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Title: The Grey Woman (Sinister House) Author: Fred M. White * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1402061h.html Language: English Date first posted: May 2014 Most recent update: Aug 2015 This eBook was produced by Maurie Mulcahy. Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au
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For many years it was thought that no copies of Fred M. White's novel The Grey Woman had survived. It is not available at AbeBooks, and WorldCat has no catalogue record of the book at any participating library. Then, in the summer of 2015, P.F., a bibliophile friend of RGL's, tracked down an original print edition and donated PDF image files of the book to RGL for processing and publication. A comparison of the text with other Fred M. White holdings at Project Gutenberg Australia and Roy Glashan's Library revealed that The Grey Woman is, in fact, identical with Sinister House, which was posted at both sites in May 2014 as "a newly discovered novel" (which at the time it was). The discoverers were the Fred M. White collectors Lynn and Maurie Mulcahy, who produced an e-book of Sinister House from the serial version published in the Australian newspaper The Newcastle Morning Herald and Miner's Advocate in 1929. PGA and RGL now present a new, reformatted edition of the book under its original title. —RG.
Ex-Company Sergeant-Major George Verily, V.C., took the early morning tea tray, with its orange pekoe and the thin toast, from the pretty parlourmaid, and proceeded to the Captain's room. It was almost part of George's ritual to speak of his employer, Mr. Joseph Musgrave, as the Captain. In point of fact, Musgrave had been no more than a mere private in the Great War, and the man who now served him as a valet and factotum had been his superior officer. And when the strife was over, Joe Musgrave had come back to something a little better than mere civilisation, and had taken George Verily with him, and the latter had remained more or less in command of Number 4 Mayfair Mansions ever since. Some of these days George would probably marry Mary Cotton, the parlourmaid, and start an establishment of his own. Meanwhile, he was perfectly content to serve a kind-hearted and generous master, who was wise enough in his day and generation to appreciate a really good servant when he had one.
Verily had started life in a small tailor's shop somewhere off Holborn. There he had learnt the art of repairing and pressing clothes, and the general care of wardrobes belonging to the minor aristocracy, who had to be careful in such things. There had been a time when George had cherished certain vague ambitions, but, four years of Armageddon had knocked all that out of him, and he was only too glad when the time came to avail himself of the offer that Musgrave had made him.
Between the two there was a kind of half-intimacy that was not displeasing to George Verily. He had a fine appreciation of the lighter side of inconsequent humour, in which Musgrave was a past master—not an unusual flair in a man who enjoys perfect health and an income which is more than his needs, despite the stern demands of the super-tax collector. So, for five years or more, this queer, lopsided friendship had gone on, much to Verily's benefit, and was likely to continue until Musgrave abandoned his bachelor habits and settled down to what he himself called fettered responsibility. And certain events which had recently come under the eye of George Verily, led him to believe that such a contingency was not so remote as he and the pretty parlourmaid, Mary Cotton, had imagined.
Verily stole on respectful tip-toe into his master's bedroom and drew back the blinds, letting in the sunlight of what promised to be a beautiful morning. He approached the bed with its luxurious hangings as Musgrave opened a pair of sleepy blue eyes and came back to the consciousness of his splendid young manhood. He sat up, a towsled figure in orange silk pyjamas.
"Morning, George," he said. "The tea. Ah, yes. Nice morning. What am I going to do to-day?"
"Well, sir," Verily murmured. "Your birthday, I think, sir."
Musgrave took a gulp of his tea and those fine white teeth of his bit into the crisp toast.
"By Jove, so it is," he exclaimed. "Another of those dashed things, George. Why, I think I remember having one just a year ago. Am I thirty-three or thirty-four? Dashed if I don't forget which. Milestones, George, milestones on the road of life. It's a solemn thought. According to all the philosophers and writers who devote themselves to showing us the path of progress, I have reached a time when youth must be served. At least, so they say, though they take dashed good care to keep youth in the background as much as possible. But let's get back to more serious things. What did I tell you I was going to do to-day? I expect you to remember these things, George."
"I do my best, sir," Verily said, with a solemnity fitting the question. "You were going out this morning to buy a wedding present for the Honourable Lionel Desmond."
"Ah, yes, so I was. Extraordinary thing, George, how the spirit of adventure lures us on. Here is Desmond, with everything he wants, plunging headlong into matrimony, much in the same spirit as a man trying a new brand of champagne. It might be my own fate one of these days, George."
"I should think that it is extremely likely, sir," Verily said. "You always were venturesome."
"Venturesome!" Musgrave laughed. "That is rather good, George. But these modern girls, eh, what?"
George was under the impression that there was not very much wrong with the modern girl, if you regarded her from the proper angle. He might have said a good deal more had he been inclined, but, after his modest opinion remained silent.
"And what else was I going to do?" Musgrave asked.
"Take a lady out to lunch, sir. Then spend the afternoon on the new ice rink. And then, unless I am wrong, sir, you are dining at the Cosmopolis with Miss Pamela Dacre and Miss Daphne Lyne, together with Mr. James Primrose. And I think you said something about going on to a dance-club afterwards."
"Perfectly right George," Musgrave agreed. "I remember it all now. Turn on my bath water and get the boxing gloves out. We'll just have ten minutes with them before I bath and breakfast. That will do."
So Musgrave and his man set to heartily, after which followed a hearty breakfast, and then, beautifully turned out, Musgrave sauntered into the sunshine with the intention of making a purchase or two and spending an hour or so at the club.
He found himself presently in a by-street off Soho. He was going to buy a wedding present for a friend without having the least idea as to what shape the present would take, which is a frame of mind common to most people in search of wedding offerings. Cigarette cases and cuff links and waistcoat buttons wandered through his mind. For a little time he stood outside an old curiosity shop studying the various treasures in the window. Presently an object there attracted his attention. He turned resolutely into the shop and asked to see the platinum watch chain in the window. A little man behind the counter with a huge hooked nose and a curious accent laid the chain before his prospective purchaser. He knew his business, did the Jew dealer, so that, in a minute or two there were other tempting objects displayed before Musgrave's eyes. There were not many of these, but Musgrave could see that they were choice. He had an eye for that sort of thing, so he was not a little interested.
"I'll take the chain," he said. "How much did you say it was? Seventeen pounds. Yes. Here, what's this?"
As he spoke, Musgrave's manner changed. He bent eagerly over what appeared to be a shallow gold snuff-box. It was some five inches in length and the same in width, with a thin base and, by comparison, a thick, heavy lid. On the top was some fine filigree work, and, in the centre of it a medallion of a woman's head painted on ivory, and protected by an oval sheet of crystal let into a narrow claw-like frame.
"By Jove," Musgrave murmured. "By Jove!"
"Is there anything wrong, sir?" the little man behind the counter asked anxiously. "You haf seen that case before, yes? It is to you von memory."
"Well, in a sense," Musgrave said. "But I can assure you I have never seen that box before."
"Ve never know," the shopkeeper said. "Ve do our best, but zometime ve get things offered for zale by der thieves. And den the police make trouble. I get him from a zailorman, and because he is valuable, I ask the zailorman his name and address. I give him for that case ten pound."
"And jolly cheap, too," Musgrave laughed. "A very nice piece of work, Old French, I should say. If you will accept a fiver on your bargain, I will take it off your hands."
The man behind the counter hastily agreed, and Musgrave walked out of the shop with the two purchases in his pocket. He seemed very thoughtful as he strolled towards his club.
"It's a wonderful likeness," he murmured to himself. "Making an allowance for the difference in the age and the dress, and the way the hair is arranged, it might be one and the same. There could hardly be a chance likeness like that."
The long day of ease and luxury wore on until Musgrave lounged back to his flat and dressed leisurely for his birthday dinner. He was inviting no more than an old friend and Pamela Dacre, the girl he intended to marry, together with Daphne Lyne. Pamela he had known ever since she was a child. She was one of those peculiar products of modern Society, concerning which so much has been written in the public Press during the last ten years. The typical modern Society Girl who affords so many stray guineas to writers who affect to see in her the coming decay of the British Empire. The bachelor girl, who lives entirely for herself and who has no ideas beyond sport and dancing and the wearing of clothes. The cocktail girl, turning night into day and burning up her physical energy what time she ought to be thinking about the future of the race. There was a certain grain of truth in this, so far as Pamela was concerned, because, so far, she had pursued her ruthless, selfish way along the perilous path without need for the feelings of others. And there was an air of mystery, too, about Pamela Dacre. Nobody quite knew who she was. She had been educated in England and Paris, she was seen everywhere and known to everybody; but who her people were and where she came from nobody cared to ask. She appeared to have the command of considerable money which she derived directly from an elderly lawyer of the Tulkinghorn type who lived in Lincoln's Inn Fields. And because this Hartley Horne was attorney to a score of great country families, and seeing that he tacitly vouched for Pamela's unimpeachable respectability, nobody asked any questions and everybody took Pamela for granted. It is one of the characteristics of the age.
As to Pamela's beauty and charm, there were no two opinions. And as to her birth and breeding the mere sight of her was a satisfactory answer. It was her pose at the mature age of twenty-three to be bored and weary of the world, and as one who had sucked life's orange and found it dry. There were few people who knew what lay under this shallow crust of painted artificiality, but Musgrave was one of them and, though he carefully disguised his sentiments, he had watched over her and cared for her more than a brother during the last three years.
It would be absurd to believe that a girl like Pamela, with her cleverness and her knowledge of the world, was ignorant of Joe's feelings. But whether she was or not, she made no sign, though, sooner or later, she knew that she would have to come to a decision. There was no suggestion that she was lonely or desolate, or that there were times when she bared her soul to herself and asked that self certain searching questions. But these thoughts Pamela kept entirely to herself. And so the pose went on.
It was characteristic of Pamela that she lived in a tiny flat where she was looked after by a mysterious elderly female, and that she came and went just as she pleased. Nobody asked any questions and there was no scandal, simply because Pamela Dacre was just Pamela Dacre and no man could ever boast that she had thrown him a flower or showed him a favour.
But it was not altogether a happy Pamela who came back to the flat, tired out after a day's motor racing on a private track in Sussex and changed into one of her most striking costumes to go out to dine when she would far rather have gone to bed.
It was an hour later that Pamela drifted into the palm lounge of the Cosmopolis with a weary air of one who has been surfeited on Dead Sea fruit. She wanted a watching world to know that she had been everywhere and done everything, that she had shed all her illusions at the early age of twenty-three. There are lots of Pamelas like that in these times, but very few carry it off in the finished way peculiar to our particular Pamela.
She looked so exceedingly pretty and alluring, with her slim boyish figure, the liquid grey eyes, and the rebellious brown-bronze hair clustering round her shapely head. With it all, she had that semi-insolent, semi-patronising air which proclaims breeding all the world over. She seemed to carry all the insolence and courage which go with a score of sheltered generations and the subsconsciousness of race, with it all a sense of power and knowledge, because there were few things that Pamela could not do, and do well. She rode like Diana of the Chase, she could handle a gun with the best of them, and at tennis and golf she was to be taken almost religiously. Small wonder, then, that this spoilt child of the gods should carry herself before the eyes of men and women as if she were the heiress of the ages.
But, to put it quite plainly, she was an exceedingly spoilt young woman, allowed to go entirely her own way since her school days, with more money to spend than was good for her, and only casually looked after by that snuffy old guardian of hers, who sat in Lincoln's Inn Fields amongst the dusty cobwebs, like some bloated old spider whose whole life is devoted to the guardianship of family secrets. Thus, Pamela, as she drifted into the lounge, conscious, as always, of the sensation she was creating.
As a matter of fact she did not want to be there at all. At the last moment she had dragged herself to the hotel, more out of loyalty to Joe Musgrave than anything else, because she had been out in the open all day and had driven herself back to town in her two-seater at a speed which more than once had threatened to land her in serious trouble. Then, tired as she was, she flung herself into the flimsy sketchiness which modern fashion calls an evening frock and had come round to the Cosmopolis, feeling rather more dead than alive.
She dropped wearily into a seat and nodded to her companions who had been patiently awaiting her coming. She was half asleep and made no effort to conceal the fact.
"Cheerio, people," she drawled. "Cheerio. But, tell me, why this atmosphere of gentle melancholy?"
"You are jolly late," Musgrave ventured almost timidly.
"Is that all? I call half an hour's grace a miracle of punctuality. I motored back from Haddon without any tea and when I got home I was almost too exhausted to change. What an ungrateful beast you are, Joe. Daphne, you look topping. Wearing the family pearls, and all."
Daphne Lyne expanded under the compliment. She was much of the same type as Pamela on a less rapid scale. Pretty and rather clinging, the stamp that settles down eventually in some country home to a life of placid domesticity. But she was not insensible to the compliment Pamela paid her.
"Perhaps I ought not to have worn the pearls, Pam," she said. "But in honour of Joe's birthday, don't you know. I shouldn't have had them if mother had been at home, but I happen to know where she keeps the key of her safe, and I—well—I sneaked them. Positively for one appearance only."
"Anyhow, they go jolly well with that coral frock of yours," Pamela said. "Oh, do wake up, some of you. What are you dreaming about, Joe? A nice host you are. If I don't have a cocktail I shall never get as far as the dining-room."
Musgrave summoned the hovering waiter grudgingly. This was the sort of thing in Pamela that he hated. He knew well enough that she possessed a sound mind and a sound body, and that the cocktail business was all part of the pose which she had been assuming for a good many months past. He knew perfectly well that if Pamela never saw another cocktail in her life, it would not cause her so much as a passing pang. And yet—and yet in public places like this she invariably assumed the suggestion that a cocktail to her was as the breath of life.
The discreet waiter stood there non-committally.
"Dry Martini for me," Pamela drawled.
"Oh, all right," Musgrave growled. "Waiter, dry Martini for four. Not that I want it—I hate the confounded things myself. However——"
"Not for me, thanks," Daphne protested.
"Our pure bride to be," Pamela scoffed. "Carry on, Joe. In my alarming state I can do with two."
There was a frown on Musgrave's brow as they drifted in to dinner. As a healthy-minded sportsman, he detested this cocktail habit, especially in the woman he loved and hoped, at long last, to make his wife. It was all very well now and then, as part of Pamela's pose, but that sort of thing can be so easily overdone, and is a habit that grows, especially with a girl who burns the candle at both ends as Pamela was doing day by day, or rather night by night. If he only had the right to stop it!
But it was not the time or place for moralising. He would take a more favourable opportunity of expostulating with Pamela, and, in the meantime, make the best of the passing hour. The idea, as he explained to his guests, was to dine regally and do some sort of a show afterwards, winding up at a dance club.
"Good egg," Jimmy Primrose declared. "Give Daphne a chance to see beyond the convent walls once more."
"Of come, mother isn't as bad as all that," Daphne protested. "Of course, if she were at home I shouldn't be allowed to go to a night club, but she needn't know anything about that."
"She's a regular ogre," Pamela laughed. "It's lucky for her that she hasn't got a daughter like me. Daphne, you are going to shirk the best part of the evening are you?"
"Of course, she isn't," Primrose declared stoutly.
"It's the Puritan blood in her veins holds her back," Pamela scoffed lightly. "The same complaint you suffer from, Joe. Some ancestor of yours must have been a friend of Oliver Cromwell."
"Don't let's quarrel," Daphne smiled. "I don't mind, especially if Joe takes the blame."
"Oh, I'm quite willing to do that," Musgrave said. "It isn't the night club I object to so much as the atmosphere of it. Pamela wanted to go, and, of course——"
"Now, look here, Joe," Pamela said, "you can drop that parental attitude. If I want to go to a night club, well, I go to a night club. And that's that. And if I choose to go alone, that's that again. What's the harm in it."
"None," Joe admitted. "But I hate the idea of you and girls like you rubbing shoulders with the scum of the universe which you find in every night club. I don't care where it is and which it is. Of course, I don't mean burglars and that class of criminal, because I am alluding to much more dangerous entities than that. Men who started life with every advantage. Public school and 'varsity and so forth. The most dangerous scoundrel on earth is the pigeon turned hawk. I know lots of them. Well dressed, beautifully turned out, charming manners and all that sort of thing, but under their feathers they are birds of prey of the most diabolical kind. Swindlers and blackmailers. Oh, I know. And Jimmy Primrose knows too."
"Pretty hot stuff, some of 'em," Jimmy agreed. "Of course, it doesn't matter so much with us men, because we can be outwardly friendly and keep 'em at a distance at the same time. But when they get round some of our womankind, as a lot of them have done, then it is a different matter altogether. I hate to say it, Pamela, but if I happened to be your brother I'd stop you going to a night club alone, if I had to lock you in your bedroom."
Pamela smiled in her most patronising manner.
"Listen to Jimmy," she said. "The softest innocent in our set. Can't you see Jimmy as a sort of St. George protecting confiding women from the wolves? Oh, come along; if we're going to do a show first we must get a move on. And, Joe, look a bit more cheerful. Anybody would think that it was your funeral instead of your birthday. Smile, smile, smile."
It was getting late before Joe Musgrave's little party turned out of the Metrodrome and made their way as far as the dance club which the host had selected as an appropriate spot with which to wind up the evening. It had not been a successful birthday party, and Joe, on his part, would be glad enough to see the end of it. As far as he was concerned, he had not the least desire to go on to the Aphrodite, which had been a concession to Pamela and that pose of hers of which he was getting heartily tired. Again, he knew perfectly well that Daphne's mother strongly objected to that sort of thing, and that if she ever found out how he had taken advantage of her absence from London, she would most certainly make things unpleasant for him. He glanced from time to time at the pearls round Daphne's neck and hoped that all might be well with them. Other girls at The Aphrodite were equally equipped with such costly ornaments, but there was always the risk of trouble, even in the very best appointed dance clubs in London. Joe made up his mind that the expiration of another hour would see him and his friends on their way home.
A clock somewhere was striking one as they entered the club. It was the last word in London's dancing halls, and a fine cosmopolitan crowd had gathered there. A good many of the dancers belonged to the same class as Joe and his party and, on the other hand, a great many of them didn't. But, for the moment, at any rate, The Aphrodite had a cachet of its own, which was denied to other resorts of the same calibre. A sporting peer with somewhat of a hectic past was supposed to be behind it, and for the moment at least he was mending his broken fortunes there. Anyway Society had smiled on The Aphrodite and was according it a pleasing measure of its golden favours. But exclusive it never could be, and there were many strange fish swimming in those tropical waters. This was a fact that did not waste itself on the argus eyes of the law whose extensive knowledge of the roseate past of the noble owner inclined to carefulness so far as that Haymarket establishment was concerned. Meanwhile the ball rolled merrily and London's capital gathered there o' nights with a leavening of the cosmopolitan element, a deal of which had come in contact with justice in her sterner moments.
The dining and supper rooms of The Aphrodite were in the basement, with the dancing room and bar on the first floor. Behind the men's cloakroom was a mysterious door that seemed to lead to nowhere, though some of those in the know might have thrown some light on the subject. But nobody had ever seen the door open and, with average luck, probably never would.
As Joe led his party into the room where dancing was in full fling, he saw that the floor was crowded. He was still a little quiet and moody, with Daphne rather frightened and Pamela hiding her physical weariness behind a cloak of bored cynicism.
"What a mob," she drawled, none too quietly. "An engaging mixture of high Society and high crime. And, upon my word, the submerged tenth seem to be better turned out than the caste of Vere de Vere. Oh, look at that man with the curly hair. I should like to have a dance with him."
"Would you?" Joe asked grumpily. "I happen to know something about him. Sort of man-about-town who is always well turned out and with money to burn. Lives in a luxurious flat and is strongly suspected of having had a hand in the disappearance of Lady Maidenham's jewels. Educated and all that and very nearly 'just so,' but the sort of chap to be avoided."
"You are right there," a voice broke in at Joe's elbow. "Miss Dacre, Joe knows what he is talking about."
Pamela swung half insolently round to confront a very old man, absolutely bald, but whose clear blue eyes and magnificently false teeth detracted at least 20 years from what must have been his age. A very old man, yet carrying himself jauntily and with a vivacity that was truly astonishing.
"What, you here!" she said. "Well, there is something about modern dancing after all. Who was it said that there is nothing like dancing to keep one young?"
Sir John Goldsworthy, man of the world, diplomat of distinction and, incidentally, an octogenarian, fixed his glass in his eye and regarded Pamela with flattering approval.
