed from its look of resigned and gentle
melancholy.

"You are waiting for the key to the situation," Lady Manningtree
resumed. "It is necessary for you to hear the outline of the family
skeleton. That may be summed up in one word. It has been the ruin of
countless millions--drink!"

Lionel started. And yet he had half expected something of this kind.
Like most people, he had heard of secret drinkers, the class of men
and women who, with astonishing cunning, have contrived to keep their
weakness concealed from those near and dear to them. And Lionel also
knew of the fallacy that the dire madness always leaves its mark on its
victims. They are bound, it is generally supposed, to be blotched of
the face and blear of eye, with trembling hands that carry their story
plainly written for the passers-by to see.

But such is not always the case, especially with the secret drinkers,
who have long days and nights of senseless debauchery, followed by
periods when they are clothed and in their right minds like other
people. It is hard to tell them, though they are the most hopeless and
pitiful of the whole tribe. This is the class of drinker who gradually
loses his reason, and who fights to conceal the fact from the world to
the end. This is the class from which usually springs the dangerous
criminal, the murderer, the savage, the creature who makes the annals
of sensational crime.

"I can see that you properly understand me," Lady Manningtree went
on, in the same quiet, sad strain. "When I married I was one of the
happiest girls in the world. I had a good and clever husband, one
of the handsomest men of his time. I am told that he looks just as
distinguished now. He was poor; but that mattered little, seeing that
my fortune was so ample. But Edward was not the man to sit down quietly
and enjoy the advantages of his wife's money. He kept on his own small
business, and from the first he prospered. I expect my care helped him.
Gradually he became absorbed in affairs.

"It was some time before I found out what was wrong. He had been
restless and ill for a day or two; he declared that he suffered from
neuralgia in the head, and that at such times it was far better for
him to be alone. I left him in the dining-room. I awoke about two
o'clock and he had not come to bed. Then I went down to see why. He
was seated--oh, it is too terrible to speak of. One brandy-bottle was
empty, and the other had nearly gone. And he sat there with a face as
white as death and his eyes like coals of fire. If you ask me if I know
what a murderer looks like, I can safely say that I do. He knew that I
had found him out, and he was going to kill me.

"That was the first time--and there were many others. And yet, in his
lucid intervals, a better and kinder man no woman could have desired.
I asked questions of doctors who made a specialty of that kind of
disease, and they all told me the same thing. It was bound to end some
time in lunacy or murder or suicide. But I managed to keep my secret
from everybody, even after the drug stage began.

"And now you know how this dreadful thing has been kept from the world.
Powerful drugs have been called in to aid exhausted nature. A man
cannot go on taking strong drink in great quantities without suffering
for it in some way. And so it was with my husband, after a week of
what he called neuralgia, when I warned him and kept others away. If I
had refused him the brandy for which he craved, he would have obtained
it some way, there would have been a dreadful scene, and all my care
would have been wasted. Then the struggle between the man and the devil
began, and the man in the end won. If the world could only have looked
upon its idol then--a physical wreck, the mere shadow of himself.

"That was sometimes after a week without sleep. The blessed sleep
was necessary, or else the fogged brain would go. And here came the
drugs. I could not refuse those drugs. Then the sleep came, sometimes
for eight-and-forty hours, and from that rose the splendid figure of
the man whom the people idolise as Lord Manningtree. But am dwelling
unnecessarily on a point that causes me pain and shame to speak of.
The only mystery to me is that this thing has gone on so long--what a
magnificent constitution he must have!

"The time came when I could stand it no longer, and I left him. I had
to tell somebody, and so I told my noble Ada. She volunteered to take
my place and look after Gladys, and right well has she done her duty.
She tells me now that the madness is coming, that the end is very near.
And that is why I want something done; why I ask you to try to work out
some ingenious scheme by which we can save the exposure and preserve a
name that, after all, has been fairly deserved."

"You are quite sure as to those mad speculations?" Lionel asked.

"Oh, quite. Ada can vouch for that. It may be that some of those
speculations are not quite so insane as they appear to be on the
surface. Edward has a wonderful brain. Still, you can see for yourself
the danger of the situation. Fancy a man with a mind that is softening
being entrusted with millions, sole arbitrator, the master of the
trust, and all that. Mr. Harvey, surely you can think of some way to
stop this? Treat the situation as if it were in one of your stories. If
this were in the plot of a novel how would you act?"

"I am afraid that it is a different matter altogether," Lionel
murmured. "You see, we novelists can juggle with coincidences, we can
invent forces, and so cunningly plan out facts that they fit into the
circumstances so naturally that the reader does not notice the craft of
it. Then, generally, we have the command of unlimited means."

"So you have here," Lady Manningtree cried eagerly. "Don't forget that
I am very rich. I will make arrangements so that you can draw on me to
any amount in reason. But I will not ask you to settle the matter here
and now--I see that you will have to turn it over carefully in your
mind. If you will come and see me again----"

"Lady Manningtree," Lionel said, curtly, "I have every desire to
serve you. He would be a hard man indeed who could listen to a story
like yours unmoved. And there are other reasons why I am desirous of
assisting you. If ever the end justified the means, it does in this
case. May I come and see you to-morrow night?"

"By all means. Only do not ask for Lady Manningtree. Here I am Mrs.
Curtis. Good night, and heaven bless you for your kindness to an
unhappy woman."

Lionel sat far into the night, consuming many cigarettes over his
cogitations. Here was a situation much more exciting and thrilling than
anything he had ever evolved from the depths of his lively imagination;
here was inspiration drawn from the fountain-head; but, for all that,
Lionel could not see his way to a definite and logical solution of the
problem. He tried to put it aside the next morning and do a little
work, but presently he pushed his paper away and took out his cigarette
case. Just then the door opened, and the servant came in. She hoped
that Mr. Harvey would not blame her, but the young lady had called and
said----

"Show her in," Lionel said, with alacrity. "I am really not very
busy this morning, and--Elsie, I am very glad to see you. I was just
thinking of calling."

"I know that it is very wrong of me," Elsie said, with a blush on her
pretty face, "but I could not help coming. I have been consumed with
curiosity. Did you discover anything last night--anything about that
designing creature?"

"My dear Elsie, Miss Moberley is anything but a designing creature,"
Lionel said. "She is not a bit like her prototype in my Record story.
As a matter of fact I spent some time in her company last night, and I
found her charming. Oh, yes. I had adventures enough to fill a volume
of the 'Arabian Nights.' But I am afraid that for the present I shall
have to keep this a secret even from you."

"Oh, indeed!" the girl said coldly. "I presume that my anxiety over
Dick will have to remain unsatisfied for the time being?"

"I must confess that I had forgotten all about our dear Dick," Lionel
admitted, coolly. "Yet, now I come to think of it, it was more on
Dick's behalf than anything else that I embarked upon my undertaking.
All the same I can relieve your mind so far. Dick had nothing to do
with the loss of the emeralds, for the culprit is ready to confess
at any moment. Nor did any casual burglar break into the house, and
assault Lord Manningtree. His injury was the result of an accident.
The public have another theory; but, really, we are not concerned with
the public for the present. So long as Dick is all right you should be
satisfied. As I said before, Dick is a rascal and he has caused me a
good deal of unnecessary suffering. I would have forgiven him that had
he not come between me and the girl I loved, Elsie. We shall be able to
judge later on whether or not your brother is the reformed character
that he pretends to be."

Elsie's face flushed, and she appeared to be on the verge of making
some hot reply. She checked herself with an effort, and the tears rose
to her eyes. After all, this man loved her and she loved him. She had
tried to convince herself to the contrary, without success. And she had
sent him away coldly in the hour of his deepest affliction for the sake
of a brother who stood self-confessed as a forger and a thief. Richard
was a coward, too; he had proved that when he had cried out at the
first flush of danger.

"I--I am very sorry," she stammered. "Lionel, I am afraid that I have
made a great mistake. And Dick has admitted that he has been very weak.
I will not ask you to tell me your secrets. I deliberately forfeited
all right to share them."

Lionel crossed the room to Elsie's side. His face flamed, as hers had
done, and there was a look in his eyes that caused Elsie's gaze to seek
the floor.

"That may be remedied," he said. "You were very cruel to me once,
Elsie, so cruel that I lost all my faith in humanity for the time. But
my nature is not one to change; I shall always remain the same. And I
can't think that we came together again as we have done entirely by
accident. It will be for you to say whether we shall part again. But
not yet; you must be quite sure in your mind that I am right and you
are wrong. If you have altogether ceased to care for me----"

"Oh, Lionel! As if I could ever have quite--quite----"

The girl paused as the door opened and the trim maidservant entered
the room. She laid a salver discreetly on the table, and on it lay the
orange envelope of a telegram. Lionel tore it hastily open and shook
his head at the maid.

"There is no answer," he said. "Elsie, I have to go out at once.
Perhaps if you are doing nothing to-morrow night, and you care to come
to a theatre with me----"

Elsie laughed as if pleased about something. She wondered what that
telegram was about. She could not see, for it lay face downward on the
table.

"Come to Cardigan Place at once," it ran. "Urgently need you.--ADA
MOBERLEY."




CHAPTER IX.--THE EDGE OF THE SWORD.

A solemn footman admitted Lionel into the great house in Cardigan
Place, and escorted him in a stately way as far as the library. Harvey
was duly impressed by the signs of wealth that he saw around him. The
pictures and the carpets, the gleaming marbles and the great spreading
palms spoke eloquently enough of the position of the owner of the
house. And yet the gorgeous setting was merely the frame for an abject
atom of suffering humanity, a thing almost without a brain. It seemed
to Lionel that there was something tragic about it.

He had not long to wait before Ada Moberley came in. Her face looked
deathly white in the strong sunshine, the blue veins stood out on her
temples, and her dark eyes had a tired expression in them.

"It was very good of you to come so soon as this," she said. "I am sure
it is fortunate for us that we found to true a friend in you."

Harvey murmured something appropriate. He wondered at the stillness and
silence of the house; it might have been a chamber of death by the want
of sound.

"I came as soon as possible," he said. "How is your patient to-day?"

"Oh, he is much the same," Ada replied. "You think that he is suffering
from some accident or hurt of some kind. Physically speaking, Lord
Manningtree is as well as either of us."

"I am afraid that I don't quite understand," Lionel said.

"Then let me make the thing plain to you. There are occasions when
we are inclined to rebel against the decrees of Fate. We regard our
misfortunes as terrible disasters, never realising that Providence
is behind even the most trivial incident in our lives, and that the
things we call troubles may be the greatest blessings in disguise. It
is not very long ago since a friend of mine was bewailing the missing
of a train, which prevented her seeing her relative off to India.
The relative in question was rich, and inclined to be eccentric. My
friend was quite sure that she would never be forgiven, and that her
carelessness was likely to cost her a fortune. And yet, when that train
met with a serious accident and a great many people were killed, my
friend was not in the least grateful, and still looks upon herself as
an aggrieved person."

"I know exactly what you mean," Lionel said, smiling. "One of the most
prominent men I know always says, when misfortune overtakes him, that
he is going to turn it to the best advantage. So far as I am personally
concerned, one of the greatest misfortunes that ever happened to me
proved to be the source of my present prosperity. I had an appointment
on a small paper, on which I practically lived, and I had not pluck
enough to cut myself adrift from it and start in my present line as
one or two people strongly urged me to do. I was terribly upset when
that paper ceased to publish; but, you see, after all, it was the best
thing that could have happened to me. But why am I talking in this
egotistical way when there is so much to do? You were saying just now
that physically Lord Manningtree is as well as either of us, to which I
responded that I did not in the least understand what you meant by that
remark."

"I had quite forgotten that. There are dramatic periods when
misfortunes, as I said before, are blessings in disguise, and this is
one of them. Nobody attacked Lord Manningtree in the study, nobody
made the slightest attempt to rob him; at least, nobody but me. But, I
need not go into the business of those emeralds again. As a matter of
fact, my uncle fell and injured his head. He had had one of his worst
fits of alcoholic craving. I let the thing go as an act of violence,
because it was absolutely necessary that Lord Manningtree should attend
some important business meetings this week. Usually he manages to keep
himself in good condition for that kind of thing. But I suppose that
the craving was too strong for him. Now there can be no suspicion of
the real cause of his absence."

"Still, it must be very awkward," Lionel murmured.

"Awkward! That is a mild way of putting it. At the present moment it
means something like ruin. I hate and detest what is called business,
but during the years I have been with my uncle I have of necessity
learnt something of it. Oh, you have no conception of the anxieties
that beset a very wealthy man."

Lionel glanced around the magnificently appointed room, the contents of
which would have been a fortune to the average man.

Ada smiled sadly. "I can see what you are thinking of now," she said.
"But every rich man has bitter enemies. There is only a certain amount
of money in the world, and when one man gains an abnormal proportion of
it others have to suffer. You see what I mean. When Lord Manningtree
started he was very poor, now apparently he is worth millions. And
where have those guilty millions come from? Why, from others who have
not been so successful in the race. In the city the war goes on. There
are no dead bodies, no wounded lying in the streets, but it is war,
terrible and merciless, all the same. There is no question of clemency,
no mercy for the man who has been beaten to the floor. My uncle has
fought his way to the top, although every company he has floated has
been bitterly opposed. He has had to guard against the wrecking of many
a splendid enterprise. There are scores of men even now who are waiting
for a chance to catch him tripping. They would not care what happened,
they would not heed the ruin of thousands, so long as they could drag
Manningtree down. And more than once they have nearly succeeded. I have
seen my uncle here in the last stages of despair, ready to sell his
soul for a few thousands in money. I have known the nights when he has
paced his bedroom unable to sleep. Oh, it is a dreadful burden this
wealth, believe me. And, with all his faults, I am fond of my uncle.
It is just possible that Lady Manningtree took you into her confidence
last night----"

"I should say that she told me everything," Lionel replied.

"Yes? Then you know something of the danger that I have to face. Let
me take you into my confidence in turn. A crisis has come when the
master brain is quite incapable of grappling with it. The enemy is
taking advantage of the situation. I sent for you because I needed your
assistance. You may naturally ask why I don't go to the big firm of
city solicitors who advise my uncle. I dare not tell them how things
stand. There is one man whom I might have consulted--the cashier to the
great parent trust that is at the head of all my uncle's ventures. All
the money goes through this trust, it comes in a golden stream to water
all the branch undertakings. Mr. Wilmer is a power under my uncle. I
believe that he has been bought over by the enemy. That is why I sent
for you to advise me. If you could devise some means of obtaining one
hundred thousand pounds----"

"I can promise that if necessary," Lionel said, boldly.

He spoke on the spur of the moment, recollecting what Lady Manningtree
had said. Ada looked at him with a profound amazement.

"I am not boasting," he hastened to say. "But why do you suspect this
Wilmer?"

"Because he is keeping out of the way," Ada went on. "He is supposed
to be confined to the house by a bad illness. I went down to his place
and was told that he could not see anybody. It was night when I got
there. I had to wait for my train some time in the station, and I saw
Ernest Wilmer, muffled up to the eyes, enter a train that was bound for
Kensington. I recognised him by a little limp he has. After that you
cannot wonder that my suspicions are aroused."

"It certainly looked bad," Lionel said, grimly. "But if there is
nothing the matter with Lord Manningtree why does he keep----"

"That brings me to the point. He is all right physically. He has seen
some of the most eminent specialists in London. They all say that the
fall has caused some mysterious injury to the brain. My uncle lies in
bed, and looks at them stolidly without saying one single word. The
surgeons talk about an operation in a day or two. But they are all
wrong; that man has deceived them all. There has been no injury to the
brain; it is going, getting soft and useless, and my uncle knows it.
That is why he will not speak, he is afraid of betraying the truth. A
chance word or two may do it. He has just enough sense left to know
that his mind has nearly gone. He does not wish to spend the rest of
his days in an asylum with keepers about him. When the doctors had gone
this morning he implored me to keep them away from him. He rambled on
in the most painful way with intervals of clear lucidity. It was very
distressing. He wants to tell me something, and he can't recollect what
it is--something to do with the business. And people are beginning to
call, private people whose money is invested by my uncle. One girl
has been to-day, and she is coming back presently, as I asked her to
call again. I want you to see her, to tell me what you think of her.
As a novelist you can read character. She is quite an innocent little
blue-eyed thing, but my instinct tells me she spells danger. But, then,
I have learnt to be suspicious of anybody."

And Ada turned away with a little gesture of weariness. Before Lionel
could reply the door of the library opened, and a footman came in,
followed by a visitor. Lionel recognised her from Ada's description--a
little, timid-looking girl, blue-eyed, and pathetic. She half drew back
as she saw that a man was there.

"This is Miss Cromarty," Ada said. "Mr. Harvey. You can speak before
him."

"I--I am very sorry," the girl stammered, "but my need is so pressing.
What is to become of me I really don't know. You see, this little sum
of money----"

The speaker paused, and her blue eyes filled with tears. There was
something very pretty and pathetic about her. She held in her hand
an oblong strip of pink paper with which she was nervously playing.
Altogether she appealed to Lionel.

"I hardly like to," the girl went on. "This is more or less private
business in connection with some money which I had invested in one of
the companies with which Lord Manningtree is connected. You see, I know
so little about this kind of thing, and Lord Manningtree was so good as
to----"

The girl paused, and her pretty blue eyes filled with tears. She
looked so innocent and childlike that Lionel's sentimental heart was
touched at once. It always distressed him to see women and children in
trouble; and yet, though the girl looked so innocent, so young, and so
utterly unfit to cope with the world, there was something about her
which the novelist would have found it hard to describe. It was not
exactly cunning that he could see in her face, but something more in
the nature of impish mischief which had a sting of malice in it. Lionel
felt pretty sure that here was a girl who would have done very well on
the stage, had she chosen to adopt that profession for a living. All
the same he repressed his feelings, telling himself that his suspicions
were unduly severe. He tried to conquer his prejudice.

"Come, come, don't be upset," he said, kindly. "There is not the least
occasion to be nervous or frightened in the presence of this lady and
myself. I am quite sure that if there is any trouble we shall be able
to settle it for you, so please dry your eyes and try and tell me what
is the matter."

"This is very good of you," the girl sobbed; "but, really, I don't like
to trouble you with my silly little affairs."

Once more Lionel saw the fleeting expression of mischief on the girl's
face. Once more he fought down his prejudice.

"You can speak freely to me," he said. "As you are probably aware Lord
Manningtree is very ill. I--I am looking after his affairs for the
present."

The girl looked up swiftly, and a smile played over her baby face.
"Then perhaps you can settle the difficulty about this cheque," she
said. "You see, I am an orphan, with nobody to look after me. Lord
Manningtree was so kind as to undertake the investment of some money
that came to me a year or so ago. It was an understanding that I could
get the money when I pleased. And I had a cablegram from my only
brother in Australia, urgently asking for 2000. I am afraid that he is
in dire need of that money. And I got a cheque from Lord Manningtree.
I went down to his place in Essex for the purpose, and when I took the
cheque to the bank to-day they would not give me the money. If I could
only see Lord Manningtree!"

There was an impressive silence for a moment. Ada Moberley had turned
her back, and was drumming with her fingers on a table. There was no
mistaking what this innocently afforded information meant. It was some
little time before Lionel began to see his way.

"May I ask when this was?" he suggested.

"Three or four days ago," the girl said. "The same day I got the
cablegram. You see, I wanted to send the money to my brother at
once----"

"Yes, yes. Let me look at the cheque. I daresay I can explain why--Ah!
yes, it looks all right. But there is one little piece of information
that I shall be glad to have from you, my dear young lady. If you were
in all that hurry to send the money to your unfortunate brother, why
did you not cash that cheque the next day? Why wait four days? Pardon
me if my question suggests idle curiosity, but as one who has some
small knowledge of business matters----"

The girl's expression changed for a moment. Her face grew hard and
defiant. She seemed to be angry about something, she had the air of one
who has been led on by another and then deceived as to the stability of
her position. The innocence and sweetness vanished; only for a moment,
but that sufficed for Lionel.

He had made up his mind exactly what to do. His keen imagination saw
the danger that lay behind that innocent-looking piece of paper. He
crossed over to the open window with the cheque in his hand. Then
suddenly he tore it into a hundred pieces, and allowed the fragments to
float in the breeze.

"That's done with," he said, genially. "I expect the signature was
not quite in order. If you will come here again this evening I shall
be able to do better for you than a badly-drawn cheque. It is a great
shame that a pretty, simple little girl like you should be bothered in
this unnecessary way."




CHAPTER X.--THE BAIT IN THE TRAP.

The girl's right hand went out in a clutching way, her face hardened.
In the twinkling of an eye she had been transformed into a raging fury.

"You are a beast!" she hissed. "A cunning beast! With that cheque in my
possession, I could----"

She paused, struggling for the mastery of herself. She cast her eyes
down on the carpet, and when she looked up again her blue eyes were
full of tears once more.

"Forgive me," she said. "I thought that I had rid myself of that awful
temper of mine. I am quite alone in the world, and I get suspicious of
everybody. So long as I had that cheque----"

"But it was informal," Lionel said. "If Lord Manningtree was all right,
there would not be the slightest difficulty. How much money has he of
yours? I am told that he is a kind of trustee to hundreds of people. He
has four thousand pounds of yours? He gave you a receipt for it? Well,
bring the receipt here at eight to-night and you shall have your money
in Bank of England notes. Will that satisfy you?"

The girl's voice told her thanks, but her eyes had a greedy look in
them. They reminded Lionel of the eyes of a cat after she has made an
unsuccessful spring for a bird. He turned to Ada gravely after the
visitor had left the room.

"It was a very good thing I was here," he said.

"It was very daring," Ada smiled. "I should never have had the courage
to destroy that cheque as you did. Mr. Harvey, what does it all mean? I
can see that you have solved it."

"My dear Miss Moberley, the solution is obvious. That designing little
minx is acting on behalf of the enemy. Probably she was put up as a
blind. Oh, I have no doubt that she holds Lord Manningtree's receipt
for that money. That was a pretty weak story as to the brother who is
in dire need of the money--you saw how foolish she looked when I asked
her why, in the circumstances, she had delayed the cashing of the
cheque."

"But why had she delayed the cashing of the cheque?"

"Can't you see? This is where the imagination of the novelist comes
in. She did not cash the cheque the day after receiving it simply
because it would have been honoured, and there would be the end of the
incident. But she waits till to-day, acting on the sure and certain
information that by now the cheque will be returned--and it is. She
came here to make a scene both inside the house and out. The matter
would have found its way into the papers. But that is not the worst;
the novelist imagination in me carries me further than that. She can't
get her money, so she goes to Bow-street, with that cheque in her hand,
and applies for a warrant for the arrest of Lord Manningtree on the
ground that he has embezzled her money. Now do you see?"

Ada nodded, her pale face was still more ashen. "I understand," she
whispered. "Oh, I am quite certain that you are correct. And you coolly
robbed her of her weapon, you drew her teeth for her. But when she
comes here to-night----"

"She will get her money. I want her to be rendered quite harmless, and
at the same time I want to make arrangements to have her followed. It
will be exceedingly useful for us to know who is behind her in this
matter. At the same time, the situation is a great deal more serious
than I had expected to find it. The refusal to cash that cheque is
very grave. It looks as if the end were nearer than we anticipated.
I understand that something like seventeen thousand pounds is drawn
every week to pay the many hands employed by the great industrial
concern over which Lord Manningtree is the nominal head. Now, how can I
possibly find out how matters stand at present?"

"Mr. Armstrong may be able to tell you," Ada replied. "As my uncle's
private secretary, he has access to everything. He is probably in
Fenchurch-street at the present moment. If Saturday comes and those
poor people are not paid there will be an end of everything. It will be
almost as bad as if that designing girl had succeeded with her plot."

"The money will be forthcoming," Lionel said, cheerfully. "Whatever
happens, everybody is going to be paid. I'll see Armstrong at once, and
I shall be back here at eight o'clock to-night as arranged. I am going
to succeed over this matter."

Lionel went off citywards cheerful enough though he was by no means
anticipating any pleasure from his interview with Dick Armstrong.
He walked coolly enough into the latter's office without giving his
name. Armstrong looked up from his book and papers with a sharp, angry
glance, though his face turned red and sullen as he saw his visitor.

"If you think you can gain anything by this----" he began.

"I am not here for myself alone," Lionel said. "Do you suppose that I
am here for the pleasure of the company of a blackguard like you? I am
here to try and save Lord Manningtree from the ruin that hangs over
him."