"It is, indeed, the secret of perennial youth, my dear young lady," he smiled. "Look at me. Eighty years of age and footing it with the best of them. But my friend Joe Musgrave was quite right in what he was saying about that young man with the Hyperion locks. I know you modern girls don't care who you dance with so long as your partner is good, but if you will take my advice you will give Vivian Beaucaire a wide berth. But don't let me interrupt you."
With that the aged Adonis slipped away into the crowd and was speedily lost to view.
"Wonderful old boy," Jimmy Primrose murmured. "There is a man who knows more of English family secrets than anyone alive. Lord, what a biography he could write. Talk about Samuel Pepys, why he wouldn't be in it with Goldsworthy. Fifty years in the Diplomat's Service, too. The biggest old gossip in London. He ought to have been dead long ago."
"Nobody dies nowadays," Pamela drawled. "They haven't the time. But really, Joe, is that man with the curly hair as bad as you make him out to be. He looks to me more like an Admirable Crichton than a picturesque villain."
"Most of that class do, nowadays," Joe said grimly. "But he's a real bad lot. His mother was English but his father was French. Supposed to belong to a fine old family. Anyway, he was at Winchester and Oxford, and didn't do badly in the war. I suppose his name is really Beaucaire, though I must confess that it has a Claude Duval flavour about it. Oh, yes, he is handsome enough, and fascinating too, and belongs to one or two good clubs, but he is suspect, all the same. Sort of man people are always talking about, without ever being able to lay hands upon any sinister spot. But never mind about him. If we are to make effort to enjoy this sort of thing, the sooner we start the better. Now, come along."
An hour or so elapsed and Musgrave was beginning to wonder how much longer Pamela could keep it up. That she was utterly worn out in mind and body he could plainly see, and yet, at the same time, he knew that any hint from him as to bed would be resented with scorn and contumely. His moody eye took in the the motley throng dancing on the crowded floor. A queer sort of social leavening which would have been impossible before the war. The dainty aristocrat and Madame Anonyma members of the same house-party, so to speak. A sleek Hebrew slid by with the most beautiful woman in the room on his arm. A tall goddess she, in flaming red, who might have come direct from an imperial palace if she had not happened to be an assistant in a Dover-street modiste's establishment.
Pamela tapped her foot impatiently on the floor. She had danced once or twice with her own party, but that had not satisfied a natural thirst for adventure. Tired as she was, she had reacted strongly to the exotic atmosphere. Those cocktails, that Joe so loathed and hated, together with two glasses of champagne at dinner, acted as a charm in washing out the deadly tiredness that she had brought with her when first she passed through the front door of The Aphrodite. That high racial courage of hers and calm sense of superiority stood her in good stead now and the spirit of adventure moved her to a certain recklessness.
"Come on, Joe," she ordered. "On with the dance, let joy be unconfined. Don't stand there with a moody frown on your brow, like Brunswick's fated chieftain."
Daphne and Jimmy Primrose had disappeared somewhere amongst the giddy throng that swayed on the floor. But still Joe Musgrave held back. Troubled in the honest mind of his was Joe—troubled and worried about Pamela. Those cocktails he could not, somehow or other, get out of his mind. He knew only too well the source of excitement which was carrying her on when she was not far off a physical collapse. So easy to begin like this, so difficult to leave off later. And practically no rest day or night. In the country, on the links, in the saddle, on the moorside, there was a different Pamela altogether. No seeking artificial stimulation there. If he could not get her out of this into the open again for good, with, perhaps, a week of two in town occasionally, Pamela of the rosy tinted cheeks would come back again. But for the moment——
"I suppose Achilles prefers to sulk in his tent," Pamela went on. "Even so, my lord?"
"It isn't that," Joe protested. "You are done to the world, and you know it. Why not own up and go to bed? I haven't had a day to compare with yours, and yet I can hardly keep my eyes open. There is reason in all things, Pam."
"Very well," Pamela retorted. "Even so, my lord. Then I will seek solace elsewhere. I see Billy Sefton over there without a partner. He will welcome me with open arms."
Pamela had vanished before Joe could protest. She was more angry with him, despite her assumed cynical indifference, than she cared to confess. She had always known in the back of her mind that, sooner or later, she and Joe would make a match of it. Everybody looked forward to that consummation as a matter of course. There were all the gifts of the gods on both sides, with youth and beauty as the crowning glory.
And all might have been well but for Pamela's cynical pose. She liked to assume the detached air of a mature wisdom, regarding with half-closed eyes the empty follies of poor humanity, much as the theatre-goer in the stalls criticises a brilliant comedy in the light of personal experience. Jimmy Primrose always maintained that Pamela had caught the trick from some matinee idol whom she had secretly admired. Still, there it was and, what was more, it had lasted for the better part of twelve months. That and the cocktails and the——
"All alone, Joe," Jimmy struck in on Joe's pensive moodiness. "Where have you shed Pamela?"
"Dancing with Bill Sefton," Joe explained. "Somewhere in the thick of the scrum. I haven't caught sight of her during the last half hour. Ah, there she is."
Pamela flashed out of the mob of dancers so close to the table where the others were standing that they could almost have touched her. Came a gasp of astonishment from Daphne, something like a whistle from Jimmy, and a smothered curse from Joe.
For Pamela was dancing with the curly-haired man!
She came back to the table presently with a slow smile dawning on her face. She threw a challenge at Joe.
"A wonderful dancer," she drawled. "Positively the first time I have really enjoyed the Charleston."
"How—how did you manage it?" Daphne stammered.
"Oh, I asked Billy Sefton. He seemed to know the man and brought us together. And, of course, Billy Sefton being what he is, would never have introduced Vivian Beaucaire unless he had been all right, whatever Joe may say."
Joe rose from his chair with a grim expression on his face.
"I have had about enough of this," he declared. "I am going home, right here and now. Of course, if you others like to remain, you can, it is no concern of mine."
"Going to leave me here," Pamela gibed.
"That is for you to say. You heard what Goldsworthy had to say about Beaucaire, and yet in the face of that you deliberately choose to dance with the man. Have you no sort of regard for your reputation?"
"I think I can take care of that," Pamela said icily.
"Oh, be a sport, Joe," Jimmy pleaded. "Don't spoil the evening because Pamela likes to cut a caper. Hang it all, we are your guests here, don't you know."
"I haven't forgotten it," Joe growled. "But even a host is entitled to some sort of consideration. I am going home and you others can stay or not, as you like."
"Here I am and here I stay," Pamela quoted. "Besides, this cave-man stuff doesn't appeal to me."
"Just a little longer, Joe," Daphne implored.
"Might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb," Jimmy suggested. "I mean Daphne might. I'll see her home."
"Very well," Joe said grimly. "You others can do as you like. I am going home to bed."
With his head high in the air, Joe stalked out and the place knew him no more. Pamela smiled languidly.
"What a masculine act," she exclaimed. "Where do these Victorian survivals come from. And what ought we to feed them on? Dear old Methuselah."
"Think he really has gone home?" Jimmy asked.
"Beyond the shadow of a doubt," Pamela laughed. "It was ever Joe's habit, when peeved, to go straight to bed. He will probably lie awake the rest of the night worrying about us and wondering if he did the right thing. When I get back home I will ring him up on the telephone. He has an extension to his bedside, and, it might soothe his anxious mind to know that I have not been abducted by a sort of West End sheik. And now let's get on with it. I am fed up with Joe."
But somehow Pamela did not get on with it. A wave of tiredness swept over her, a tiredness which was not altogether without a touch of remorse. She would pick up a partner presently, she told the others; meanwhile she would sit and look on. There were several men in the room who were known to her and one of them would come up and ask her for a dance.
So she sat there alone, in that fine calm pose of hers, feeling a little dejected and unhappy. Not that she was worrying about Joe—oh dear, no, Joe would be all right when they met on the morrow, as he always was after a tiff. It was part of the ritual. Still, she wished now——
Some sort of a disturbance at the far end of the floor distracted her introspective philosophy. An erratic performer, probably the worse for a glass or two of the club's vile champagne, charged into a passing couple and brought them down. Just for a moment the suggestion of a football scrimmage was there. Then the tangle of silk and black and white resolved itself, and from it emerged Daphne and Jimmy, hot and indignant.
"Drunken swine," Jimmy fumed. "Barged right into us. And if some chap hadn't given Daphne a hand she might have been hurt. Took a toss as it was, poor girl."
"So you were in the melee?" Pamela asked. "In my more penitent moments, I wonder why we come to these places. But, Daphne, old thing, what has become of your pearl necklace?"
Daphne put a trembling hand to her throat and gasped. The precious family pearls were no longer there.
"Pinched for a million," Jimmy groaned. "Let's raise the cry. Have the door locked and everybody searched."
Pamela laid a restraining hand on his arm. It was in moments like this that her natural courage and coolness stood her in such good stead.
"Be quiet," she whispered. "Sit down. Don't let anybody see that we are disturbed. If we pretend not to notice the loss the thieves, who are probably watching us, will stay where they are. Once we start a hue and cry, then they will go hand to hand and Daphne will never see her family treasures again. Probably even the waiters are in league with the thieves. No, our only chance is to keep quiet and watch. We don't want a scandal, or to give the papers anything to talk about. Now, Daphne, try and look natural. Smile at me, smile as if you had nothing on your mind. That's better. Did you notice any sort of snatch, Daphne? I mean, when that man picked you up?"
"I believe I did, now I come to think of it," Daphne declared. "The man who caught me as I was falling was probably the cause of all the trouble."
"Could you pick him out?" Pamela asked.
"Of course, I could," Daphne said. "He is the man you were dancing with. The man called Beaucaire."
"By Jove, you are right," Jimmy exclaimed. "Let me go and speak to him. Take him on the side and punch the stones out of him. That's the idea, Pamela."
"Really," Pamela smiled pityingly. "And get punched for your pains. You would have half a dozen confederates on you at once. For goodness' sake let us keep our heads. Daphne, pretend to ignore your loss. Act as if you were ignorant of the robbery. The man won't leave the club yet, he is too cool a hand at the game for that. There! You see, he is dancing again with that lovely Dover-street girl just as if nothing had happened. What a splendid nerve."
"And meanwhile I sneak out for the police?" Jimmy queried.
"Meanwhile you do nothing of the sort," Pamela said scornfully. "We stay here and watch—at least, I stay and watch while you two go on dancing. When that man leaves, we follow him. Track him to his flat in a taxi. Then perhaps Jimmy can bring off his famous right hook, or whatever they call it in pugilistic circles. Man to man, you are worth two of him. That is, when you are alone together. And it's any money that he has got the pearls, or will have before he leaves the club, because he is not the type to trust anybody else. Buck up, don't look so scared. Off you both go."
For the best part of an hour Daphne kept a narrowed eye on the fair-haired man. She could see him weaving in and out of the kaleidoscope of dazzling froth of colour on the floor. Then suddenly a whisper ran through the throng which shaped itself presently into one word, and that "Police."
Followed a sort of frightened silence, like that of scared rabbits when a dog approaches the staccato scream of a woman and the hurried hiding of glasses under tables. There were countless vessels of contraband there, at that hour of the young morning. Then, in the main doorway, the gleam of a couple of police helmets and the voice of a man speaking with authority.
Pamela's pose of bored detachment fell from her like a garment. She had nothing to fear, neither had her party, for nothing in the way of refreshment had passed their lips since they entered the club. There might be talk and a little scandal, but nothing worse than that. And there were the pearls to consider. Nothing mattered so long as they were recovered.
The feeling of tiredness left her, the thirst for adventure ran through her veins. A mob of dancers drifted by her, like smoke driven by the wind, in the direction of the cloakroom at the back of the dancing floor, which was up a flight of stairs. And Pamela noticed the fact that these did not return. There were not many of them and their class was as the writing on the wall. In a flash it came to Pamela that these habitues were in the secret of a surreptitious way out. At the end of the queue came the man with the curly hair, who passed her with a languid bored air. She turned eagerly to her companions.
"Look after Daphne, Jimmy," she commanded. "There is no reason why you should get into trouble, because none of us has done any wrong. Get Daphne home and wait till you here from me on the telephone. I shall be all right."
Before Jimmy could expostulate Pamela had vanished in the direction of the steps leading to the floor above. She followed close behind the curly-haired man and reached him just as he slid into the gentlemen's cloakroom at the end of which Pamela noticed that a door stood open.
The secret exit, beyond the shadow of a doubt. Without the slightest hesitation Pamela snatched up a fur coat and threw it over her shoulders. She stepped through the black opening and laid her hand on the shoulder of the man in front.
"Adam," she said, "won't you give unhappy Eve the latchkey to this paradise before the angel represented by policemen requests her company—in other words, be my squire of dames?"
The man in front turned round and saw Pamela framed in the doorway with the light behind her. For an instant or two he could not make out her features, though it seemed to him that he had heard that drawling voice before. And then it flashed upon him who it was that spoke so calmly and collectedly in the midst of all that confusion down below on the dancing floor.
"You," he exclaimed with a sort of insolent admiration. "Beauty in distress and all that sort of thing. Rank imposes obligation. When class calls to class, there is only one response. Will you give me your hand, fair lady?"
Pamela looked out into what seemed to her nothing but darkness and desolation. She could hear the faint echo of traffic from afar off and the occasional hoot of a passing taxi. But exit, so far as she could see, there was none. It seemed as if one step forward would pitch her headlong downwards into some bottomless pit. Nevertheless, there must have been some path to safety, or the man in front of her, standing, apparently, on space, would not have been cool and collected.
So, without the slightest hesitation, Pamela extended her hand, which was clasped all too warmly and familiarly by the fair-haired man. He was carrying it off very well, though Pamela's sensitive ear did not fail to detect the theatrical suggestion that lay beyond the speaker's request. Still, she felt that she could afford to ignore that, and, at the moment of high adventure, the blood of the Dacres was singing in her veins and the spirit of her ancestors was backing her on.
She was no longer tired and weary. The fresh air and the tonic of danger acted on her like a charm. What was to be the end of this exploit she neither knew nor cared for the time being. Nor had she lost sight of the fact that this man had Daphne's necklace in his pocket, and that the gods of happy chance might show her a way to get it back again. She was going to risk it, anyway. Her pulses were beating evenly, and there was no suggestion of pounding at her heart. She smiled as her hand rested in that of the stranger.
"Thank you so much," she murmured sweetly. "But I can see no way out. Do we climb down a rope?"
"Not quite as bad as that," the man called Vivian Beaucaire laughed. "Our exit is by means of an old fire escape, very rusty, and with worn steps, but I think that if you let me hold your hand and guide your feet we shall emerge in safety. Not that you had anything to fear."
"Perhaps not," Pamela murmured. "But I have no particular desire to see my name in the papers as one of those arrested in the police raid on the club. Nothing romantic about it, and a little sordid, don't you think?"
"Perhaps so," Beaucaire agreed. "But what has become of the rest of your party?"
"Oh, they will have to look to themselves," Pamela said carelessly. "I dare say they will be all right."
They went quietly and steadily down the stairway and presently emerged into a narrow, ill-lighted court, after which Pamela recognised, to her surprise, that she was in the Haymarket. Not a soul was in sight, not even a solitary policeman. Pamela drew a long breath that ended in a sigh of relief.
"Feeling a bit unstuck now," the fascinating stranger suggested as Pamela swayed slightly. "Reaction and all that."
"I'm all right now," Pamela said. "It was topping of you to take me on like that. If you could find me a taxi——"
"One may drift along presently," Beaucaire said. "Don't forget it is pretty late and you may have to walk. Still, it is a fine night and you seem to be well wrapped up."
Pamela laughed lightly.
"Oh, yes," she said. "I am all right, thanks to this fur coat. Goodness knows who it belongs to, and it doesn't really much matter. Really, you need not trouble any further. I can walk home from here."
"I couldn't dream of it," Beaucaire said. "Of course, I must see you home. Shall I make a confession and seek absolution at your fair hands? When my friend Billy Sefton was good enough to afford me the privilege of dancing with you, I am ashamed to say that I failed to grasp your name."
This might have been so, but Pamela did not for a moment believe it. No man familiar with the West End and its life could be a stranger to a girl like Pamela, that is, he must have seen her some time or another and ascertained her name. Still, if that was the post Beaucaire liked to adopt, then she was quite ready to play her part in the comedy.
"It often happens like that, don't you think?" she asked sweetly. "Do you know that I didn't catch your name, either. Very unconventional, isn't it? But what does it matter? Suppose you call me Clarissa Harlow."
"Enchanting," the fair-haired man agreed. "Besides, it makes the plot more intriguing. Call me—er—Beaucaire."
"Then, Monsieur Beaucaire, what is the next move?"
"The next move, fair Clarissa, is, I think, a gentle stimulant. A certain pallor on your cheeks tells me that. Dare I venture to suggest a few minutes at my flat, where I can offer you a cocktail of rare and wonderful quality? Or are you afraid? I ought perhaps to tell you that my flat is a service one, and my man sleeps out. What says the fair Clarissa?"
Pamela hesitated. Many strange and confused thoughts were flashing through her mind. She did not want to lose sight of this man, especially as she knew that those missing pearls were snugly hidden in his breast pocket. And if, out of timidity or a sense of the proprieties, she lost an opportunity like this, it might never occur again. Nor was she physically afraid. She knew her own strength and courage, and could trust to these to pull her through. But even she, with all her contempt for the opinion of the world generally, hesitated to compromise herself in this hazardous fashion. A dozen schemes, most of them wild, flashed through her mind as she stood there in the deserted street with Beaucaire waiting on her next word.
Then her mind was made up. She hesitated no longer. She turned to her companion smilingly.
"That is most kind of you," she murmured. "I thought that I should be equal to an occasion like this, but I am beginning to realise that, in certain circumstances, a woman is not the equal of a man. But alas, I am not entirely a free agent. I live alone, it is true, and when I say I live alone I don't mean I do my own housework. I am more or less the slave of an old servant of mine who still labours under the delusion that I am a babe in arms. She refuses to go to bed at night until I get in. She is waiting up for me at the present moment, and no doubt is wondering what has happened to me. If I could telephone to her and say that I am with friends and will be back shortly, it will ease her mind and perhaps prevent her from doing anything foolish. More than once, when I have been out late, she has got busy on the 'phone, to my great confusion, and the amusement of my intimates. But I think perhaps I had better get back."
"I think we can get over that difficulty," Beaucaire suggested. "It is only a few yards to the Piccadilly Underground and there is a call office in the station. Now, what do you say to that? Come along, we are wasting time."
"And is your flat far away?" Pamela asked timidly.
"Five minutes' walk. Birchington Mansions."
"How odd! I once had a friend who had a flat there. Number two, I think it was. Perhaps yours is also number two."
"No, three, top floor. Shall we shoot folly as it flies?"
Pamela dived into the station and returned in a few moments with the information that her effort had been crowned with success. Then, a little later, she found herself seated in the big armchair in a perfectly appointed dining-room, daintily sipping a fascinating concoction which she was beginning to need, despite the high courage she had inherited, for the consciousness that she was here alone with a reckless criminal was not without its effect. She was playing desperately for time.
She had hesitated, even at the moment she was crossing the threshold of the flat. The darkness inside suggested something sinister. As if Beaucaire read her thoughts, he preceded her and turned up the lights.
"Thanks so much," she murmured. "I hate the darkness, especially when it is in a strange place."
As Beaucaire strode on in front, Pamela hung back long enough to slip out of the stolen overcoat and softly draw the latch of the front door and fasten it back. Not that she was afraid, but it was just as well to be on the safe side.
But apparently there was nothing to fear. There was nothing of the cave-man or the villain of melodrama about the gentlemanly crook, who fully appreciated the charm of Pamela's company, for he knew the real thing when he saw it. An intrigue with a real top-notcher and a real beauty at that! Roseate visions of conquest danced before his eyes. It seemed to him that the girl was half won already—but not to be rushed. There would be other meetings and opportunities later on.
Nearly an hour passed before Pamela rose slowly, and with apparent hesitation to go.
"Really, I must have some sort of regard for my reputation," she drawled. "If you don't mind——"
She broke off suddenly as the door of the sitting-room opened and Joe Musgrave, very grim and stern, stepped into the room.
"I knew you would come," Pamela smiled sweetly. "Only you have been an unconscionable time about it. You promised me when I telephoned from the Tube station that you would be here in half an hour. But you are always unpunctual. Now, Joe, if you will ask this gentleman nicely for Daphne's pearls, he will take them out of his pocket and give them to you."
Beaucaire started back and regarded the intruder with a menace in his eyes. He had not expected anything like this and still less had he anticipated such a move on Pamela's part. It was quite plain to him now what had happened. Pamela had telephoned to Musgrave and told him exactly what had happened and what she proposed to do at the very moment he was cooling his heels on the pavement outside the Underground station, innocently dreaming of the pleasant time that lay before him.
Somehow or another this beautiful woman with the mocking smile in her eyes had divined the fact that he was the man who had got away with the pearls. They seemed to be burning a hole in his pocket at that moment, but he was not the type of man to surrender his prey without a struggle. He was a scoundrel of the most determined type, but, whatever his failings might be, he suffered from no lack of physical courage.
"What is the meaning of all this?" he demanded. "What pearls are you talking about?"
"No use," Joe said curtly. "A lady in my party to-night was robbed of a string of pearls whilst she was on the dance floor. One of those put-up jobs of course. A man, apparently intoxicated, barged into her and you saved her from a fall. At that moment you snatched the rope from her neck, and that was about all there was to it. You are a cool hand, Beaucaire, but I think you have overdone it this time. It was like you to stay where you were with that stuff in your pocket, trusting to your cool nerve to pull you through, but it doesn't follow that every man is a fool who isn't a knave. I didn't happen to be in the club at the moment because I had left, but I learnt all that happened on the telephone, when this lady told me the story, and I got here as soon as I could. Now then!"
"Now, then, what?" Beaucaire demanded. "Do you suppose you are going to get away with this preposterous story? Suppose I tell you that I don't know what you are talking about? Suppose I assure you that I know nothing of those pearls?"
"I shouldn't believe you," Musgrave said curtly.
"Shouldn't believe me? Isn't my word as good as yours?"
"I should rather think not," Musgrave said. "Now, look here, Beaucaire, you have never got yourself into gaol yet, but you are nearer to it now than you ever were in your life. You are running a serious risk of my calling in a policeman and giving you into custody, and standing a chance of a libel action afterwards if I am wrong. But I am sure those pearls are in your pocket that I am quite prepared to do what I said."
"Despite the scandal," Beaucaire sneered.
"Oh, yes, I see what you mean. I would put up with anything to keep Miss Dacre's, name out of an unsavoury exposure. Yes, you are quite right there. I don't want the police in this business if I can help it. Now, look here. Give me those pearls and we will both forget what has happened. You can go on just as you have done before, hanging on the fringes of Society and remain a member of your clubs, which to you is a precious privilege you would be sorry to lose. But if you decline,—well, then I shall have to use force."
"In the presence of a lady?" Beaucaire exclaimed.
"Oh, please don't mind me," Pamela drawled. "I am no heroine of Victorian romance. I have even attended an international boxing championship. So get on with it Joe. I shan't faint or anything of that sort."
"I wish you were out of the room, all the same," Musgrave said. "Still, if you won't go——"
He broke off and advanced threateningly in Beaucaire's direction. The other seeing what was about to happen, lunged out suddenly and caught Musgrave a glancing blow on the side of the head. It shook him for a moment, and then grimly he returned to the attack. There was not much between the men as far as size and weight went, but one was an athlete in perfect training and the other an individual rendered soft and flabby by a long course of easy living in town. At the end of five minutes Beaucaire lay prostrate on the floor, bleeding from a cut over his left eye and quite unable to rise. Musgrave dragged him to his feet and flung him into a chair.
"Well, that's that," he breathed heavily. "Now, are you going to give me any more trouble? Oh, you are. Then I must search your pockets for myself."
With that Musgrave held the other by the throat and dived his fingers into the inside breast pocket of Beaucaire's dress coat. He brought out something wrapped in a silk handkerchief, together with a square object which, for the moment, passed unnoticed as he laid it on a table. Then, as he unrolled the handkerchief, a pearl gleamed in the light.
"Ah, here we are, Pamela," he said. "You were perfectly right. Now, what have you to say for yourself, Beaucaire?"
"It's all in the game," Beaucaire muttered. "Mind you, I don't bear any malice. I should have served you just the same way if the positions had been reversed. If you are quite satisfied, I should like to be alone."
"A wish easily gratified." Joe said lightly. "Come along, Pamela. But, before I go, I should like to say this. This story is never likely to be published, and—here, what's this? How on earth did you manage to get hold of that?"
As he spoke Musgrave pointed to the object on the table. It was nothing less than the gold snuff-box, the very object he had bought that morning in the little shop off Wardour-street.
"That is mine," Beaucaire said hurriedly.
"It's not," Joe cried. "It belongs to me. Open it, and if you don't find a dozen or more of my own cigarettes with my own monogram inside, you can keep it and eat the thing if you like. I purchased it on purpose for use as a cigarette case. Yes, I remember now, I took it out of my pocket in the club, not long before I left, and I laid it on the table by my side for a moment whilst I was having an argument with my friends. Some dexterous thief must have snatched it from under my very eyes. He probably passed it on to you, Beaucaire, as part of the evening's plunder. However, it won't concern you any longer, unless you can put in a substantial claim for it. But I don't think you will do that when you see the cigarettes inside."
Musgrave flicked the lid open and disclosed two rows of cigarettes, bearing his own monogram in gold inside the box. Beaucaire glared at him with a murderous look in his eyes.
"Get out," he cried. "Get out, damn you. I have had about enough of this. Now then, begone!"
"With pleasure," Joe smiled. "Come on, Pamela. I will walk with you as far as your flat. It is not the slightest use trying to get a taxi at this time of the morning."
The door of the dining-room closed behind Beaucaire's late visitors, leaving him alone. He hardly heard the front door close before he flew to the telephone and called a certain number.
He stood cursing and muttering to himself at the delay until a voice spoke at the other end of the wire.
"Is that you, Phasy?" he demanded.
"That's me," came the response. "Who is it? Vivian Beaucaire. You, is it? What do you want?"
The voice came in a strongly pronounced foreign accent, although the English was correct enough.
"A most infernal thing has happened," Beaucaire said. "I don't know what I should have done if I hadn't found you. I was afraid that they would have detained you at the club, or perhaps taken you to Bow-street."
"You needn't have worried about me," the voice said. "I was not far off when you made your way down the fire escape. And I wasn't going to spoil sport when I saw you with that pretty girl in the Haymarket. What's wrong?"
"Everything," Beaucaire growled. "I got away with the pearls, but the beauty you saw me with belonged to the same party as the girl who lost them. She tricked me finely. I can't tell you now how she did it, because there is no time to be lost, but she and a man friend of hers have got the pearls back again, and they are on their way at the present moment to the young woman's flat. But that is not the worst."
"Oh, isn't it?" the voice at the other end of the wire asked jeeringly. "What else could have happened?"
"Well, that gold snuff-box," Beaucaire said. "You know the one I mean. Pawned by Ratty Dutton with a Jew dealer off Wardour-street. The very thing he promised to bring us, only I hadn't the money to pay him at the moment. I was just five minutes too late this morning to try and get it back, because the dealer had sold it. It was a real slice of luck when I spotted Musgrave using it at The Aphrodite and still better luck when that Dago waiter managed to sneak it for me. Now, listen."
In a few words, Beaucaire told the man at the other end of the wire exactly what had happened over those pearls and the strange recovery by Musgrave of his lost property.
"That is bad," the voice with the foreign accent muttered. "We must get that box back, whatever happens."
"Of course we must," Beaucaire agreed. "I can't do it, because I am out of commission for the moment. But you can. Now, listen. Musgrave is walking home with the girl who is the cause of all the mischief, and in about ten minutes time he will be returning to his flat by way of Coventry-street and Horton-street. He must pass down Manton-street. Very dark there and all that. You must wait at the corner for him and lay him out. Kill the blighter if necessary. Do anything you like, so long as you get that box back."
"All right, I will do my best," the other man said. "If successful, I will come round and tell you."
Meanwhile Pamela and Joe Musgrave were making their way in the direction of the former's flat. Somewhere in the distance a clock was striking the hour of three and the streets were utterly deserted. There was not even a belated taxi to be seen. It was a quiet walk, too, for both had a good deal to think about and, so far as Pamela was concerned, she was a great deal more shaken than she would have cared to confess. It had, indeed, been a tremendous night's adventure with a triumphant conclusion, and yet Pamela would have been a great deal more satisfied if she could have taken it as easily as Joe seemed to do. She was beginning to realise that she was, after all, nothing but a mere woman, and it was sheer pride that kept her from breaking down and sobbing there and then in the street.
Joe was not altogether ignorant of his companion's physical condition, though he knew that any allusion to it would be resented promptly. He did not even offer Pamela his arm, though, when they reached the flat, he followed her up the stairs with, apparently, every intention of seeing her safely inside.
"I think I shall do now, Joe," she said.
"U'm. Perhaps," he responded. "And perhaps not. I noticed when I picked you up just now that our late host had prepared a cocktail for you, but you hadn't touched it."
"Now, did you really notice that?" Pamela asked. "You must have had yourself very well in hand to have remarked such a trivial thing. I don't mind confessing to you, Joe, that I wanted that little drink very badly. Three or four times after leaving that wretched dance club I was as near the verge of collapse as possible. I thought I should have enjoyed an adventure like that, but I didn't. I wasn't exactly frightened——"
"You wouldn't be," Joe said stoutly.
"Thank you, Joe. That is a real compliment. But I was dreadfully scared and afraid of doing something to give the whole game away. And you were such a time."
"I wasn't," Joe protested. "I turned out of bed directly I got your telephone message from Piccadilly station and hurried round without losing a minute. The mere thought of you being under the same roof as that scoundrel was positive torture to me. And, of course, I had to appear there just as if nothing had happened. I even put on a fresh collar and a new tie. But don't let's talk about that for the present. My dear Pam, I don't think I ever admired you so much as I do at this moment. Your courage and resource was absolutely splendid."
"Don't, Joe," Pamela said tearfully. "Please don't. I can't stand it, at least, not just now. I have had a lesson and I am not going to forget it. What you must have thought about me these last few months, goodness knows. But one thing I can promise you is that I am not going to pose any more. And if ever you see me drinking another cocktail, I hope you will box my ears, even if it is in public. I have behaved like a perfect beast, Joe, and you know it."
"Oh, well," Joe said tolerantly. "We all have our weaknesses. But you are going to have something before you go to bed, even if I have to stand over you and make you take it. Now then, turn out your latchkey. I am coming inside for a few minutes."
"Twice in one evening," Pamela laughed unsteadily. "What would the censorious world say if they knew that Pamela Dacre had spent the best part of an hour in one man's flat and subsequently entertained another in her own?"
All the same, Pamela felt none the worse for the touch of stimulant that Joe prepared for her and declared that she must have a cigarette to soothe her nerves before she went to bed. Then, suddenly, she stood up and asked Joe a question which he answered to the best of his ability.
"I had nearly forgotten," she cried. "I suppose the pearl business put it out of my head."
"Forgotten what?" Joe asked.
"Why, all that about the mysterious cigarette case. The one you have in your pocket. The one that Beaucaire declared belonged to him. What about it, Joe? Was there any particular reason why Beaucaire should want it?"
"Ah, there you have me guessing," Joe replied. "I bought the case, or rather, the box, this morning—from a little Jew dealer in a lane off Wardour-street. It isn't a cigarette case in the proper sense of the word, but a gold snuff-box of antique design, which I thought I could use for a more modern purpose. And my own cigarettes exactly fitted it. But that is not the most extraordinary part of it. There is no doubt that the box is a very old one and of Italian or French workmanship. In the centre of the lid is a miniature of an exceedingly pretty girl, which must have been painted some considerable time after the box was made. It is let into the top and covered by an oval sheet of crystal. I think it was this picture that really induced me to buy it. I wonder if the girl reminds you of anybody."
Thereupon, Joe took the box from his pocket and placed it in Pamela's hand. She held it up to the light and then a sharp cry broke from her lips.
"Why, Joe, this is me," she cried. "At least it would be me but for the difference in the costume and the dressing of the hair. That miniature must be nearly a hundred years old, so that it can't have been inspired by my humble self. But did you ever see such a wonderful likeness?"
"Never," Joe said. "It's amazing. I should have shown it to you sooner or later in any case. But, putting all that aside for the moment, why was Beaucaire so anxious to get hold of it? And how did he know that I had got it? Yet he took a considerable risk in stealing it, or getting it stolen by one of his light-fingered friends. And you saw how he fought to obtain possession of it just now. But, seeing that my own cigarettes were inside, he could not very well carry off the bluff. Anyway, I am going to find out. I will know why that scoundrel ran all the risks he did in order to get hold of that case. And I believe that you are in some way at the bottom of it."
"But how could I be?" Pamela protested.
"Ah, that is wrapped in mystery. But I am not going to rest until I know more about this thing than I do at present. Now, look here, Pam, I have known you a great many years—ever since you were a child, in fact. You have always moved in the same set, and it was a relative of mine who introduced you to society. She is dead now, poor old thing, so we can't get any information from her. There is only one person in the world who can tell us, and that is your dry old guardian, Hartley Horne. And it is about as much use to go to him as it is to go to an oyster. Upon my word I hardly know how to put it. We shall never get to the bottom of this little mystery until we know who you are and all about your parents. Of course, we take you for granted, because you are one of us, and you couldn't be anything but a lady in mind and physical beauty, even if you walked about the streets in rags. But you are a mystery, my dear, though I hate to say so. I ought not to mention these things, and I shouldn't if I thought less of you than I do."
"That's just like you, Joe," Pamela said gratefully. "Never ask any questions, and take everything for granted. But what can I do to help? It is not the slightest use going to Mr. Horne. He is a dried-up old sphinx. He has no object in life except his business and the guarding of family secrets. At any rate, he guards my family secrets closely enough. Some day or another I shall go to him and force the truth out of him."
"Not a bit of use," Joe said. "He belongs to one of the same clubs that I do. I often see him at The Marathon, though why he joins a sporting club like that I can't for the life of me understand. He dines there sometimes, and invariably has a cutlet and rice pudding, with a small bottle of claret. But he is always by himself, and never seems to talk to anybody. We shan't get anything out of Horne."
"I am afraid you are right, Joe," Pamela sighed. "But you must have been watched this morning when you were buying that box. I think somebody else was after it, and you just managed to get hold of it purely by chance a few minutes before the other man. I can't make any other suggestion. We might talk about this all night without getting within sight of a solution. And, my word, I am tired!"
"I am sorry," Joe said penitently. "I had no business to have kept you up like this. I'll be off now, and you go to bed at once. By Jove, I had forgotten all about Daphne and the pearls. Try and get her on the telephone after I have gone. I don't suppose she is asleep, even at this hour."
Musgrave went thoughtfully off down the street in the direction of his own flat. He might have had the whole of London to himself, so silent and deserted it was. Not even a policeman in sight. In his thin evening shoes, he made little or no sound as he strode along the dry pavement until, at length, he came to Abbey-street, which was the next turning but one to the thoroughfare in which his own flat was situated. A quarter of a mile further and he would be at home.
His mind was deeply engrossed in the startling events of the evening, so that, for some time, he did not notice certain sounds that appeared to come from behind him. Then he became conscious that somebody was following him. He looked round sharply, but no one was in sight. Possibly it was only his fancy, or possibly the phantom in the rear was hiding himself in the shadow of a porch, here and there, for it was a wide street of highly desirable houses and one that was almost impeccable in its respectability. Joe had almost put the matter out of his mind when the footsteps came again, this time, more firm and assured. Musgrave carried on for a few yards, then turned abruptly, as if he were about to retrace the ground over which he had come. Not that he was in the least alarmed, because he was a man eminently capable of taking care of himself in any circumstances, to say nothing of his being in a well-lighted street in the West End of London. Possibly some wretched night bird was dogging his footsteps and waiting for a chance to get a few coppers. Still, a sense of being followed was having its effect on Joe's temper, so that he turned in time to see what it was that was behind him. He could hear nothing for the moment. Even the police seemed to have deserted the place.
All at once, he was no longer alone. A tall, wiry figure rose, as if from the pavement and confronted him. Joe could see the upward sweep of an arm and catch the faint glint of light as it flashed upon something that seemed like steel.
Joe stepped back a pace and then lunged forward. He struck out with all the force at his command and caught the dusky figure miraculously on the point of the chin. The knife tinkled on the pavement as the would-be assailant collapsed backwards with a crash that resounded in the silence. The thud of the fellow's head as it struck the pavement seemed to echo like a boom through the silent street.
The man was down and out, there was not the slightest doubt about that. Alarmed at what he had done, Musgrave bent over the stranger and laid a hand over his heart. There was not the slightest response.
"By heaven, I've killed him," Joe told himself. "Fractured his skull. What the deuce am I going to do?"
He stood there just a moment in a haze of doubt, lost to his surroundings and in a sort of dream. Then, out of as nightmare, emerged a voice, the voice of authority.
"Eh, what's all this?" the officer demanded.
Joe had not even heard the man in blue coming. He had forgotten the rubber shoes which the men of the force wear during the night hours. So startled was he that he lost his head entirely for the moment and bolted down the silent street as fast as his legs could carry him. He whirled round the corner into the next street with the policeman a hundred yards behind him. As he sped along, he heard the shrill trill of a police whistle. And then, to his horror the echo of another, some way ahead of him. He was trapped and trapped hopelessly.
Behind him one constable and in front of him another. And not more than a hundred paces between the two. Even in that moment of ridiculous peril, he realised that it would be far wiser to go back and give himself up. But some obstinate vein in his nature, some queer sporting instinct held him back. He darted into the shadow of a porch with the policeman in front not more than 30 yards away and laid his hand on the door-nob. He turned the handle and, to his great surprise and relief, the door behind it opened. He slipped inside, and very quietly, closed the stout oak behind him. Then he turned the key in the door and stood there, gasping for breath.
He was in a kind of outer hall, and facing him was a hanging curtain which was closely drawn. Through the thick folds he could make out a dim light which meant, of course, that somebody on the premises was still up, and that he might have to account for his presence there within a few moments. Meanwhile, he waited until the search outside seemed to have died away, though he could still hear the echo of voices.
He pushed the curtain on one side and stepped into a large, square hall. He could see that it was luxuriously and tastefully furnished in the best Jacobean style, with pictures and trophies on the walls, and on an occasional table was an oil lamp, evidently some relic from a Roman villa, the feeble light from which was just sufficient to show that every object in the hall was thickly encrusted with dust.
The dust seemed to lie everywhere like a curtain, whilst festoons of cobwebs hung from the ceiling. It was like a house of the dead, a house from which everybody had fled ages ago, leaving the place to desolation and decay. At one time there had been frescoes on the lower part of the wall, but these were now damp and mildewed and dropping from the plaster behind. There was a dull echo that seemed to suggest that the house was utterly deserted. A strange abode indeed to find in the centre of Mayfair, and in a street which was the acme of respectability.
Hard pressed as he was, and with his mind engrossed in other things, Musgrave was consumed with an almost overwhelming curiosity. He had forgotten all about the man lying on the pavement and the two policemen who were busy outside searching for a suspected murderer. He stepped lightly over the thick film of dust that lay on the polished oak floor and turned into a room at the back of the hall where another light was burning. This was a larger bronze lamp, depending by an ancient chandelier from the ceiling and carrying three retainers, so that it was possible to make out most of the objects in the vast apartment in which Musgrave found himself.
So far as he could determine, it was a sort of studio. At the far end of it, between two high windows, was a form of altar on which stood a pair of huge silver branch candlesticks bearing gigantic tapers, neither of which was lighted. But the altar cloth was clean and fresh in contrast with the mould and dust and cobwebs which prevailed everywhere else and, on the fair damask, somebody had placed two bowls of flowers.
In the centre of the floor was a picture on an easel. It was a large picture, evidently a portrait and half shielded by a cloth that had been thrown over it. Musgrave stepped up to this and regarded the picture intently. It was a really fine piece of work, comparatively modern in its treatment and colouring and represented a young woman in the garb of a late Victorian. Tight waist, high shouldered dress and a huge picture hat at the typical Gainsborough angle. A beautiful woman, despite what to an ultra modern eye was a fantastic costume, so that Musgrave examined it closely.