"Good heavens!" Armstrong cried, with a startled expression. "Is it as
bad as that? I mean, is the thing being talked about by the man in the
street already?"

"No, it isn't," Harvey said, curtly. "I am only on the inside track by
a kind of accident. As a matter of fact, your sister was the indirect
means of my being asked to come and take a hand in the mystery. You
served me a blackguardly trick some years ago, and I am not likely to
forget it. And, from what your sister says, you have not reformed."

"I have," Armstrong muttered, with the dull red spot still on his
cheek. "Once let me get out of my present mess and I'll never swerve
from the right path again. Still, we can talk personal matters another
time. What do you know about Lord Manningtree's affairs."

"Perhaps more than you do. I know that a cheque of his for two thousand
pounds was dishonoured only to-day. I know that you don't know where to
turn for your wage money on Saturday. And if you can show me how to run
the ship, I can find a lady who is prepared to advance money to do it
to the extent of a quarter of a million. You need not ask who the lady
is, because that is entirely a secret for the present. Now, tell me,
has Lord Manningtree been speculating and overreaching himself? Has he
been manipulating the shares of his properties?"

"Hanged if I know!" Armstrong said, sullenly. "All I can tell you is
that lately everything seems to have vanished. It is only the last
month or so. The large bank balance seems to have melted away, paid
by huge cheques to people that I can't trace. There is the cheque for
the Saturday wages sheets, but it won't be honoured. And the people at
this bank will tell me nothing, urging, correctly enough, that it is no
affair of mine."

"We need not worry about the bank at present," Lionel replied. "We know
that only to-day a cheque for 2000 was refused payment, a fact that is
full of eloquence. Has it never occurred to you that there is something
wrong with Lord Manningtree mentally?"

Armstrong glanced at his companion with a startled expression of face.
"You've guessed it," he said. "I have thought so for some time, but
did not dare to put my suspicion into words. Look here, Harvey, you
can believe me or not, but I am only anxious to go straight, so far as
this business is concerned. I've turned over a new leaf, and I am going
to try and prove it to you. We are both of us pretty shrewd, as far
as money goes, and the years we served together in Hudson's Bank will
stand us in good stead now. What do you think is the matter here?"

"Well, I have my own idea," Lionel replied. "Lord Manningtree is
suffering from softening of the brain. He knows it quite well, and
he is hiding the fact as long as possible. My belief is that he is
hiding large sums of money away somewhere in the fear that the concern
is more or less rotten. The thing is to find the hiding-place of the
money. I am going to work that out as if it were part of the plot of
a story. And unless my instinct is greatly mistaken there is an enemy
in the camp. Before going any further I should like to have your
private opinion of Mr. Ernest Wilmer, who has been head man in the
counting-house for the last ten years."

"Wilmer is away ill at the present minute," Armstrong explained.

"That's the very point that I was coming to. It is an amazing piece of
misfortune that both the principal and the chief of the money-spending
department should be laid up at the same time. It is so unfortunate
that it has made me suspicious. Now, as you are probably aware, Miss
Moberley is no fool. She knows as much of this business as anybody.
She went to Wilmer's house to try and see him, but he was too ill.
Fortunately Miss Moberley had some time to wait at the station for her
train, and she declared to me that she saw Wilmer get into a train for
Kensington. She says that she is quite sure, and that she recognised
him by his limp. Assuming that this is correct what do you make of the
circumstance? Suspicious, to say the least of it, eh?"

Armstrong nodded thoughtfully. He quite appreciated the importance of
the discovery.

"We must try and get at Wilmer's books," he said. "It looks as if
Wilmer knew that the head of the concern was queer and recognised the
chance of making a little pile for himself. If we could get hold of
Wilmer's keys----"

"Why worry about that? I daresay we could manage to get a letter from
Lord Manningtree to some eminent firm of safe-makers, asking them to
come here as soon as possible and open a safe the key of which is lost.
As Wilmer is not likely to show up for a day or two there is little
chance of discovery. The thing would be done after the other clerks had
left for the day, and we should be the richer for a way to Wilmer's
private ledgers. It is no time to stand on ceremony. And there is
another little thing that you can do for me."

"I'll do anything you like for the sake of Gladys' father," Armstrong
declared.

"That's the right spirit in which to speak," Lionel replied. "I
want you to be at the corner of Cardigan Place, just opposite Lord
Manningtree's house, at ten minutes past eight to-night. Take care to
see everybody who comes out of the house without attracting attention
yourself. About a quarter-past eight you will see a little girl with a
baby face and blue eyes emerge. Unless I am greatly mistaken she will
call a cab, and you had better have a cab ready to follow. I want you
to discover all about the girl, where she goes and who she calls on,
where she lives, and all the rest of it. I'll give my reasons later on;
for the present moment I've got my hands full."

Armstrong nodded his acceptance of the offer. At the time appointed he
stood on the pavement by the side of his cab, as if he were waiting for
somebody to come out of a house close by. It was getting dark, but it
was not too dark to see the faces of passers-by. The quarter-hour past
eight struck, and then a dainty little figure came down the steps of
Cardigan House opposite, and stood as if waiting for a cab. A hansom
dashed up presently, and the dainty little lady gave an address that
Armstrong could not quite catch. The girl turned and looked doubtfully
at the cloudy sky. As she did so her profile was so clear and sharp cut
that Armstrong could see it perfectly.

"By jove! I know that face," he muttered. "It's Kitty Cromarty, who
used to be on the variety stage in Cambridge five years ago. She hasn't
altered a bit. Now, how did she manage to find her way into this
galley?"




CHAPTER XI.--A WAITING GAME.

Armstrong's surprise might have been greater had he known why he had
been deputed to follow the form of the fascinating Miss Cromarty. He
was just a little astonished to see this favourite of the lighter stage
emerge from the respectable and solid house in Cardigan Place; but,
after all, there was very little in it. Probably the lady in question
had called to inquire after Lord Manningtree, perhaps to ask his advice
over the settlement of her money matters. Thousands of people did that
every year. Thousands of letters came by post. And very few of those
letters remained unanswered.

Still, Armstrong had been told to follow this woman, and he was
ready to do so. He had stepped into a cab, and was giving his driver
directions, when a footman came from the house opposite and approached
the cab breathlessly.

"I beg your pardon, sir," he said. "This letter came for you just now,
and as it is marked 'urgent' Miss Moberley said you were to have it
directly you came."

Armstrong took the missive in silence. Probably Ada Moberley bad
noticed him from one of the windows. With a curt nod he urged the
cabman forward. He would be able to read the letter presently at
his leisure. He had recognised Elsie's handwriting on the envelope,
therefore he could see no need for hurry. He lit a cigarette and then
proceeded to open the envelope. His face grew a little paler, his lips
tightened as he read the pregnant words:--

"My Dear Dick.--There has been a man here looking for you twice this
afternoon. He said he had been to the office, and that you were not
there; he is coming again after dinner. I understood him to say that
he came from some solicitor firm, and that he desired to see you in
relation to some document on which you had borrowed some money from a
firm called Schreiner and Co. He said you would know what he meant.
Something is wrong with the document in question. I am afraid that
there is something serious the matter here, as the man had a friend who
was waiting for him in the street. There are other circumstances that
have made me feel very frightened. I am writing both to the office and
to Cardigan Place. If you get this, don't come home, but telegraph me
where I can meet you later on. Whatever you do, please don't return to
our rooms.--ELSIE."

There was a queer fluttering of Armstrong's heart and a dry feeling
at the back of his throat as he read the letter for the second time.
He had deemed himself to be quite safe over this business for another
six weeks at least. Schreiner and Co., were a firm of discounting
financiers of whom he had borrowed the money to relieve himself from
the pressing gambling debts. And the securities were forged. No doubt
these people had found it out; they were going to press him for
payment, though the day of redemption had not yet come. Perhaps they
had already issued a warrant for his arrest. The mere idea sent a cold
shiver down Armstrong's spine.

Schreiner and Co. were reputed to be rich, but they had a bad
reputation. So long as they made money and kept out of the grip of the
law, they cared nothing for their probity. But, in his need Armstrong
had thought little of this. It had occurred to him at the time that
Schreiner and Co. had lent him that money in a casual kind of way. When
he came to put the pieces of the transaction together it seemed to
him as if one of the touts of the firm had actually taken him there.
Armstrong wondered if he had been drawn deliberately into Schreiner's
net on purpose to become a tool of his.

Well, he would keep out of the way for the present, and try to
ascertain what was the matter before he met the agent of the enemy. He
put the letter back in his pocket, and looked moodily out at the cab in
front of him. The other cab stopped presently, and the girl got out.
Armstrong's driver began to walk his horse slowly, so that the occupant
of the second cab could see and hear all that was going on.

The street was a gloomy one filled with solid, respectable houses,
most of which had large, brass numbers on the doors. Before one of
these doors Kitty Cromarty stopped and held up a coin to the driver. He
appeared to be duly impressed by it, for he asked if he could wait for
the lady.

"If you like to wait till ten," she laughed, "by all means."

"I'll come back for you then, never fear, lady," the cabman said. "No.
19, is it?"

The cab drove away, and Armstrong dismissed his own man. He had already
ascertained that his quarry was staying at No. 19, and a glance at
the wall opposite showed that this was Stonehouse-street, W.C. Also
Armstrong knew that he was free till ten o'clock. He had not yet dined,
and there was plenty of time to spare. A passing policeman directed
him to the nearest telegraph office, whence he despatched a message
to Elsie asking her to meet him at the Globe Cafe in half-an-hour. A
London directory lying on the counter of the post office gave Armstrong
an idea.

At this late hour the branch post office was not particularly busy,
so that Armstrong was enabled to get in a little conversation with
the lady clerk on the other side of the grille. After a few opening
compliments he began to draw towards the object which he had in his
mind. Here was an excellent chance of learning something about the
people in the neighbourhood.

"Have you been here very long?" he asked.

"Well, no," the girl replied. "Only a few months. You see we get moved
about pretty frequently, so that one does not get much chance of
knowing what is going on in the locality."

"I suppose that can't be helped," Armstrong replied. "Still, I
daresay that, busy as you are, you get to know something about the
neighbours. Now, for instance, do you happen to know anything about
Stonehouse-street, which is only round the corner? You see, I am
looking for a friend of mine, who, I believe, lives somewhere near by.
As far as I recollect I think the number is 19."

The lady clerk responded that she was quite unable to afford Armstrong
the desired information. In fact, she intimated pretty plainly that
she usually minded her own business to the exclusion of other people's
affairs. There was nothing for it now but for Armstrong to fall back on
the directory lying on the table. A sudden rush of business put an end
to further conversation, so that Armstrong had no further opportunity
of seeking information, except by the aid of the directory, which,
fortunately, happened to be an up-to-date one, a thing that one does
not always obtain in a branch post office. He was not altogether
prepared for the startling discovery which the directory was about to
disclose.

"It would be just as well," he told himself, "to find out who Kitty
Cromarty is visiting at 19, Stonehouse-street. It may help us later on."

Rapidly Armstrong fluttered over the leaves of the bulky volume. He
came at length to the place he wanted. There was 19, Stonehouse-street,
and, opposite it, the name of Hermann Schreiner, head of the notorious
firm of that name.

Armstrong went out puffing at his cigarette thoughtfully. It was hard
to dismiss this very startling discovery as a mere coincidence. Kitty
Cromarty had come direct from the residence of Lord Manningtree, and
had gone to see Hermann Schreiner. Also she was likely to stay with
the latter for some time. Obviously, there must be some mischief in
hand here. Schreiner and Co. were noted as wreckers of other commercial
undertakings; they liked to bring about the ruin of sound concerns, to
buy them at a small price, and set them going again. It was a very old
firm of shady reputation, but few firms were as successful as Schreiner
and Co. Was it possible that Hermann Schreiner had an eye upon Lord
Manningtree's colossal undertakings?

The more Armstrong thought over the matter the more convinced he was.
Schreiner had obtained exclusive information, as he frequently did.
After all, there was nothing very wonderful in the fact that Lord
Manningtree's deplorable state of mind had become more or less public
property; indeed, the wonder was that the secret had been kept so long.
Mr. Schreiner was always on the ferret for that kind of information,
and had his spies out everywhere. And here was the glorious opportunity
of a lifetime. It would be easy work to bring Lord Manningtree's
colossal structure down with a resounding crash, to buy the millions of
shares at paper price, and then to build up the business that was there
all the time. That was the kind of philanthropist that Schreiner was.

Beyond doubt Kitty Cromarty was one of the puppets in the game.
Armstrong knew the girl to be an exceedingly clever actress, capable
of filling many parts. He made up his mind to find out what was the
desired point. And no doubt Lionel Harvey could tell him a great deal
more than he already knew, or he would not have asked him to have the
woman so carefully watched.

The matter was still occupying Armstrong's mind to the exclusion of
everything else when Elsie arrived at the restaurant. She looked pale
and anxious, and there were big dark rings under her eyes.

"Oh, I suppose I had better try and eat something," she said, wearily.
"Only please don't get anything expensive for me, Dick. I am glad you
got my letter. Tell me, is it as bad as I imagine it to be?"

"I am afraid so," Armstrong replied. "You see, I owe those fellows a
lot of money. It is not due for another six weeks, and I reckoned I had
plenty of time to turn round. Now I expect they have discovered that
the security I gave them is--is----"

The speaker paused; he did not dare utter the proper word.

Elsie regarded him with a sorrowful expression in her eyes. "A
forgery," she said. "You told me that some time ago. It is no use to
reproach you, no use to try and recall the fact. You say that you are
leading a better life now----"

Elsie paused, fearful lest she should say too much and perhaps wound
the feelings of her brother. Bad and reckless as Armstrong had been the
girl could not forget the fact that they were joined by ties of blood,
and that it was her duty to help and shield him as far as possible.
Armstrong gazed at her moodily, for it was quite plain for him to see
what was uppermost in her mind.

"Go on," he said. "Don't be afraid to say it. I know perfectly
well that I have been an utter blackguard, and that I have brought
misfortunes on you which you should never have suffered. What a
strange thing it is that men of my type always find women ready to
make sacrifices for them. The womenkind of a good man seem to take his
nobility and generosity as a matter of course, and he gets no credit
from anybody. On the other hand I never knew a blackguard yet who had
not some girl passionately attached to him. It is much the same with
the street ruffian who knocks his wife about in the disgraceful manner
of his kind."

"I don't think you need ally yourself with anything quite so bad as
that," Elsie replied. "You know perfectly well I am prepared to forgive
the past if I could only see any signs of reformation in the future.
But in your case I am sadly afraid that a reformation of that kind
could never be made."

"Give me a chance," Armstrong said, between his teeth. "The mere fact
that I am here to-night should prove to you that I am in earnest so
far. If you do not believe me----"

"I want to," Elsie cried. "There is nothing I should like better. I
have prayed for it night and day. If you could only convince me that I
am not mistaken----"

"I swear it, Elsie," Armstrong cried, passionately. "For the last few
months I have been as straight as any fellow could possibly be--ever
since I found out that Gladys cared for me. I had to get money to put
myself straight; I plunged on the first opportunity, and at that time
I could see my way to get the money. If Lord Manningtree had kept all
right I should have succeeded to a dead certainty."

"Why don't you get him to help you?"

"Because he is not in a position to help anybody. The poor man's mind
has already gone; he is getting worse every day. And the dreadful part
of it is that he has muddled matters in a most deplorable way. Goodness
knows where all the money has gone. Lionel Harvey and myself had a long
talk over it to-day."

Elsie looked up swiftly at the mention of her lover's name. "So you
have met again," she exclaimed. "Did you quarrel?"

"No. On the whole the interview was quite a friendly one."

"And yet Lionel declared that you once did him a great injury, Dick.
He swore to me that the affair at Hudson's Bank was all your doing.
Perhaps you may be surprised to find that I have met Lionel again, but
the story is too long to tell now. Besides, I daresay you would laugh
at me if I told you everything. Dick, is this shameful thing that
Lionel told me quite true?"

Armstrong wriggled in his chair uncomfortably. He could not meet his
sister's eyes. "I had better tell you everything," he muttered. "It
wouldn't be leading the life I spoke of if I didn't. I was entirely to
blame; I could have cleared Lionel if I liked. But I let him accept the
blame that was all mine, and he had to leave the bank. And then you
took my part, and Harvey disappeared for a time. I daresay you will
never forgive me, Elsie. When I look back on the past and see what a
cur and thief I have been, I wonder at my good luck at keeping out of
gaol. And here am I, with a good girl giving her heart to me just as if
I had a name as clean as hers! But I always meant to put matters right
between Lionel and yourself, Elsie. Perhaps some day----"

"I am glad, and I am sorry," Elsie said, with tears in her eyes. "I
am glad for the sake of Lionel and sorry for you. I think that you
should----"

"Don't," Armstrong groaned. "Don't rub it in. It looks as if I were
going to get my punishment, after all. I'm coming back home with you
presently, but I have a little very important business to do first.
Goodness knows what time I shall finish. Will you wait for me here or
go back home?"




CHAPTER XII.--A SURPRISE.

"Why should I do either?" Elsie asked. "Of course, I could not stay
here alone with all these men about, but at home I shall be miserable.
If I am along with you I shall know that nothing has happened to you.
Dick, I feel that great events are in the air. Let me come along with
you and share your danger, if there is any."

"Oh, there is no danger," Dick replied. "I have only to go back to a
certain house and watch there till a woman comes out, and after that to
track her home. She is a figure in the plot to bring all Manningtree's
concerns to the ground. If you like to come with me, we'll walk as far
as Stonehouse-street and wait there."

Elsie was quite willing to do anything that Dick asked. Nor was the
vigil a long one, for punctually at ten o'clock the cab drove up
and the door of No. 19 opened. First came the graceful form of Miss
Cromarty, followed by a short, enormously fat man, with a bald head and
a heavy, hooked nose. He was in evening dress, and his jewellery was
gorgeous and striking. Prosperity shone all over him.

"The Folly Music Hall," he said, in a rich, oily voice. "Get along
sharp."

"That is our destination also," Dick whispered. "We shall find a cab at
the corner. I will explain what all this means to you later on."

The Folly was reached at length, and Elsie found herself presently in
the stalls. As Dick had confidently expected nothing less than a box
was suited to Schreiner's importance. He sat there facing the stage,
his oily face shining with self-satisfaction.

"A rat!" Dick whispered. "A veritable sewer rat, who has caused more
misery and suffering than all the rest of his tribe put together. But
try and enjoy the performance, Elsie. I daresay it will be some time
before anything happens. I should like to change places with you, so
that I can be partly hidden behind that pillar. Nobody will recognise
you, but probably someone in that box presently may spot me."

Elsie made the desired change, and Armstrong invested sixpence in an
opera-glass. In spite of his troubles he was more less interested in
the stage, and an hour or so passed without any sign from the box. It
looked as if nothing more was expected to-night. Dick raked the box
with his glass from time to time; he saw the door open at length and a
man enter. He gave a violent start.

"What is the matter?" Elsie whispered. "Have you discovered anything?"

"Rather!" Dick said, under his breath. "The plot thickens. Do you see
the benevolent-looking man with the glasses who has just come in? That
is Manningtree's chief cashier, the man who looks after the firm and
keeps the private ledgers. He is supposed to be too ill to leave his
bed; I have a doctor's certificate to that effect. And yet he is here,
looking the picture of health! The head of our staff in company with
the wrecker Schreiner! A daring thing to do."

"Perhaps he does not expect to be recognised," Elsie suggested. "It is
very dark in the back of the box. I can see nothing without glasses."

But behind the friendly shelter of his pillar, Dick could see quite
plainly. He noted that the newcomer had greeted Miss Cromarty with
a familial touch on the shoulder, and he noted that the little
actress had pulled her chair to the front of the box so that she had
effectively shielded the two men behind. They had their heads close
together and were talking very earnestly. Armstrong would have given
a great deal to know what mischief they were plotting. For the best
part of an hour they talked on without paying the least attention to
the affairs of the stage. Presently they appeared to come to some
arrangement, for they shook hands heartily. Then they rose.

"Come along," Dick whispered to Elsie. "They're going. They will
probably disperse outside, and I don't want to lose sight of the woman.
Let us get outside before they come. It is very dark under the portico,
and we can perhaps catch a valuable word or two."

Elsie followed without protest. As Dick had said it was very dark under
the portico, and nobody else had yet left the house. Presently the
dazzling expanse of Schreiner's shirt appeared at the top of the steps.

"Well, good night, sir," the cashier, Wilmer, was saying. "I don't see
that we can do any more for the present, not till after Saturday, at
any rate. In the meantime I'll lay me down on my couch of pain. Oh, oh!
Come along, Kitty."

"Stop!" said Schreiner, in his oily voice. "There's Bates. We have not
done anything yet in regard to Bates. And I don't quite trust him. He
promised to be here to-night, and he has never turned up, you see."

"Probably because he could not get here this evening," Wilmer said.
"But if you like I will drop him a line and ask him to call."

"My friend, you will not do anything of the kind," Schreiner responded.
"The less you put your hand to paper just now the better. As I said
before, I am not so sure of Bates. He is a clever fellow, far more
clever than you imagine. You take him just for an ordinary gentleman's
servant. I say he is more than that. It is the ambition of Mr. Bates to
make ten thousand pounds. He thinks that he is going to make the money
out of us, also he is quite capable of betraying us if he is certain of
a more secure bargain with anybody else. It is possible that the good
Mr. Bates has mistaken his instructions and gone to Stonehouse-street,
instead of coming to meet us here. If that is so then you must come
with me back home. It will only mean an extra shilling or two on your
cab fare."

Elsie could feel her brother thrill as her arm lay on his. He did not
offer to move until the two at the bottom of the steps were moving off
in their cab.

"Does that talk convey anything to you?" Elsie asked.

"Well, I should say that it does," Dick replied. "They were speaking of
a man called Bates. As a matter of fact, Bates is Lord Manningtree's
valet. He is the only one besides members of the family and myself who
has any inkling of true state of his lordship's mind. I begin to see
now where Schreiner's information comes from. But I did not think this
of Bates."

"You would not have expected it from Mr. Wilmer, either," Elsie said.

"Well, no," Dick admitted. "But Bates seemed to be especially attached
to his master. And I have had many opportunities of seeing a great deal
of Bates lately. He is just as clever as Schreiner says. Come along and
let us find a cab. If you are tired----"

"My dear Dick, I am not in the least tired. The excitement of a little
adventure like this takes one out of oneself. Please don't suggest that
you are going to put me into a cab and send me home. I want to see the
thing through."

Dick shrugged his shoulders, and made no further protest. So far as
he could judge the adventure was practically finished. There was
nothing now but to go back once more to Stonehouse-street, and wait
there patiently till Miss Cromarty came out, and follow her to her
destination. On the opposite side of the street was a fringe of grass
and stunted trees that was dignified by the name of a garden. It was
possible to sit on the low wall that fringed the garden and rest whilst
waiting for the coming of the woman, who was presently to be followed
to the end of her journey.

Just for a little time after Dick and Elsie arrived the house opposite
was quite dark. Then a brilliant light shot up in the dining-room, and
a thick squat figure was shadowed on the blind. The figure had a glass
in his hand.

"Champagne," Dick muttered. "That class of rat always drinks champagne
at all hours of the day and night. I wonder why it is, and how they
would get on without it. I hope they won't keep us waiting much longer,
for I'm dead tired."

Elsie was tired too, though she would not have cared to admit the
fact. She was quivering with excitement now, with the instinct that
something out of the common was going to happen. From time to time the
shadow crossed the blind, first that of Schreiner, then that of Wilmer,
and after a time the slender outline of Miss Cromarty. So far as Dick
could make out there was nobody else present. Bates had not put in an
appearance. A moment later and the shadow of the girl appeared again,
her hands about her head in a dramatic attitude. A sound like a muffled
scream reached the ears of those opposite.

"They are quarrelling about something," Elsie exclaimed. "I feel sure
that the woman reeled back as if somebody had struck her a blow. Dick,
I am certain that----"

Whatever Elsie might have said was cut short by the sudden flinging
open of the door of No. 19, and the unexpected appearance of the little
actress on the doorstep. Her hand was tightly pressed to her head, and
a sharp cry escaped her. She stood just for a second in the road, then
she darted across and plunged into the garden beyond. There was the
sound of a falling body, followed by a moan, and then silence.

By this time Schreiner and his companion were in the road also. They
looked up and down the street in utter perplexity. Something like an
oath escaped the lips of the respectable Wilmer. He seemed annoyed
about something.

"She's vanished," he said. "Probably ran to the corner for a cab.
There's no doing anything with Kitty when she gets in one of her
tantrums."