And then he had another shock. Making allowance for the difference in periods, here was Pamela over again. Pamela, beyond the shadow of a doubt! He fell back, wondering if he were awake or merely dreaming. For the sense of nightmare was there, as was the sinister atmosphere of dust and dirt and decay, and the silence that was fast getting on Musgrave's nerves. Who were the people who lived here, if anybody lived here at all? And why had the great house, with its wonderful furniture, been so strangely and utterly neglected? And why those lights, when there was no sign of a living being to be seen? Joe seemed to sense that he was alone there and that the house was empty, save for its beautiful surroundings, and with that he would have to be content. He shrank from the idea of searching further and stood there for a long time waiting until it seemed safe for him to make an exit in safety. It was nearly an hour later before he ventured to open the front door cautiously and peep out into the street. So far as he could see, the police had vanished, so that he had the whole place to himself.
Very carefully he crept down the steps. But not until he had managed in the dim light of street lamp to see the figure 17 over the knocker set in tarnished brass: 17 Manton-street. He made a note of it, and then, without further adventure, slid homewards, and, from thence, to bed.
It was very late on the following afternoon before he turned out from between the sheets and sought his bath. Then, after a breakfast of sorts, he bethought himself of the pearls which he had locked up the night before in his safe. He was still pondering over this when Jimmy Primrose arrived.
"I suppose you have come for those stones?" Musgrave asked.
"Guessed it in one," Jimmy said. "Lord, what a night it was! It was nearly 4 o'clock this morning before Pamela telephoned Daphne to tell her that it was all O.K., and that you had the missing property in your possession. But I am hanged if I can make top or tail of the story."
Musgrave went on to describe the events of the previous night, including the strange adventure in the sinister house.
"Well, if that don't beat the band," Jimmy exclaimed. "A sort of Arabian Nights, mixed up with a dash of 'Dante's Inferno,' illustrated by Dore, in twenty parts, price ten guineas. But what about the bloke you biffed, eh?"
"Oh, I don't know," Musgrave said. "I dare say there will be something about it in the evening papers. Nasty business for me, anyway. Now, you just cut along with those pearls and meet me at eight o'clock at The Marathon and we'll talk this business over whilst we are dining. Off you go."
It was about six o'clock when Musgrave sent Verily out for a sheaf of the evening journals. He came back presently and Joe turned eagerly to the damp sheets.
Yes, there it was. Mysterious affair in Manton-street. Man murderously assaulted and left for dead on the pavement. Taken to Charing Cross Hospital, and all the rest of it.
Musgrave breathed a little more freely when he read this, because it was proof positive that the man was not dead. There were other details taking up the remainder part of half a column, but nothing to point to the identity of the injured man. So far as Joe could gather, his assailant of the night before had not been very seriously injured and, doubtless, he would not be too communicative as to his identity and the reason why he happened to be in Manton-street at that hour of the morning.
Then, just as he was about to throw the paper on one side, his eye caught a paragraph in the stop-press edition.
"With regard to the Manton-street outrage early this morning, a strange sequel comes from Charing Cross Hospital. Left to himself for a short time, in the ward where he was lying, it seems that the injured man got up, and dressing himself rapidly, left the hospital without saying a word to a soul, and, up to the time of going to press, nothing has been seen or heard of him since. Not even his identity is known."
Musgrave stared blankly at the paper. Where was this tangle of mystery going to end?
After he had despatched his urgent telephone message to a mysterious individual somewhere in the background, Beaucaire washed his swollen face and sat down with what patience he could to wait for a reply. But though the hours and the minutes slipped on, no sign came, and Beaucaire was fain to retire to his room at length and try to sleep. He came back to his sitting-room some time in the middle of the morning, very stiff and very sore and still unrefreshed and uneasy in his mind, wondering why he had heard nothing from the man at the other end of the wire. Then at length he could stand it no longer and called up a number. An entirely strange voice answered him.
"Is Prince Sergius Phasy there?" he asked.
"No, he isn't, sir," came the reply. "He doesn't seem to be on the premises at all."
"Wasn't he there last night?"
"That I can't tell you, sir. The night porter said that he came in late and went out again about three-quarters of an hour after. Since then he has not come back. At least, he has not been down to breakfast, nor has he occupied his room. Is there anything wrong, sir?"
"Oh, dear, no," Beaucaire hastened to say. "Oh, no. Only I wanted to speak to him. Please don't bother. Very likely he will come round here in the course of the morning."
Beaucaire spoke confidently enough, but he was feeling uneasy in his mind. He knew perfectly well that it was no uncommon thing for this mysterious Phasy to be away from the obscure little hotel off the Strand where he resided. But it was certainly unwise to arouse suspicion in the minds of the people who kept the hostelry in question.
Still, there was no getting away from the fact that Beaucaire was both restless and uneasy. At his special request the man Phasy had set out to accomplish a dangerous errand, no less than a stealthy attack upon Musgrave, and, in the ordinary course of events, ought to have let him know the result of his adventure. Indeed, Beaucaire had expected a visit from his confederate on the night before. He had either succeeded or he had not, but, whichever way fortune went, he should have acquainted Beaucaire with the result of the encounter without delay.
And yet he had done nothing of the kind. He had not even been home. Nothing had been heard of him since, and where he was and what had happened to him, Beaucaire was utterly at a loss to understand. Neither could he do anything to find out. All he had to do now was to sit down patiently and wait for some sign of Phasy before he made the next move in the desperate game upon which he had embarked.
Perhaps, some accident had happened to Phasy, perhaps he had been caught in the act of assaulting Musgrave and promptly given in custody. It was no use looking in the morning paper, because the encounter, if there had been one, had taken place long after every news sheet had gone to press. And the last thing in the world that Beaucaire wanted was to take anybody else into his confidence. So he ate his breakfast and his lunch and sat brooding in his rooms waiting on events.
It was two hours later still, when his sitting-room door opened and a dapper little man with dark hair and curled moustache came smilingly in. Beaucaire jumped to his feet.
"Phasy," he cried. "Now, where the devil have you been? Not a word from you last night, though I sat up till daylight waiting for a message. I 'phoned to your pothouse, but they said you had gone out very late and had not come back. I dared not ask any further questions for obvious reasons. But you have given me no end of a fright. What happened?"
The little man with the dark hair and dark eyes sat down carefully in a chair, and rubbed the back of his head.
"From our point of view, dear friend, nothing," he said. "Oh, yes, I made the attempt. I ran Musgrave down and I thought I had got him. But I was what you call making a bloomer. Is not that the word, yes? Then he turned on me as if he knew I was behind and before I could get my knife——"
"Knife," Beaucaire echoed. "You don't mean to say you tried to assassinate him?"
"But yes, my friend," Phasy said tranquilly. "Not to kill, oh, no, but perhaps to stab him high up between the shoulders and rob him as he lay on the ground. It is not wise to what you call tackle the English athlete with the fist. Oh, no. In a duel with swords, then I would have him at my mercy. And you told me it was vital to get back that little gold box. So I make a blow at him and, before I know what was happening, behold me lying on my back as if I had been struck with a bomb. But for having a skull like that of a nigger, I should be a dead man at this minute. When I come to myself, I am in hospital with a lump on the back of my head as big as a football. And there I lie till an hour to two ago, when I make my escape. I get up and dress quietly and what you call sneak out of the hospital, because I want no questions asked. Once I am recognise, then everybody know that I am Prince Sergius Phasy, and that I have been made the victim of an attack in the street. The newspaper man come and they make what they call a story out of it. And I do not want to be the hero of a story like that. And that is about all, my excellent friend Beaucaire. I come round here as soon as I can to tell you that I make the mistake and talk with you to see if you can put it right again. But I have not the box, and I have not even the reason why you are so anxious to get it. It is a little stunt, perhaps, which you are keeping from your dear friend Sergius. Is not that so, yes? And your dear friend Sergius, though he love you very much, does not like little secrets between friends."
"So you think I am double-crossing you?" Beaucaire asked. "Is that what you have in your mind?"
"I am pretty sure of it," the other man said. "Until I know the truth, we go no further."
Beaucaire looked at the speaker out of the corner of his eye. He could see behind a certain lightness of speech a determination which he could not ignore.
"Very well, then," he said. "I will put all my cards on the table. You know all about me, Sergius, just as I happen to know all about you."
"That is quite right," Phasy agreed. "I am Hungarian nobleman before the war, rich and powerful, with property of my own in Roumania, and that was the property from whence I derived my big income. Then I fight with the Austrians in the lines with Germany, and when the war is over those Roumanian thieves they confiscate my castle and my land, yes, even all my securities and investments, and leave me in a lonely chateau in the Austral Tyrol which is worth perhaps a hundred crowns a year. I am ruined. I have my title and my ancestors behind me, and a great name. But, dear Beaucaire, I cannot live on a great name, and I have learnt to look after myself during the war. There is no honesty in the world, believe me, or perhaps we should not be talking together here as we are now. I come to England thinking perhaps that I shall find a rich wife among your bloated profiteers, who will be glad to call herself Princess Phasy in exchange for her wealth. And I fail. But because I can do anything with a pack of cards, I turn to them for a living. How have the mighty fallen, dear Beaucaire."
"Very likely," Beaucaire muttered. "I too, was fairly well off before the war. But everything went to rack and ruin whilst I was fighting. And when I got back to England again there was nothing for it but to starve in a land which was going to be made fit for heroes to live in. Nobody cared, nobody worried. What use had society for a broken soldier? But society might be made use of by a broken soldier and, for the last three or four years, I have taken a pretty good toll of it. I tell you, Phasy, I care nothing for my old name and what was once a decent reputation, so long as there are fools in the world to be fleeced. I suppose I inherited that talent from my north country ancestors in the days when they lived by robbing their neighbours. So, you see, there isn't much between us."
"Not very much," Phasy agreed. "Only you are a bit smarter than I am. But you are not smart enough to get me to risk my freedom, as I did last night, and think I am going to be put off with some fairy story about a gold snuff-box. Now, why did you want it? And what do you expect to get out of it?"
"Very well, then, I will tell you," Beaucaire said. "The gold snuff-box is part of a side show which I was going to keep to myself. A sort of insurance if you know what I mean. There is money in it, lots of it and, since I must share the plunder with you, I will. It is rather a long story and it concerns one of our oldest families whose seat is in Northumberland. Did you ever hear the name of Heronspey?"
"No, I can't say I have," Phasy replied.
"Oh, well, it doesn't matter. They date back to the Normans, a very fine old race, full of pride and tradition and absolutely bursting with money. The head of the family is an old man in his eightieth year, or thereabouts. He lives quite alone with a big retinue of servants, and I don't suppose he spends a tenth part of his income. He must be absolutely rolling in money."
"A most enviable condition, dear boy."
"Up to a certain point, yes. But the bigger the closet, the bigger the skeleton, and the skeleton is there in Heronspey Castle all right. If it were your case or mine, we should make nothing of it, but then, we are moderns and old Heronspey is mediaeval. A stain on the family honour is torture to a soul like that. And the stain is there, right enough. If you had been successful last night, we should have had the key to the secret in our hands."
"I smell blackmail," Phasy grinned.
"Call it what you like," Beaucaire muttered. "But, properly handled, there is a fortune in it for us."
"I am intrigued," Phasy cried. "I have never tried my hand yet at blackmail, but, as your admirable proverb says, 'adversity makes us acquainted with strange bedfellows.' Proceed, my honest and honourable friend, proceed."
"Well, it's like this," Beaucaire went on. "About three years ago, before we met, or rather before we went into a sort of partnership, I was looking for a handy man to do a little job for me—the sort of dirty work that one in my position could not undertake personally. In the course of my inquiries I came across a middle-aged sailor, whose name was Dutton. I never knew his Christian name, but when I tell you he was called Ratty you can understand the class of individual he was."
"Oh, yes," Phasy cried. "The man with the snuff-box."
"Yes, that's right. A hard thick-skinned sailor who has been all over the world and known what it is to find himself inside a gaol. Ready for anything at all times and prepared to commit any crime from pitch and toss to manslaughter, if you only paid him for it. No brains, of course, but any amount of pluck and bulldog courage. He had done what I wanted him to do and I was paying him in this very room when, quite by chance, he happened to mention a certain name. That name was Heronspey. Then it came out that Dutton had been born on the Heronspey estate. By a strange coincidence I first saw the light within 20 miles of Heronspey Castle. Of course, I knew a good deal about the history of the Heronspeys, so what Dutton said to me was not without interest. One thing led to another until Dutton reminded me that nearly fifty years ago old Ian Heronspey had a grown-up daughter. She was possessed of all the elegance and pride of her race, with a will almost as resolute as her father's. She resented her confined life and her cast-iron surroundings. More than that, she had a really remarkable gift for painting. Her idea was that she should go out in the world and make a name for herself as a great artist. Probably she would have done so, but the old man would not hear of it. The mere suggestion that a Heronspey should get her own living was unthinkable. Well, to make a long story short, this girl made a bolt for it with a handsome young gamekeeper, and was never heard of again. The scandal was hushed up, and everybody was led to believe that the daughter had gone abroad with friends and that she had died in Florence or some place like that. The family servants were reliable, and the real history of the case never came out."
"You will pardon me, my dear friend," Phasy said, "but that does not sound very convincing. Besides, there is nothing artistic in the scheme you are working out, and I do love to have something of artistry about my little schemes. You cannot go to that venerable old gentleman and bluntly tell him you know all about the family scandals, and demand a large sum of money for keeping your mouth shut. He might kick you out of the house."
"He might," Beaucaire muttered. "But he wouldn't. Now, my dear chap, you know me pretty well by this time. You can't see me doing a crude thing like that. Oh, no. We shall have to move on entirely different lines."
"Pardon," Phasy murmured, "I interrupt you. Go on."
"Well, Dutton knew all about it. Not that he learnt it at the time, because he was only a child when the scandal took place, but the handsome young gatekeeper was known to him by repute, at any rate, and five or six years ago he and Dutton met in San Francisco. It was a chance meeting, but one word led to another, and the old story was told. Now Wallace, the gamekeeper in question, was a dying man at the time. He was suffering from a malignant disease from which he knew that he could never recover, and he told Dutton the whole story of his early love-making, and how the heiress to the Heronspey fortune had thrown herself into his arms. They had gone off together without any heed of the future and hidden themselves in London. It was an unhappy business from the first, it was bound to be. There was nothing in common between the highborn girl with her share of family pride, and the son of the soil, despite his good looks. So, after a few months, the man Wallace abandoned the girl, Elinor, to her fate and went abroad. He discovered by accident, later on, that she was not the disowned, penniless creature he imagined, because shortly afterwards she came into quite a considerable fortune owing to the death of a distant relative, and the only person who knew where she was was an old lawyer called Hartley Horne. Now this Horne had been for years the solicitor to the Heronspey family, and might be so still if he hadn't had a bitter quarrel with a client who was as old as himself. So, when Elinor came into the money, Hartley Horne lay low, like Brer Fox, and said nothing. He is a queer dry stick of a man who lives over his offices in Lincoln's Inn and is occasionally seen dining at The Marathon Club, of which he is a member."
"Aren't you a member too?" Phasy asked.
"Oh, yes," Beaucaire said with a bitter grin. "I have been a member for years. So is Musgrave for the matter of that, and Primrose. By the way, some of these days Jimmy Primrose will have all the Heronspey money. He is next of kin to the old man who, I believe, makes him a handsome allowance on condition that he abstains from gambling in all forms. Rather a peculiar condition for an old swell who keeps a racing stable."
"What, Ian Heronspey?" Phasy asked.
"Yes, the same. That is part of the family tradition, don't you know. Because they have always had a racing stable, they always must. But Heronspey takes no interest in it, except two or three times a year when he happens to have a horse running in one of the classic races. Then he comes down south to see his horse run, after which he bolts back to the family stronghold, and is seen no more for months."
"Aren't you getting a bit off the track?" Phasy asked.
"Well, perhaps I am. But still, I can't properly explain my scheme without going into these family details. So we will get back to San Francisco to the meeting between Dutton and Wallace. Dutton was rather vague about it, but he told me that just before Wallace died he handed him that particular gold snuff-box we are after. He said that if Dutton would search it carefully he would find something connected with it which might be turned into a veritable treasure house. He didn't explain, because he hadn't the opportunity. When Dutton went round to see him the next day he was dead. So that all Dutton had for his pains was a valuable snuff-box and the half-finished story. He told me that story and, naturally enough, I asked him where the snuff-box was. Dutton replied that he had left it in San Francisco with the owner of some sailors' boarding house as security for a bill. I asked him if he could get it back again, and he said he could. He felt quite sure that the next time he was in San Francisco with a few pounds to spare he could redeem the box. It was a bit of a long shot, but I gave Dutton a ten-pound note and he promised, when he returned to England, to bring me the box."
"And you saw nothing more of him, yes?"
"Quite right. I don't think I ever really expected to. But on the principle of throwing a sprat to catch a whale, I risked the money. As I told you just now, that was about two years or more ago. Then, within the present week, Dutton turned up again and offered me the box. But he wouldn't part with it unless I gave him another ten pounds. He said he had got into trouble on landing, and had been robbed of a whole year's pay almost before he left the docks. I told him that if he left the box with me he could have the money in the morning, but he said he was broke to the world, and must have some cash there and then. Well, my dear boy, you know what a disastrous week I had. I didn't know where to turn for a five-pound note, and you were somewhere in Paris without leaving your address behind. I told Dutton if he would come back in the morning I could oblige him. As I had a lucky evening at cards, I was in a position to carry out my promise when Dutton came along. He told me that he had sold the box to a dealer in a little shop off Wardour-street, and that if I liked to give him a few pounds he would tell me the name of the place, and I could go round and get the box for myself. So I parted with that few pounds, and raced off to Wardour-street without losing a minute. Just before I entered the shop, I saw Musgrave come out of it. You can imagine what happened. By the sheerest ill-luck, he happened to see that box in the window, and went in and bought it. Had I been five minutes earlier it would have been mine. Now you know why I wanted that snuff-box so badly. My idea is that there is a false top or a false bottom to it, and, concealed underneath, is some document of importance. Of course, I may be utterly wrong, but I don't think so, my friend, I don't think so. We have got to get that box back. I don't say that you will have to do it. But somebody will. Now, look here. There is a race meeting at Sandown next week and Musgrave and his lot are pretty certain to be there. They attend most of the racing fixtures near London, and Primrose almost invariably accompanies his friend. You must get some of the boys to follow them. There is Grimstock and Bosley and one or two more of that kin in our play who can hang about and try and pick Musgrave's pocket. You may be pretty certain he will value that snuff-box more than ever and will show it to his friends and tell them the story of the attack on him. That is, if he doesn't want to get any scandal attached to Miss Dacre's name. What we have to do is to get up some sort of dispute near a bookmaker's stand when Musgrave is close by. A row, a dispute over some bet—you know the sort of thing. Then, in the melee, the boys can crowd round Musgrave and surely amongst them they can lay their hands on that precious box."
"And after that?" Phasy asked.
"After that, my story will be continued."
It was the following morning when Joe was seated peacefully at his breakfast after his bath and morning bout with Verily that Jimmy Primrose dropped in with a countenance quite the reverse from his usual optimistic cheerfulness. He flung himself down in a chair and refused Joe's offer of hospitality until he had delivered himself of his errand.
"Come," Joe said. "What's wrong, old man. Out with it. Something to do with money, of course."
"Is there anything that isn't?" Primrose asked drearily.
"I suppose not. What's the amount?"
"Well, it isn't much," the usually cheerful one said. "Only a matter of a hundred this time. I had an awful time last week and it's three weeks till my allowance is due. Lend me a century, old man. That confounded bookie——"
"Nothing to worry about on that score," Musgrave replied. "Of course, you can have the money if you want it. But don't you think you are an awful fool, Jimmy? Here you are, without a penny of your own and absolutely dependent upon a queer, cross-grained old gentleman who runs his own horses and yet, illogically enough, objects to gambling. Upon my word, I wonder why Ian Heronspey allows you anything."
"Oh, dash it all, he must," Jimmy protested. "Ain't I next in succession to the family property? I don't quite know what relationship it is, but I am next of kin, anyhow. Some of these early days I shall be the owner of Glentower and a big pot in my way. It would be a national scandal if the old man failed to do his duty."