"You should not have struck her," Schreiner replied, uneasily. "No good
comes of that kind of thing. And an angry woman is a dangerous thing
to deal with. You had better get after her as fast as you can and make
your peace with her. She'll do anything we want her to do in time, but
you sprung it on her a little too quickly to-night."

The financier turned into the house and closed the door behind him,
whilst Wilmer hurried down the road till he was out of sight. Armstrong
sprang over the wall.

"Come along," he whispered. "It's a shame to let that poor woman lie
there; but we could do nothing till those fellows had gone. If Wilmer
had spotted me it would have been all up with my little scheme. I've
got some matches."

Elsie said nothing. She was thrilling from head to foot. Not far off
the slender little figure lay, face downwards, on the grass. There was
a cut over her right eye, from which the blood was slowly trickling
down her face. She opened her eyes in a faint, dazed way, and Dick
struck a match and held it down.

"Can't you manage to get up?" he asked. "Are you much hurt?"

"He struck me," the woman whispered. "He has often threatened me, but
he has never done it before. I can feel the blood on my face. He struck
me."

"Shall we call a cab for you?" Elsie asked. "We can see you home."

A queer laugh came from the stricken woman, a laugh that had a
suggestion of misery in it.

"I have no home," she said. "Could I go back to a man like that after
he had treated me in that cowardly way! Who is my husband? Well, I
don't suppose you have ever heard the name, but he is called Ernest
Wilmer."




CHAPTER XIII.--A DARING EXPERIMENT.

It was evident that the woman was more hurt than had at first
appeared. She sat on the short, dusty grass with her head in her
hands, apparently without the slightest idea that she was talking to
strangers. It was just as well, perhaps, that she did not see the
expression of amazement on Dick Armstrong's features.

"Do you know her?" Elsie asked. She had not failed to notice her
brother's face. "Have you met the poor creature anywhere before?"

"She was on the stage," Dick whispered. "She used to be at the Folly.
After that she made a considerable success on the variety boards. She
had a fine career before her. I used to do a lot of theatre-going in
those days, but we never met previously. What astonishes me is the fact
that Wilmer--the staid, ostensibly prim Wilmer, who professes never to
have seen the inside of a theatre--should be married to a light of the
stage. It is almost incredible."

"But you have been following her," Elsie urged.

"That's quite right. Still, I never expected to make a startling
discovery like this. So Wilmer is a brutal bully as well as a
hypocrite. I am sorry for the poor woman, but this ill-treatment looks
like proving a rare slice of luck to us. Elsie, we must get her to some
place of safety."

"But where?" Elsie asked. "We ought to take her to a hospital, I think."

"Hospital be hanged! Unless I am greatly mistaken, fortune has placed
a rarely useful weapon in our hands. I begin to see something like
daylight at last. The whole of the hideous plot is coming to light. We
must get Harvey into this without delay. Mrs. Wilmer will not go into
any hospital if I know it. She is going to prove wonderfully useful to
us. I thought when I started out to-night that I was on more or less
of a wild-goose chase, but now I know better. We must play the thing
boldly, and I am quite certain that I shall not repent it. If only you
do as you are told we shall have a startling story to tell our friends
a little later on."

Elsie could not make it out at all. All she could do was to stand and
gaze at the semi-conscious figure on the dusty grass, and wonder if
there was nothing that she could do. The woman looked up once or twice
in a dazed kind of way. It was quite evident that she did not recognise
the onlookers. Indeed, from the vacant expression of her blue eyes it
was extremely doubtful as to whether she knew where she was or what was
taking place about her. Elsie stooped down, and whispered some words of
pity which were entirely lost on the object of her commiseration.

"We really ought to do something," she whispered to her brother. "Of
course, I have not the remotest idea what scheme you have in your mind;
but to let her lie there, when she may be suffering from some fatal
injury, is mere cold-blooded cruelty. Don't you think it would be just
as well if we called the police?"

"Call the police by all means," Armstrong replied, "if you want to ruin
the whole thing. You must be content to leave matters in my hands for
the present, and you shall have a proper explanation later on. We must
wait until she is in a position to speak."

"But what can we possibly do with her," Elsie asked.

"Oh, I have settled all that," Armstrong responded. "As soon as she is
quite herself again she is coming along with us. Mrs. Wilmer shall have
my room to-night, and, if necessary, I will sleep on the sitting room
sofa; unfortunately, we shall have to have a doctor. Don't make any
objections, he will do exactly as I say."

Elsie made no effort to demur. Her woman's heart reached out to the
poor creature sitting on the dusty grass and reproached herself for her
neglect of the actress. A cab was called, and a matter of an hour later
Kitty Cromarty was lying safely in bed.

"Well, that's all right so far," Dick said. "Now I will have to ask you
to remain here while I step outside and get a doctor. After that I was
going down to the Record Office, on the chance of finding Lionel Harvey
there still. Unless I am greatly mistaken that quick imagination of his
will turn this incident to good account. I won't be long."

The doctor came at length, a general practitioner, from a neighbouring
street. Dick had already explained the circumstances in which
the unfortunate woman had been found, but certain incidents were
judiciously omitted from the story. It was some little time before the
doctor pronounced his opinion.

"There is nothing very serious the matter," he said. "The cut over the
eye is quite a minor detail. I should say that was caused by a blow.
The cut was probably made by a ring on a man's finger. The unfortunate
creature seems to have had a concussion----"

"But tell me," Elsie interrupted, "is there any danger? What I mean is
this: Would it not be just as well to find out where the poor woman's
friends are and communicate with them at once? It is a terrible thing
to think of the anxiety of her friends, who, no doubt, are expecting
her home at any moment."

Elsie world have said more, only Armstrong gave her a warning glance.
It was no cue of his to rouse the suspicions of the doctor, who might,
for his own protection, insist upon going off to the police station,
and telling them all about it without delay. Armstrong was surprised,
also, that Elsie should have apparently forgotten the dramatic incident
which immediately preceded the girl's startling introduction to Mrs.
Wilmer. It was more than probable that Elsie, in her kindness of heart
and her consideration for others, had overlooked everything else.

"But don't you know who her friends are?" the doctor asked, in some
surprise. "I was quite under the impression that she was in some way
connected with you, and that I had been called in----"

"Oh, that's right enough," Armstrong interrupted, hastily. "We know
perfectly well who the woman is. She is a Mrs. Wilmer, and the wife
of an employee who holds a position of trust in the office of Lord
Manningtree. I, also, am in his lordship's employ. My sister is
naturally anxious to know if there is anything really serious, and you
will quite understand her feelings in the matter."

The doctor nodded, as if he perfectly appreciated the situation, and
Armstrong breathed freely again. He turned to the medical man and
signified that he should proceed.

"The patient must have fallen violently backwards," he said, "and hurt
her head on some hard substance--that is the cause of the mischief.
There is an undoubted concussion, which may give trouble and perhaps
cause a slight delirium for a day or two. I'll look in again to-morrow."

The doctor vanished as quietly as he had come; little incidents like
these were all in the day's work. No sooner had he gone than Dick
resumed his hat again.

"I'm going to try and find Lionel," he explained. "I'm afraid that this
business is going to cause you a deal of trouble, old girl. But you
will be well repaid."

An hour passed without any signs of Dick. Then Elsie heard the welcome
rattle of his latchkey in the door. The patient had fallen into a deep
sleep, the result of a drug which had been administered to her by the
doctor. Elsie sprang to meet her brother, but she stood surprised and
bewildered. It was not Dick who stood there, but Lionel Harvey. There
was a stern look on his face.

"Lionel!" Elsie faltered. "What is the meaning of this? Has anything
happened to Dick? Where did you get his latchkey from?"

"Dick is all right," Harvey explained. "He had some difficulty in
finding me. When he did find me I gave him a little task to do. He
won't be long. My dear Elsie, this is a wonderful night's work that you
have done. But you don't quite understand what it all means, I fear.
Have patience, it will all come clear at last.'

"Won't you sit down?" Elsie said, timidly. She felt very shy and
awkward in the presence of her lover to-night. Dick's confession was
uppermost in her mind. "Do sit down."

"I'm a bit too excited for that," Lionel smiled. "Haven't you something
to say to me? I thought you were going to say it this afternoon when my
servant interrupted us."

Elsie's pretty face flushed crimson. Lionel was taking it very nicely,
far more gently than the girl had expected. And evidently he knew
everything.

"I can tell you far more than I would have done this afternoon," she
exclaimed. Once she had spoken, she seemed to gather courage. "Lionel,
can you ever forgive me?"

She looked up with pleading eyes, her hands trembling. And in those
eyes Harvey could see the love for him that had never died. He came a
step closer, and took her hands in his.

"That all depends," he said. "It all depends on how much there is to
forgive. But so long as you look at me like that I could forgive you
anything."

"I might have known," Elsie went on. "No, Lionel, you are not to--to
kiss me yet. I want you to know how dreadful I have been. What a
strange thing it is that I should be making this confession at this
hour of the night."

"Oh, never mind that so long as the confession is made, Elsie. After
all, I can quite understand why you preferred your brother's word to
mine."

"Lionel, Dick has been making a full confession to you?"

"Well, yes, if you like to call it a confession. He wronged me
terribly, and for your sake I chose to take my punishment in silence.
Now Dick has admitted the wrong to me. Of course, there was little in
that, seeing that we already knew all about it. But Dick has gone a
step further, I understand, and has told everything to you. He seems
genuinely anxious to begin a new life, and he has started in the right
way. It is a great happiness to me to know that the path is clear
before us again."

Elsie, suffered herself to be drawn to Lionel's side now. She laid her
head on his shoulder, and the tears rushed to her eyes.

"How good and noble you are," she whispered. "Not one word of reproach
for me after the awful way in which I treated you. Lionel, there is not
another man like you in the world."

Lionel laughed gently, and kissed the quivering lips. "There are
scores," he said--"thousands. I simply have to forgive you because I
could not possibly help it. It was a bad time for me, dear. So bad that
I nearly gave it up altogether and drifted abroad. But once let us get
clear of this Manningtree business, and we can make up for the last two
years. Here's Dick at last."

Armstrong came quietly into the room. He held a mass of papers in his
hand, which he gave to Harvey. He seemed excited about something.

"I've got all the information that you require," he said. "I don't know
what idea you've got in your head, but those I figures ought to help
you."

"Coupled with your story of the night's adventures, they will help me
materially," Harvey replied. "You had no trouble at the office?"

"None whatever. We shall be able to get the best of Mr. Wilmer now,
thanks to your happy idea about the safe. But fancy us having Mrs.
Wilmer actually here."

"A wonderful piece of good fortune," said Harvey. "If you can
only detain her here for a day or two I fancy that I can turn the
circumstances to good account. We will give Wilmer a fright. Elsie,
I am going to put your courage and endurance to the test. Dick tells
me the doctor says there is likely to be some delirium on the part of
the patient. Remember, she knows everything; she is up to her neck in
the plot to ruin Lord Manningtree and bring thousands to the verge of
starvation. Wilmer has made use of his wife's dramatic talents in the
most cunning way. It is for us to pit our skill against his. I want you
to watch that woman night and day, to listen carefully to all that she
has to say. Take note of everything; the most trivial word may have its
importance."

"I will do anything you like," Elsie exclaimed. "You can count on me.
But are you not afraid that the police may make inquiries?"

"I don't think so," said Harvey, thoughtfully. "At any rate, we must
take the risk of that; if necessary, we must make up some ingenious
piece of fiction in case the scruples of the doctor have betrayed us."

"What do you suggest?" Armstrong asked. "I see you are getting quite
along with your scheme. Upon my word, I should be a novelist, I should
rather enjoy it."

"The situation is not without its fascination," Lionel laughingly
admitted. "Now that I know the foe I have to grapple with I feel
that the ground is getting firmer. The gist of my idea is to mystify
and alarm these people, to let them know that somebody is aware of
their scheme without disclosing who that somebody is. As soon as your
patient is fit, I am going to have her moved to the residence of Lady
Manningtree."

The others looked at the speaker with blank surprise.

"I know what you are going to say," Lionel went on. "You will say that
Lady Manningtree's presence in England is a secret. Do you suppose
that it is a secret to a scoundrel like Wilmer? Not a bit of it. He
knows all about Lady Manningtree. And when he hears, as if by accident,
that his wife is under her ladyship's roof his craven soul will he
like water within him. Directly he begins to feel the sides of the
trap he will be ready to do anything to save his skin, and will betray
Schreiner also. Also I should like to get to the bottom of Bates'
connection with this matter."

"You will find that rather difficult," Dick suggested.

"Not at all," Lionel said, cheerfully. "Unless I am greatly mistaken,
I shall have Mr. Bates in the jaws of the trap in 24 hours from this
minute."




CHAPTER XIV.--BAITING THE TRAP.

As Lionel stepped on to the pavement, immaculately clad in a grey suit
and glossy hat, he certainly did not present the appearance of a man
who had been up all night smoking innumerable cigarettes, and poring
over a mass of papers. Perhaps the fact that his labours had not been
in vain accounted for the resolute gleam in his eyes.

As a matter of fact, he was enjoying the game thoroughly; it was as
if the pages of one of his own thrilling romances had come to life.
Yesterday he had been fumbling about in despair, to-day he had most
of the threads in his hands. He had not all the threads yet, but he
hoped to grasp the lot before long. He hoped to save the great firm of
Manningtree and Co. from collapse, and so avert the ruin of thousands,
while he had a sanguine expectation of landing the rich and prosperous
Schreiner in gaol.

A little time later he was asking to see "Mrs. Curtis." Probably the
footman was informed that he was likely to call, for he was ushered
into Lady Manningtree's boudoir at once. She rose to greet him, holding
out her hand with a smile.

"You are here so soon," she said. "I take that as a good sign. There is
something in your face that tells me you have done well, Mr. Harvey."

"Indeed, I have done a great deal," Lionel returned. "Has Miss Moberley
been here to-day? If so, did she tell you all about the visit paid
to Lord Manningtree yesterday by a person who calls herself Kitty
Cromarty?"

"Why, you told me yourself," Lady Manningtree explained. "You came here
yesterday afternoon when you were in need of 2000 to meet the lady's
claim. You told me all her story about the brother in Australia, and
how you had upset her by asking why the cheque had not been presented
before. What was the upshot of it?"

"I had forgotten," Lionel replied. "There has been such a lot to occupy
my attention. I had that young person watched, with the most gratifying
results. She is an actress, it seems; but that is not the point that
greatly concerns us. The point is that she has turned out to be the
wife of Lord Manningtree's head cashier, Ernest Wilmer. Need I go into
any further details on that point? You can see the plot for yourself?"

"I think so," Lady Manningtree said, thoughtfully. "Oh, yes, it is
quite clear. And so this Ernest Wilmer is an enemy in disguise. He is
in the plot too; how did the woman take it when you gave her the notes?"

"Well, she was frankly disappointed. Clever actress as she is, she
could not disguise that from me. And now I had further better tell you
what great events are likely to spring from the fact of Mrs. Wilmer
being followed."

And Lionel proceeded to go into elaborate details. He was followed with
the most flattering interest. Lady Manningtree had no occasion to ask
superfluous questions.

"So my poor husband's secret is known to these people," she said
presently. "I have no doubt that Wilmer found it out. And he is the
tool of the man Schreiner. If we could only find what their next move
will be!"

"I am afraid that will be a difficult matter," Lionel replied. "But it
will not be so very difficult to prepare a counter-stroke. With your
permission I should like to try a really bold and daring move now. As
soon as Kitty Cromarty--or Mrs. Wilmer--is in a position to leave her
room I should like to bring her here."

"To bring her here, Mr. Harvey? What could you possibly gain by that?"

"Well, it would strike a certain amount of terror into the heart of the
foe. I should let it come as if by accident to Wilmer's ears that his
wife is here. I am taking it for granted that Wilmer knows that you are
in London, as he probably knows everything that there is to know. And
the fellow is a coward to the soles of his boots. It has occurred to
me, too, that the woman may need revenge, and that she will tell us all
we want to know; but I don't think it would be wise to rely upon that.
Still, if she were here, and Wilmer knew it, he would be frightened out
of his wits. And if I could get to the bottom of the facts I should
know how to handle that rascally cashier. Still, if your ladyship does
not care for the plan----"

"I am entirely in your hands," Lady Manningtree cried. "I will do
anything you ask. You are so strong and capable that I have every trust
in you. I would give all my fortune. I would give my life, to save
the family name. It would be the greatest comfort to me if you would
find out what money is needed to put matters right. I wish you would
investigate that without delay!"

"I am doing so," Lionel said. "I am blessing the business training I
had in your father's bank every hour of my life. I have discovered that
the bank balance is nil, and that we shall need quite twenty thousand
pounds to-morrow. Still, so long as I can rely upon your promise to
pay that sum into the chief account I shall have no anxiety over that.
Nine-tenths of that money will be paid away in wages. It is to prevent
any questions being asked that Wilmer is shamming a dangerous illness.
He has all the private ledgers and the keys of the private safe.
Nobody knows besides ourselves how near we are to a crash. You see how
necessary it is to get at the private papers."

"Can't you see some way of remedying it?" Lady Manningtree asked,
anxiously. "My poor husband is helpless, it is no use to look to him.
It is the moment for daring action----"

"Which has already been taken," Lionel said, coolly. "It was taken last
night. I got a letter from Lord Manningtree--a forged letter--to a big
firm of safe-makers to come down to the office last night and open the
safe and supply a fresh key. The cool audacity of the thing succeeded
admirably. None of the clerks were there, nobody knew anything at all
about the matter, and at the present minute I have the key of the
private safe in my pocket. And Lord Manningtree's private secretary,
Mr. Armstrong, can come and go and no questions asked; but last night,
as he was busy elsewhere, I took his place. I may say at once that
my time was not lost, especially after Armstrong had translated some
cypher figures for me. Unless I am greatly mistaken, I am on the track
of the missing millions, Lady Manningtree. More than that I dare not
say for fear of subsequent disappointment."

"You mean to say that the great firm is not insolvent after all?" Lady
Manningtree asked, with an anxious, white face. "You have discovered
that the money----"

"Really, I have discovered nothing as yet," Lionel went on. "It is
merely surmise on my part. Mind you, I have important data from the
ledgers to go on. I am figuring out this thing as if I were making a
story of it. I am trying to put myself in the position of other people,
and to act as they might do in a certain set of circumstances. I am
following the workings of Lord Manningtree's mind for the minute. I
am going to put one of my theories to the test this afternoon at four
o'clock precisely. It is a daring thing that I am about to do, and
I tremble at the idea of failure. Still, I have been sitting up all
night, and I am not in the least afraid of a breakdown. I will come and
report progress as soon as there is anything definite to tell. Will you
be prepared to have Mrs. Wilmer in the house at any moment?"

Lady Manningtree was willing to fall in with this suggestion. She had
come to have quite a firm belief in the novelist and his methods;
she had a feeling that he was making for success. He was so cool and
resolute, so full of resource.

"I will place myself implicitly in your hands," she said. "I will do
anything you tell me, so long as you succeed in saving that dreadful
disgrace that hangs over us. As I said before, I am prepared to
sacrifice all my fortune rather than that those poor people should
suffer for their trust in my husband. It is not as if he were a felon."

"Lord Manningtree is no felon," Lionel said, with decision. "If his
brain were all right this thing could not possibly have happened. But
we are going to defeat those scoundrels yet, we are going to lay them
by the heels. I shall not feel that I have scored a victory unless
I can land Schreiner in gaol. And now I really must be leaving. I
am going as far as Cardigan Place to have a little chat with Miss
Moberley."

Miss Moberley was at home; in fact, she had been expecting Lionel. She
would not have been out in any case, she explained, as the faithful
Bates was taking an hour or two off, and Lord Manningtree required
careful attention. Lionel smiled grimly at the mention of Bates;
he would have something to say about that individual presently. He
proceeded to tell Ada Moberley all that had happened on the previous
night.

"So, you see, we have not been idle," he concluded. "The situation is
going to be saved, and I flatter myself that I am the one to do it. And
now pardon me if I ask you just a few questions about the movements of
your household. How is his lordship?"

"Much the same as usual. The doctors can make nothing of him. He will
not speak a word to them. But he recognises them, and he knows his own
mental condition. Of course he can't possibly go on like this for much
longer."

"He can walk about, I presume? Can get from one room to another?"

"Certainly he can. But he does not like anybody to know it. I don't
believe that that blow on the head did him the slightest harm; it was
only an excuse to sham speechlessness."

"Good!" Lionel cried. "This is better than I had expected. Now, tell
me, when does the faithful Bates go out, what days in the week?"

"He has only one afternoon off and two nights in the week. Why do you
ask?"

"Oh, we shall come to that presently. May I hazard a guess and suggest
that Bates goes out on Friday afternoon; This is Friday afternoon, by
the way. Is it possible that Mr. Bates is taking his pleasures abroad
at this very moment?"

"He certainly is," Ada Moberley replied. "But what has this to do with
the matter?"

"You are going to see for yourself at once," Lionel replied, grimly.
"Now, will you be so good as to take me up to his lordship's bedroom? I
am going to try a drastic remedy. If I fail I am quite prepared to take
all the blame on my own shoulders. But I am not going to fail, and you
are not going to get into any trouble. Come along."

Ada Moberley stared at the speaker, but she obeyed. They stood outside
the silent room, the blinds of which were drawn, and Lionel peeped in.
He could make out the outline of a figure on the bed, a figure with
the sheets drawn up close. But the figure did not move as Ada spoke to
it. She came to the door presently, and whispered to Lionel that his
lordship was asleep.

"I think not," Lionel said, with cynical calmness. "On the contrary,
I am quite sure that he is very much awake. Will you kindly wait here
till I call you?"

Lionel strode into the room and pulled up one of the blinds with a
click. Then he strode to the bed and dragged the clothing rudely away.

"Come out of it," he commanded. "Come out of it at once, or I'll pitch
you neck and crop on the floor. This is no time for ceremony."




CHAPTER XV.--MYSTERY.

Ada stood outside the bedroom door shivering with apprehension. The
cold, contemptuous ring in Lionel's voice fairly frightened her. There
was something brutal about the whole thing. Perhaps Lionel was putting
into force some theory of his own as to the way to deal with one of
feeble mind. Certainly no one had ever dared before to address Lord
Manningtree in that fashion.

But there was worse to come, the sound of struggling in the bedroom
followed by something that sounded like a blow, and then an appeal for
mercy. Before Ada could make up her mind what to do Harvey summoned her
into the room. He was standing by the side of the bed on which sprawled
the figure of a man fully dressed, with the exception of his boots.

"You will be good enough to tell me," Lionel said, "whether my measures
have been too stringent after all. If this is Lord Manningtree----"

"Bates!" Ada cried. "What is the meaning of this? And where is your
master?"

The figure on the bed made no reply for a moment. He was a typical
specimen of the ideal body servant, neat, clean, more or less
featureless. His self-possession had gone now, his sullen face was a
dull red.

"This is just what I expected," Lionel went on. "I should not have
acted in this way had I not felt quite sure of my ground. So this is
Bates. Get up!"

The valet obeyed slowly. He stood in the centre of the room, glaring
sullenly at Lionel and Ada, and yet, at the same time, the man did
not look in the least like a criminal. He was the absolute embodiment
of the typical gentleman's servant of the better class. From the
expression of his face he seemed to regard the whole thing as an
intrusion on his privacy. Lionel eyed him sternly. He was determined to
get to the bottom of this queer business.

"Now listen to me," he said. "I am not going to have any nonsense with
you. You are going to tell me the whole truth."

"I beg your pardon, sir," Bates said, with some effort to be
respectful, "but I do not recognise your right to ask me any questions,
or to come in here at all. I have been in service all my lifetime,
and no one can ever say that I have been wanting in respect to any
gentleman of my acquaintance. This is a matter where I had better drawn
the line, and if you will excuse me, sir, I prefer to say nothing. Miss
Moberley knows----"

"Miss Moberley has got nothing whatever to do with it," Lionel
responded. "You are going to tell us everything, and that without
delay. Where is Lord Manningtree?"

Bates shook his head. The sullen expression had departed from his face,
but he appeared to be no less grim and determined for all that. He
turned a half-imploring eye on Ada Moberley, as if asking her to get
Lionel out of the room. She seemed to understand what he was driving
at, and shook her head resolutely.

"Mr. Harvey is quite right," the girl said. "You had better make a
clean breast of it, and tell us everything."

But Bates refused to say another word for the present, at any rate.
The neat, usually soberly-dressed servant suddenly became painfully
conscious of the fact that he was without shoes, and that, in the
presence of a lady. In all his discreet career he had never felt so
foolish.

"I can't understand it," Ada cried. "What are you doing here, Bates?
And what has become of your master? I know that you have been carrying
on this deception for two hours at least, perhaps more, for I have been
in the room under the full impression that I was looking after your
employer. Is this a common thing?"

"Well, no, miss," Bates found his voice at last. "I am not so much
to blame as you think for, miss. It was his lordship who made me do
this thing. It appears that he wanted to keep some appointment without
anybody in the house knowing that he had gone out. One of his whims,
miss."

"You had no right to allow this," Ada cried. "In his lordship's painful
state of health it might be fatal. You should have come to me."

Bates stammered something in extenuation of his conduct. Lord
Manningtree had promised not to be long, and appeared to be much better
than usual. He had some very powerful reasons for secrecy. No doubt the
whole thing looked very foolish, but----

"It is worse than foolish," Ada cried. "Has this happened before?"

"Indeed no, miss. It is the very first time, I'll swear."

"You are ready to swear anything, then," Lionel put in. "Now you had
better be careful, Bates. Is it not a fact that this thing has been
going on every Friday for some weeks. I mean, every Friday afternoon
since Lord Manningtree has been unfitted for regular business? Now, do
not speak hastily, take your time. I want to know if this has not been
a regular thing for the past few Fridays."

Bates opened his mouth to speak, but the words did not seem to come.
He looked at Lionel with a dropped jaw; his face turned ghastly white,
then grew red again.

"Thank you, Bates," Lionel went on, quietly. "You need not trouble to
answer my question--your face has done that for you already. So we may
take it for granted that this is a regular Friday afternoon recreation
of his lordship's. You occupy his bed, and pretend to be asleep whilst
he is elsewhere. I suppose it never occurred to you as a sacred duty to
tell Miss Moberley and have his lordship watched?"

The wretched Bates stammered out something about being very fond of his
master, and about his master not being nearly so ill as some people
made out.

"Perhaps not," Lionel went on. "But you know that, mentally speaking,
his lordship is not capable of looking after himself. You know his
exact condition. And now I am going to ask you a few questions. You had
better tell me the truth, or it will be the worse for you. Let us go
down as far as the library. Perhaps Miss Moberley will permit us to be
alone together for a little while."

Ada took the hint and retired. Lionel's manner grew a little sterner as
he closed the door of the library and turned to his companion.

"I am going to remind you of something," he said. "First, will you tell
me how long you have been in service with Lord Manningtree, Bates?"

"Man and boy, pretty well all my life, sir," Bates replied. "I'll swear
to you, sir, that I have served his lordship faithfully. I've done
nothing wrong----"

"Oh, we shall come to that presently. You were with his lordship up to
the time of his marriage?"

"Yes, sir. I was with him on the Continent, at the time when her
ladyship, you see----"

"Quite so--left him. Do you know where her ladyship is now, Bates?"

Bates hesitated, but only just for a moment. There was something in the
fixed, eager look in Lionel's eyes that seemed to fairly drag the truth
from him.

"I do, sir," he said. "Her ladyship is in London, and I can give you
the address. I know that Miss Gladys goes to see her mother at times,
but that I kept from his lordship. I was very fond of her ladyship, and
I was sorry when the parting came. But I daresay you know that that
parting was inevitable, sir."

"Yes, I know that, Bates. Now let us get a little further. Lord
Manningtree is a very rich man, but he is involved in many companies
in which millions are invested by the poorer, thrifty classes. Lord
Manningtree's name is one to conjure with, and if anything happened
to him financially thousands would be ruined. Nobody guesses that
he is suffering from brain trouble, nobody guesses that he might be
speculating in the maddest way. If the truth leaked out it would be a
fine chance for the professional wrecker who makes his money by the
wrecking of concerns like these. You have heard of such men, Bates?"

"Indeed I have, sir," Bates replied. "All my savings are in my master's
big company. And I don't think that any of the wreckers would dare to
tackle him."

"There are one or two who might--Mr. Hermann Schreiner, for instance.
Do you happen to know anything about Mr. Schreiner, Bates?"

Bates gasped again. But there was no longer a guilty look on his face.
His expression was one of astonishment, judiciously blended with
admiration.

"You're a bit too clever for me, sir, and that's a fact," he said. "I
didn't know anything about the gentleman in question till a month or
so ago. My master mentioned it in one of his lucid intervals. He wrote
the name on a piece of paper. Then he got me to write an anonymous
letter to Mr. Schreiner telling him that he would hear something to his
advantage if he got into contact with John Bates, which is me, sir. I
did not know what it meant, any more than the dead, sir; but I wrote
that letter and posted it. I thought it was some trap his lordship was
laying for Mr. Schreiner."

"My word! I had not thought of that," Lionel exclaimed. "You've got it,
Bates. That magnificent intellect of his lordship's seems capable even
now of flashes of genius. I have no doubt that Mr. Schreiner is going
to get his lesson. But go on. What happened?"

"Well, nothing, sir, as far as I can judge. I got a letter asking me
to call at No. 19, Stonehouse-street, and that letter I showed to his
lordship. It was one of his bad days, and he clearly had forgotten all
about it--said he never heard of anybody called Schreiner. And there
the matter stands for the present."

Lionel turned the matter over very slowly and carefully in his mind. It
would have been quite an easy matter for one of Schreiner's spies to
discover which member of Lord Manningtree's household had written that
anonymous letter; indeed, that information had already been obtained,
or the attempt to get at Bates would not have been made. And at the
critical part of the whole pretty scheme Lord Manningtree's memory had
failed him. But the problem was not quite so obscure as it appeared to
be.

"I am going to trust you," Lionel said, after a long pause. "Bates,
you are not to say anything to anybody as to my visit here; let Lord
Manningtree imagine that you have been playing his part all along.
Next Friday afternoon the same thing will happen. Let it happen. The
story of his lordship's unhappy mental condition is known to his
foes, including the man Schreiner, who is the worst of the wrecker
type in London. He means to smash up Lord Manningtree altogether; if
I can prevent it I shall. That man will certainly approach you again,
and if he does go and see him. Listen to what he has to say, let him
imagine that you have pryed into Lord Manningtree's secrets till you
know everything. If he offers you a bribe take it. You have acted very
foolishly in the matter of this concealment, but it is not too late to
mend matters. And now go back to the bedroom, so as to be there when
his lordship returns. I will see you later on."

Bates departed, promising to do anything that was desired of him.
Lionel found Ada waiting for him eagerly in the drawing-room. Her
curiosity was aflame. She could not rest until she had heard everything
that had happened.

"I am sure that you are going the right way," she said. "I am certain
that you are making important discoveries. How did you guess about
Bates?"

"It was no guess," Lionel smiled. "It was all part of a theory that I
built up from the finding of a little scrap of paper. It was an idea
that could only have come to a novelist. No police officer would have
had imagination enough. A doctor friend of mine has been giving me some
lessons in the workings of diseased brains. When you told me that Lord
Manningtree was in bed I knew whom I should find there. I expected to
discover that Bates was a traitor, but apparently he is nothing of the
kind. Bates is going to prove valuable as an ally later on."

"But these mysterious absences of my uncle must be stopped, Mr. Harvey."

"By no means," Lionel explained. "You are not to stop them. Next Friday
I hope that exactly the same thing will happen again; indeed, I shall
be greatly disappointed if it doesn't. I can't say any more at present,
for, really, I am still in the stage of theory. Up to now my theory
has worked out perfectly in practice, and that fact encourages me to
proceed on the same lines. After next Friday I believe that I shall be
able to tell you everything."

"Very well," Ada said, resignedly. "I must wait, I suppose. But tell
me, have you managed to get anything out of Wilmer's wife? Is she still
with Miss Armstrong?"

"She is to-day," Lionel explained, "but she is equal to being moved.
After dinner to-night we are going to take her to Lady Manningtree's."




CHAPTER XVI.--THE BACK OF THE DRAFT.

The progress made by Mrs. Wilmer, nee Kitty Cromarty, was not so rapid
as Armstrong and Elsie had expected. There was nothing radically wrong,
the doctor said, the worst feature being a loss of memory caused by the
blow at the back of the head. Apart from that, Mrs. Wilmer was pretty
well herself again. She would get better, of course, no doubt about
that; at the same time, it would be a question of another week or two.

The patient made no demur when she was told that it had been considered
advisable to move her elsewhere. She took to her new quarters under
Lady Manningtree's roof quite naturally. She seemed to be happiest when
Elsie was near her. But as yet she had said nothing that was likely to
prove of the slightest use to the conspirators.

"Elsie is with her now," Dick explained to Lionel, who had called late
the same evening. "We have moved her from our rooms here for a time; at
least, Elsie has. Lady Manningtree asked me to come round and see her
to-night."

"I heard that you were here," Lionel said. "That's why I called. Let us
walk as far as Fenchurch-street and go into those books again--I mean
private ledgers."

"I've got them here," Armstrong explained. "I knew that you would come
to-night. Why not have a dig at the books at once?"

Lionel was quite agreeable, and, indeed, that was exactly what he
required. For an hour or more he was deeply engaged in making extracts
from the ledgers, and comparing them with a set of voluminous notes
entered in a pocket-book. On the whole, he seemed to be quite satisfied
with the result of his investigations.

"What a fortunate thing it is that we both had a previous business
training," he said. "It makes the matter so much simpler. By the time
we have been all through these books I have not the slightest doubt
that we shall be in a position to expose a very pretty conspiracy.
Unless I am greatly mistaken, we shall find that most of these ledgers
have been tampered with."

Dick Armstrong was by no means so sanguine. He pointed out to Lionel
that the latter of recent years had not been in the way of dealing with
business matters, and that there were nowadays variations in the way of
keeping books with which he was not acquainted. Lionel saw the logic of
this at once.

"Perhaps you are right," he said. "Then it is more than possible that
we have a much larger task before us than I have anticipated."

"There is no doubt whatever about that," Dick said. "We have two at
least of the most cunning scoundrels in London to cope with. Wilmer
probably is working on some system of his own, and you may depend upon
it there is not a single link in the long chain of Lord Manningtree's
transactions with which he is not acquainted. However, we can only do
our best to get to the bottom of it. Upon my word, I am almost afraid
to tackle anything in which Schreiner and Co. are concerned. They are
a vindictive lot, and more than one man in the city has paid a heavy
price for getting in their way. If only we could get hold of Lord
Manningtree in one of his lucid intervals we could do more good in five
minutes than we shall do with these books in five weeks. But I suppose
that is out of the question?"

Lionel thought that it was. He turned over a ledger thoughtfully, as if
seeking for some unexpected development.

"As I remarked before," he said, "it is a most fortunate thing that
both of us have had a business training. Commercial knowledges
simplifies matters and makes it easy for us. Speaking of that, by the
way, have you contrived to find out anything about this mysterious
Elias Smyth to whom all those large sums of money were paid?"

Dick confessed that he had no information to give on the subject. A
close examination of the private ledgers and the bankbook had declared
the fact that large sums of money had been paid out during the last
year to the credit of some Elias Smyth. There were the cheques as
returned from the bank lying on the table. The face of the cheque had
been type-written and the draft signed by Lord Manningtree himself.
They represented sums of money to the extent of nearly half a million
pounds.

"Most extraordinary thing," Lionel mused, thoughtfully. "There seems to
be no consideration for the cash, and no goods declared or anything of
that kind. More than that, I can't find a single firm of the same name
in London."

"What bank was the money paid into?" Dick asked. "I mean where does
this Elias Smyth keep his account? That may help us."

Strange as it may seem, Lionel had not thought of that. Any cheque
payable to this Elias Smyth would bear the blue rubber stamp with the
name of his bank upon it and the day on which the cheque was paid in.
And there it was plainly enough--the North German Alliance Corporate
Bank.

"It is a comparatively new concern, at any rate so far as London is
concerned," Dick proceeded to explain. "This points to the fact that
our friend Elias Smyth is not English. The name has a German flavour of
its own. But we can soon ascertain as to who is responsible for this
banking firm in London. Hand me that Bankers' Directory."

Dick turned over the pages of the big volume for a little time. Then
his face lightened as he ran his forefinger down one of the columns.

"By Jove! this is interesting," he cried. "I don't say that it means
anything, but it is more than a coincidence. The chairman of directors
of the bank in question in England is our friend Schreiner. Does that
convey anything to you?"

"Well, it is a startling discovery, any way," Lionel muttered. "From
all appearances this Elias Smyth is the biggest customer the bank
possesses in London. More than enough money to keep the Manningtree
affairs at the flood-tide of prosperity actually finds its way into the
coffers of the very man who is most interested in bringing us to the
ground. It's certainly strange, Dick."

Dick was fain to admit that it was. For some little time Lionel sat
there moodily frowning at the little pile of cheques drawn in favour of
Mr. Elias Smyth. If only Lord Manningtree could speak, if only he had
the wit to explain this. If only----

A sudden inspiration came to Lionel. He sorted out the cheques and
placed them on the table before him in date order. Then he asked Dick
if he could tell him where it was possible to put his hand on an
almanac.

"An almanac!" Armstrong cried. "What on earth do you want an almanac
for? There's one at the beginning of this directory. What are you going
to do?"

"I am going to read you the dates of all these cheques," Lionel
explained. "And I'll get you to tell me the day of the week on which
each is drawn. Now, let us begin with the one on January 17 last. What
day was that?"

"Thursday," Dick said after a minute's pause. "Pass on to the next one.
Funny thing that that should be Thursday also..... And this one, too.
We seem to have struck upon a fine run of coincidences to-night, Lionel
they are all drawn on Thursday."

"I expected as much," Lionel said, quietly. "I am gratified beyond
measure to find that my inspiration has worked out so logically.
And you are quite wrong, Dick, in suggesting that we are on a run
of coincidences; we are working a series of startling and valuable
discoveries. I begin to believe that I have solved the whole problem. I
shall have a pretty good idea before I go to bed. Give me one of those
cheques, it does not matter which. And don't say anything about this to
a soul."

"You are not going yet?" Dick asked, as Lionel rose. "Elsie wants to
see you."

"Then she will have to be quick, because I am going as far as the
British Museum to see a friend of mine there," Lionel smiled. "I'll
call round at your rooms as I return, though I daresay I shall be a
little late. Well, how is the patient?"

Elsie had come smilingly into the room. The cold, sad look had gone
from her face, and she seemed to be quite a different girl the last
day or two. She went across to Lionel and kissed him, whilst Dick
pretended to be very busy getting his papers and books together. There
might have been just a tinge of shame behind his mind, for his face
coloured slightly. There was the happiness that he had come very near
to wrecking by his criminal cowardice and selfishness.

"She is much the same," Elsie explained. "She does not seem to take the
slightest interest in anything; she believes that she is back in our
lodgings again. So long as I am near her she seems perfectly happy."

Lady Manningtree entered the room at that moment. She had one of her
rare smiles for Lionel, and pressed his hand warmly. But she sighed and
her face clouded as her glance fell on the litter of books and papers
on the table.

"I fear you have a hopeless task there," she said. "So long as my
fortune is sufficient to make up for what is lost it does not much
matter. Have you found out anything to justify your going on with the
investigations?"

"Indeed I have," Lionel replied. "I have found out a great deal. I am
sanguine that I am on the eve of getting to the bottom of the mystery.
Before I go to bed to-night I shall be quite certain on the subject.
And I shall he greatly disappointed if we do not put matters on their
old footing without calling on you for another penny. Your cheque last
Friday saved us; it is appalling to think what would have happened
without your assistance."

"Can't you say any more than that?" Lady Manningtree asked, anxiously.

"I dare not," said Lionel. "I do not want to raise false hopes. Let it
stand that I am very sanguine. And perhaps to-morrow----"

Lady Manningtree let it go at that. She had great faith in the
clear-eyed, resolute young man with the strong face and ample jaw. And
she knew that he had had the advantage of a good business training. She
suffered Lionel to depart presently, and he took his way at once in the
direction of the British Museum, where he asked to see Mr. George Cross.

Cross was there, as it turned out; he had nothing particular to do for
an hour, and he showed his pleasure in walking as far as Lionel's rooms
and smoking a pipe with him.

"Got something you want to show me?" he asked, looking out of a heavy
face through a pair of thick, gold-rimmed glasses. Cross had seriously
damaged his eyesight at one time by dabbling amongst old and scribbled
manuscripts, on which he was a great authority. "Some clever forgery
that you want to work into a story, eh?"

"Well, something of that kind," Lionel admitted, with a smile. "Only it
isn't a forgery. I've got a cheque in my pocket that I should like to
have your opinion upon. There is concealment as to the holder of the
cheque and as to the identity of the drawer thereof. What I want you to
do is to try and tell me something of the man to whom it was paid. I've
heard you boast that you could tell the difference between the fist of
a German and a Frenchman, even if they had quite an English name. Now
the signature on the back of the cheque is Elias Smyth, who might be
any nationality."

"I never boast," Cross said quietly. "And I've no doubt that I shall
be able to tell you anything you desire to know. All the same, you are
quite right. Elias Smyth may be German or English or American."

The cheque lay on the table presently under the strong light of
Lionel's writing-lamp, and Cross bent over it with a powerful glass to
his eye. For a long time he gazed at the pink surface of the slip, his
glass searching it from side to side.

"The signature is all right," he said. "I don't know Lord Manningtree,
but I could swear that that is his signature. A bold one, but a little
shaky, as if he were not quite himself at the time. The typed figures
and words convey nothing to me, but all the same this Elias Smyth seems
to be a lucky man, for the cheque is for upwards of 70,000. Now let
us have a look at the endorsement on the other side..... Here also we
have a bold signature, clear and strong. Mr. Elias Smyth does not seem
to lack strength of character, but he also is a little shaky. Perhaps
he drinks. Let us have a good look at the letters under my glass. Well,
the man is an Englishman; no doubt of that. The man is also--ah!"

Cross paused abruptly, and turned the sheet over. Then he proceeded
to fold it so that both signatures lay uppermost at the same time.
A little chuckle escaped him; he seemed to be very pleased about
something. He turned to Lionel abruptly.

"You would like to know who this Elias Smyth is?" he asked. "Is that
it?"

"Precisely," Lionel replied. "I would give a good round sum of money to
know. But, clever as you are, you could not tell me that unless perhaps
you happened to know----"

"Indeed I don't. I never heard the name before. But if you want to know
I can tell who Elias Smyth is beyond all shadow of a doubt."




CHAPTER XVII.--TO THE RESCUE.

Lionel looked at Cross without speaking. He had some faint idea of what
was going to happen. He had figured out some tremendous development,
and here it was close at hand. And assuredly Cross had solved the
problem.

"The thing is ridiculously simple," Cross went on. "To put this quite
plainly, Lord Manningtree and Elias Smyth are one and the same person.
My experience in such matters teaches me that this is by no means an
unusual occurrence. I am not what you may call a professional expert in
handwriting; that is, I don't keep an office, and I don't do law court
work and that kind of thing. All the same I am frequently consulted on
matters of this kind. If you take three leading men in this line as
your witnesses I can procure three others to go against you. But my
position here has compelled me to reduce the thing to an exact science.
I shall prove to you that I am quite correct in what I say."

"I shall be greatly obliged if you will do so," Lionel said, gravely.

"The thing is easy. You see I have folded the cheque so that the
signature and the endorsement are both uppermost. Now just for one
moment look at the tolerably bold name of 'Manningtree' at the foot of
the cheque. Observe the long, strong, peculiar, sword-like curve of
the tail of the 'g.' It is a most original and characteristic curve.
Now let us look at the 'l' in the word 'Elias' on the endorsement.
Here we see the same bold curve, only it is an upward curve instead of
a downward one. But it is the same thing reversed, the same size and
everything. Turn the 'g' upside down to fit the 'l' and you have the
same thing. But I've got a little apparatus here of my own invention
that will carry conviction to you. We will pick out those two letters
and photograph them on an enlarged card. Then we will turn one of those
two letters upside down and superimpose one loop over the other."

It was an interesting experiment, and it proved Cross to be absolutely
correct. When the two curves were superimposed on the card they
practically looked like one loop. There was no longer any doubt in
Lionel's mind. He was all the more inclined to believe because he had
come prepared for some discovery of this kind.

"I fancy that is quite sufficient for your purpose," Cross said. "If
you like I will go into the whole thing and make a thorough analysis of
the two signatures. But you may rest assured that you have discovered
the identity of 'Elias Smyth.' I hope there is nothing wrong with the
dual individual?"

"Nothing whatever," Lionel hastened to say. "On the contrary, you have
relieved my mind of a great anxiety. It is no unusual thing for men in
a large way of business to have several accounts and be at the head
of several businesses. I suspected treachery on the part of certain
individuals, and that is why I came here. I am sure that you will
understand why I am so reticent."

"Quite right," Cross laughed. "Never betray the secrets of the
prison-house. And I am only too glad to have been of the slightest
service to you."

"You have been a service to humanity generally, if you only knew it,"
Lionel said, as he rose to go. "If you don't mind I will take those
cards as well as the cheque with me. It's getting very late, Cross."

It was getting very late indeed, too late to call on Dick Armstrong.
In a very thoughtful frame of mind Lionel went back to his rooms. He
sat before the fire smoking cigarettes till the dawn began to break. He
was no longer restless and uneasy and uncertain of his ground. From the
first he had some dim idea of what was taking place; he had worked out
the situation with the novelist brain as if the whole thing had been
a dramatic story. As to the rest he was greatly aided by his business
training.

It all lay before his eyes now as clear as daylight; he knew exactly
what had happened. But that was not sufficient, he would have to find
some way of guarding the future. He fully realised the cunning and
guile of the people he had to deal with. If Lord Manningtree had been
in his right mind the weapons to hand would have sufficed. But, then,
Lord Manningtree was worse than useless. It would be necessary to
set a trap to catch the knaves who were taking advantage of untoward
circumstances to bring about one of the most sensational crashes of
modern times. This part of the programme was still unfinished when
Lionel put out the light and went to bed.

It was quite early the next morning when he called upon Dick
Armstrong, only to find that the latter had not been home all night.
The circumstance was strange, and a little alarming to boot. Lionel
wondered if Schreiner and Co. were putting the pressure on their
unfortunate debtor. He had heard all about Dick's connection with these
people. And Dick was a most valuable ally at the present moment.

Lionel thought the matter over for some little time, and decided that
though there was something disturbing in the knowledge that Dick had
been up all night, that fact alone did not necessarily point to trouble
for the latter. It was just possible that he might have gone off on
some clue of his own, and that, a little later on, he might come along
with some startling and useful information. No doubt Dick would be
found at the office in the course of the day, and some little time
after breakfast Harvey set out with the intention of calling on him
there.

He was agreeably surprised before he had reached his destination to
come in contact with Elsie. The girl was looking more than usually
bright and animated, though, in answer to Lionel's questions, she had
no particularly cheerful intelligence to impart. Perhaps the fact that
she and Lionel had drawn so much closer together of late had filled her
with a quiet happiness.

"Have you nothing particular to tell me?" she asked.

"On the whole, I think not," Lionel responded. "For the present I
prefer to keep my discoveries to myself."

"Oh, then there are discoveries," Elsie smiled. "Come, that is good
news, at any rate. I should not be surprised to hear that you are
getting on famously. What a nice thing it must be to be so clever that
you can read other people's thoughts though they never so much as utter
a word! I am positively afraid of you."

"I don't think you have any need," Lionel responded. "At any rate, it
appears that for over two years I was not in the position to read your
thoughts, and they were far more to me than the thoughts of anybody
else--even the concealed plans of the scoundrels who are doing their
best to ruin Lord Manningtree."

Elsie looked up in some alarm. "But surely that is not really going
to happen?" she said. "My dear Lionel, that must be prevented at any
cost. Oh, I know that the danger is very imminent and terribly close,
but I have had a feeling for some time that you are absolutely certain
to succeed where others have failed. Every day I become more and more
convinced of the fact that it was a blessed thing for me when I called
upon 'Rodney Payne' and found instead the man----"

"Well, go on," Lionel said, with a tender smile. "You were going to say
you had found the man you loved, and who had never ceased to love you
in turn during the past two years, dark and troublous as they have been
to both of us."

A warm flush rose to Elsie's cheeks, but her eyes were steadfast and
tender as she turned them on Lionel's face.

"You should not make such speeches in public," she said. "Really, you
are most audacious."