"I don't think he would worry much about that," Joe smiled grimly. "Of course, Glentower is a fine place with its grouse moors and salmon fishing and deer forest, but you couldn't keep it up on the estate revenue. If the old man chose to leave his private fortune to anybody else, you wouldn't be much better off than you are at the present moment. And you couldn't sell Glentower either, because it's entailed."
"Oh, I know all that," Jimmy said moodily. "But I can't resist a flutter. It's so dashed illogical and all the more so because my present trouble is entirely due to having backed Heronspey's colt, Royal Blood, at Newmarket, last week. I thought it was a cert, and, anyhow, wasn't I showing my family loyalty by having a dash on the horse? Now fancy a man who runs a gee at a big meeting cutting up rough because his own relation was stout enough to have a pound or two on him. More than that, I have backed Pride of the Hills to win the Clarendon Stakes at Sandown to-morrow. Another of Heronspey's horses. What on earth does he run them for unless unless he expects people to back them?"
Musgrave smiled at this ingenuous argument as he rose from the table and proceeded to fill in the cheque for the desired amount. Once the slip of paper was thrust into Jimmy's waistcoat pocket, he proceeded to state that he was easier in his mind, and that, if pressed, he thought he could manage a mouthful of breakfast. Then, still further cheered by a hearty meal of fried bacon and kidneys, he suggested that on the morrow they should make up a little party consisting of Daphne and Pamela and themselves, and motor down to Sandown to see Pride of the Hills win the Clarendon Stakes. As to the result of this race, Jimmy Primrose had not the slightest doubt.
"There you go again," Musgrave said. "Always the complete optimist. I suppose you can see yourself coming back from Sandown to-morrow night with a pocketful of money and a generous surplus after getting out of my debt."
"I shouldn't wonder," Jimmy said. "What do you say? Right. I'll go off and see the girls and you find the car. So long."
With that, Jimmy Primrose went off as if he hadn't a care in the world, leaving Musgrave to his letters and the morning paper and his own not altogether satisfactory thoughts. He had said nothing to Jimmy yet as to the miniature painted on the outside of the snuff-box, neither was he going to do so for the moment. But he felt sorely in need of a wise head to guide him at a juncture like this. There was something so strange and mysterious about the whole business that Musgrave did not know what to think or what to do. He had taken Pamela so long for granted that the mystery surrounding her birth had not troubled him in the slightest. She was part and parcel of his own particular set and popular wherever she went. There was one man who knew, and that was the old lawyer in Lincoln's Inn. It was he who had seen to Pamela's early up-bringing and education, he who had seen to it that the right sponsors had introduced her into society. Indeed, it was a female relative of Musgrave himself who had vouched for Pamela. But then she was dead now, and there was just the chance that she had been no wiser than anybody else.
Still, if there was a mystery, it was high time that the tangle was cleared up. After all said and done, the Musgraves were a great family, with centuries of tradition behind them, and, as head of a race, Joe Musgrave had certain responsibilities which he could not altogether ignore. He hoped to marry Pamela one of these days, though that contingency had appeared rather remote a day or two ago, but now, since the episode of the pearls, it looked very much as if Pamela were, at length, awake to her responsibilities, and ready to view life from a different angle.
Joe had not been slow to note the fact as he escorted Pamela back to her flat, after the successful recovery of the stolen pearls. He had never seen her in so soft a mood. She did not bid him a good night with her usual flippancy or with some cheap cynicism on her lips—on the contrary, she was soft and yielding, with something like tears in her eyes. The mood might pass, but at any rate, there it had been and there Joe hoped to find it again when the proper time came.
That he was deeply and overpoweringly in love with Pamela was a fact that he had never attempted to conceal from himself. If she had been prepared to come to him in rags and without a name, then he would have married her. But family pride, inherited over the passing centuries, is a thing that is not lightly cast aside and if there was anything behind the discoveries of the last day or two, then Joe was going to leave no stone unturned to get to the bottom of the mystery.
Then suddenly he made up his mind. He would go down to Lincoln Inn and see Horne and put the matter straight to him. Show him the snuff-box with the likeness on the top and demand to know everything connected with Pamela's past.
With this determination, he went off at once to Lincoln's Inn, where he found Hartley Horne seated is his private office. He was a very old man, small and spare, and shrivelled up with a face like parchment and hands like claws. But there was resolution in every line of the Lawyer's features and a gleam in his eyes like that of an elderly eagle who is not yet past the power of killing his own prey. He looked up coldly and spoke still more coldly when, at length, Musgrave paused.
"I am afraid I don't quite follow you, Mr. Musgrave," he said. "Am I to understand that you have come her demanding to know the history of Miss Pamela Dacre."
"You can put it that way if you like," Musgrave said. "Now look here, sir, Miss Dacre is an exceedingly beautiful girl who goes everywhere and moves in the best society. She is as popular as she is pretty and, apparently, in the command of quite a sufficient income. She was introduced into the great world by an aunt of mine who vouched for her. I don't think that my relative would have done that unless she had been convinced that there was no—well, let us say disgrace——"
"Well," the lawyer asked. "Well? Go on."
"Upon my word. I don't know how to put it. But perhaps you can tell me this. Though Miss Dacre goes everywhere and is received in the best houses, she has never been presented at Court. I should much like to know why."
"And I should very much like to know why you have the impertinence to ask the question," the lawyer retorted.
"Well, I will tell you. Because I hope to marry her. And if I do, I think you will agree that the head of the Musgraves has a perfect right to a reply, on that score."
"Then I am to understand you are are engaged?"
"You are to understand nothing of the sort. But you can understand, if you like, that this strange reticence on your part is seriously prejudicing your client's—well, marriage."
The old lawyer scratched his head ruminatively.
He looked round the dingy rusty room with the dust and cobwebs, and then back at Musgrave once more.
"Have you anything more to say?" he asked.
Impulsively Musgrave drew the snuff-box from his pocket, and slammed it down on the table.
"I want you to look at that, sir," he said. "I want you to observe the likeness between the miniature on the top of the box and Miss Pamela Dacre. It is so amazing that it cannot possibly be a mere coincidence. Making allowance for the difference in the style of dress, and the way in which the hair is arranged, the woman on the box and Miss Dacre are one and the same. At a rough guess, the miniature is Miss Dacere's grandmother. Now, I don't think you will be prepared to deny it."
For a moment, at any rate, Musgrave had shaken Hartley Horne out of his iron reserve. He snatched eagerly at the box, and pored over it with every sign of intense interest. Musgrave could see those claw-like fingers trembling.
"Where did you get this?" the old man cried. "Take it away. Take it away and destroy it. Break it up. You will be a far happier man if you take my advice."
Argue as he might and plead as he would, not one further word could Musgrave drag from Hartley Horne. Baffled and disappointed, he left the office and returned to his flat. It was certain that he had no expectation of any information from the quarter which he had just left. Just for a moment the idea of putting the matter in the hands of private inquiry agent occurred to him, only to be dismissed as impossible. He could not bring himself to discuss Pamela and her affairs with anyone, however likely he might be to help in raising to light something bearing upon Pamela's previous history. Such a course of action might prove satisfactory, and on the other hand, it might lead to something perilously near tragedy. But Joe felt he must tell somebody. Perhaps Jimmy Primrose might help. Jimmy was careless where money was concerned, but, behind his frivolity was a certain shrewdness which might prove to be a valuable asset. Again, there was no denying Jimmy's physical courage.
But there was plenty of time to go into this. So, for the moment, Joe put it out of his mind and did not give it another thought until it was brought back to him with some force during the trip to Sandown Park on the following day.
They were quite a merry party who motored down to the famous racecourse on that sunny morning. There were Pamela and Daphne, the latter entirely happy now that the family pearls had been recovered, and all four were prepared to enjoy themselves to the full. They had taken a luncheon basket with them in preference to seeking one of the club enclosures or the stand, and, having done fairly well over the first race, strolled through the paddock and across the course, killing time until three o'clock, when the horses would parade for the Clarendon Stakes.
Ten minutes before the race was due to start, they made their way back to Joe's car, passing through Tattersall's ring as they did so. There Primrose lagged behind a minute or two to exchange a few remarks with one of the big men in the betting fraternity. The other three a little in advance could see that something in the way of a wager was going on, for the big man had a bulky notebook in his hand and Joe was making a memorandum in a neat little case which he had taken from his waistcoat pocket.
He had just finished his transaction and was hastening to join the others when a tall figure in a wide-bottomed frock coat and rather battered grey top hat slid out of the crowd and laid a hand upon Jimmy's shoulder. Musgrave could see and hear what was going on. Pamela leant forward curiously.
"Who on earth is it?" she asked. "What a splendid-looking old man. He might be a hundred by his kit, which resembles the dress of the bucks of Newmarket Heath in the time of George IV. That white beaver hat must be at least sixty years old. And look at that marvellous cravat. Who is he, Joe? Not a bookmaker, I am sure. There is breeding in every line of him. So old and yet so upright and commanding, I haven't seen a figure like that since I went down to Sadler's Wells last year and a revival of 'Trelawney of the Wells.'"
"Yes, he is rather wonderful, isn't he?" Joe said. "An absolute survival. I am not surprised at your asking, because he is only seen on a racecourse when one of his own horses is running. I suppose he came down from the North on purpose to watch Pride of the Hills."
"Joe," Pamela cried. "That is Mr. Ian Heronspey. I can feel it in my bones."
"Yes, that is Mr. Heronspey all right," Joe said. "It is two years since I saw him last. Oh, yes, he is well over eighty."
"Eighty-seven," Daphne said. "I heard my mother say so only last week. They say he can still ride to hounds and walk a grouse moor with the best of them. How angry he looks. He seems to be annoyed with Jimmy about something."
"I think I can translate that all right," Joe said. "Don't forget that poor old Jimmy is the old man's heir."
"Good gracious, I had forgotten that," Pamela cried. "Isn't the old gentleman a little touched on the subject of betting?"
"You have guessed it," Joe said. "And he has caught poor old Jimmy in the very act. I should not be at all surprised if Jimmy doesn't suffer for this."
"Do you mean get his allowance cut off?" Daphne asked. "Oh, I do hope it won't be as bad as that."
No reply came from Musgrave, for the young man and the old one were moving in the direction of the little party, the magnificent Heronspey still frowning and gesticulating and Jimmy moving by his side in an attitude of extreme dejection. He brightened a little as he caught sight of his own party and spoke to Daphne with forced cheerfulness.
"Oh, here you are," he cried. "Allow me to present my relative, Mr. Ian Heronspey. This is Miss Daphne Lyne. I think you have met my friend, Joe Musgrave, before. Oh, I beg your pardon, Pamela, Miss Pamela Dacre."
The old gentleman took off his curly brimmed beaver in a courtly posture worthy of a D'Orsay or a Chesterfield. Then, as he replaced it and his eyes fell on Pamela, he fairly staggered back and a muttered cry broke from his lips. Just for the fraction of a moment, it seemed as if he were about to collapse. Then he recovered himself marvellously, and forced a florid compliment, with a full Victorian flavour from a mouth that neither faltered nor trembled in the slightest.
"Charmed, delighted," he murmured. "I have heard of Miss Dacre before, though we have never met. I have been reading my young relative here a lesson. He knows the strong objection I have to wagering on horses, though he has never actually given me a promise not to do so. That sort of thing should be left to the vulgar herd. In my young days there was considerable wagering on horses, but then we had our private meetings from which the public were excluded. And racing was the sport especially for gentlemen. Now it is a business. I come down from the North occasionally when I have a horse running, but I assure you I am always thankful enough to get back to my place in Northumberland. You will excuse me now, ladies, I am desolate to leave you, but I have a train to catch. Now, James, remember—no more betting, if you please."
The fine old English gentleman vanished with a magnificent exit that left nothing to be desired. Jimmy looked after him with a shamed flush on his face.
"Anybody would think I was a silly kid," he muttered. "But everybody does feel like a silly kid when standing in the presence of the great man. By gad, you wouldn't think he was nearly 90, would you? And yet he is. I have to go up to Glentower on a sort of duty visit every autumn, and, upon my word, it is almost as bad a being in gaol. Breakfast at 7, and all that sort of thing. And I give you my word, no smoking is allowed in the house. The old boy is downstairs before everybody else in the morning, and orders his household as if they were soldiers on parade. But you can't help respecting him, and, at the same time, pitying him. You see, he lives all alone 11 months a year in a great barracks of a place, with no friends and no companions, brooding over the past. Some family trouble, I believe, though I don't know what on earth it is. I suppose he still worries about that headstrong daughter of his who wanted to be an artist. The girl who ran away to Italy and married there. But never mind about him. Let's get back to the stand and watch the big race."
It was rather a quiet Musgrave who led the little party up to the top of the stand to watch the Clarendon Stakes. He was the only one of the four who had noticed the momentary agitation which had shaken the iron nerve of the northern chieftain when he had first caught sight of Pamela. It had been all over in a flash, but it left a vivid impression upon Musgrave like a sudden flare of lightning on the dark night.
What was the meaning of it, he wondered. Why had that aged hermit been so strangely moved by a pretty face which he had never seen before? It was strange indeed that these happenings should have come one after the other immediately following the purchase of that gold snuff-box which, at that very moment, was reposing in Musgrave's breast pocket. Up to the moment he had entered the old dealer's shop, his life had not been marked by a single incident out of the common. And now not a day passed without some amazing event. And behind it all was a feeling that everything centred around Pamela.
Then, in the excitement of the race, Joe forgot all about that strange meeting and presently the four of them came down from the stand, passing through the paddock and one of the reserved enclosures on their way back to the car.
Here they found themselves suddenly in the centre of one of those curious disturbances so peculiar to racecourses. Three or four bookmakers were gesticulating wildly, and somebody in the thick of the crowd, which seemed to have wheeled like a football scrum until Musgrave and the others were in the very centre of it, proclaimed the fact that he had been robbed.
"'Ware pickpockets," Jimmy whispered.
Musgrave dropped his hand to his hip pocket where his notecase was and kept it there. Then he forced his way through the crowd so that the others could follow him. A minute or two later they were back again in the motor none the worse for their little adventure.
"What was it all about?" Daphne asked.
"Oh, some of the boys at their tricks, I suppose," Jimmy said. "Here, give me a cigarette, Joe, I'm out."
Joe slipped his hand into his breast pocket, and, with a rueful face, brought it back empty.
"I can't," he said. "The snuff-box has been stolen."
It was some hours later on the same afternoon that Joe Musgrave had lost the mysterious snuff-box for the second time, and Beaucaire and Phasy were closeted in the former's flat, deeply engaged in some rascally scheme, as was to be seen from the expressions on their faces. The mask was dropped for the moment and each looked exactly what he was—an adventurer in search of prey. Spread out before them on the dining-room table was a large continental railway map, marked here and there at certain junctions with crosses in blue pencil.
Beaucaire rose and stretched himself at length and took a liberal portion of whisky from a decanter on the table.
"I don't quite like it," he said. "It is all very well to dwell on the fact that that mediaeval castle of yours in the Austrian Tyrol is outside civilisation, but those lonely spots are apt to attract attention. I dare say your old servants are all you claim for them, but old retainers gossip. I like my idea much better. Mind you, this is a big thing, Phasy, with hundreds of thousands of pounds in it, but don't forget that the risk is correspondingly great. If we do get away with it, all well and good, but if we don't, it means at least fourteen years each and, perhaps, worse than that."
"But the thing is so safe," Phasy expostulated. "Look at my position. I am a prince, there is royal blood in my veins. A pauper, yes, it is true, but who would suspect a Phasy?"
"Yes, I have taken all that into account," Beaucaire went on. "But in case anything happens, we must be able to put our hands upon the plant and destroy it immediately. We can't do that if everything is to be done at your end. The police would be on to us long before we had finished."
"Then what is the great idea?" the Austrian asked.
"Well, to divide the field of operations. Make the paper in one place, and print those pretty little thousand franc notes in another. Then, if anything happens, a wireless transmission from a small private station in code, and within a minute our friends know what has happened, and everything will be blown to smithereens before the police can move. Better wait till I have seen our friend, Ratty Dutton, again."
"Ah, the sailor-man," Phasy smiled. "But he has gone to sea. He has left these shores, yes?"
"No, as a matter of fact, he hasn't. He is still hanging about in Limehouse, looking for a ship. Now Dutton, as I told you, started life in a north county village. He was born on the Heronspey estate——"
"No occasion to go into that, my friend," Phasy interrupted. "You told me all about that a day or two ago. But what has a common sailor to do with it?"
"I will tell you if you will listen. You know that Glentower is in a very lonely part of the country. Within a mile or two of the castle there in an old water mill which is fast falling into decay. But the wheel will turn, and there is a good stream behind it. The very place for making the paper. Power and a stream of pure water and a certain amount of running machinery. What more could you have? If we start in your lonely stronghold, we shall have to import machinery in heavy cases and that, in itself, is bound to arouse comment. But I can't do anything till I have seen Dutton."
"It sounds well," Phasy said. "But how are you going to get hold of the premises?"
"Oh, I shall manage all that," Beaucaire said with assumed carelessness. "Very likely I shall employ Dutton as an intermediary. If not I shall go direct to Heronspey himself. There was a time in the past when my grandparents used to visit the castle. The name of Beaucaire is well known to the old gentleman. I shall tell him that I am down and out and that I want a quiet place at a cheap rent where I can experiment in a new aeroplane I am designing. Something to show him that I am a poor man, struggling to get a honest living. Then we can have a wireless transmitting station here, if you like, in addition to my receiving-set, and install two similar apparatus in the old mill. By this means we can communicate both ways at an instant's notice."
"All of which would cost money," Phasy pointed out. "And we have none. We should find it hard to raise two hundred pounds between us. Unless you——"
"Oh, yes, I have in idea," Beaucaire said. "But I am not going to talk about it for the moment. I can see something like a thousand pounds in the offing, with average luck. You leave that side of it to me, and, in a day or two——"
"Somebody ringing at the bell," Phasy interpolated.
Beaucaire proceeded to open the front door and came back into the dining-room followed by two individuals. The one who was called Grimstock was short and fat, and wore one of the now almost extinct walrus moustaches. It was a brilliant red and hung down over a loose, rather sensual mouth. The man might have been a cheese-monger in a small way, or some other type of East End tradesman. His companion, on the other hand, who answered to the name of Bosley, was flashily attired and suggested the sort of commercial traveller who covers the country in a small car, peddling cheap merchandise. He was florid and assertive and evidently under the impression that he could pass anywhere as a gentleman. But neither of the two shone to much advantage in the presence of the men who employed them.
"Well," Beaucaire demanded. "Well? What are you two doing here at this time of night? You know what I asked you to do. I suppose you made a mess of it after all."
"Oh, no, we didn't, boss," the man called Bosley grinned. "We got the box all right and here it is."
With that, the speaker took the snuff-box from his pocket and laid it on the table. Beaucaire said nothing for the moment, though he made no attempt to disguise his satisfaction.
"It wasn't so very easy," Grimstock muttered. "And we ran a bit of a risk at the hands of the cops. Still, there it is and we should like our money. Five pounds apiece, wasn't it? With another fiver for the chap with the slim fingers who actually got away with the booty. Now then."
Beaucaire took from his pocket three five pound notes and handed them over to the first speaker. With a certain air of contempt, he indicated the decanter on the table and asked his visitors to help themselves. They did so awkwardly enough in the presence of their superior, and, when they had emptied their glasses, stood as if waiting further orders.
"That will do for to-night," Beaucaire said with an insolent gesture of dismissal. "You can go now. But be handy in case I need you again. I shall want you before long, especially you, Bosley. Got a small car, haven't you?"
"Got the use of one," Bosley corrected.
"Well, it comes to the same thing. A man who travels about the country representing a firm of drapers, as you do, is just the individual we require. I am not going to tell you what we want you for yet, but you will be paid when the time comes. It is going to be a dangerous business, but I don't suppose you mind if pay is high enough."
"Not me," the man Bosley grinned. "Nor my pal Grimstock, neither. Well, good night, sir."
The two men vanished, and Beaucaire took the gold snuff-box from the table and was proceeding to lock it up in a drawer of his writing desk when Phasy intervened.
"Not quite so impetuous my friend. There are things I want to know. There are things I am going to know. The secret behind that snuff-box, for instance. You not trust me and I not trust you. Now, then, for once in your life, tell the truth, the whole truth, and what your police call, nothing but the truth. The mystery of that box. Come."