They laughed happily together. Just for the moment they had forgotten
their surroundings and all the trouble and misery in the world. For a
little while Lionel walked along by Elsie's side, until it suddenly
occurred to him that he had forgotten all about Lord Manningtree's
affairs, and the stern necessity for seeing Dick Armstrong without
delay. He turned guiltily and held out his hand.

"You are making me oblivious to my duties," he said. "Positively, I
must get away to the city at once, and have an interview with that
brother of yours. If the fates are kind to me, I will try and see you
this evening, and we may even go so far as to try a little dissipation
in the way of a musical comedy or something of that kind."

There was nothing for it now but to go down to the office of
Manningtree and Co. and see Dick there. He had not yet arrived. Without
wasting time Lionel took a cab and drove away to the residence of Lady
Manningtree. She glanced anxiously at Lionel's face as he came in.

"I can see that you have news for me," she said.

"Indeed I have," Lionel responded. "And most important news too. I have
discovered what has become of the enormous sums of money missing lately
from your husband's business. I have half-expected something of the
kind, but I hardly hoped to hit upon the truth quite so soon. We have
been going through all the cheques that have come back to the office
in due course through the bank. Both Armstrong and myself were much
struck by the fact that cheques for large sums were periodically drawn
by Lord Manningtree in favour of an individual called Elias Smyth.
These cheques were usually drawn on a certain day, and they were paid
into the credit of the North German Alliance Corporation Bank. I was
naturally anxious to find out who this Smyth was. I became still more
suspicious on finding that our friend Hermann Schreiner is the managing
director of the banking company in question."

"You mean that those cheques were forgeries?" Lady Manningtree cried.

"No; both Dick and myself came to the conclusion that the signature of
his lordship on the cheque was genuine. But that did not dispose of the
fact that large sums of money were drifting from our side virtually
into the hands of the man who is trying to ruin us. He could have
ruined us by this time had not you come so nobly to the rescue. I took
one of those cheques to an expert friend of mine, and he has convinced
me that Lord Manningtree and this Elias Smyth are one and the same
man. It looks like a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. At any rate,
practically all the money belonging to Lord Manningtree's firm lies in
that German bank to the credit of Elias Smyth, i.e., Lord Manningtree
himself."

"If we could only induce him to draw it out again."

"You have hit upon the exact point. That is the great difficulty, and
at the same time the great danger. Suppose we get some specialist to
certify what Lord Manningtree's mental state is. Suppose he boldly
declares that the bank has no such account, and that the account has
been closed."

"I see," Lady Manningtree said, thoughtfully. "That means the ruin of
thousands, the very thing that we are most anxious to avoid. What do
you propose to do?"

"There is only one thing to do, Lady Manningtree. We must manage in
some manner to get a cheque from his lordship drawn on the account of
'Elias Smyth,' and payable to somebody who is in our secret. It need
not be a large cheque, it need be only a matter of a pound or two, so
long as it is done. Once that cheque is cashed over the counter of the
German Alliance we have proofs to go on. If I could only induce Lord
Manningtree to sign such a cheque!"

Lady Manningtree sat there thoughtfully, with her hands in her lap. The
weary, handsome face had grown very pale, but the fire and resolution
were still in her eyes. She rose presently and paced up and down the
room, seemingly torn by convicting doubts.

"You are right," she said. "Your quick mind has grasped the situation.
It is my duty to save all those poor people if I can; it is impossible
that even my fortune can quite save the situation. Goodness only knows
what induced my husband to do this thing, to hide all this money away,
to play into the hands of his enemies!"

"He practically did not know anything about the enemy," Lionel said.
"He wanted a foreign bank where he stood a good chance of not being
known. It is probable that he had not the least idea of Schreiner being
connected with the German corporation."

"I had not thought of that," Lady Manningtree murmured. "There is only
one thing to be done. I dread the bare idea, I shrink from it with
loathing, but it has to be done. Will you come round as far as Cardigan
Place with me?"

"Certainly I will. But surely your ladyship does not intend----"

"To see Lord Manningtree? Indeed, I do. If he has one glimmering of
reason left he will do as I desire. I have one hold upon him, of which
nobody knows but myself. If there is one person in the world who
can get the document you want, I am the person. Let us get along to
Cardigan Place before my courage fails. Kindly call a cab."

Lady Manningtree came down a moment later, ready for the journey.
She was quite calm and collected now, her face was pale and set. She
evidently desired silence, so that Lionel said nothing till Cardigan
Place was reached. The door was answered by Bates himself, who fairly
staggered back as he caught sight of the pale, cold face of his
mistress. He stammered something as Lady Manningtree passed into the
hall.

"Go and tell your master I am here," she said. "Say that I desire to
see him for a few minutes on most important business. You must make him
understand, Bates. And I am going to see him whether he likes it or
not."

Her voice rang clear and cold. Apparently it penetrated the library,
for the door opened and Gladys came out. A little cry broke from the
girl's lips.

"What are you doing here?" she asked. "I was just coming to see you.
Dick had called on me; he is in deep distress, poor fellow. And I was
going to bring him along. I do not quite, as yet, understand what
Dick's trouble is, but----"

"Stay where you are," Lady Manningtree said, in the same cold way. "I
came here to see your father--it is a matter of life and death. Bates,
I will wait here till you are ready. And, on second thoughts, you had
better come along with me, Mr. Harvey. It is more than likely that I
shall need your valuable assistance."




CHAPTER XVIII.--THE COURAGE OF DESPAIR.

Bewildered and troubled in her mind Gladys returned to the library.
Armstrong was there, moodily pacing up and down. His despairing look
had given way for the moment to one of curiosity and excitement. He
also had heard Lady Manningtree's voice.

"Surely that was your mother," he exclaimed. "Whatever is she doing
here?"

"I don't know," Gladys said. "Something of terrible importance
apparently. I daresay we shall know after she has seen my father. Oh!
Dick, when is all this misery and mystery to end? We all of us seem to
be in bitter trouble. And you were just telling me about yourself. Is
it as bad as you make out?"

"It could not be worse," Dick groaned. "Never was a dearer and more
loyal sweetheart in the world than you, Gladys. You came into my life
to make me a better and nobler man. I said that for your sake I would
mend my ways. It was a cowardly thing of me to come here and make love
to you, Gladys."

Gladys laughed gently, and her pretty face grew crimson. "I am afraid
that I encouraged you, Dick," she whispered. "My life was so sad and
dull here, with nobody but my father, and he seemed to care for nothing
but business. And when you came it was all different, Dick. You always
seemed so cheerful, always so ready to enter into my little pleasures.
And then that night we had been to the theatre----"

"Oh! I shall never forget that night. And I had come to love you
passionately and sincerely for two whole months. And somehow I could
not help speaking; how it came about I shall never be able to tell. But
somehow you were in my arms, your kisses were warm upon my lips. And so
we were secretly engaged. But even then--even now, you do not realise
what a shameless blackguard I am."

"Dick! How can you say such things? How can you expect me to believe
them? You will be telling me next that there is some other girl."

"No, darling. My conscience is quite clear in that way. I had never
cared much for women until I met you. I came to tell you everything
to-day. Do not interrupt me, Gladys, but let me get the shameful
confession made, and then deal with me as you like. I am going to
make a clean breast of it. I have been walking about all night; I was
ashamed to go home for fear of being arrested----"

"Arrested! Dick, do you mean to tell me that you--that you----"

"My dear, I can't tell you anything if you interrupt me so. What I say
is the shameful truth. Let me tell it in full--the story of the man who
let the lover of his sister suffer for him, who ruined another man's
name to pay his gambling debts. And then if you refuse to forgive me, I
shall not blame you."

Gladys dropped into a seat without another word. She listened in a dull
kind of way to the story that Dick had to tell--everything from the
moment when Lionel Harvey had been driven from the bank to the moment
when the danger from Schreiner and Co. threatened to land the speaker
within the walls of a gaol.

"And now you know it all," Dick concluded. "I have concealed nothing
from you, I have not said a single word in my own defence. And this
is the sorry blackguard who made love to a pure and innocent girl,
who allowed her to get fond of him without her knowing what he was. I
suppose it is all over between us now; I suppose I shall suffer for my
folly. It is very hard, because I love you, for your own sake. I have
become a different man for you, Gladys. I had better go now----"

"No," Gladys whispered. "You are not going, Dick. All this is very
terrible to me; I do not pretend that is not a great shock to my
feelings. But I believe that you mean every word that you say, and it
is my duty to encourage you to proceed in the way you are going at
present. I don't want to preach, Dick, only I love you from the bottom
of my heart; I could never change, and I want you now as badly as I
have wanted you all along. You have been very weak and foolish, but you
have always been tender and kind to me, and I can't forget it. Whatever
happens, Dick, I shall always be the same to you."

Dick stood there biting his quivering lip to keep it steady. In this
the hour of his deepest despair he fully realised what he was losing.
Gladys crept to his side and timidly placed her arm about his neck. He
stooped and kissed her passionately.

"I can't give you up," he said. "I will fight my way through this
thing, and win yet. And I am glad you know, dearest, it seems such
a weight off my mind. I was going to tell your father, I had always
intended to tell him. He might have helped me. And since I have nobody
to help me now----"

"Oh, yes, you have, Dick. There is not a nobler, kinder, sweeter woman
in all the world than my mother. She will not weigh a few thousand
pounds against my happiness. Let us make a confidante of her. Those
vile scoundrels you told me of are holding their terrors over your
head, so as to get you into their power and make you a tool in this
disgraceful thing that they are doing. I feel certain of it. If you are
bold and resolute you may escape yet. If you tell Mr. Harvey that----"

"Lionel Harvey knows already. I am waiting for a chance to speak to
him. He promised to call at my rooms last night, but I dared not
go home. He was on the verge of some very important discovery, I
could judge that by his manner. I should not wonder if he had been
successful. Lady Manningtree must have felt the force of it, or she
would never have come here to-day. I think I'll stay and see what has
happened. Oh, little Gladys, how good you are to me! If I could only
prove my deep love for you."

"I think that I understand, dear," Gladys said, simply. "Perhaps the
opportunity may come sooner than you anticipate. I am sure that courage
and resolution are the things you want indeed. But I fancy that I hear
the others coming downstairs."

Gladys kissed her lover once more on the cheek, and drew away from him.
Lady Manningtree came in just a little pale and resolute, as before,
though her breath was coming fast, and she had her hand upon her heart,
as if some terrible pain lay there. Harvey followed, quite as cool and
deliberate, though he could not disguise the light in his eyes. In his
right hand he held a piece of paper that looked like a cheque.

"It's fortunate that you are here, Dick," he said. "I shall want you, I
have been looking for you everywhere, both last night and this morning."

"There were reasons why I could not go home," Dick stammered. "I have
been explaining those reasons to Gladys--in fact, I have told her
everything. There has been no concealment between us, Lionel. She knows
all about Schreiner and Co."

"It is absolutely necessary that Lady Manningtree should know also,"
Lionel said, with just a shadow of hardness in his voice. "You must
tell her your story, and let her know exactly the relationship that
exists between Miss Gladys and yourself. When that is done I have a
proposal to make to you. I am very sorry, Dick, but really I must
trouble you to go over that miserable recital again."

"My mother must know sooner or later," Gladys cried. "But before Dick
speaks, I will say that nothing can alter my affection for him."

The story was told once more without the slightest prevarication. Lady
Manningtree listened with the same cold, expressionless face; she
seemed as if she had turned to stone.

"We are truly an unfortunate family," she said presently. "We will talk
about this at some other time, and, meanwhile, there is important work
to be done. Perhaps Mr. Harvey will be so good as to explain the events
of the last few hours."

Lionel plunged eagerly into his explanation. For the most part he
addressed his remarks to Dick, who followed him with rapt attention.
He had forgotten his own troubles for the moment, and was anxious and
eager to be up and doing something.

"This is amazing," he said. "If we could only pin those fellows down.
If we could only get a cheque drawn by 'Elias Smyth,' and cashed----"

"I am glad that you see the point," Lionel said, drily. "That step
also occurred to me as a vital necessity. I have laid it before Lady
Manningtree, and she came to my assistance. As you have not witnessed
the painful events of the last half-hour, you are not in a position to
admire the courage and noble devotion of Lady Manningtree. But that
is not the point. Let it be sufficient to say that I have here in my
hand a small cheque drawn in my favour by 'Elias Smyth' on his account
at the North German Bank. My idea is to get it cashed within the next
hour."

"You are going off at once to do it?" Dick asked, eagerly.

"By no means," Lionel said, brusquely. "I have a far better plan than
that. I begin to see my way now right to the end of this business. You
will cash the cheque."

"I?" Dick faltered. "I--I don't understand. At the present moment it
would be madness for me to go anywhere near a concern where Hermann
Schreiner----"

"Oh, but there will be a great deal of method in your madness," Lionel
went on, in the same dry and caustic manner. "The cheque is payable to
bearer. You will write your name on the back and present the cheque
yourself. In all probability no cheque has ever been drawn on the
account of Elias Smyth, and you may be asked a question or two about
it. Possibly you may be asked to go and see the manager; I hope you
will."

"I don't quite see the point yet," Dick muttered.

"The point is quite clear. The mere presentation of the cheque will
show that you, Lord Manningtree's private secretary, know all about
this Elias Smyth' business. You have only to be cool, to decline to
answer questions, to demand to know whether you are going to get the
money for the draft or not. And one thing you may be certain of, so
long as you don't say too much, and display your power cautiously,
Schreiner and Co. dare not do you any harm--least, not till they know
what you know. Don't you see that I am showing you a way to draw their
teeth? Still, if you are afraid to go----"

And Lionel paused significantly. Dick looked from the cold,
expressionless face of Lady Manningtree into the eager, pleading eyes
of Gladys. He said nothing, but those eyes were haunting in their
pathetic glance. And, after all, the girl had been so good to him.

"Give it me," he cried. "I will go at once. Wait here till I return."

Without another word Dick flung out of the room and into the street. A
fast hansom took him as far as the city. He hardened his heart, he was
not going to turn back now. In the bank he took a pen and wrote his
name across the back of the cheque. A clerk took it and handed it to
somebody else. There was a whispered consultation, and then the second
clerk vanished with the pink slip in his hand. Dick's heart was beating
fast, his throat was dry, but his face was resolute.

"A--a little irregularity with the cheque," the clerk stammered. "Will
you be so good as to come as far as the manager's office, sir?"

Dick swallowed a big lump in his throat, and his courage came back to
him.

"Very well," he said. "Will you be so kind as to lead the way?"




CHAPTER XIX.--A BATTLE OF WITS.

Armstrong no longer felt nervous; he had braced himself for the coming
struggle, and, besides, he had the advantage of knowing whom he was
going to meet. He followed the clerk to the back of the big office to
a small room beyond, the doors and sides of which were ground glass,
thus making the place quite private. At a desk there sat a short, fat
man with a big oily face and a huge hooked nose. He was frowning over a
slip of paper in his hand. If he had expected to see any expression of
timidity over Dick's face he was mistaken.

"Good morning," he said, in his oily way. "This cheque has been paid
over to you, Mr.--Mr.--I am afraid I did not quite catch your name."

Dick did not offer the desired information. He smiled as if something
amused him.

"The brain pressure of a huge business like yours must be enormous,
Mr. Schreiner," he said coolly. "It is hardly to be expected that you
should remember the names of everybody with whom you come in contact.
Still, I can scarcely believe that you do not know who I am. May I take
a seat?"

Dick spoke slowly and deliberately. He was a little astonished at his
own audacity. He was playing as if he had all the cards in his hands.
Schreiner paused, obviously puzzled for a moment.

"I have no time for badinage of that kind," he said slowly.

"That is precisely why you might save trouble by remembering me," Dick
retorted. "I shall be glad to save you further trouble. Also, I shall
be glad of the cash for that small cheque on Mr. Smyth's account. Has
the account been closed? Am I to understand that it is overdrawn, and
that you decline to----"

"You are rather an impetuous young man," Schreiner smiled viciously. "I
may as well remind you of the fact that--you see--Mr.--Mr.----"

"You can call me Jones if you like," Dick said. "Is that cheque in
order?"

Schreiner laid the cheque on the desk before him, and regarded it quite
affectedly. For once in his life the big financier was nonplussed. He
knew perfectly well who his visitor was, but he had not expected to
be treated like this. He knew to the uttermost farthing exactly what
Dick owed him; he knew perfectly well that the foolish young man's
papers were a forgery of Lord Manningtree's name; he was quite aware
of the fact that he could send his visitor to penal servitude if he
liked. But he had not dragged Lord Manningtree's secretary into his net
for that; he had a much more cunning scheme on hand. It seemed to him
that the pear was pretty nearly ripe, and that the time had come to
pluck his unhappy victim. He was going to force Dick to turn traitor
to his employer. He had argued, not unnaturally, that a servant who
will commit forgery will be ready for any kind of treachery. There was
a certain amount of delicate ground to be trodden on before the great
Manningtree fortress could be destroyed, and it was just possible
that the ground in question was mined. Dick had, so to speak, been
taken prisoner on purpose to be squeezed of the information. He ought
to have been in mortal fear of Hermann Schreiner, but here he was
in the lion's den, without the slightest signs of trepidation. And,
moreover, he had come to present a cheque on an account that Schreiner
had watched with peculiar fascination. In fact, the financier was
contemplating seriously a gigantic fraud, and was reckoning on the loss
of Manningtree's reason to repudiate the possession of that strange
account altogether. He had made up his mind to use Dick's brains to see
how far it was safe to go. He had meant to send for Dick this very day,
and hold the terror of the law over him. And here he had come on his
own account as if nothing had happened!

Like a flash it had occurred to Schreiner to pretend ignorance of
Dick's identity. But Dick had swept away that cobweb directly. He
seemed very sure of his ground.

"Are you not Mr. Richard Armstrong?" the financier asked, with sudden
change of front.

"You know that I am," Dick responded. "What then?"

"Well, I understand that we are creditors of yours to a large amount.
I recollect it all now. Pray excuse my temporary forgetfulness. In the
pressure of a great business----"

"Oh, I quite understand," Dick said, contemptuously. "I borrowed some
money from your own firm in Fenchurch-street. I deposited certain
securities bearing the name, of Lord Manningtree----"

"And purporting to bear his signature, eh?"

"You speak as if you doubt the signature. Will it not be time to raise
that question when the money becomes due, and when Lord Manningtree----"

"I am coming to that," Schreiner grinned. "You are an exceedingly
clever young man; indeed, I quite regret that you are not on my staff.
I understand that Lord Manningtree is not in a position to say whether
a certain autograph is his signature or not. I regret to hear that his
mental condition is so bad that--in short----"

"That, unfortunately, is an exact description of the case," Dick said
gravely. "But that will not prevent the security of mine you hold being
duly met and paid off when the time comes. If you are in the least
doubt as to your money, I shall be glad to give you a cheque for the
whole amount to-morrow. I know a few of your methods, sir; in fact,
I know a great deal more than you imagine. You have made a certain
accusation against me, and I have a great mind to put you to the test.
Will you be so good as to call a policeman and give me into custody
without further delay?"

"Bless my soul! what for?" Schreiner demanded. His jaw had dropped
slightly. He had lost his assured grin. "What is the boy talking about?"

"Surely you know what I mean," Dick went on. "You have practically
accused me of obtaining a large sum of money from you by a forged
document. I ask you to prove it. I declare that the signature on
that paper is genuine. You say it is not. If it is not, why have you
refrained from proceeding against me? Your name is not exactly a
philanthropic one; in fact, your name stinks in the nostrils of the
city. Let us have this thing out in court; it is only your word against
mine! And I am prepared to discharge your debt this very day if you
think fit."

Schreiner was clearly puzzled. He had all the audacity and rapacity
of his tribe, but he had the cowardice of his class, too. He knew
perfectly well that the power he had over Dick lay within the four
corners of a forged document. He knew that the paper was forged.
But it was impossible to prove it. To do so it became necessary to
call Lord Manningtree, who was not in a condition to get into the
witness-box. Nor did he himself desire to come in such close contact
with Manningtree. The whole thing was maddening and disappointing to
a degree. Schreiner had expected to meet Dick in his private office
in the course of a day or so, and dictate his own terms. He was
going to have Armstrong for his own, body and soul. And here was the
young secretary defying him, and offering to put down ten thousand
pounds within the next few hours, as if he had been a millionaire.
And Armstrong was not bluffing either--no single man in London could
bluff Schreiner. Then, who was finding the money? Perhaps Manningtree
himself. The German financier was unusually restless and ill at ease.

"We are getting on too fast," he said. "Now, let us discuss the matter,
Mr.--Mr.----"

"Armstrong, you hound!" Dick cried. "Why try and blind me in this way?
I thought you were a busy man, that you had other work to do. Why do
you keep me here like this? Why do you pretend that that cheque is not
in order? The point is this. Are you going to give me the money for it
or are you not?"

Still Schreiner hesitated. He did not know which way to turn, and the
worst of it was that he had no time to make up his mind, no chance of
scheming for safety.

Schreiner lay back in his chair and regarded Dick with an eye of
almost fatherly kindness. As a matter of fact, the great financier was
absolutely nonplussed and utterly at his wits' end what reply to make.
Never before, in the course of his life, had he been pushed so hard,
and that by a young man whom he had hitherto regarded as little removed
from a fool. He had expected to make Dick one of his tools, and to send
him out of the office presently pale and trembling, and utterly at the
mercy of the man who held his safety in the hollow of his hands.

And yet, strange as it seemed, this little programme was not working
out in the least as Schreiner had intended. With his knowledge of the
world and mankind generally he realised now that he had a strong force
to deal with, and must lay his plans accordingly. But that wily brain
refused to act now.

Dick lay back in his chair, studying the ceiling and whistling softly
to himself. He did not notice that Schreiner's bland gaze had suddenly
turned to one of deep malignity. If the financier could have murdered
his antagonist and got rid of his body without fear of detection he
would have done so at that moment with the greatest possible pleasure;
but the unconscious object of his wrath sat there as if nothing were
the matter, and he was just waiting for an expression of opinion on the
part of Schreiner.

"You need not hurry," Dick said coolly. "Take your time, my dear
sir. I always find myself that matters of this kind are all the more
satisfactory for a little profound thought. My time is more or less my
own this morning, so you will not inconvenience me."

Schreiner's yellow hand crushed on the paper on the table. The blood
rose to his face until the veins in his forehead stood out like cords.
Only by the greatest effort did he restrain his passion and the rage
that filled him.

"You are a clever young man," he contrived to say, though his voice was
hoarse and thick--"an exceedingly clever young man, and in a business
like mine I always have vacancies for promising youths with brains like
yours. There are thousands of young fellows in London who would give
their ears for a chance such as I am disposed to offer to you at this
moment. Do you understand?"

"I think so," Dick responded. "You are offering me a position in your
office at an exceedingly good salary."

"That's it," Schreiner said eagerly. "An excellent salary. In fact,
you can nominate your own, and what is more, I am prepared to take you
without a character--you heard what I said--'without a character'--and
no questions asked as to your past. I think that would be a very nice
way out of the little trouble which has arisen between us. Do I make my
meaning quite clear?"

"Brutally clear, if it comes to that," Dick replied, with a little
extra colour in his cheeks. "I see exactly what you are driving at;
but then, you see, I already have an excellent situation, in a great
firm which enjoys a reputation which is, well, let us say, a little
different from yours. I have no desire to hurt your feelings, but,
painful as it is to me, I must decline your offer. Now let us get back
to business. Are you going to give me this money? I have detained you
quite long enough."

An ugly look came over Schreiner's face again, and still he hesitated.
He could not but admire the cool way in which Dick was taking it all.
His voice was thick and husky.

"Do you care much whether I refuse or not?" he asked.

Dick smiled at the amazing ineptness of the question. It was not worthy
of the great reputation of his antagonist. It spoke so terribly of a
disposition to climb down.

"I don't care two straws," Dick said. "You see, the amount is so very
small."

The amount was small enough, but the issue was tremendous. And this
young man appeared to have such great reserve forces behind him. For
all he knew to the contrary, he might be standing at the mouth of a
terrible trap.

"You are so impatient," he said. "That is the worst of dealing with you
young men. You should take a loaf out of the book of that excellent
chief cashier of yours, Mr.--what is his name? A most exceptional man,
Mr.--Mr.----"

"It must be a terrible thing to have a memory for names like
yours," Dick said drily. "I presume you are alluding to Mr. Wilmer.
Unfortunately, Mr. Wilmer is not at the office just now; he is confined
to the house by a dangerous illness. But Mr. Wilmer is not quite the
staid old gentleman you take him to be. A few years ago he was quite a
confirmed theatre-goer. I daresay it would surprise you to know that he
is the husband of one of the cleverest of our actresses."