With a shrug of his shoulders, Beaucaire replaced the box on the table and proceeded to examine it thoroughly. This he did with the aid of a magnifying glass and a fine-scale ivory rule. Two or three minutes elapsed before the puzzled frown left his face and he smiled broadly.
"Here we are," he said. "There is a double top to this box. If I insert the tip of a knife blade in that little indenture in the beading, I open the double lid, thus. And what have we got? A half sheet of common notepaper."
It was as Beaucaire had said. Merely a scrap of very coarse and common paper, headed with the name of a village close to Berwick-on-Tweed and dated a long time ago. Then followed three lines with a declaration to the effect that one Hector Wallace acknowledged Elinor Heronspey as his wife and she him as her husband. The names of two witnesses were appended and that was all. Beyond that, there was not even a line.
"Oh, pouff," Phasy cried. "What a disappointment. Ah, the same all the world over. The confiding woman and the deceitful man. It has been the same since the flood. That paper is not worth the ink that has been spent on it."
"No, apparently not," Beaucaire agreed, with a crestfallen face. "It looks as if we had had all our trouble for nothing. Still, it was only a side show after all. Now have another drink and let us forget all about it."
Phasy proceeded to help himself to a fresh whisky and soda whilst Beaucaire carelessly tossed the gold box into the drawer and turned the key on it. It was as if he had dismissed the matter from his mind altogether.
But when Phasy had departed in his airy, inconsequent fashion, Beaucaire went back to a further examination of the paper and there was a queer cunning smile on his face as he read those apparently worthless words for a second time.
"This," he mused, "is a case for counsel's opinion. It might not be so valueless after all."
To say that Joe Musgrave was annoyed at the loss of his snuff- box is to put the case too mildly. Not that it was of much use to him, save that it had on the face of it a faithful likeness of Pamela Dacre, but he felt, illogically enough, that her fortunes were in some way bound up within the confines of that artistic piece of work. Nor did he believe that an ordinary pickpocket had taken advantage of the disturbance in the paddock at Sandown Park to relieve him of an article like that. The more he thought it over, the more convinced he was that the whole thing was a clever "plant" on Beaucaire's part to regain possession of the box. Why, he did not know, but there must have been some powerful reason for Beaucaire's action.
He was still turning this problem over in his mind when he strolled into the smoking-room of The Marathon Club on the following afternoon. There were only one or two members present, but amongst them was Beaucaire himself. He nodded almost insolently to Musgrave as he rose from his chair and lighted a cigarette, preparatory to leaving the room. It was almost is if he were defying Joe to say anything.
And Joe might have said a good deal had it not been for the scandal which might have involved the good name of Pamela Dacre. It was almost a duty on Joe's part to denounce the man and request the club committee to take action in the matter. But for the moment, at any rate, Joe shrank from such a course. He returned Beaucaire's nod curtly enough and threw himself into a chair by the fireplace on the opposite side of which no less a person than General John Goldsworthy was seated. The elderly warrior nodded his head like a bird.
"Upon my word," the old gentleman chirruped. "I don't know what we are coming to. Every time I come into the club I am half afraid of having my pocket picked. If the committee only did their duty, men like Beaucaire and others of his kidney would be flung out of the club neck and crop. We are too tolerant, my boy, much too tolerant. How does that fellow get his living, I ask you. Cards and all that sort of thing, if it is not anything worse. A disgrace to his name. His father would turn in his grave if he knew how his son was getting a living. Oh, I could tell you a lot, young fellow, only I could not prove it. A thorough bad lot."
Joe sat, half conscious of the old man's babbling. He knew he was the most inveterate gossip in the club and a perpetual fountain of scandal and innuendo. There was nothing in that way that he did not seem to know. And then, suddenly, an idea shaped itself in Joe's mind.
"You must have seen a lot in your time, sir," he said, feeling his way. "I dare say you could tell some fine stories if you liked. Your autobiography would be well worth reading. Oh, by the way, you have chambers in Manton-street."
"Had them for forty years," the old man chuckled. "I could write a history of the street. Beat any novel you ever read out of sight. Tragedies and comedies and all the rest of it. Every London street is full of them."
"Yes, I suppose it is," Joe agreed. "Do you happen to know anything about number 17 in your road?"
"Seventeen? I should think I did. Not that I have ever been inside it, mind you. Nobody has for half a century, and nobody has since I have been in the road. Now, there is a mystery for you. Fine house, sir. Must have at least 30 rooms in it, and no living soul has ever seen the front door properly opened. Windows grimed with dust and dirt, and steps not cleaned since heaven knows when. It is nearly opposite to my place, and I see it every morning when I leave home. Occupied by a woman. Nobody seems to know her name, and nobody troubles about her. The postman calls about once a week with one letter. And that is a businesslike-looking one in a blue envelope."
Joe listened without daring to interrupt the old gentleman's flow of information. It was evident, from what he said, that he had cross-examined the postman—if only out of birdlike curiosity.
"Well, there you are, sir. Sort of thing that could not happen anywhere but in London. Woman living there all her life without a single visitor, never sick or sorry, at least she has never had a doctor, and never a light to be seen in the place at night, except in one of the attic windows where, I believe, the mysterious female sleeps. She has her provisions brought to the area door and takes them in herself. Then, when she has to pay for them, she keeps the tradesmen's assistants waiting in a little dark entry whilst she gets the money for it. And, by gad, sir, there is not one of them who could identify her in a police court. There is not a tradesman or his boy in the neighbourhood who has the least idea what she is like. I suppose she gets her money sent her once a week in the blue envelope, because occasionally she gets one of the errand boys to change a fiver or ten-pound note for her, and gives him a few pence for his trouble. But she always transacts her little bit of business in a dark alley beyond the area door. Probably the house belongs to her. I suppose she manages to pay the rates some way or another. Or, more probably, they are paid for her by some lawyer fellow. On the other hand she may have a large sum of money in the house. By gad, sir, it is a most amazing thing that she has never been burgled. You hear of those chaps getting into houses that are full of servants and people, and yet none of them has ever ventured to tackle a big West End establishment where an old lady lives all alone and sleeps in a garret at the top of the house. Why, the thieves need not even run the risk of getting in by the front door. There is a garden at the back, and at the end of it a ruined old gate opens on to a blind alley. I could do the job myself and nobody any the wiser. But who she is, or where she comes from, Heaven alone knows."
Certainly a most mysterious business altogether, Musgrave told himself as he turned out of the club, half an hour later, only to run into the arms of Jimmy Primrose. There and then he made up his mind to act.
"Well met," he cried. "You are just the man I want. You come round to my flat at half-past seven to-night and have a bit of dinner with me. But don't dress. Put on some really old clothes, and if they are dark so much the better. Cram a pair of tennis shoes into your pocket, and if you are in the mood for adventure I think I can promise you one."
"What's the game?" Jimmy asked eagerly.
"Well, to put it mildly, burglary," Musgrave said. "At any rate, we are going to break into a house, and when we get there I think I can show you something that will astonish you. We are not going to bring anything away with us, and if we are caught by the police, I think I shall be able to explain."
"Count me in," Jimmy cried. "By Jove, old chap, since you got hold of that precious snuff-box you seem to have plunged headlong into a sea of intrigue. Well, so long, I'll be round to-night at half-past 7 sharp."
It was after a modest dinner, beautifully cooked by the versatile Verily, that Joe unbosomed himself to his friend. It was a most glorious story, and Jimmy listened with flattering attention. He was only too eager, he said, to do his best to get to the bottom of this strange mystery.
"It's the most exciting thing I have ever struck," he said. "Brings back that old feeling we used to have in the trenches. But I don't quite see what you are driving at. Do you really think this old woman who lives in a shoe, so to speak, has anything to do with our dear little Pam's fortunes?"
"Ah, that I can't tell you," Joe said. "But I think it must be so. Otherwise, where did that picture come from that I have just been telling you about. And how did that other picture get on the lid of the snuff-box?"
"Conundrums," Jimmy murmured. "Conundrums. And when you have shown me that picture in Sinister House, as you call it, what are you going to do next?"
"Ah, there you have me again," Joe confessed. "My idea was to rummage round and see if we couldn't find documents or papers or old letters. They might shed some light on the darkness. Anyhow, I believe that the lady of the Sinister House could tell us a whole lot if she would, and I am quite certain that that stuffy old Hartley Horne could tell us a lot more if he liked. I drew a blank with him, as I told you, but I should like to get the better of him, if only out of vanity. But, come on, it's past 11, and we had best be moving."
They crept out of the house and along the streets until they came to their destination. There Musgrave led the way down a narrow passage and along the back of the houses in Manton-street, until, at the end of a little blind alley, a broken gate barred the way. It was an easy matter to climb this and enter the deserted garden. Here, safe from observation, they contrived to force the catch of a window and entered the silent house, lighting themselves as far as the studio with an electric torch. Once inside this was not needed, as the ancient oil lamps threw a subdued light over the place.
"Well, there you are," Joe whispered. "There is the picture. What do you think of it?"
Primrose examined the canvas carefully.
"Wonderful," he murmured. "Pamela to the very life. Pamela as if she were on her way to a fancy dress ball in her grandmother's very best clothes. By gad, this is a funny thing. I——"
The speaker suddenly paused and listened. Musgrave laid a hand on his friend's shoulder and drew him behind a big screen. As he did so the sound of footsteps faintly echoed, and two men entered the studio by the hall door.
Through a crack in the screen Musgrave recognised them. They were Prince Phasy and Vivian Beaucaire.
It was a four-fold screen of elaborately carved oak behind which Musgrave and Primrose were hiding, so that they could see pretty well all that was going on through the interstices formed by the hinges. They saw Beaucaire and Phasy standing coolly there as if the whole place belonged to them, and as if they had not the slightest fear of being disturbed.
The big studio was lighted up, as usual, by the oil lamps in the ancient brass chandelier, so that the dust and dirt and cobwebs that hung down from the ceiling stood up in high relief against the beautiful furniture and works of art with which the studio was crowded. It was a strange contrast between desolation and what must have been, at one time, a room in which the owner had taken every possible pride. And now all that had been changed, and the place might have been closed for the best part of a century, judging from its dilapidated appearance.
"What do you think of it?" Beaucaire asked.
"A fine place," Phasy said. "But extraordinary, mon ami, to find anything like this in London—and in the best part of London, too. It is like stepping back from some up-to-date night club into the middle ages."
"You are about right there," Beaucaire agreed. "I thought you would be surprised. And just the very place for our purpose. Couldn't possibly be better."
Phasy carefully dusted a brocaded armchair and sat down in it. He surveyed his surroundings with a critical eye before he spoke again.
"How did you find it out?" he asked.
"By keeping my eyes and ears open. As a matter of fact I have read all about this place in one of the newspapers. At least I read a sort of article which was called 'Sinister House'."
"Not a bad name either," Phasy nodded agreement.
"Well, the writer of the article is one of those chaps who makes a business of finding out all sorts of odd places and writing them up. He spoke about this place as the abode of a hermit. He didn't give any names, of course, because he probably didn't know any. His line of argument was that it was quite possible for anybody to bury himself away in London, right in the heart of some residential part, and have no more notice taken of him than you notice a dog in the street. It was a very good piece of work altogether, and rather fascinated me. An impressionist picture of an aged individual who lived in a splendid residence all alone and looked after himself, or, in this case, herself, without a neighbour asking a question. As a matter of fact there are lots of houses like that, but the one we are in now was so well imagined that it made a considerable impression upon me. I suppose that is about a year or more ago. For the moment I did not think much about it, but when you came to England with that big scheme of yours the great idea came to me in a flash. Why not do all that we want in this house? Nobody living in it but an eccentric old woman who lived entirely alone and never lets a single soul pass the front door. What a splendid hiding place for a gang of thieves or some man who is badly wanted by the police!"
"To a certain extent, yes," Phasy said. "But what about the mysterious lady? Wouldn't she have something to say? You couldn't very well hold a sort of night club on her ground floor without her making some foolish objection."
"Oh, I have not overlooked that part," Beaucaire said. "During the last few days I have been making some inquiries. You can get a lot of information from errand boys and tradesmen if you go about it the right way. For instance, I have discovered that the old lady sleeps in a garret at the top of the house. She never comes down before 10 o'clock in the morning, and she is invariably back in her bedroom by nine in the evening. When I had made sure of this I decided to investigate for myself. I got in by the way we came, I mean by the back gate. A dozen men could come and go that way without being observed."
"I should doubt that," Phasy said. "Somebody would be sure to spot them sooner or later."
"That could be got over, though. In the blind alley at the back there are a couple of deserted stables which I have no doubt we could rent. Put a car or two in them, and then you and myself and the others could come and go just as we liked at any hour of the day or night without attracting attention."
"Yes, that is true enough," Phasy agreed. "But I don't like the old woman part of the question. Suppose she woke up some night and took it in her head to come down here? What would happen then, eh?"
"Oh, well, we should have to take measures."
"And what, precisely, do you mean by that? Taking measures in such a case means violence, and though I am not very particular, I am all against that sort of thing. We will suppose that the lady protests. We will suppose that the lady screams at the top of her voice, or, worse still, creeps back to one of the upper rooms and calls for assistance out of a window. What would you do in that case? No, no, my good friend, you will have to think of something better than that. I do not want to find myself charged with murder."
Beaucaire shuddered slightly.
"That is a nasty word," he muttered. "I wouldn't use it, if I were you. You have found a snag, but then there is always a snag somewhere. Fate puts them there for clever people to get over. At any rate we can decide on some scheme because there is no great hurry. Now, if I can find some plausible way of getting rid of the old lady, are you agreeable to having the mechanical part of the work done here?"
"Delighted," Phasy murmured. "A better place could not be thought of. No inquisitive neighbours, nobody to ask questions, and a means of entrance and exit which has every appearance of being perfectly natural. We could come and go late at night by the back entrance and use a car. Not even the police would smell anything wrong. Work all night and rest all day. But the old woman, my dear fellow, the old woman."
"Oh, bother the old woman," Beaucaire said impatiently. "I will find some way of dealing with her. And now, if you are quite satisfied with what you have seen, we will get back to my rooms where we can smoke without danger."
Phasy rose and proceeded to make a more or less casual inspection of the very dingy treasures in the studio. He pointed to a sort of altar between the two far windows and commented upon the fact that the cloth there was white and fair and that the flowers on both sides in the vases were absolutely fresh.
"It looks to me as if the owner of this house is a trifle mad," he said. "Everything neglected and going to rack and ruin, except beyond that altar rail, which is kept in perfect order every day. Upon my word, it makes me feel quite creepy. And what is this picture doing here?"
As Phasy spoke he advanced towards the picture standing in the centre of the studio and bent to examine it. A cry of surprise broke from his lips.
"Here, what is this?" he demanded. "Look at it. Do you mean to say you didn't notice it when we were here before."
"Not particularly," Beaucaire said. "What is there about it to cause all this excitement?"
"Why, it is the lady of the snuff-box all over again," Phasy cried. "No, it isn't. It's a portrait of that beautiful young lady with whom you had that adventure at The Aphrodite Club—Miss Pamela Dacre. Look for yourself."
"By Jove, so it is!" Beaucaire exclaimed. "No, it isn't. Look again. The face is absolutely identical, but the dress is that of the mid-Victorian era. Besides, the colours have mellowed and the canvas is dingy at the edges. That picture must have been painted at the very least half a century ago. But it is strange I didn't notice it when I was here a few days since. I suppose I was in too great a hurry."
"Still, it is very remarkable," Phasy observed. "The miniature on the snuffbox you made such a fuss about must have been painted from this very original."
"Egad, that is an idea," Beaucaire exclaimed. "Now, I wonder if by any chance——"
He broke off suddenly, as if he had forgotten what he was going to say. From the corner of his eye Phasy gave him a glance that was full of suspicion and malice. Musgrave, hiding behind the screen, did not fail to notice it.
"Wonder what?" Phasy asked shortly.
"Oh, never mind, I was going to say something foolish. Anyhow, the further we get into this the more mysterious it becomes."
"You are quite right there," Phasy laughed. "It is pretty evident that we are looking at the portrait of that confiding young woman, Elinor Heronspey, who was foolish enough to believe that a scrap of dirty notepaper with a few names scratched upon it was a legal marriage certificate. We must inquire into this, my friend. I shouldn't wonder if there was money in it somewhere. And now, if you have nothing further to tell me, I think the sooner we get back to your comfortable flat for a smoke and a drink the better. The atmosphere is depressing."
Beaucaire explained that there was nothing more to tell and a moment or two later the pair of rascals vanished in the direction from which they had come. It was another five minutes before Musgrave emerged from behind the screen.
"Well, what do you think of that?" he asked his companion. "What do you think those two scoundrels are up to?"
Jimmy Primrose shook his head.
"Oh, don't ask me," he said. "At any rate, we know that there is something decidedly sinister on foot, and it would be just as well if we kept an eye on those two."
"You are right there," Musgrave said grimly.
It was an easy enough matter to talk about keeping a watchful eye upon Beaucaire and his confederate, but though Musgrave was alert enough, the best part of a fortnight passed without his being able to detect anything like a suspicious move on the part of the others. Phasy and Beaucaire appeared to be going about London as usual, enjoying themselves with the air of men who are in the possession of ample means, and who were fairly welcome wherever they went. Still, there would have to be a move made sooner or later, but, for the life of him, Joe Musgrave could not see in which direction to turn.
It was at the end of rather an anxious fortnight that Joe saw Pamela again. She had been out of town with friends, so that he had had no opportunity of a conversation with her. They met quite casually on the Sunday morning in Hyde Park after church. They drifted apart from the rest, as was their custom, and found seats presently in a quiet corner.
But it was not altogether the old Pamela, with her cynical pose and remote view of humanity, who sat by Joe's side on that beautiful morning. She seemed to have changed subtly, and Joe noticed with satisfaction that it was decidedly a change for the better. For here was a Pamela all soft and subdued, with a light in her eyes that half veiled a suggestion of trouble. Her mood reacted at once on Joe's.
"What is it, old thing, what is troubling you?" he asked. "Where is our satirical Pam got to? If you are in any trouble, I wish you would confide in me."
"My dear old Joe," Pamela said honestly. "That is exactly what I want to do. I am not going to remind you that I have been literally playing the fool for the last six months, as you know that as well as I do, although you have not said so in as many words. Now, Joe, you and I are old friends."
"More than that," Joe said earnestly. "And you know it. You know perfectly well what my feelings are, and you have known it ever since you came out. However, we won't go into that now, because I don't want to take advantage of your present mood."
"That is just like you, Joe," Pamela said gratefully. "Any other man would make the running when he saw that he had got his field beaten. But don't let me be frivolous. Look here, Joe, I hardly know how to put it. Let us say, for the sake of argument, that you wanted to marry me."
"Why argue about it?" Joe asked. "I don't think there is anybody in our own set who doesn't know it. But there, I promised to play the game and I am going to do so. Go on."
"Well, suppose you wanted to marry me. Suppose you made me a formal proposal. You know the sort of thing I mean. You remind me that you are the head of the old family of Musgrave with a grand old place in Sussex, and that you want me to—oh, well, sit at the head of your table and all that sort of thing. Be mistress of Musgrave Priory. Sit where many a great dame has sat before, and in the course of time—but we need not go quite as far as that. Everything is done in accordance with the best traditions, and the honour is mine to refuse or accept as the case may be. But unfortunately, it doesn't stop there. Joe Musgrave is all very well, because he is a dear, good fellow and Pamela Dacre is very fond of him, but Mr. Joseph Musgrave, the head of the family, does not marry a Pamela Dacre who hasn't the remotest idea who her mother is. She has a still more remote idea who her father is. No, Joe, you are not going to marry a woman like that."
"I rather think I am," Joe said quietly.
"But, my dear boy, you can't possibly do it. It isn't done, even in democratic times like these. Oh, I know lots of the aristocracy marry girls on the stage, but most of those girls have fathers, even if they are only inebriated carpenters or plumbers. I am speaking as lightly as I can, Joe, but I feel it very much all the same. You know perfectly well that a girl like myself can never marry."
"Go on," Joe said. "Let us have it all. But if you think you are going to put me off my heart's desire by palming this Victorian stunt on me you are jolly well mistaken, my dear, and there is the end of it. What does it matter? Who cares? Has any one of your friends ever asked you about your parentage? Do you find anybody, wherever you go, throwing out hints and whispering behind your back? Are you any the less beautiful and attractive because you happen to be hazy as to where you came from and all that sort of thing? This is a jolly rum conversation, Pam, but since you have forced it upon me, I am bound to take it seriously. But if you will take my advice, you will not give the matter another thought. I never have, and I am not going to begin now."