"Indeed!" Schreiner muttered uneasily. "You surprise me. The name of
the lady?"

"Oh, that dreadful memory of yours! Of course you have heard of Miss
Kitty Cromarty?"

"They are still living together, I presume?" Schreiner asked. His oily
face oozed, the hand that held the cheque was trembling slightly.

"I don't think so," Dick replied. "These marriages seldom prove a
success. And our saintly Wilmer has a temper of his own; has been known
to indulge in violence, I believe. But, really, this pitiful scandal
cannot interest you, Mr. Schreiner. That little cheque----"

Schreiner rang his bell with unnecessary violence, and a clerk entered.
Schreiner pointed to the cheque on the table and asked Dick how he
would have it, in notes or gold.

"Notes," Dick snapped, promptly. "Always take notes for everything over
five pounds, Mr. Schreiner. One can trace notes, one can prove where
they come from. That is a lesson that every boy should learn as soon as
he mounts the office desk."

Schreiner brought his yellow teeth together with a click. He would
have given half his worth at the present moment to look into the back
of Dick's mind. The clerk vanished, and an awkward silence followed.
It was destined to be broken presently in a striking and dramatic
manner. Another clerk appeared, his shadow on the ground glass followed
by another and more portly one. Then the door opened and the clerk
announced the name of the new visitor with becoming reverence.

"The Earl of Manningtree to see you, sir," he said.

Schreiner sprang to his feet with a snarling oath that was instantly
suppressed. He was too agitated to notice Dick's white, scared face.
There in the doorway stood Manningtree, a little pale and drawn, but
with the fine, intelligent face full of vigour and all the light of
reason in the keen grey eyes.

"This is a surprise," he said. "What are you doing here, Armstrong?"




CHAPTER XX.--MORE LIGHT.

"I came here on a little matter of business, my lord," Dick said, as
coolly as possible. "It was in connection with a small cheque that had
come into my hands. The cheque was drawn in favour of someone by a
certain Elias Smyth. You may know the name."

"I seem to have heard it before," Lord Manningtree said, indifferently.
"If you have quite finished here. I should like to have a few words
with Mr. Schreiner."

"Half a minute," the German gasped. He began to see his way to strike
a blow. "There was another little matter that Mr. Armstrong has
forgotten. He is a creditor of mine to the extent of some ten thousand
pounds. I have the security here where I keep all my valuable papers.
The signature purports to be yours, Lord Manningtree. Would you like to
see it?"

Lord Manningtree nodded in an absent kind of way, and Schreiner struck
noisily on the bell again. Dick stood there with his eyes on the floor.
Why had he not gone before--why had he waited after the victory had
been his? He knew now that he was undone, that in a few minutes he
would stand confessed as a trickster and a cheat. He forced himself to
raise his eyes and look the sneering Schreiner full in the face. His
heart seemed to stand still as the blue slip of paper was produced and
handed over to Lord Manningtree, who glanced at it once and laid it
with a suggestion of dismissal on the table before him.

"Well," he asked coldly, "have you anything to say in the matter?"

"Of course," Schreiner stammered. "If your lordship is satisfied with
the signature----"

"I have seen better specimens of the family handwriting," Manningtree
said, in his cold, polished way. "But it will suffice. So long as my
name is good in the city that paper is a valuable asset. If you like to
mention a liberal discount I will be prepared to buy, Mr. Schreiner.
Armstrong, be so good as to go to the office and wait for me. I shall
not be long."

Dick crept away through the bank and into the street, with the haziest
notion as to how he got there. He was conscious of a feeling of amazing
exultation, a great reaction of spirits. He had expected something
so very different from this. He had not looked forward to seeing
Manningtree in the city again. And here he was, apparently strong and
mentally elastic as ever. For some time Dick sat in the private office
of his chief trying to work the tangled problem out. He was still
engaged with the puzzle when Lord Manningtree came in. He dropped into
a chair and hid his face in his hands for a moment.

"Bolt the door," he whispered. "Don't let anybody come in. I am
exhausted to the verge of utter collapse. Put your hand in my left
breast pocket; you will find a little bottle there. Pull the cork out
and pour the contents down my throat. I shall be better presently."

Dick did as desired without question. He saw the grey tinge fade from
the intellectual face, he saw the vacant eyes clear and resume their
light of reason. He waited for his chief to speak. His voice was still
weak, but it recovered as he proceeded.

"I saved you from gaol to-day," he said, with a certain sternness. "In
all the city of London at the present moment there is no luckier young
man than you."

"I--I know it," Dick stammered. "My lord, if you only knew how
sincerely sorry I am----"

"Yes, yes. I believe that firmly. If I had not believed it I would not
have put out my hand one inch to save you. I heard all your story a
little while ago. But we need not go into that at present, for I need
all my strength for other things. Do I look like a madman, Armstrong?"

Armstrong could, with truth, deny this suggestion. Manningtree smiled
sadly.

"I am a madman," he said. "As a matter of fact, I have been mad for
years. For years I have had a soft spot in my heart for the average
madman, for I am one myself. But the world never knew, the world never
guessed it. The truth was known only to my poor wife, my man Bates,
and, latterly, to Wilmer. And do you know what was the bottom of it
all?"

"I have not the least idea, my lord," Dick stammered.

"Drink. The hereditary curse that came to me from my father. Mind you,
I was no weak fool who loved the bottle, and who could not keep from
it. For months at a time I was as rabid a teetotaller as the wildest
enthusiast who ever sported the blue ribbon. But the curse was in my
veins; I could not rid myself of it. My wife had to leave me and save
her life--I punished her by taking away her child. If she had gone into
a court of law and exposed me she could have resumed a mother's rights,
but she was too loyal a wife for that. Then I threw myself heart and
soul into work; I built up the business that I have about me. I was the
great philanthropist, the admirable Lord Manningtree, to the world--to
myself I was the savage drunkard, who only kept body and soul and
reason together by the aid of drugs. That those drugs would absolutely
sap my reason I never for a moment doubted.

"When I saw the grim shadow so near it was my obvious duty to transfer
this vast undertaking of mine to other hands. But I could not do so!
I could not rob myself of the one thing that kept me from the grip of
the fiend. And gradually I developed what might be called a dual mind.
There was the invalid Lord Manningtree on the one side and the creature
Elias Smyth on the other. We are two separate creatures in one body.
Elias Smyth was crafty and cunning; he drew large sums of money out of
the business and opened an account at that rascal Schreiner's bank.
Mind you, my alter ego did not know that Schreiner had an interest in
the German Bank; it was chosen because of its foreign nature. Just for
the moment I am in full possession of my senses, and I really can't
tell you what that cunning Smyth was going to do with that money. And
I allowed this Smyth not only to nearly wreck my glorious ship, but
to play into the hands of my deadliest foe. I tell you that I, Edward
Manningtree, am not in the least responsible for what Smyth did. I
should have become a mere helpless wreck, a mere husk of humanity,
had not my wife come to see me to-day. For the time being the shock
pulled me together. Your friend Harvey told me everything. That is why
I resolved to see Schreiner and ascertain how things stood. I did not
expect to find you there, but when I did I lost no time in telling a
good sound lie for your benefit."

"The clerks of that bank now recognise you as Elias Smyth?" Dick
inquired.

"I think not; Elias Smyth wore glasses and a wig. At least, that seems
to occur to me, as if I saw him so in a dream. Mind you, the name of
Elias Smyth was not mentioned by me to Schreiner to-day. That rascal
knows all about my weakness; he thinks that my mind is diseased, so
to speak, on some points, and that Lord Manningtree knows nothing at
all about the other man who lives in the same body. In the course of a
few hours I shall lapse back into my old condition. I know as well as
possible that this is a last expiring effort on my part. I think I can
keep up long enough to do the work that is before me. The great thing
is to get all that money out of Schreiner's clutches. If I had died,
or utterly collapsed before the secret of my miserable double life
was found out, Schreiner would never have parted with a penny of that
money. He would have declared that the account had never existed. You
see, till to-day I had never drawn a cheque on the account; it was all
paying in. It was a clever idea of your friend Harvey to get me to give
him a cheque. Did Schreiner dare to say that there was no account to
meet it?"

"He was afraid to," Dick explained. "He played with the thing for a
long time. But I managed at last to get the money--in notes."

"Oh, that was clever of you. Notes can be traced. But we are wasting
precious time, hours that will never be the same to me. As far as I
can judge, Wilmer is at the bottom of all this. It is he who has been
playing into Schreiner's hands; that is proved by what Harvey told me
of that scene in Stonehouse-street. It was probably Wilmer who put the
idea of using the North German Alliance into my head. It was a bold
idea of yours to open the private safe, but the end has justified the
means. Armstrong, you and your friend have saved the good old ship
between you."

"I pray you not to give any credit to me," Dick cried, in genuine
distress. "Consider how I have abused your trust in me, consider how
I have robbed you. And, knowing what a scoundrel I am, I allowed your
daughter to give her heart to me. If you bade me go now and never come
here again it would be no more than I deserve."

"You have saved the ship," Manningtree repeated, in a shaking voice.
"Who am I to judge others? But for you thousands of poor people would
have been involved in ruin. They may be involved in ruin now if we are
not quick to act. I am going to strike quickly, before my mind plays
me false once more. We are going to force a confession out of Wilmer.
I am not going to think of anything else for the present. That drug is
beginning to create in me a strong desire to sleep. And on the result
of that sleep everything depends. My carriage is down the street; take
me to it. To-night you will go down and see Wilmer. Please understand
that you are to see him at any cost; you are to force your way into his
bedroom, if necessary. Ask him, from me, for the keys of the private
safe. I can't say any more at present. I am far too tired."

It was getting late the same evening before Dick reached Brompton,
where Wilmer resided. The house was all in darkness, save for a light
at the back. Looking into the kitchen, the blind of which was up, Dick
could see a charwoman at work. He knocked at the door and inquired for
the master of the house. The slatternly charwoman said Mr. Wilmer was
in bed and could not see anybody. All the servants were out and would
not be back till late. Pretending to be satisfied Dick returned to the
front garden, where he proceeded to hide himself behind a bush. He saw
the light in the kitchen go out at length, and watched the exodus of
the untidy goddess of the scrubbing-brush. Here was proof positive that
nobody was in the house, especially as the charwoman took the key of
the back door with her. Doubtless Wilmer had dismissed his servants,
and in all probability he had his meals out. A thrill of dismay
agitated Dick, as it occurred to him that perhaps Wilmer had quietly
left the country altogether.

But why was that spot of light in the hall, he wondered. He crept round
the house, and found presently that the pantry window was not fastened.
It was all done on the spur of the moment; Dick was inside the house
regarding the dining-room by the light of the small spot of gas in the
hall. The fire was burning, a pair of slippers stood close by, and on
the table stood a decanter of whisky and some soda-water, with a box of
cigarettes.

"He's coming back right enough," Dick muttered. "On the whole I fancy
I will wait and give him something in the way of a surprise. Not at
all a bad room this, and evidently the good Wilmer is fond of flowers,
judging from the condition of that little conservatory. I'll have a
little tobacco to keep me company while I am waiting. I----"

Dick paused, and dropped the cigarette he had taken up. The next moment
he had cause to congratulate himself in not lighting the cigarette, for
there was a rattle of a latchkey in the door followed by the sound of
voices.

So Wilmer had come home with a companion! Dick rose from the armchair
and crept quietly into the little conservatory at the end of the room.
He was going to give no chance away!




CHAPTER XXI.--TWO OF THEM.

It seemed to Dick that he was in for a real adventure now. But he
was looking forward to it with a courage and resolution to which he
had long been a stranger. To begin with, he no longer had the fear
of disgrace before his eyes, the haunting shadow of a gaol no longer
sapped his courage. He had told his story and had been forgiven. The
sweet words that Gladys had uttered still lingered soothingly in his
memory, and he was not likely to forget how cleverly and promptly Lord
Manningtree had rendered Schreiner's efforts to wound him harmless. And
Lady Manningtree also had not a word of reproach for the man who had,
so to speak, come into the family with such a record against him. He
was indeed fortunate far beyond his deserts. Instead of the gaol that
he most thoroughly deserved he had won the love of a girl who, one
of these days, would be one of the greatest heiresses in England. It
was an instance of the blind luck that fortune brings to some people.
But, to do him justice, Dick was thinking nothing of Gladys' money. He
honestly and sincerely desired to lead a better life, and he was going
to do so.

And here was a chance to show his gratitude. So far as he knew the
fortunes of the house of Manningtree still hung in the balance. Hermann
Schreiner was not done with yet; he might have many cunning cards left
to play. Therefore, it behoved Dick to keep his eyes open now, and act
with courage and resolution if occasion arose. He drew back behind a
screen of green leaves and waited.

He saw the gas flash out in the sitting-room, and from his hiding-place
he could follow everything that was going on. He saw the respectable,
smug figure of Wilmer, and the rotund form of Hermann Schreiner. The
door of the tiny conservatory was open, so that it was possible to
hear all that was going on. Schreiner dropped into a chair and wiped
his greasy face. He promptly helped himself to whisky and soda and
cigarettes.

"Funny thing that we should meet at the corner of the road like that,"
he said. "Isn't it rather risky for you to go out just at present?"

"Not a bit of it," Wilmer responded. "I've got rid of the doctor now;
once we had his certificate nothing else was necessary. Then I've
discharged all my servants, and only have a charwoman in by the day. I
lie in bed till dark and then I go and dine somewhere. I've got to do
something to amuse myself."

"Well, mind you be careful," Schreiner uttered. "And now let's talk
business. I didn't get your telegram till an hour ago, and then I came
along----"

"Wait a bit," Wilmer interrupted. "What telegram? I sent you no wire."

Schreiner paused with his glass half way to his lips. The smug,
self-satisfied expression vanished for a moment; there was an uneasy
gleam in his eyes.

"That's queer," he said. "I wish I had brought the message with me. It
was signed with your initials, and requested me to come here to-night,
however late."

Wilmer looked uneasy in his turn. Just at that moment the mystery was
disconcerting.

"I'll bet a hundred I know what it means," Wilmer cried. "It's that
wife of mine. Never was there a more aggravating creature! Just because
I had occasion to box her ears she behaves in this mysterious fashion.
She disappears as if the earth had swallowed her up, she takes no
notice of my advertisements for her to return. And I can't find that
she has taken a fresh engagement on the stage. The night she vanished
in Stonehouse-street she had no money in her pockets. But she is at the
bottom of this."

"I wish that I could think so," Schreiner said, with a puzzled frown.
"You were a great fool to strike your wife that night. Suppose she
had gone off and told everything to the other side? Suppose the
Manningtrees know?"

"Suppose your grandmother, if you ever had one!" Wilmer cried,
contemptuously. "She's simply keeping out of the way to frighten me.
Manningtree is all right--at least he is all right from our point of
view. Never was a thing more carefully managed. I found out that his
mind was going long before anybody else. He used to hide little moneys,
such as sovereigns and small notes; he knew that his brain was going,
and his idea was to escape to some distant part before they could lock
him up. It was I who put the idea of making a nest-egg in his mind; it
was I who cunningly lured him to open an account with your precious
bank. Never a man worked anything more cunningly than that. And now
there's half a million to cut up between us, to say nothing of the
plunder from the wreck of Manningtree and Company! And not a soul knows
where that half-million is. And now you are in a position to compel
that young ass Armstrong to say anything that you please."

"Oh, am I?" Schreiner sneered. "I'm glad you have worked it all out
so carefully. Unless I am greatly mistaken, we've got all our trouble
for our pains. The enemy is awake, my good Wilmer, and the enemy is
being well advised. It's true we've got Manningtree's half-million
locked carefully away in the name of Elias Smyth; it's also true that
up to-day not a penny of that money had been drawn out. To-day a small
cheque was presented for payment. It was a precious good thing that I
happened to be on the bank premises."

"What difference does that make? You refused the cheque, of course?"

"Of course I didn't, you fool! What would the clerks think, knowing all
about the account, as they do? We couldn't juggle with that money until
Manningtree was dead or in an asylum. You wouldn't have me take the
bank staff into my confidence, would you? And, after all, we've got the
money to play with later on--at any rate, I thought so till to-day. I
had given the cashier orders to let me know if a cheque was presented
drawn by Elias Smyth, and one was presented to-day. I asked to see the
holder of the cheque, and he came into my office. Guess who it was?"

"No good at riddles," Wilmer growled, "Get on with the story, confound
you!"

"It was young Armstrong. Came into my office as bold as brass; wanted
to know what was wrong with the cheque, and gave me two minutes to
pay it or not. It was a kind of ultimatum. I tried to gain time, but
he would not listen. He let me know that he did not care two straws
whether I cashed the cheque or not. And there was I in a position to
clap him into gaol at any moment!"

"Well! It seems to me that you had the game in your hands, Schreiner."

"So you appear to think," Schreiner said. "But if you will give the
matter a little consideration, you will see that I shall gain nothing
whatever by taking that course."

"What better course could you have taken?" Wilmer growled. "You know,
as well as I do, that Armstrong is an utter young ass and a coward to
boot. If you had tackled him straight away, as I expected you would, he
would simply have grovelled at your feet and howled for mercy. Oh, I
know the fellow only too well."

Schreiner grinned uneasily as he thought of his recent interview with
Armstrong, and wondered what Wilmer would have said had he been present.

"Now let me just tell you what happened," he said. "Like you, I always
regarded young Armstrong as a craven and a cur, and all the more
contemptible because he was too fond of drink. I expected him to come
in white and shivering, and implore me to give him time to find the
money. But, really, he did nothing of the sort. He was just as bold
as brass, and, for some reason which I can't altogether satisfactory
explain, he does not in the least mind what steps I take. Mind you, the
fellow was in earnest too."

"Bluffing," Wilmer said, uneasily. "The man's conscience was troubling
him, the fear of being found out was ever present before his eyes. The
mere fact that Armstrong should behave in this fashion was in itself a
cause for alarm. I expect you pretty soon brought him to his knees, or
you are not the man I take you for."

"I didn't bring him to his knees at all," Schreiner growled. "I
literally couldn't do it. I don't mind telling you that he got the best
of me from start to finish."

"I never heard such a thing in my life," Wilmer cried, in genuine
alarm. "But you didn't let him off in that easy way? Why didn't you try
bribery? With a man of that class a few pounds means everything. I know
he is in urgent need of funds----"

"I tried everything I could," Schreiner went on. "I even went so far
as to offer him a position in my office, leaving him to name his
own salary. I intimated that we were prepared to take him without a
character and ask no questions about the past."

"And that wasn't good enough for him?" Wilmer asked.

"Even that wasn't good enough for his lordship. He simply laughed in
my face, and told me pretty plainly that he already had an excellent
position in a firm which bears a very different reputation from mine."

"But surely you did not let him down like that? You had the ace of
trumps up your sleeve, and I expect you played it. A mere allusion to
a certain little forgery we know of should have done the trick and
brought our friend to his knees without delay. Don't tell me that the
forgery business was a failure."

"I thought as you did," Schreiner responded, with an uneasy grin.
"I let him know that pretty plainly. He simply defied me, and so
astonished was I that I let him have that money. Then he offered
to redeem his debt in twenty-four hours, and merely laughed when I
suggested that his security was a forgery. I tell you I did not half
like it, but I liked it a great deal less when the door opened and
Manningtree came in."

"Manningtree?" Wilmer fairly screamed. "Manningtree? Man, you are mad!
My late esteemed employer is out of his mind, utterly incapable of
doing anything. Did you send for a doctor or call in the police? If you
didn't, you lost a fine chance."

"Oh, did I? If Manningtree is mad, he has his lucid intervals. He
was as right as you are this evening. Very pale and shaky, but quite
clear in his head. And I could get nothing out of him, nothing at all.
He acknowledged his signature to that forgery of Armstrong's in the
coolest possible way, and never turned a hair when I spoke to him."

"Amazing!" Wilmer muttered. His face was white and damp. "Did he give
any kind of hint as to the business of Elias Smyth?"

"Not a single word. And, of course, I did not dare to allude to it."

"Of course not. In his sober senses, Manningtree would know nothing
about this Smyth affair. All the same, I can quite see why you are
ashamed. Still, Manningtree has nothing to prove that he is Elias
Smyth, with a big balance in your hands."

"Oh, yes, he has. However mad Elias Smyth may be, he could not quite
shake off the business training of his other self, Lord Manningtree.
The first deposit he made with us he asked for a passbook, and that
we gave him. The passbook was made up each time he called until quite
lately, when he forgot to bring it."

Wilmer broke into a chuckle. He seemed to be very pleased with himself.
"Now we are getting on safe ground," he said. "I happen to know where
that bank passbook is. It is locked up in the private safe at the
office. Manningtree has not been at the office for some time, he is
afraid to go there. And he could not open the private safe without my
key. Two keys are necessary, as you know. That is why I stayed away and
pretended to be ill--so that the private safe could not be touched."

"You should have thought of this before," he said. "Isn't it rather
foolish to leave that book there? Something might happen to cause the
opening of the safe; somebody night take the bull by the horns and do
so. And we have enemies all round us who are up to every move of the
game. I should sleep a great deal more soundly to-night if we had that
book out of the safe."

"There's a good deal in what you say," he muttered. "It's very possible
that my wife has been making mischief. Women are queer creatures when
you put them out. And somebody certainly seems to have an idea what is
going on. I've got the master key and the second key of the private
safe in my possession, and I could use it if necessary. I mean to say
that it is possible for me to get into the office at any time of the
day or night. It is no new thing for me to be there very late. What do
you say----"

Schreiner jumped to his feet with a wonderful alertness. "Then come
on," he said. "There is no time to lose. I tell you those people are
on the move, and they've got a master mind behind them. It may not be
Manningtree, and I am pretty sure that it is not young Armstrong, but
the directing force is there all the same. And if they tumble on that
passbook I am as good as done."

Wilmer gulped down a strong dose of whisky and soda, pulled on his
overcoat, and turned down the gas. As he passed out he turned the key
in the dining-room door, leaving Dick a kind of prisoner. He dared to
strike a match and look round the tiny conservatory. There was a little
door at the back leading into the garden. So far everything had gone
quite smoothly. But, as Dick stepped into the garden, somebody rose
suddenly behind him and clutched him savagely by the throat.




CHAFFER XXII.--THE PRIVATE SAFE.

Dick uttered no cry, though the onslaught was as savage as it had been
unexpected. There was nothing for it but to make as good a fight as
possible. As the two men rolled over in the grass a ray of light from a
street lamp disclosed to Dick the features of his assailant.

"Drop it, Lionel!" Dick panted. "Why are you trying to kill me like
this?"

"So it's you," Harvey gasped. "What a fool I am! I came down here at
the instigation of Lord Manningtree to help you. I don't quite know
what his idea is, for he got back home fairly late this evening in a
state of utter collapse. He muttered something about a telegram, and
that you were here looking for Wilmer. That's a bad case, Dick, and
the end cannot be very far off. I came down here to see Wilmer and
Schreiner enter the house, and I waited in the garden. I felt quite
sure that you were somewhere near, and I hung on. When you came out of
that glass box I was so startled that I went for you. However, there is
no damage done so far. Did you hear anything?"

"I heard every word that passed," Dick replied, drily. "I burgled the
house, and waited for our friend Wilmer to come home. I was all the
more delighted to find he had brought his fellow conspirator along. It
was Manningtree who used Wilmer's name and telegraphed to Schreiner. It
was part of some plan of his lordship's. I daresay Bates will be able
to tell us all about it."

"I daresay," Lionel replied. "I doubt if Manningtree will ever be in
a position to help us again. But what are those fellows after at this
time of night? They have just gone out of the gate. I hardly expect
they will get a cab at this time of night."

Dick proceeded to explain. The two friends were walking along the road
together by this time. Harvey chuckled from time to time as Dick told
his story.

"We must see how we can turn this matter to the best advantage," he
said. "Between ourselves, Messrs. Wilmer and Schreiner are going to
have their journey for their pains. I look the liberty of going over
the private safe the night we had the locksmith there, and I found the
passbook that those fellows are after; I have it at my rooms. Still,
there is no reason why we should not follow those fellows and see what
they are up to."

Dick was emphatically of the same opinion. It was a somewhat tedious
journey, but it was safely accomplished at length. It was an easy
matter now to shadow the culprits until they had reached the city and
then follow them to the offices of Manningtree and Co. No sign of the
caretaker could be seen; probably he was sleeping peacefully after the
manner of his tribe. From the glass of the counting-house Dick and his
companion could see Schreiner and Wilmer in the inner office before
the doors of the great safe. There was room for a dozen men inside.
The watchers could hear the rustle of papers and signs that declared a
certain agitation on the part of the burglars.

"I'm afraid it's gone," Wilmer stammered. "It seems to have vanished."

"Are you quite sure that you put it in that particular drawer?"
Schreiner asked.

"Absolutely certain. I never make mistakes in matters of detail.
Heavens! the mere thought of it turns me hot and cold all over. I tell
you I'm frightened, Schreiner."

"Of course you are!" Schreiner said, with a snarl of contempt. "You
have the heart of a rabbit. I daresay you poked the thing in some
other drawer and forgot it. Didn't I see a pair of wax candles on
Manningtree's desk? Go and get them. The electric light is all very
well, but it does not give much light in the small drawers."

Obedient to the request of his leader, Wilmer crossed the floor in the
direction of the office of the head of the firm. Harvey slipped quietly
behind him. His hand went over his mouth, his knee caught the unhappy
individual in the small of the back.

"Not a single word, as you value your life," Lionel hissed. "Dick, go
and close the safe door and lock it. Schreiner has plenty of light in
there and plenty of air. We've got him now in a tight place that he
will have to exercise his wits to get out of. Bring the keys away and
leave him there till morning."

With a grin of approval, Dick hastened to obey. The door of the great
safe shut with a click, there was a jingling of keys, and the muffled
roar of the rascal within. Then the door of the office closed once
more, and Wilmer was slogging down the street like a thief between a
pair of policeman. The wretched man was too dazed and confused to make
any attempt to get away, so he walked sulkily between his captors.

"We had better go to my rooms," Lionel suggested. "They are nearer than
yours, and much more convenient. I am glad, Mr. Wilmer, to see you are
much better. Never was your presence at the office more sorely needed
than now."

The miserable Wilmer made no attempt at response; he was utterly
crushed and beaten. An arrant coward at heart, the situation, so far
as he was concerned, was rendered all the more alarming by reason of
the fact that he had not the least idea of Lionel's identity. And the
latter seemed to know all about him and his ways.

Arriving at length at Lionel's rooms, they deposited their victim in
a chair and gave him his choice in the way of refreshments. He asked
pitifully for brandy, and a little colour crept into his moist, pallid
cheeks as the generous spirit acted. He even made some feeble attempt
to recover his lost dignity.

"This is an outrage, gentlemen," he protested. "Mr. Armstrong I know,
but the other gentleman is quite a stranger to me. What does it
all mean? I am violently assaulted and dragged here as if I were a
criminal. If I chose to call in the police----"

"Which you can do in exactly four minutes," Lionel said, politely. "At
midnight precisely a policeman passes by on the other side of the road.
You will notice that the window is open. You have my full permission to
call out for assistance."

Wilmer promptly abandoned that line of argument. The grim politeness of
Harvey's manner frightened him. He wanted to hear what the latter had
to say.

"I am very glad to find that you are fit for business again," said
Harvey. "You find a little relaxation of assistance to you. But was it
not rather rash on your part to visit a music-hall at the time when you
were supposed to be in bed suffering from a dangerous illness? People
might put quite a wrong construction on that action."

"I did not," Wilmer stammered. "Nothing of the kind, sir. If you mean
to insinuate----"

"Don't try and threaten. You will gain nothing by it. You were seen
to enter the Central Music Hall the other night in company with your
friend Hermann Schreiner. Your friend will be able to explain matters,
perhaps, to-morrow morning when he is released from his prison. But,
surely you have not forgotten the night I mean? If so, let me refresh
your memory. You went back with Mr. Schreiner to Stonehouse-street, and
then you had an unfortunate difference with your wife."

"I have no wife," Wilmer managed to say.

Harvey laughed aloud. There was something in the situation that amused
him.

"Very well," he said. "We will let that declaration stand for the
moment. But there is one thing that you can't deny--you can't deny
that you have been shamming illness at a time when the house you serve
sorely needs your best attention. You can't deny that you are in the
pay of Hermann Schreiner, and that you are doing your best to bring
the great firm of Manningtree and Co. to the ground. You can't deny
that you have taken every advantage of your master's mental affliction,
and that you are quite aware where all the money of the firm has gone.
You went also to look for the passbook given by that German bank to
Elias Smith, otherwise Lord Manningtree. But you might have saved
yourself the trouble, for the book is in my possession. If may be some
consolation to you to know that you did not make a mistake, and that
you did put that book in the drawer where you expected to find it.
As you boasted just now, you do not make errors in trifles. Have you
anything to say to that?"

"I shall be able to explain everything," Wilmer said, with some dignity.

"I am very glad to hear it," Harvey replied drily. "There are two sides
to every story--even to yours. At the present moment you are doubtless
congratulating yourself on the fact that that passbook is not fully
made up, and that you may possibly juggle some of the late payments--at
least, that Schreiner may. But that consolation will be denied you. For
that book is going to be made up the first thing in the morning, before
Schreiner has a chance to leave his hiding-place. You might just as
well save your skin by making clean breast of it. There is no possible
chance of your conspiracy being successful."

Wilmer made no response, he had grown dogged and sullen. After all,
there was just a chance that the clever stranger was trying to trap him
into a confession.

"I decline to say anything, sir," he said. "I don't know who you are to
dare to treat me in this way. I am not in the least likely to run away,
and, in any case, you will always know where to find me. Be good enough
to open the door----"

"Certainly I will open the door," Lionel said, as he rose from his
seat. "But if I do it will most assuredly be to call in a policeman and
explain the circumstances of the case to him. You can have the choice
in the matter, and take either course you like. Otherwise----"

Wilmer collapsed again. He looked from Dick to Lionel with appealing
eyes. There was something more behind this, more unseen danger that
frightened him terribly. He would have given a great deal to know what
it was.

"I am in your hands," he said. "What am I to do? If you will tell
me----"

"Don't keep on interrupting, and your anxious mind will be relieved,
all in good time. In your delicate state of health, a night journey
could not be anything but injurious. Therefore, I propose that you
shall stay here till the morning. In case you should suffer from any
tendency to walk in your sleep, I will lock the door of your room.
After that, you will breakfast with me, and subsequently will have the
pleasure of an interview at the house of a lady who is well known to
you. I daresay that you have not quite forgotten Lady Manningtree, Oh!
I see that you have not done so."

Wilmer started, and appeared as if about to say something. But he held
his peace, and sat there regarding his tormentor with eager eyes.

"If I had asked what you know of Lady Manningtree," Lionel went on,
"you would probably have told me that she was dead, knowing better all
the time. But I am thankful to say that her ladyship is not dead, and
that it was mainly by her efforts that her husband's firm managed to
get over the difficulty of the big money demand of last Saturday. I
tell you this, because I know how pleased you will be to hear it. I
tell you this, also, so that you may have a chance to save your face by
making a full confession of your part in the great conspiracy. There is
another lady at present staying with Lady Manningtree who may help you
to come to a decision to do the right thing."

"You don't mean to say," Wilmer burst out, "that--that--my--I mean
Miss----"

"Miss Kitty Cromarty. Precisely. She is at present the guest of Lady
Manningtree. It is a great happiness to me to bring two loving hearts
together!"




CHAPTER XXIII.--HOME TRUTHS.

Wilmer's collapse was complete and absolute. There was nothing more to
be said. It had been impossible to foresee a disaster like this. All
there remained to him now was to wait and see the best terms he could
make for himself. He no longer doubted that his wife had betrayed the
whole conspiracy.

"It is getting late," he said, sullenly. "And I am very tired. Where is
my room?"

"I will show you," Lionel said. "On second thoughts I shall not lock
you in. Our position is so strong that there is not the least need to
fear your escape. If you do try that kind of thing on, you will have
the detective force on your heels before many hours are over your head.
We shall have no mercy in that case."

Wilmer made no reply; indeed, there was no reply to make. He knew now
that he was absolutely at the mercy of these foes of his, these alert
enemies who seemed to have come unexpectedly from nowhere. He followed
Lionel to a little room on the other side of the corridor, where he
threw himself down, dressed as he was, and tried to sleep.

"I think we've settled him," Dick said. "He is quite under the
impression that his wife has betrayed the whole business. As a matter
of fact, that woman has not been of the slightest assistance to us,
though she may prove to be a valuable witness before we have finished.
Is she in a position to speak yet?"

"I understand she is much better," Lionel explained. "Probably by
this time she knows where she is, and who is looking after her. Lady
Manningtree told me all this earlier in the evening. But you can
ascertain for yourself the first thing in the morning. I shall be glad
if you will go round to Lady Manningtree as soon as it is convenient,
and see how the little actress is progressing. I have a little surprise
for Schreiner, if the lady is in a position to play her part. You can
come back here before ten o'clock and tell me. Now you had better be
off to bed."

Dick was of the same opinion. It had been a tiring day, not to say
an exciting one, and the strain was beginning to tell. Nevertheless,
Armstrong was up betimes in the morning, and it was not long past eight
when he called on Lady Manningtree. The mistress of the house was not
down yet, but Gladys came into the room looking very bright and fresh.
The light of happiness shone in her eyes.

"You are early," she cried. "I hope there is nothing wrong?"

"On the contrary, everything is exceedingly right," Dick smiled.
"Gladys, did you see your father any time after yesterday morning? He
went home to rest. I am very anxious to know how he is."

Gladys' pretty face clouded for a moment.

"He was far from well last night," she said. "The long sleep did not
seem to do him much good. He sent for me before dinner and we had a
long talk together. Dick, my father may be a bad man in many respects,
but he has been very good to us. And, after all, that dreadful curse of
his is most to blame."

"Lord Manningtree is an object of deepest pity," Dick said, gravely.
"I had no idea that he had such a fierce struggle going on always. And
most people regard him as a man distinctly to be envied! If we only
knew the troubles of others!"

"Dick, do you know what the trouble is? Has he ever hinted at the
matter?"

"Never till yesterday. Then he told me practically everything. I
understand that the craving for drink was a black madness. Sometimes
the demon could be conquered, but not for long. And the mental strain
was terrible. Fancy a man so prominently before the public, so trusted
and respected, being a victim to that habit! No wonder that he had to
fall back on drugs to save his reason. Oh, the pitiable tragedy of it,
Gladys! My heart went out to him when he told me. And his goodness to
me!"

"Tell me about it, Dick. I see that there is something that I do not
know."

"It was yesterday. You know how I went off with that cheque, you
know what the idea was. I saw Schreiner himself; he alluded to that
disgraceful forgery of mine. I don't quite know how I managed it, but I
treated him with contempt. You see, I knew that I could find the money
to meet my crime. Schreiner wanted to get me in his power, to force me
to become his accomplice. And when he was still playing with his fish,
the door opened and your father came in."

"Dick! We thought he had gone back to Cardigan Place."

"No, he was at Schreiner's office, Gladys. I have never seen him more
alert and vigorous. Perhaps Schreiner lost his head, perhaps he allowed
his anger against me to get the better of his judgment. Any way, he
spoke of the forgery. I have had many anxious moments in my life, but
never a more distracting one than that. And your father never betrayed
himself by so much as the raising of an eyebrow. He appeared to know
all about it. Even when the forged document was produced he did not
repudiate his signature. I went away with the feeling that I was
treading on air, I was the happiest man in London. And when your father
saw me again he never gave me one word of reproach. And I told him
everything--even that I had abused my position by making love to you."

"I am glad of that, Dick," Gladys murmured. "Very glad of that. Go on."

"Even then there was not one single word of reproach for me. I made
a clean breast of it, Gladys. I did not try to defend myself for a
moment. And your father took it all in the best and kindest way.
He wanted to know who he was that he should reproach anybody. He
recognised the fact that we had saved his name and reputation. It makes
me feel quite queer to think of what might have been."

Gladys' face grew a shade paler. Truly, the exertions of Lionel Harvey
and Dick had averted what might have proved to be a national calamity.
If the great house of Manningtree had gone down, the ruin would have
been widespread.

"Are you quite sure the situation is saved?" Gladys asked.

"Oh, quite. Within an hour or so, that vast sum of money deposited
with the German Bank will be withdrawn and the capital replaced in the
proper channel. You may safely leave that to Lionel Harvey."

"But you have a cunning scoundrel in the form of Mr. Schreiner still to
deal with."

"I had really forgotten Schreiner for the moment," Dick laughed. "But
he is quite safe for the present until we let him out again. It seems
like a page from some sensational story, but Schreiner is locked up in
the private safe at the office."

"Dick How can you be so absurd at so serious a moment. As if it were
possible----"

Dick laughed at the scared expression on Gladys' face. She seemed to
be genuinely alarmed that he should have undertaken so desperate a
step; but Dick was looking quite pleased with himself, and appeared
to think that he had only done what was perfectly justifiable in the
circumstances.

"I daresay it sounds like a page from some extraordinary romance,"
he said. "One of the things we used to read about in the cheap,
sensational stories of one's boyhood. Yet, if you come to think of it,
stranger things happen every day. For instance, Lionel was telling me
of an incident in one of his novels which was very much questioned by
the critics at the time it was published. For the purposes of his story
it became necessary that a man should lie for some considerable time
dead in a public place, where people were constantly passing. It was
held that such a thing was out of the question, that with the vigilant
eye of the police all around nothing of the sort was within the bounds
of reason. And yet only within the last day or so I read in a daily
paper of the highest class that a well-dressed man sat dead in a public
park for over a week without the fact being discovered. You see, he was
well dressed, and leaning back in his seat holding a newspaper in front
of his face. Of course, it seems absolutely incredible; but as the
account of the inquest was given with names and dates, one is bound to
believe it. After an amazing incident like that I don't quite see why
you should discredit my statement that Schreiner is at present beyond
the reach of mischief."

"But what did you do it for?" Gladys demanded.

"We shall come to that presently. It is absolutely necessary that that
man should be tied up for the present. He has managed to tumble pretty
deeply into the pit that he has prepared for others. Oh, my dearest
girl, I shall be so pleased when all this tangle is unravelled and we
can be all happy and comfortable once more. I am longing for the time
to come when I can prove to you that I am an entirely changed man and
that I am worthy of your affection. When I look back to the past and
think how badly I behaved, I am filled with shame and remorse. In my
darker moments I fail to see how you could ever really trust me after
the disgraceful----"

Gladys laid her hand on her lover's lips with gentle tenderness, so
as to stop his impassioned speech. "I don't want you to say another
word," she murmured. "It is only a woman who can understand a woman's
feelings in such matters. Man's love is a different thing altogether.
Does not Byron say 'Man's love is of his life a thing apart, 'tis
woman's whole existence.' I always think how true those words are. If
we are ever going to be happy and peaceful once more, I shall be able
to show you in a thousand little ways how I trust you and how the past
is forgotten. Do not, I pray you, let these morbid considerations weigh
upon your mind. Is it not sufficient pride and happiness to me to know
that I have been the means of your reformation and the channel by which
you have come back into good society?"

Dick kissed the speaker passionately. For a long time neither spoke,
then a little laugh came from Gladys' lips.

"I was thinking of the man in the safe," she said. "Even after your
explanation the thing seems impossible."

"My dear girl, everything is possible. One speaks of this story or
that story being utterly impossible, and yet we take the most amazing
happenings in the daily press as quite in the ordinary course of
events. I tell you Schreiner is locked up in the office safe--Lionel
Harvey is looking after Wilmer. But perhaps I had better tell you the
history of our exciting adventures last night."

It was a lengthy recital, but Gladys did not find it a word too long.
There were many questions to be asked and answered before Dick came to
the object of his visit.

"Now it is for you to tell me things," he said. "Really, I came here
to see how Mrs. Wilmer was getting on. Of course, we have practically
all the evidence we need, but in dealing with a man like Schreiner
it is just as well to have as many strings to the bow as possible. I
understand that Mrs. Wilmer is much better."

"In a way, she is," Gladys explained. "She is quite clear in her mind
now, she knows where she is and who is about her. When she found that
out she seemed worried about something. She cried a good deal. And she
refused to give any account of herself. Perhaps you would like to see
her after breakfast? Have you had any breakfast?"

Dick replied quite cheerfully that he had not had time to think of it
even. So far as he could see, there was no particular hurry for an hour
or so. He would be very pleased to join Lady Manningtree and Gladys
at breakfast. Lady Manningtree was very kindly and gracious, and was
profoundly interested in the adventures of the previous night, while
there was something like a tear in her eye as she heard of the business
of the forged security.

"Gladys is none the less dear to me because I have seen so little
of her," she said. "And you are a very fortunate young man, Dick--I
suppose I shall have to call you Dick for the future. You are not the
ideal match I should have picked out for Gladys, but in this world one
never gets all one wants. Still, my troubles and misfortunes have made
me very tender to the faults of others. You have your chance now, Dick;
if you betray your trust it will be a matter between your Maker and
yourself."

Dick kissed the hand of the speaker. "Heaven helping me, I'll do my
best to wipe out the past," he said. "I ought to have been punished, I
should have suffered for all my guilt, whereas it is others who have
suffered and I have escaped altogether. But I won't talk, I won't
promise. I'll try and perform. And, now, don't you think that I might
see Mrs. Wilmer?"

A few minutes later Dick was ushered into a little sitting-room
upstairs. It was his desire that he should see Kitty Cromarty alone.
She was lying back in a chair, a look of sadness in her blue eyes. All
her vivacity seemed to be gone. She regarded Dick with an expression of
doubt and some tinge of suspicion, too.

"I am afraid I am going to be a little troublesome," Dick said. "You
will forgive me because I was indirectly the means of bringing you
here. You see, I happened to be outside No. 19, Stonehouse-street,
the night you quarrelled with your husband. I do not want to give you
unnecessary pain, but your illness was the result of a blow."

"It was," the woman replied. "But how could you possibly know that----"

"I do know it, you see. In fact, you told me. You also told me who
your husband was. I need not say that I was considerably surprised to
get the information. I should never have associated the vivacious and
popular Miss Kitty Cromarty with so prosaic an individual as Mr. Ernest
Wilmer, of Fenchurch-street. But if you desire to be avenged for that
cowardly blow, you are likely to get your wish. In all probability, Mr.
Wilmer will find himself in gaol before the day is out."

There was a queer, pathetic look in the woman's blue eyes. "I don't
quite understand," she stammered. "What has my husband done?"

"Let me ask you a question before I reply to yours," Dick said,
gravely. "Do you know where you are? Do you know the names of the
people who have been kindness itself to you? Do you know what would
happen to thousands of people if the great firm of Manningtree and Co.
were involved in ruin? Is that all plain to you?"

"Yes," said the woman, in a whisper. "I know all that. And your point
is----"

"That you were a party to a conspiracy to bring that ruin about. The
least you owe to Lady Manningtree is the truth, and nothing but the
truth."




CHAPTER XXIV.--OPEN SESAME!

The blue eyes flashed just for a moment, there was a suggestion of
demureness in them.

"You will have to be a little more explicit," the actress said. "What
have I done?"

"You have been a party to the conspiracy. Have you forgotten all about
the money of yours that was deposited in the hands of Lord Manningtree?
You were a poor, friendless orphan who appealed to his lordship to
take your little money and see that it was not stolen by the countless
thieves who are always looking out for that kind of spoil! Have you
forgotten how you asked for your money back for the sake of your
unfortunate brother in Australia? Have you forgotten that after that
cheque was paid to you you kept it for three days? Why did you keep it
for three days? Shall I tell you, or will you be so good as to save me
the trouble?"

"The bank would not cash it," Mrs. Wilmer said, demurely. "Don't forget
that."

"I am not likely to," Dick said, drily. "You were greatly disappointed,
no doubt?"

The listener laughed; it was impossible to take her too seriously. Hers
was not the nature to feel anything deeply. Her emotions were all on
the surface.

"I want you to tell me everything," Dick went on. "My friends have been
very kind to you, and you certainly owe them something. Confess it now,
did not Mr. Hermann Schreiner give you the money that you, the poor
orphan, paid over to Lord Manningtree?"

The woman hesitated just for a moment. She was evidently thinking of
herself. "I am afraid it is no use protesting my innocence with you,"
she said, slowly. "You seem to know too much. Mind you, I'm not quite
so guilty as you imagine. And if I tell you everything, you will not
use the information against me afterwards?"

"I give you my word of honour that you shall not suffer at all," Dick
declared. "You shall leave this house to-day, if you choose, and we
will not make the faintest effort to follow you. To be perfectly
candid, I was following you the night of your accident. Mr. Harvey,
whom you met in Cardigan Place, suspected your ruse over that
cheque, and he got me to follow you. I did follow you; I saw you
go to the music-hall with Schreiner, and I saw you all go back to
Stonehouse-street. It was yourself who told me all about your marriage
name. You were in a plot to ruin Lord Manningtree, the cheque was to be
held back until it was impossible for it to be met, and you were going
to make a scene. Mr. Harvey prevented that, and you had to go back to
your friends for another plan of action. I suppose it never occurred
to you that you were party to a scheme which was likely to involve
thousands of helpless people in utter ruin."

The listener opened her blue eyes to their widest extent. "I'll swear
I didn't," she said. "I didn't know that. I understood that Lord
Manningtree had slighted Schreiner, and that the latter wanted his
revenge. I was to get a hundred pounds if I carried out a certain
programme. And I was prevented by Mr. Harvey, as you call him. I was
very vexed, because I don't like to be beaten. And then they suggested
another scheme that I did not like, and I refused to have anything to
do with it. I don't know anything at all about the business, and that
jargon did not interest me. I had failed in my comedy, and I had lost
my hundred pounds. When the other proposal was made I refused to touch
it, and my husband lost his temper and struck me. After that I don't
recollect anything."

Dick listened critically to this recital. On the whole, he was disposed
to believe it. There was an air of truth in the statement.

"You would not remind repeating this before your husband and
Schreiner?" he asked.

"Not at all," was the eager reply. "Let me come face to face with those
men, and you will see. So far as my husband is concerned, I've done
with him. He is a hypocrite and a spendthrift, and I can get my living
on the stage quite independently of him."

"Have you been married long, may I ask?" Dick ventured.

"About four years. I laugh at myself as I think of my folly. It is my
great curse that I always act on the spur of the moment. I was just
a little sick of the stage and at the flattery one gets from fools;
perhaps I was not quite myself. When I met my husband, he gave me the
impression of being very rich; at least, he said he should be rich
before long. And he promised me a place in the country where I could
grow flowers and live in the open air. As if I could stand a life like
that for very long! But I honestly thought that I could then, and I
married Ernest Wilmer. Of course, the marriage was a failure from the
very start; we were both utterly miserable. And that is about all that
I can tell you. Only I want you to believe that I would not do anything
to hurt anybody, spiteful as my nature is sometimes."

Dick replied truthfully enough that he believed every word of this.
After all said and done, he appeared to have attached too much
importance to the doings of the little butterfly. And, after all,
through her he had stumbled on the track of the great conspiracy.

"I won't worry you any more just now," he said. "You said you would
like to stand face to face with your husband and Mr. Schreiner, and,
indeed, I am anxious for you to do so. If I called a cab, do you
think that you would be strong enough to go into the city to get this
interview over?"

Mrs. Wilmer had not the slightest objection; indeed, she seemed
only too anxious for the chance of vindicating her somewhat flimsy
character. She would be ready to go out at any moment, she said.

"All right," Dick replied. "I'll be back in half an hour. You are fond
of comedy, and I shall hope to gratify your sense of humour in that
direction. Meanwhile I'll leave you to rest yourself against the coming
ordeal."

There was a quaint, mock-tragic look on the face of the actress as she
waved Dick away. He could see that she was looking eagerly forward to
the fun of the thing; she had utterly forgotten everything else in the
desire for amusement. Down in the dining-room Lionel was waiting. A cab
stood ready at the door.

"Oh, I can assure you that I have not been idle," Lionel said. "I have
seen Lord Manningtree, and he insists upon coming down to the office.
It is a dangerous experiment, but he will not be easy in his mind till
everything is straight."

"Have you done anything about that North German Bank?" Dick asked.

"That is all settled. I got the passbook made up as soon after nine as
possible, and a cheque for the whole amount will be drawn within an
hour and the money transferred to the account of the company. There
may be a scene, Dick; Lord Manningtree may break down before the whole
thing is over, and if he goes wrong again it will be for good and all.
He told me just now quite seriously and calmly, that he is certain that
the next attack will be the last one. He is only too thankful to know
that everything is left in order. You are likely to have a heavy burden
on your shoulders for the next few years, Dick. You can marry Gladys,
but you won't be able to settle down to an idle life yet."