"No. Perhaps not," Pamela agreed. "But then you don't happen to be me. You don't understand that I feel all the more proud and sensitive because of my unhappy position."
"Oh, very well," Joe said. "Now, look here. Why don't you go to old Horne and force the truth out of him? That old fox knows all about it. He knows where your income arises, and exactly how much you have got. Dash it all, you have a right to demand the truth. Tell him the position exactly. Tell him you can be Mrs. Joseph Musgrave to-morrow if you like, but you are too proud to accept an offer until you know exactly where you stand."
"And when I know exactly where I stand?" Pamela asked.
"As you were," Joe said bluntly. "Carry on, Sergeant-Major, and all that sort of thing. You don't suppose it will make any difference to me. Nameless and in rags, you would still be Pamela Dacre, and that is the girl I want."
Pamela wiped a furtive tear from her eye.
"You are splendid, Joe," she murmured. "I'll do it. I'll do it to-morrow. And if Horne says——"
"Oh, I don't care twopence what Mr. Horne says," Joe averred. "Now, let's talk about something else."
It was a further two days before Joe say Pamela again and it was evident from the expression on her face that she had learnt nothing of a reassuring nature from the old spider man in Lincoln's Inn. She looked pale and troubled, and seemed to have lost nearly all of her usual spirit and vivacity.
"It's no good, Joe," she said. "I couldn't get a word out of him. He told me he had nothing to say and nothing to add. I reminded him that I was over age and that I had a right to spend my money as I liked. Of course, by that I meant that it was time everything was handed over. He told me in that dry way of his that there was nothing to hand over, and that he was only employed as a sort of intermediary to pay me a certain sum of money once every three months. He would not tell me whence the money came, and hinted that it might stop at any moment. But one thing I am certain of. He has a most vindictive feeling against my parent or parents, whoever he or they may be. I forget what is was that set him going, but he flared out all at once and there was a look in his eyes that absolutely frightened me. He reminded me of a cat that was just about to pounce on a bird. Oh, he is a horrid old man, Joe, and I don't want to see him again."
"Well, don't," Joe said soothingly. "Forget all about it. And, really, it doesn't matter very much if that mysterious allowance of yours does peter out suddenly. You know very well that you won't need it, at least, you won't need it if——"
Joe stopped suddenly, and he saw the colour flaming into Pamela's cheeks. With a little feeling of shame at his heart he turned the conversation hurriedly.
"Now, come along with me," he said. "We will go as far as the Carlton and have some lunch. You look absolutely done up. I will see you at the Royston's dance to-night, and we can talk business then. Only do try and look like the old Pamela and not like the Lady of Shalot."
It was a couple of hours later that Joe strolled into the smoking-room of The Marathon, where he found the place more or less deserted, which was a matter of some satisfaction to him, because he wanted to sit down quietly somewhere where he could think the matter out. And that matter concerned Pamela and himself. He had done his best so far, but knowing something of Pamela's nature he realised that he had a hard road to hoe before he could bring her round to take the same view of the situation as himself. Not that it mattered much who Pamela was and where she came from, so long as she consented to be his wife. He flung himself down into an armchair and lighted a cigarette, which he smoked thoughtfully for some time before the smoking-room door opened again and the senile form of old General John Goldsworthy came tottering into the room. The aged warrior settled himself down in his favourite chair by the fireplace and took a cigar from his case. Then he ordered himself a small whisky and soda, and looked round the smoking-room for someone with whom to gossip. Joe would have avoided the old man's eye, but it was too late.
"Ah, here you are, young Musgrave," the old gentleman twittered. "Wasting your time, eh? When I was your age I shouldn't have been lounging in a club on a fine afternoon, I should—oh, look here. Some time back you were talking to me about the mysterious house in Manton-street. At least, if it wasn't you it was somebody else. My dashed memory is not what it used to be."
"It was me all right," Joe said tentatively.
"Ah, was it? Very well then. Things are moving in Sinister House. I was quite astonished when I was shaving this morning and looked out of the window to see a furniture van outside the house. Two workmen came out of the van and knocked at the door. Then another workman appeared, and the three of them brought a great oak chest and put it in the van. When they had finished they all three drove off, and that—well, that's all. But it struck me as being very funny in the circumstances."
"Very funny," Joe agreed gruffly. "Still, it is not the sort of thing to consult Scotland Yard about."
It was a day or two before the afternoon on which Joe Musgrave had picked up that little bit of rather senile gossip with regard to the trivial happening at Sinister House from General Goldsworthy, and Beaucaire was giving a select party in his luxurious flat.
It was the evening of the day, some time after dinner, and three men sat down to the card table to have what Beaucaire called a friendly game of poker. There were himself and Prince Phasy, and the party was made up by a young subaltern of the Royal Guards in the person of one Holt-Stridge.
Time was, and that not so very long ago, when the youthful member of the party had been simple Billy Stridge, without the Holt or the hyphen. But that was some time before the war, when Stridge, senior, a hard-headed mechanic from the North, had been nothing more than a dealer in metal scrap, somewhere in the Minories, whose business was augmented by a bicycle-repairing shop. In those days the elder Stridge was content with watching a football match on a Saturday afternoon, and, indeed, young Stridge owed the best part of his wardrobe to sundry shrewd dealings by his parent in the Sunday morning market of Petticoat Lane.
But, two years of war had changed all that. Stridge had seen his opportunity and grasped it with both hands. He never looked back after the first start, and, long before the Armistice, he had left the East End and had established himself in an old historic mansion on the borders of Kent. Stridge junior had been taken off the streets at a comparatively early age and sent to an exclusive preparatory school at Eastbourne. After which he graduated by easy stages to Harrow and Sandhurst, and, in the course of time, blossomed out as a subaltern in the crack regiment to which he belonged. And because he had an exceedingly handsome allowance and, moreover, was a past master where games were concerned, he had not much difficulty in finding his way into society with a capital S.
Had he been content with that, Holt-Stridge would have done well enough. He was modesty itself as far as his athletic achievements were concerned, but took an exaggerated view of his abilities where the card table was in question. He had not the right type of intellect for success on the green cloth, a fact which Beaucaire had not failed to notice. Here then, was the very type of pigeon of which he was constantly in search. And on the whole, the sanguine youth was rather proud to feel that he was sitting down at the same table with such "fliers" as Beaucaire and the fascinating prince, with the beautiful clothes and the equally beautiful manners.
For some time the game had been going on. It was long past midnight before Phasy rose with a yawn and helped himself to a drink from the sideboard.
"Really," he cried, "I have had about enough of this. My rule has always been not to go on playing when the tide is against me. I cut my losses and smile, and if I sulk not, then Dame Fortune, she is gracious on the next occasion."
"Oh, come," the young officer protested. "You haven't lost much, prince. I have been the main sufferer."
"And that, my friend, is why I am asking you to leave off," Phasy smiled pleasantly. "Fortune is not with you this evening, and you must not try her too far. I trust that you have lost not so much. A few hundreds. Yes?"
Holt-Stridge jotted down a few figures in a gold-edged notebook. He was smiling bravely, but the corners of his lips were not too steady.
"Oh, well," he said, with a fine assumption of carelessness. "Call it fifteen hundred. That is a thousand to Beaucaire and the balance to you, prince."
"I am sorry," Beaucaire said with an air of concern. "My dear fellow, I must have forgotten myself. Wonderful how those figures tot up when the game grips you. You must come another evening, and get it all back again."
The soldier took a cheque book from his pocket and proceeded to write out two pink slips. Then with an air of fine indifference, he lighted a cigarette and declared that he must be going as he had promised to look in at a certain dance club before he went back to his own quarters. With many murmurs of regret, Beaucaire saw him as far as the door.
"Not at all a bad type of youngster, that," he remarked to Phasy when the guest had vanished. "You see how little it matters what a man's birth is as long as his training is all right. And what a lucky thing it was I managed to get hold of the boy. This money comes like a gift from heaven."
"Ah, yes," Phasy grinned. "What your English poet says twice blessed. Blessed is him that gives and him that takes, especially him that takes. It will pay for all the machinery we want so that we can get it out of dock and install it in the Sinister House of the mysterious old lady. So far, so good, my friend, but would it not have been just as well if we had kept that young man an hour longer and got another thousand out of him? Then we should have nothing whatever to worry about."
"I don't think so," Beaucaire said shrewdly. "For the time being the boy was very near his limit. If the amount had been more, he might have asked us to wait for a month, and we should have had to agree. Whereas we have this money, which comes just in the nick of time. There is all the machinery at the docks which we could not clear, because we had not the ready cash to pay the German manufacturer or the harbour dues. After we have cashed those cheques to-morrow, we can send Grimstock or Bosley down to Limehouse and get the stuff at once. I have already managed to secure a year's tenancy of those ruined stables at the back of Sinister House and men have been working there for over a week to make the place fit to hold two cars. We haven't got the cars, but by putting fifty pounds or so down we can buy a couple on the hire-purchase system and then we can come and go just as we like at any hour of the day or night without rousing suspicion anywhere. Oh, I can assure you that I have not allowed the grass to grow under my feet."
Phasy nodded approval. Beaucaire went to the door and called out, whereupon Bosley and his accomplice Grimstock emerged from a smaller sitting-room where they had been hiding and came into the larger apartment where the others awaited them.
"Now then," Beaucaire said. "You are to make a move at once. I want you men to go round with me to the house in Manton-street so that I can show you over the ground. We can start at once, because there is no time to waste. You two had better go on ahead and conceal yourselves in the garden behind the house until we come. To-morrow you will have the new garage. You had better provide yourselves with a couple of chauffeurs' uniforms, and it might be just as well if you sacrificed that beautiful moustache of yours, Grimstock. Here, just a moment before you go. I have something to ask you."
"Go on, guv'nor," Grimstock said encouragingly.
"Well, it's like this. I may, I don't say I shall, but I may require before very long a covered motor-van. You know the sort of thing—a van such as a small removal contractor uses. Second-hand affair with tarpaulin over it. Marked 'Jones, Clapham,' or something of that sort. A thing that no one will notice, and as common a name as you can think of. Can you get that for me for use at any time we require it and no questions asked, so long as the pay is big enough? Both you chaps can drive a car, which is just as well, because I don't want any third person in this business. You think you can manage it?"
"Easy as kiss your hand," Bosley grinned. "I know the very van and the man who owns it. I have used it myself once or twice on little stunts of my own. Removing furniture that belongs to other people and that sort of thing. I have only to give my man the office, and the van waits for me in the shed at the back of his yard at any moment I like to fetch it. So you can make your mind quite easy on that score, guv'nor."
"Very well," Beaucaire said. "I think that will do excellently. Now, off you go, and wait for me where I told you."
Half an hour later the conspirators entered the mysterious house by the way of the back garden, and stood in the studio under the lighted lamps. There was not a sound to be heard as Beaucaire moved about the place, apparently looking for something which he had some difficulty in finding. Then he opened a cupboard in the panelling, which surrounded the studio, and flashed an electric torch into the dim and dingy interior.
"Just the very thing and the very place," he exclaimed. "Look here, Phasy, this cupboard hasn't been opened for years. There is nothing in it but rubbish. A big oak chest, apparently empty. Yes, it is empty, and beyond that a clutter of broken furniture. We can work on the floor in the studio as long as we like, and when we have done hide the presses behind that old oak chest, and nobody will be a penny the wiser."
"That is not a bad idea," Phasy agreed. "Yes, I see what you mean. We come here in the early hours of the morning and work just as long as we like, after which the press is hidden in the cupboard and there is no sign that anybody has been on the premises. This studio is not overlooked, either, and those curtains over the windows are light proof. What an ideal place for a job like ours!"
"Yes, I thought you would approve of it," Beaucaire said. "And I don't think we need worry about the old woman. Even if she does transpire, then I think I know a way of keeping her mouth shut. Leave that to me."
"Here, steady on, guv'nor," Grimstock grunted.
"What do you mean?" Beaucaire demanded. "I am not suggesting violence, at least, not much."
"Oh, all right, guv'nor," Grimstock said, apparently appeased. "There is some things I draw the line at and personal violence is one of them. You can get the cat for that."
Beaucaire smiled contemptuously as if his satellite's suggestion was unworthy of an answer. And now that the mere workmen connected with the conspiracy had been shown over the scene of operations and knew exactly how to come and go there was no occasion to delay them any longer. Just outside Beaucaire's flat, he stopped for a moment and addressed the others. There was no one in sight at that hour of the morning, and on their way back from Manton-street they had successfully evaded every policeman whom they noticed. It was as well to take no risks, even in the preliminary stages.
"Now, just one moment before you go," Beaucaire said. "Bosley, you come round to-morrow morning at 12 o'clock and I will give you the cash so that you can go down to the Docks and clear that machinery. You had better keep it in the new garage. Nobody will notice a couple of plain cases put somewhere in the back. But that is not all. Another thing, Bosley. You knock about the country a good deal in a car pretending to be a commercial traveller, which I suppose you are, more or less. Supposing I wanted you to find me a very quiet house in a very remote spot kept by a man and his wife, say, who would be prepared to run a certain risk if they were handsomely paid for it. It would not be for long, not more than a month at the outside. They would have to look after something and take care that nobody knew what that something was. A hiding place, in fact."
"Yes, I can do that, Mr. Beaucaire," Bosley said. "I know one place Romney Marshes way. An old blacksmith's forge with a cottage over it. The man doesn't do any business now, and gets his living goodness knows how. Poaching and that sort of thing. Big powerful chap, with a wife who used to be a female attendant at a lunatic asylum. Hard as nails both of them, and would do anything for money. You might stay there for six months, and nobody be any the wiser."
"That will do," Beaucaire said. "I may not want your friend, but it is just as well to be prepared. Now off you go."
The two minor rascals disappeared into the night, and Beaucaire went back to his flat, followed by Phasy.
"What's the idea?" Phasy asked. "Why all this mysterious melodrama, my friend."
"Oh, never mind that," Beaucaire replied. "You may see the beauty of my scheme later on, or you may not. Personally, I hope there will be no occasion for it. But if there is, we shall have to be ready."
Phasy wended his way towards the shabby little hotel off the Strand where he made his headquarters, leaving Beaucaire ruminating over a cigarette. He rose from his chair presently and, opening a drawer in his writing desk, took out a small square case, covered with leather and containing a number of little glass tubes and something constructed of shining steel.
"Just as well to be prepared for everything," he told himself. "You never know when this sort of thing is likely to be useful. And the doctor I borrowed it from will never learn who hypothecated it. And now I don't think we shall be long."
The whole of the next day Beaucaire was busy with his correspondence so that he did not turn out till after dark. It was in a restaurant off Regent-street where at dinner time he met Phasy by appointment. The latter greeted his accomplice with a smile and motioned him to a table.
"All goes well, my friend, yes?" he asked.
"If you have done your share of the business, certainly," Beaucaire said. "Have you seen the others?"
"I have seen both of them," Phasy explained. "The goods from the docks are in the garage and the key is in my pocket. I went down to the garage this afternoon and found that the workmen had practically finished. Therefore we shall have no bother as far as they are concerned. But I confess that I shall feel much easier in my mind when those cases are in the house."
"Precisely," Beaucaire agreed drily. "And that is going to be our business presently. I want to see those cases safely housed and overhauled to ensure that there is nothing missing. But there is another point you have overlooked."
"Ah, I know what you are going to say," Phasy exclaimed. "It is the matter of the paper. We can do nothing till we get the right paper, and that we must pay cash for. It means at least another thousand pounds. That, I presume, means another seance with our young soldier friend."
"I don't think so," Beaucaire said thoughtfully. "I have a little idea of my own for finding that side of the capital. I cannot go into details yet, but it will be all right."
"What a brilliant genius you are," Phasy said admiringly. "You think of everything."
It was quite late before the two chief conspirators contrived to house the heavy cases in the studio. It had been the work of an hour or more, though there was not much danger in that direction, seeing that they could prove their possession of the garage, and, once in the weed-strewn garden, they were beyond observation. Then, as if they had the Sinister House all to themselves, they proceeded to open the cases and spread their contents on the floor. It was another hour before they had completed this investigation to their entire satisfaction, after which the various parts of the machinery were replaced and hidden in the big oak chest behind the panelling.
"Well, that's done," Beaucaire sighed with satisfaction. "We can get back to my place now and have a drink before turning in."
"I could do with it well enough," Phasy agreed. "A generous whisky and soda at this moment——"
He broke off abruptly and stared in the direction of the main door of the studio as if he had seen a ghost. For there, framed by the heavy oak and with a background of darkness, was a figure clad from head to foot in a long white robe. Her face was nearly as white as the garment she wore and the wild mass of hair that floated round her features, straggling down her back, was grey. The face itself was old, very old indeed and yet with the suggestion in the dark and melancholy eyes that youth was not altogether forgotten. She stood there with no semblance of fear or anger, or passion, but merely as one apart from this world contemplates the doings of humanity from another hemisphere altogether. Very slowly the woman advanced into the room an stood before the intruders, who, so far, were too astonished to speak or move and, perhaps, a little alarmed at the stately spectre who seemed to have materialised out of nothing.
"What are you doing here?" the woman demanded.
Beaucaire was the first to recover his composure. He swallowed down the bitter execration that rose to his lips and forced a smile to his face.
"Really, my dear madam," he said. "That is rather a difficult question. But I can assure you that we should not be here now if my friend and myself had had the least idea that we should be disturbing you. You will see that we have done no harm and not even taken so much as one of the flowers out of the vases on yonder altar. To be candid, we thought the house was empty. I have noticed the place often in passing, and when I mentioned it to my companion here he—well, there was a foolish wager put up between us, into which I need not go, but which I am heartily sorry for now. Still, this is a fine room and, as we are two artists, it occurred to me that you might be disposed to let it. That is, if you are the owner of the house."
"I am the owner of the house," the woman said. "And this is my sanctuary upon which you have intruded. People think I am mad, perhaps I am, but——"
She said no more, for Beaucaire was upon her with his hand pressed over her mouth and something in his fingers that gleamed. A few seconds later, the woman collapsed on the floor and lay there to all appearances dead.
"You have killed her," Phasy screamed.
"Nothing of the kind," Beaucaire growled. "I have given her a touch of a hypodermic and she will lie like she is now for hours. There is no time to be lost. Make your way to the street and jump into the first taxi you can get hold of and rout out Bosley. Tell him he must, at daylight, get hold of that covered van and bring it here to the front door——"
"Why not now?" Phasy asked.
"Oh, don't be a fool. You would have half the police in London round in ten minutes. No, it must be done boldly and openly in the broad daylight. Tell Bosley to bring the car round about seven o'clock and let Grimstock come with him. Both of them must borrow suits of overalls such as furniture removers wear, and he had better bring a spare suit for me. Now then, be off. I will stay and look after this old lady who won't be any the worse for her adventure, apart from a slight headache. Well, why don't you go? What are you waiting for? What am I going to do with the woman? Why, put her in that big oak chest with a lot of drapery about her, and send her down to the Romney Marshes to Bosley's friend there. He will drive the car himself, and see that it is all right. Don't you see that there is no other way. Of course, if we are going to abandon this hiding-place altogether, then we had better both clear out and start afresh. But if that blacksmith does his duty, the old lady will be safe for a month, and that is all the time we want. Now off you go—time is precious."
Beaucaire kept his lonely vigil in the Sinister House until the arrival of the van, when he boldly threw open the front door to the workmen, after which the oak chest was lifted into the body of the lorry and driven away, as if it had been the most natural thing in the world. Even the policeman on the beat noticed nothing, and Beaucaire, safe in his flat an hour afterwards, smiled to himself at the success of the audacious scheme.
The partnership between Beaucaire and Prince Phasy was—as such alliances inevitably must be—one of offensive and defensive nature. In other words, they trusted one another up to a certain point, but beyond that, neither was disposed to go. This must naturally follow where two rogues are concerned, and they were none the less friends because both of them knew it.