A look of determination came into Dick Armstrong's eyes. "I shall
take life easy when I feel that I have earned my leisure," he said.
"Providence has been very good to me, Lionel, far better than I
deserve. And I'm going to do my best to prove myself worthy of all
these mercies. But I don't want to cant and preach; I'll allow my deeds
to speak for themselves. Did you tell Lord Manningtree what we have
done in the matter of Schreiner?"

"No, I didn't," Lionel laughed. "I am keeping that for a glad surprise.
I've got Wilmer outside in a cab in a state of tearful penitence. I
only hope that Lord Manningtree will deal severely with that canting
humbug. And how is Mrs. Wilmer?"

"Mrs. Wilmer is quite ready to meet her husband. After all, she is
quite an innocent party, at least, so far as being in the fraud is
concerned. I have had a long talk with her, and I am quite satisfied on
that point. She is ready to come with us."

"Then we will all go down to the office in the same cab," Lionel
declared. "Let's get along."

Wilmer's long, lean face grew still more cadaverous as his wife's
graceful little figure came tripping down the steps to the cab. He
looked red, and hot, and awkward; he turned his face away and groaned
slightly. If he had expected a torrent of reproaches he was doomed to
disappointment. The feather-headed actress was out for enjoyment now,
and was only anxious to get it. She pointed a scornful finger at her
unhappy spouse.

"Look at him," she cried. "Look at the pillar of respectability. So you
thought to make use of me in your dirty schemes. You thought that my
talent would come in useful. Well, I am not going to scold you, I am
going to take my revenge in quite another way. I am going to see the
meeting between yourself and your employer. That will repay me for all
the disgrace you would have put upon me."

Wilmer groaned and turned his head away once more. He was utterly
beaten, and was in a state bordering on collapse. His face grew whiter
and more lank as the city grew near, and he had to be helped out of the
cab at the finish. He staggered along the passage to the private office
at the end, and crawled to a chair under the eyes of Lord Manningtree,
who sat there stern, and calm, and cold, awaiting the coming of the
others.

"Well, you scoundrel," he cried, "what have you to say for yourself? To
think that I should have harboured a reptile like you all these years!
Stand up!"

"I can't," Wilmer whined. "There is something wrong with my legs. If
you only knew, my lord, how deeply and sincerely sorry I am that I have
been----"

"Found out," Lord Manningtree said, curtly. "Oh, you can keep your
seat. I shall have nothing to say to you until the arrival of your
fellow-conspirator, who, I am informed, will be here at any moment now.
Is that not so, Mr. Harvey?"

"That is quite correct, my lord," Harvey said. "As a matter of fact,
Mr. Schreiner is here already. I took special precautions to ensure
his presence on this important occasion. There is a little ceremony to
go through, a little ceremony that may be more graciously performed by
a lady than by a mere man. I am going to ask Mrs. Wilmer to undertake
that little task for us. She need not be frightened; as she possesses
so strong a fund of humour I am quite sure that she will not fail to
enjoy the situation. Dick, the key of the safe."

Very solemnly Dick handed over the key. With a bow Lionel tendered it
to the actress, and indicated the private safe that was let into the
wall.

"Will you kindly unlock that?" he asked. "In that safe is the solution
of the problem. If you listen carefully you will hear the solution
moving. Don't be afraid."

The key clicked in the lock, the great door rolled back, and from out
the brilliantly lighted interior Schreiner staggered, his face white
and set, his eyes rolling with a strange fear. A peal of laughter came
from the lips of the actress.

"Splendid!" she cried. "Dramatic, as I well as humorous. Really, Mr.
Harvey, you are a genius in your way. Let us hear what the problem has
to say."




CHAPTER XXV.--A FINAL EFFORT.

From the woman's point of view, here was a comedy arranged for her
special benefit. She had forgotten everything else in the enjoyment of
the moment. Probably no more remarkable episode had ever taken place in
the city of London.

"Quite a Palais Royal flavour about the situation," the actress
exclaimed. "I did not expect to meet you like this, Mr. Schreiner."

Schreiner wiped the moisture from his face. The prison house had
not lacked air, but it had proved unpleasantly warm, and the German
financier was not slender. He glanced about him angrily, his little
eyes flashing.

"Who is responsible for this outrage?" he demanded. "Lord Manningtree,
I demand an explanation. A man in my position----"

"It certainly is an unfortunate one just at present," Manningtree said,
coldly. "As for myself, I know nothing. I came down here to meet you,
and my friend Mr. Harvey told me that you would not fail to keep the
appointment. He seems to have taken special precautions to that end.
How came you in that safe?"

"I repeat, that it is a gross outrage," Schreiner muttered. "You will
hear more of this, my lord; it will be a matter for the police."

Lord Manningtree smiled coldly. Nobody looking at him at that moment
would have possibly guessed that here was a man whose mind was utterly
gone. His face was pale and set, his eyes had a steady light in them.
And yet he knew himself that the end was very near. The craving for the
drink had gone, the desire for the potent drugs was no longer there.
The next bad turn would be the last.

But Schreiner knew nothing of this. All he could see for the present
was his own ridiculous position and the great danger that lay behind
it. He little realised how near Lord Manningtree was to his end, or
that, though his eye was clear and calm now and his manner collected,
the final collapse might come at any moment. Lord Manningtree stood
there appearing, as he always did, a born leader of men. Never had his
brain been more luminous. Not that he had any doubts himself as to
the final issue, but he was concentrating himself now entirely upon
the business in hand. It was the last recompense he could pay for his
conduct in the past.

Schreiner raved up and down the room, waving his arms and gesticulating
wildly. He was full of savage threats, which had not the least effect
upon those about him.

"If there is a law in the land," he screamed, "I will make you all
suffer for this outrage. A man in my position is not to be treated with
impunity. There was a time when an apology might have been sufficient,
but when--what are you laughing at, woman? Do you see anything to amuse
you in the fact of a man being half stifled in a safe and generally
treated as if he were a clown?"

"I see a great deal that is amusing in it," Mrs. Wilmer responded,
quite coolly. "Speaking from a long stage experience, I don't think I
have ever seen anything much more comical. If you could only see the
expression on your face, I am perfectly sure that you would share in
the general mirth."

Schreiner turned in disgust to Lord Manningtree, and furiously demanded
an apology. The great financier looked at him with cold, critical eyes
which never blinked or varied.

"I am afraid I don't quite understand you," he said. "In the first
place, I should like an explanation of your presence in my private
safe. For a rich man, with a large holding in the country, you must
admit that the circumstances are suspicious. Do you allege that you
were drugged and made a prisoner?"

Schreiner blustered and said something utterly inconsequent. Now that
his first wild anger had left him, he began to see how seriously he had
compromised himself.

"Let us get to the bottom of it," Manningtree said. "How long have you
been there?"

"I have been there all night, my lord, as you are perfectly well
aware," Schreiner spluttered. "And it shall be a matter for the police,
I tell you."

"Quite so; I am quite with you on that head. We will certainly call in
the police as soon as we have had an understanding. How did you get
there? It is a simple question, and it can be answered in a few words."

A sullen red flushed Schreiner's cheeks. It was impossible for him to
explain how he had got there. All his cleverness could not save the
situation. And Mrs. Wilmer was quietly laughing at him all the time. It
was maddening.

"Is there nobody who can explain?" Manningtree appealed to the company
generally.

"Perhaps I had better set the situation going," Harvey remarked. "One
of the leading characters in the play seems to have forgotten his
lines. As a matter of fact, Mr. Schreiner came here last night in the
company of Mr. Wilmer. I may perhaps be allowed to congratulate Mr.
Wilmer on his sudden recovery of health. Those two came here last
right. It was an easy matter for Mr. Wilmer to get into the office, and
it was an equally easy matter to get into the safe. If you will appeal
to Mr. Wilmer, I have no doubt that he will confirm the story."

"That--that--is a fact, my lord," Wilmer stammered. "I was looking for
something."

"He was looking for something," Harvey went on. "He was looking for a
passbook which is the property of one 'Elias Smyth'--in other words
your lordship's. But we need not elaborate that story, because it
is known to us, all of us. It was a waste of time to look for the
passbook, seeing that it was in my possession. I may as well tell Mr.
Wilmer now that we had the safe opened a day or two ago, and that all
the papers are in our hands. Also, I need hardly tell Mr. Schreiner
that the whole of the money paid into the North German Bank in the
name of Elias Smyth has been drawn out and returned to its proper
place. There will he no further opportunity of wrecking Manningtree and
Company."

"Had we better not keep to the safe episode?" Manningtree suggested.

"I beg your pardon; perhaps I was wandering from the point," Harvey
resumed. "To make a long story short, Mr. Armstrong and myself followed
these men here last night. The whole scheme had been overheard by Mr.
Armstrong, who was hiding in Wilmer's house--concealed in the little
conservatory, I understand. They came here to get that passbook. As Mr.
Schreiner happened to be inside the safe when we got here I could not
resist the temptation of locking him in. You see, it kept him out of
mischief till we were ready for him. I don't know what your lordship
is going to do in regard to the matter, but if you want to give the
fellow a lesson, all the materials are at your hand. I should say that
a burglary like this would not be punished with less than five years'
penal servitude."

"I have already thought that out," Manningtree said, in his even way.
"I understand this conspiracy now, from one end to the other. For
years Wilmer has been in my confidence, I trusted him with everything.
Strange that I should make such a mistake in a man, I who am so good
a judge. Wilmer knew all about me; he must have seen that my mind
was beginning to go. He knew also of my great weakness. I can see
everything quite clearly now, though probably for the last time.
Wilmer began to conspire against me, and led me on to place money in
that German bank. That he knew everything connected with that strange,
mental weakness of mine is proved by his knowledge of that passbook. At
the time that I was depleting the capital of my business and bringing
it nearer and nearer to ruin he watched my career. Why? So that he
could share in the plunder with Schreiner here.

"The plan of campaign appears to have been ridiculously easy. It was
rendered all the more so by the way in which I played into the hands of
the foe. It was only a question of how long the firm could stand the
strain. The strain would have broken it down before now but for the
efforts of my good friends here, and another friend who found the money
in the hour of need. But these knaves were not content to wait, they
tried to hurry matters on. That is why the young lady here came to me
and played the part of the poor orphan. I suppose you thought nothing
of the ruin which you were bringing about?"

The woman's face flushed rosy red, and she suddenly forgot the comedy
of it.

"Please do not put it to me like that," Mrs. Wilmer said. "It is
perhaps a feeble excuse to make, but I am not in the least like other
people. All my life through I can never resist a comedy when I see
it. All my friends will tell you that I am more or less irresponsible
for my actions in that way, and when these people came to me I quite
thought I was taking part in some little play off the stage. It is only
since I have discovered everything that I see how criminally foolish
I have been. I am quite aghast when I come to understand that I have
played off more or less of a practical joke on such a great man as Lord
Manningtree."

"Do you regard it in the light of a practical joke?" Manningtree asked,
gravely. "I am afraid your friends are right in declaring that you
are too frivolous to understand the serious side of life. But in my
experience of the world I have met many butterflies like you, and it is
always a mistake to judge them too harshly. Still, you have undone as
much harm as you did, and therefore, in a way of speaking, we must be
grateful to you. I don't think that it is likely anyhow that you will
ever fall into the same error again."

"I am certain I shan't," Mrs. Wilmer cried. "I could sit down and cry
when I think of the trouble my heedlessness might have caused. Whatever
my faults may be, I am always loyal to my friends, especially to my
women friends. It is my greatest regret that in this matter I caused
those of my own sex to suffer."

"Quite needlessly, too," Dick said, severely. "You might have thought
of that before. So far as I am concerned, I can hardly swallow your
story that you had not the remotest notion that the scheme was anything
else than a foolish practical joke."

"I didn't know," she cried. "I swear to you that I didn't know. I
was tricked, like the rest. I am always daring, always eager for an
adventure. And you were pictured to me as a solemn donkey who deserved
to have a lesson. I was to play a certain part, and if I succeeded I
was to get a hundred pounds for my pains. I enjoyed the acting part
of it, but I did not know what I was doing. I never asked. They told
me plausible lies; it was only on the night that I quarrelled with my
husband that I learnt the truth. I was to find out whether your man
Bates could be trusted. Then I understood what was going on."

"I had forgotten all about Bates," Lord Manningtree murmured. "In one
of my flashes of reason I was going to get Bates to do something. For
the life of me I can't recollect what it was now. If Bates had not been
so blindly obedient the thing would never have happened at all. Will
you please to go on, Mrs. Wilmer?"

"I want you to believe what I say," Kitty Wilmer cried. "I may be
foolish and selfish, I may be inclined to like my own way, but I am
not utterly bad; and when I really understood what was going to happen
I refused to have any more to do with it. Then we quarrelled, and my
husband struck me. I fell and hurt my head. I don't know what happened
after that. I believe I was going to find a policeman and tell him
everything. As a matter of fact, Mr. Armstrong found me."

"I had been following you," Dick explained. "I had my sister with me.
We took you to our rooms, and you were subsequently removed to Lady
Manningtree's house. Our idea was to try and get the truth from you
when you got better. But you were a long time, and things were very
pressing, so we had to manage without you. Still, the knowledge that
you were the wife of Ernest Wilmer helped us wonderfully."

All the time Schreiner had remained seated; there was no anger and
indignation about him now. He was looking for some way out of the
difficulty. It had always been his boast that no living man could put
him in a tight place, but he began to see now that the boast was a
wrong one. He could read no mercy in Lord Manningtree's keen eyes.

"No use to stay here any longer," he said, with a pitiful attempt at
speaking easily. "The plot has failed and there is an end of it. Nobody
is any the worse off."

"The plot has failed," Manningtree said, slowly. "Therefore my house
will be stronger than ever. When the truth is told people will
understand better."

"When the truth is told?" Schreiner stammered. "What do you mean
by that? Surely you are never going to let the world know that the
condition of your mind----"

"Why not? The condition of my mind matters nothing now. I shall be past
people's pity and condolence before many days are over my head. It will
matter nothing to me. It may be that I shall not be in a condition
to give evidence against you in the dock, but there will be plenty
of others to take my place. You may go now, Mr. Schreiner, there is
nothing more to detain you for. You know as well as I do that this
has been a vile conspiracy between yourself and Wilmer, and that the
thing is punishable by law. So far as I am concerned, you can go from
here a free man. But I have a certain duty to society, and that duty
is going to be done. You will not be permitted to wreck any more good
businesses, you will bring ruin to no more homes. I spent half-an-hour
at Scotland Yard before I came here, and at the present moment there is
an officer at your office waiting with a warrant for your arrest. There
is no use in your blundering and threatening, the thing is done."

But there was no blustering about Schreiner, for his oily face grew to
a dull green and he opened his mouth as if to say something, but no
words came. Wilmer literally grovelled at the feet of his employer.

"Spare me!" he moaned. "Give me another chance. For all these years----"

Manningtree spurned the writhing form on the floor. There was no mercy
in his glance. "The same remark applies to you," he said. "At your
house another officer is waiting. It is impossible that you may make
good your escape--I shall not try to hide you. I am sorry for your
wife, here, who may need----"

"Nothing, my lord," Kitty Wilmer exclaimed. "I can take care of myself.
In any case, I could never go back to that coward again."




CHAPTER XXVI.--A HAPPY RELEASE.

With a gesture more of the tragedian than the comedy actress, Kitty
Wilmer rose and departed from the office, there being no occasion
for her to stay any longer. Once he had resumed his nerve and his
self-possession Schreiner made for the door. There was just a chance
yet that he might save his skin. It would not do to go to the office,
while to return to Stonehouse-street was equally dangerous. The one
thing in Schreiner's favour was that he did not lack money. It would be
an easy matter for him to procure a disguise somewhere and hide in some
obscure locality whilst he waited for his clerk, whom he could send
a telephone message for. Schreiner ground his teeth as he thought of
what he had lost. He was comparatively rich, he had more money than he
wanted, but his greed for more had been his undoing. He would have to
disappear from England altogether. He turned to find Wilmer beside him.

"What do you want, curse you?" he snarled. "Go your own way and I'll go
mine."

"I have no money," Wilmer replied. "I'm desperate. We are both in the
same boat together, Schreiner. I am your partner in this affair. If
you try and shake me off now, I'll follow you all day and give you in
custody at night. If I go, you go."

Schreiner groaned inwardly. At the same time he could not get rid of
the incubus. Wilmer had spoken no more than the truth--he was desperate.

"All right," Schreiner said, heavily; "come along with me. There's a
place I know--a place where I stayed many years ago when I first came
to London. We'll get a couple of disguises later on, and then slip off
to the Continent. When I get my money, though, I'll give you a few
hundreds and you can go to America. Heavens! how unluckily this has
turned out. And to think that I should have to fly and leave a business
like that behind me! I could sit down on the pavement and howl to think
of it!"

The two struck presently into a shabby street leading off the docks.
So far as England was concerned, they were never seen again. There was
a nine days' wonder in the city, and then the incident was forgotten.
These things happen so frequently.

Meanwhile, Lord Manningtree, with his friends, remained in the office.
There was not much to be said and done now; the others had resumed
their usual routine; the great machine was running on oiled wheels once
more. The house was as firm as ever.

"I have so arranged matters that you will have a high position here,"
Manningtree said, as he turned to Dick. "I planned out the whole thing
last night. It is the best piece of work I shall ever do, and it is one
of my last. Take a pride in the place and see that it does not suffer.
And now call my carriage and let me get home. Come with me, Dick, and
will you, Mr. Harvey, be so good as to go round to my wife's house and
ask her to call at Cardigan Place as soon as possible. I fear that the
air----"

The speaker paused, and slowly made his way to the door. Once in the
carriage his head sank forward on his breast and he appeared to sleep.
By the time he got home he did not recognise his companion. He had
only just a glimmering idea who Bates was. And there was moisture in
the eyes of the faithful servant. Dick decided to remain till Lady
Manningtree came. They placed the unhappy head of the household on a
couch in the library, and left him there at Bates' urgent suggestion.

"He is best left alone, sir," he said. "He's going, sir. I know all the
signs, for the doctor told me what to look for. The morning's business
was too much for him. And I've been a fool, too; I humoured him too
much. I let him go out on secret expeditious whilst I stopped in his
room and took my master's place. But he had a way with him when he
pleased."

Bates slipped out of the room as Gladys came in. She looked anxious and
uneasy, for she could not make anything of the grave face of Dick. Was
anything wrong, she asked.

"No," Dick replied. "Everything has gone off very well. The old house
is on its feet again as firm as ever, thanks to Harvey entirely. He has
worked splendidly; by his own efforts he has beaten those scoundrels.
And your father went through with it to the finish. He is very ill now,
and Harvey has been sent for your mother."

"Oh, I am glad of that," Gladys murmured. "I should like them to be
together again. In spite of all his faults she has never ceased to love
him. And, after all, he was more the victim of a malignant disease than
anything else."

It was some half an hour later before Lady Manningtree appeared. She
sat for some time by the side of her husband waiting for him to speak.
Ada Moberley was by her side. Presently the sick man stirred and opened
his eyes.

"You know me, uncle?" Ada whispered. "You recognise me? And Lady
Manningtree is here. You sent for her. Try and recollect. It is only
half an hour ago."

The effort was a great and exhausting one, but it was made. A weary
smile came over the face of the sufferer. Ada crept quietly away. It
was no place for her. Then Manningtree put out his hand and laid it
over that of his wife.

"I am glad you are here," he said, with a voice a little above a
whisper. "I knew that you would come. It is not for long, and it is
good-bye. Don't you talk; let me do the speaking. You will not reproach
yourself because you left me--the wonder to me is that you stayed as
long as you did. At one time you were afraid for your life, and you
had occasion to be. In those days I was dangerous. I was mad because I
could not do without that accursed drink. Latterly I have not needed
it. And I loved you with my whole heart and soul. That is why I think
that I should have killed you--to prevent you from knowing and learning
to despise me. And all the time I had the refined cruelty to keep your
child from you.

"Well, you have forgiven me all that, I can read your forgiveness
in your eyes. It was you who saved the old house from destruction.
It is quite safe now. If I were you I should trust young Armstrong
implicitly. He is going to be useful in the future. I am quite sure
that he has a genuine desire to be honest and good. And he loves
Gladys.... If you will be so good as to kiss me once more----"

The feeble voice stopped. Lady Manningtree bent down and laid her lips
on those of the speaker. He sighed faintly and closed his eyes. The
eyes remained closed. There was an ominous stillness about the figure
that caused Lady Manningtree's heart to beat a little faster. She
touched the tired, white forehead and started back. Then, very quietly,
she rose and rang the bell. Her eyes were heavy with tears, her voice
was weak and unsteady.

"Your master is dead, Bates," she said. "Please to send one of the
footmen for the doctor. And you can draw all the blinds now. The end
was very peaceful."

*  *  *  *  *  *

The nine days' wonder was being gradually forgotten. Bit by bit the
whole story had found its way into the newspapers. Everybody had been
talking of the disappearance of Schreiner and Wilmer, the history of
the great conspiracy had been told in all the press. Everybody knew now
of the strange life that Lord Manningtree had been leading, and how the
great house had recovered its missing capital. As Dick had more or less
expected, the story had done the firm more good than harm. Never had
its credit stood higher than it did at that same moment. And within a
fortnight of the funeral of the great philanthropist the whole machine
was moving quite smoothly again.

Lady Manningtree had gone off to a quiet little place in the country.
She was not coming back to London for the rest of the summer. And she
was happy in her way. She was looking forward to peaceful declining
years.

It was Saturday evening, and she had all the young people with her.
Gladys and Dick had wandered off to look at the sunset, and Lionel and
Elsie remained on the verandah.

"Are you going to take a holiday this year?" Gladys asked.

"Impossible," Dick said, with a business air that caused Gladys to
smile. "Too much to do. I daresay I could manage a fortnight in
September. I have been talking over matters with your mother, Gladys;
she will give us the house in Cardigan Place. I have suggested that she
should come and live with us, but she will not hear of that. All the
same, she is very anxious to see us married. Of course, it will have
to be a very quiet wedding, but it will not be any the less happy for
that. Then we could come back to Cardigan Place for the winter, and
perhaps have a good long extra honeymoon in the summer of next year.
Gladys, I am a fortunate man, far more fortunate than I deserve. That
makes me long for more. Shall it be in September, or shall we wait for
a year?"

"It shall be just as you please, dearest," Gladys whispered. Her face
was turned to the west, so that the amber light of the sunshine flooded
her features. Dick caught her to him and kissed her lips passionately.
Truly, he was a fortunate man, fortunate beyond his deserts. "Dick, let
us go and tell mother. I know she will be glad, and I shall be glad,
too, for a chance to make the old house less gloomy. How I used to hate
it in the bygone days, and declare that I could never be happy there.
And now----"

Gladys paused and smiled at her lover. There was no occasion to say
any more. And there was no occasion either to say anything to Lady
Manningtree. She could judge of what had happened by the faces of the
pair.

"So that is settled," she laughed. "Come and let us discuss details. I
need not ask if Dick has got his way about September."

Elsie and Lionel strolled away, feeling that their services were no
longer needed. Elsie stopped to pick a rose and held it to her dainty
face.

"I love the country," she said. "I wish that we could stay here always."

"Why not?" Lionel asked. "We can do as we please. My book is done, and
my good name is my very own once more. I feel quite sure that Dick and
Gladys have settled affairs to their mutual satisfaction. I can do my
work as well here as anywhere, I have plenty of money to furnish my
house, and a good prospect before me. Why shouldn't we have a quiet
double wedding down here early in September?"

"Lionel!" Elsie said severely. "You have been conspiring with Dick. I
hoped there were not going to be any more conspiracies and all that
kind of thing. And I should like it immensely. I little thought at one
time that we should ever come together again. It was a blessed day
for me--it was a blessed day for all of us when I set out on that mad
expedition to see the novelist, 'Rodney Payne.' We will be married when
you like, Lionel."

"Then let me tell you a secret," Lionel laughed. "I settled it with
Dick last night. Give me one of your sweetest kisses as a sign of
forgiveness. You shall both be married at the same time, and you shall
wear white for the auspicious occasion. And, as a present for the other
bride, guess what I shall give her?"

Elsie burst into a merry laugh, her eyes shining with happiness. "I
know," she said. "I have guessed. I had forgotten all about them
for the time being. You are going to make her a present of the
family--the--emeralds."



THE END.


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