There had been a time when they were both desirable members of society, and probably would have remained so but for the upheaval caused by the Great War. That crowning disaster had stripped both of them of practically all they possessed, and the time came when they had to look round for some means of obtaining a living. Neither had been brought up to do anything useful, with the inevitable result that an unpleasant era of poverty looked them in the face. Beaucaire had come through the war with quite a good record, and Phasy could pride himself much on the same thing. But it was necessary to live, and almost equally necessary that they should be able to hold their own with the best of them, and this could only be accomplished in one way.
They had come together for the first time about five years ago at Monte Carlo. There, as everybody knows, a large proportion of the wealth of the world is gathered from time to time, so that it is the happy hunting ground of those whose business it is to prey on humanity and improve the shining hour at the expense of those who are more favoured with this world's goods. It was just the sort of adventurous life that appealed to Beaucaire, with his knowledge of humanity and a certain daring recklessness that he had learnt in four years of fighting. He had the fine thrusting audacity developed almost to the point of recklessness, and there was nothing in the world he feared. Phasy, on the other hand, was Latin to his finger-tips, with all the wealth of imagination and originality that goes with the southerner always. So that between them, they made a very fair living. They had gravitated together almost naturally and recognised each other's possibilities from the very first. They had their ups and downs, of course, but so far, they had not come in active contact with the police, though they were suspect in one or two capitals.
Latterly, business had been none too good. There was a very big scheme in the air which had been worked out by Phasy and now all the preliminary work had been done. But capital was lacking, and how that was to be found Phasy did not quite see. The money they had obtained from the young guardsman was sufficient up to a point and something like double the amount would set them going on the great scheme which was to bring in enough money in the course of a few months to keep them in idleness and luxury for the rest of their lives. There would be wealth enough, Phasy declared, to enable them to return to the path of respectability and become respected citizens with a proper place in the world and, perhaps, families to follow.
And here was Beaucaire declaring that he could put up the rest of the necessary capital. It was like him to want to keep his scheme to himself and Phasy, though he said little, was none too pleased about it. It had been a great idea, getting possession of the Sinister House where the illicit work could go on, but Phasy shrewdly suspected that there was something behind this which Beaucaire was keeping from him. But what it was and what it was going to lead to he was determined to know.
Accordingly, he dropped in to see Beaucaire, following the coup with the covered van, for there were one or two points that left him rather uneasy in his mind.
"Yes, as a feat of skill, yesterday's business was all right," he said. "But I don't feel quite so pleased about it as I should. We have got the old woman out of the way, it is true, but we cannot keep her permanently hidden away in a kind of private lunatic asylum. The melodrama doesn't ring true. What is to become of the lady in white afterwards?"
"That is easy enough," Beaucaire said. "We only want her out of the way for about a month. By that time we shall have made all the use we want of the Sinister House and the place can go hang as far as I am concerned. What we need is a hiding place right in the heart of London where we can pursue our unlawful vocations without the slightest fear of the police. It must be in London, because there is no distributing centre in the world like it. I have managed that all right, haven't I?"
"Well, yes," Phasy agreed. "But you haven't answered my question, old fellah."
"Oh, you mean about the woman in white? My idea is to keep her for a month and then let her go, on the distinct understanding that she keeps the story of her abduction to herself. She will do it all right. The poor old creature is more or less mad, and she will be only too glad to get back to her own quarters as easily as all that. The last thing in the world she wants is publicity."
"Not badly reasoned," Phasy smiled. "But there is another thing. We have the tenant of the house out of the way for a month all right, but don't you suppose the neighbours and the local tradespeople will begin to get a bit suspicious? The milkman, seeing his goods left on the area doorstep. The tradesmen's boys getting no response to their knock. Then people will begin to talk and, finally, the police might break into the house. They find it empty, eh, my friend."
"By gad," Beaucaire cried. "I never thought of that. We shall have to borrow an understudy from somewhere. Amongst all our shady acquaintances and hangers-on, we ought to be able to find some old woman who won't mind dressing up in the old lady's clothes and playing her part for a few weeks."
"I think I could manage that side of it," Phasy said. "And now another thing. I don't want to be unduly suspicious, but how was it that you had that hypodermic syringe so handy when the lady in white came into the studio."
"Oh, that," Beaucaire drawled carelessly. "I will tell you the truth. I intended to have a look over the house and see if I could find something of value besides tables and chairs. Possibly madam had securities or something of that sort in her bedroom, or maybe, a considerable sum of money. I should not wonder if we didn't discover a few thousands in ready cash in the attic where she sleeps. I didn't want her to make a noise and the best way I could think of quieting her if she woke was to give her a big hypodermic of morphia. So I charged the syringe, and, after protecting the point of the needle with a cork, slipped it into my vest pocket."
It seemed a plausible enough explanation so Phasy allowed it to pass. He slipped his hands into his breast pocket and produced an envelope from which he extracted a sheet of clean paper, together with a French thousand franc note. These he handed over to Beaucaire, who placed the sheets side by side against a pane on the window, so that the light might show strongly through them and examined them with meticulous care.
"Excellent," Beaucaire exclaimed. "Excellent. It's the real thing. No expert could tell the difference. But where is the man who is in the secret of production?"
"Oh, the man is all right," Phasy said. "He is in Paris at the present moment, but a telegram will bring him over at once. He can make the stuff, because he has been doing it nearly all his life. But where is it going to be done?"
"Surely I have already told you? Of course I did. Don't you remember what I said about Ratty Dutton and the deserted old water-mill on the Scottish border? Ah, I thought you had not quite forgotten. Now, look here, Phasy, I am going up North to-morrow night to have a look at this place, and I am going to take Dutton with me. All being well, I shall make a decent offer for that derelict property, and, no doubt, get it at my own price. And when I come back, I shall have the other thousand pounds we want so badly. I am not going to tell you how I propose to get it, but I have no doubt as to the result."
"I like not these furtive arrangements," Phasy said, with an assumption of carelessness. "But it doesn't matter much, as long as the money is found. You take the mill and let me know, and, within two or three days, my French friend will be at work there, producing the necessary paper. But there must be no gossip, you understand, no village talk."
"I have arranged for that already," Beaucaire said. "And now if you have nothing more to say, I will take a little trip down Limehouse way and call on our seafaring ally."
A little later on, attired in a shabby suit of tweeds, Beaucaire took the Underground as far as Aldgate Station, after which he went on foot through Wapping and thence to a public house not far from the docks. There was nobody in the bar at that time of day, it being nearly two o'clock, but just as Beaucaire was going out again, a big, shambling individual in blue dungarees came sliding in and greeted the former with a grin.
"Just the very man I want," Beaucaire said. "Are you doing anything, Ratty? Got a ship?"
Ratty Dutton protested with many oaths that he had no ship and very little likelihood of getting one. Also that he had no money and would Mr. Beaucaire lend him a quid.
"I will do more than that," Beaucaire said. "Have a drink? Of course you will. Now, look here, Ratty, I am going up North to-morrow evening and I want you to come as well. I mean, I want you to travel on the same train, I don't quite know what time we leave Euston or King's Cross, but so far as I can make out, our destination is Kirby Station, where the express stops a few minutes to take in water."
"That's right," Ratty nodded. "So you want me to be up there and meet you, do you?"
"Yes. It's in connection with that old mill you were telling me about. You must get hold of the keys and we will go over the premises together. The story is that you have got a job with a gentleman who has invented a new sort of aeroplane. That gentleman, of course, is me, and I need not tell you that there is no aeroplane. That is only an excuse to allow us to work quietly without any inquisitive yokels asking questions. As a ship's engineer, you have been engaged as my mechanic. And here is a fiver for you. I will meet you outside the old mill on Sunday morning about 10 o'clock. I am putting up at a house in the neighbourhood which I believe, is only a mile or so from the scene of our future operations. It is so long since I was in Cumberland that I have forgotten. I think that is about all, Ratty. Now don't get drunk and forget all about it, because there is big money for you in this if you only keep your mouth shut and don't ask too many questions."
The sailor-man was quite content to leave it at that, and Beaucaire returned his steps to Aldgate Station, after which he changed his clothing for something more suitable, and then strolled round to play a game of bridge at The Marathon Club. He looked into the smoking-room with an idea of picking up a four, but the place was deserted, save for the inevitable old general, who sat in his corner by the fireplace, waiting for all and sundry with whom to exchange gossip or scandal. The aged warrior did not like Beaucaire, but anyone was better than nobody, so he hailed the newcomer quite pleasantly.
"Hello, Beaucaire," he chirruped. "What are you doing? A young man like you ought not to be hanging about a smoking-room at this time of day. All very well for old fogies like me with nothing to do and the papers absolutely empty of news. Sit down and have a chat."
Beaucaire politely declined the invitation. He crossed over to the big table between the two windows and proceeded to bury himself in a Bradshaw's Railway Guide. He was still studying this when Joe Musgrave looked into the room. He would have gone out again, driven away by the spectre of the aged general if the latter had not been too quick for him.
"Come over here, young fellow," Sir John said. "I have got a bit of spicy news to tell you."
Joe quietly surrendered to the inevitable. He was not a bit interested in the news, but he listened politely. Then Beaucaire turned and asked a sort of general question.
"I can never make out these confounded time-tables," he said. "The evening northern express seems to stop somewhere on the Scottish border and yet, when I turn to a page of instructions, I find it doesn't stop. General, you are half a Scotchman. Can you tell me if this express really does stop at Kirby."
"Oh, yes," the old gentleman smiled. "I always travel by that train. It stops at——"
Joe Musgrave slipped quietly out of the room.
"Now what's in the wind?" he whispered. "Why is Beaucaire going up to Kirby. And who's he going to stay with? I've got it. Ian Heronspey, beyond doubt. But why?"
Musgrave had a certain amount of food for thought when he turned out of The Marathon and made his way to Princes, where he expected to meet Pamela and entertain her to tea. Just for the moment he had forgotten all about that. He had established, almost beyond a doubt, that Beaucaire was going to Kirby for the week-end and there was no place within fifteen miles where he could stay in comfort with the exception of Glentower. And why was he going to Glentower? And why had he been asked to that dreary old fortress where nobody had been entertained for years?
But, there was no answer to the question, and nothing beyond the uneasy feeling that this latest move on Beaucaire's part was in some way connected with the mysterious house in Manton-street. And Joe had not done with Manton-street yet by any means. He was going to get to the bottom of that puzzle, and discover the connection between the painting there and the miniature on the snuff-box and Pamela's amazing likeness to both. More than that, he was going to find out why Beaucaire and Phasy were so interested in the thing that was so close to his own heart. How was it that Beaucaire had hit upon the Sinister House as the scene of more than one illicit adventure? True, Musgrave had heard enough said during the time that he and Jimmy Primrose were hidden behind the screen in the studio to know that something very wrong was in the wind. But that, for the moment, was no business of his. What he really was concerned with was to discover why Beaucaire had been so anxious to regain possession of the snuff-box, and what use he was going to make of it.
All these problems whirled through Joe's mind as he turned into Princes, where Pamela was already awaiting him. He had not, as yet, told her anything with regard to the discovery of the painting in the studio at Sinister House, but it seemed to him that the time had now come when she ought to be placed in the full possession of the facts. That she was worrying about herself and himself and the future he could plainly see. Not that their future mattered to anybody but themselves and perhaps one or two other people of whom Daphne Lyne and Jimmy Primrose were the principals. They would have to be told, but Joe felt that they were both to be implicitly trusted.
It was after tea in a cosy corner of the room where they were out of earshot of the rest of the crowd that Musgrave told his story. Pamela followed him with breathless interest.
"It is like a dream," she murmured. "Who is this mysterious artist who paints pictures and miniatures and who, at the same time, keeps herself so remote from the world?"
"Ah, that we have to find out," Musgrave said. "But I have a very strong suspicion that she is a relative of yours."
"A relative of mine," Pamela exclaimed.
"Well, if not that, someone who knows your family history intimately. I am quite sure that both the miniature and the picture in the studio are by the same hand and painted at the same time. That would be about half a century ago. My dear girl, you can't doubt that the miniature in the original was a close relative of yours. Your grandmother, I should say. You see, strong likenesses often run in families for generations. Look at the Fitzwilliams, and the Gunnings, and the Butlers as cases in point. And there are others. I think we take it for granted that we have discovered a portrait of your grandmother, in fact, two portraits. And there is one man who can tell us all about it if he would and that is old Hartley Horne. But, seeing that he won't speak, we must try in some other quarter. It may seem hardly creditable, but that scoundrel Beaucaire knows all about it, at least, he is on the right track. Now listen carefully to what I have to say."
With that, Joe went on to describe the dramatic encounter in the dead of night with Beaucaire and Phasy in the Sinister House. Pamela stared at the speaker in amazement.
"But what were they doing there?" she asked.
"Ah, that we have to find out," Joe said. "Something very wrong, you may be sure, and, moreover, something that may or may not, be connected with your birth. I have a shrewd idea that those two scamps have a double purpose to serve, and if I can find out what the second purpose is, I may be able to get Beaucaire face to face and force him to tell me why he is so interested in the miniature on the top of the snuff-box. Perhaps the clue to that mystery is hidden in the Sinister House itself. At any rate, I am going to have a shot at finding out. Beaucaire will be out of town from to-morrow for the week-end, and if Jimmy and myself go over the house in Manton-street, say, to-morrow evening, there is little chance of being interrupted. Mind you, I don't like this pseudo-burglary business, because, though there is no harm in it, unpleasant results might follow."
When Musgrave met Primrose later on the same evening and told him what he intended to do, Jimmy professed himself to be quite ready for a further adventure. They would go over the house in Manton-street late on the Friday night and see of they could pick up any clue to the mystery of the two paintings.
"There must be something there," Jimmy observed. "Papers or documents, and so on. And not necessarily in the studio. I vote we have a look over the other rooms."
"It will be a ticklish job," Musgrave said. "But I dare say we shall manage it without disturbing the old lady."
So, very late on the following evening, the two amateur detectives found themselves once more in the studio of the Sinister House. There was nothing to be discovered there in the way of papers or documents, excluding an old bureau which appeared to be filled with faded and dusty manuscript.
"It is going to be a long job," Jimmy muttered. "You nip upstairs and have a look round whilst I go over these sheets of paper and put them back again carefully."
Agreeable with this suggestion, Musgrave took his electric torch and crept up the staircase. He was absent for the best part of three-quarters of an hour, indeed, quite time enough to allow Primrose to sort out the papers and return them to the bureau just as he had found them. And when Musgrave came back, he had an astounding statement to make.
"Jimmy," he said. "I have made a discovery. The old lady is not in the house at all. I have searched the place from garret to basement. I have even been in her bedroom. The bed is unmade and left just as it was when last occupied. I don't like this, my boy. What do you make of it?"
"Well, I'm dashed," Jimmy cried. "I wonder how long she has been away. Here, go into the hall and see if you can find anything in the letter box. That might give us a clue."
Musgrave came back with a blue envelope in his hand.
"The only one," he explained. "Yes, and look here. This embossed stamp on the flap of the envelope."
There, in raised white letters, was the name of Hartley Horne and the address 925, Lincoln's Inn Fields!
"Well," Primrose exclaimed. "We shall know something about it now. By the way, old chap, I suppose you know the name of the lady of the house, don't you? I mean you have found out what she is called—by tradesmen, and so on."
"Well, to tell you the truth, I haven't," Joe admitted. "Some people call her by one name and some by another. In fact, nobody quite knows who she is."
"What rot. Look at the name on the envelope."
"That is not at all a bad idea," Musgrave laughed. "But, by Jove, it doesn't help us much."
In which Musgrave was perfectly right, for there was no name on the envelope at all. It was simply addressed, in a crabbed handwriting to the Occupier, 17, Manton-street, W., and nothing more. Musgrave glared impatiently at the surface of the shiny blue paper.
"Well, here we are just about where we started," he said. "All we know is that the letter was sent from the offices of that old oyster Hartley Horne and, I should say by the characters, that it is his own handwriting. So here we are, just in the same position as we were a quarter of an hour ago. Of course, Horne knows perfectly well who this woman is, but you can see he is taking no risks. There is an amazing mystery here that I am determined to solve. I am absolutely certain that both Horne and the mysterious occupant of this house know all about Pamela and her past. Of course they do. Look at that picture there. It would be useless to tell me, in face of it, that the lady upstairs doesn't know who Pamela is."
"But there is no lady upstairs," Jimmy pointed out. "You have just told me so. From what you tell me, we have the place entirely to ourselves."
"Ah, I had forgotten it for the moment," Musgrave said. "But that fact only complicates matters. Now I wonder if those two scoundrels have had a hand in getting rid of the mysterious lady. Perhaps there was some reason why they were forced to have the house to themselves. Still, I don't know. In fact, I don't know anything. And that makes it all the worse."
"Yes, I see what you mean," Jimmy replied. "If there has been violence done here, then it is our bounden duty to go to Scotland Yard and tell the people there everything."
"That is exactly what I was driving at," Joe admitted. "But it doesn't help us. They would merely arrest Beaucaire and that fascinating Austrian and perhaps hang them for the murder of the hermit of Manton-street. But if that happened, and a murder had really been committed, we should have lost even the slender clue we have now. I mean the clue to Pamela's identity. My dear chap, you don't know how she worries over this birth complex of hers. Not for her own sake, mind you, but because she thinks that a girl who cannot prove her birth ought not to marry the head of the Musgrave family. As if I cared twopence either way. But Pam, unfortunately, thinks otherwise, so what is a chap to do? I know we ought to go to the Yard and tell them how I got in touch with the Sinister House, but I don't want to. At least, not yet. What do you suggest?"
"Anything you like," Jimmy said recklessly. "I am as keen on having a stab at adventure as anybody, and I pride myself that I never turn my back on a pal. But, look here. What do you say to opening that envelope?"
Musgrave hesitated and frowned.
"I am afraid that that occurred to me," he said. "It's a felony, you know. You can get a long term of imprisonment for opening other people's letters."
"Yes, but who's to know?" Jimmy replied.
Musgrave turned the letter slowly over in his hand. The envelope was a stiff one, so that the edges of it crinkled a little on the top, and the gum appeared to be none too sound. With a thin-bladed knife and a little patience it would probably be easy to prise open the flap and seal it again without showing that it had been opened at all.
"Go on," Jimmy urged recklessly.
Acting on the impulse of the moment, Musgrave obeyed. At the end of a couple of minutes, he had made a neat job of it, so that the contents of the envelope were disclosed.
And then blank and bitter disappointment. There was no letter inside, no scrap of writing, nothing except two sheets of penny and three halfpenny stamps neatly folded.
"What a sell," Primrose cried. "Evidently our old friend Horne is taking no risks. Seal the envelope up again, Joe, and shove it back in the letter box. We shall have to have a serious talk over this. Keep a watch on the house, and all that sort of thing. If the old lady has vanished, I don't see the use in staying here any longer to-night."
They left the house as quietly as they had come, and Musgrave went his way more puzzled than ever. He knew what he ought to do, but still he shrank from it. He was in the same vague mind the following morning, when he picked up Jimmy Primrose, together with Pamela and Daphne, with the intention of motoring down to Ashley Forest golf links for a day's play. This was a long-standing arrangement, and Musgrave could see no reason for interfering with it. His idea was to tell the girl presently all that had happened, but, meanwhile, he put it out of his mind, with the determination that nothing should stand in the way of what promised to be a perfect day's pleasure.
It was a lovely morning, and the four of them enjoyed the first round immensely. Then, in good spirits and with perfect appetites, they turned into the luxurious club house for a lunch, which they thoroughly earned. There were not many people on the links that morning, and not more than a score of people lunching at the separate tables in the dining-room. But just opposite the foursome at the table in one of the windows sat Prince Phasy with a lady companion. He looked up and nodded smilingly at Musgrave, who returned the salutation. Evidently Phasy was under the impression that he was in no way connected with the man who had got away with Daphne's pearls on that eventful night at The Aphrodite Club, so that his manner was perfectly correct and easy, and Musgrave deemed it advisable to smile non-committally in reply.
"Fancy that chap being down here," he said. "I suppose he is a day member."
"Why shouldn't he be?" Pamela asked.
"No reason whatever," Musgrave said hastily. "I will tell you presently why I am rather surprised to see him here. I have several things to interest you girls, but I was keeping that till we had finished our day's play and were resting here over a cup of tea. Never mind about Phasy."
"I don't," Pamela drawled. "There is something about that man I rather dislike. Of course, I know he has royal blood in his veins and is a prince in his own country and all that sort of thing, but he doesn't ring true somehow."
"Well, at any rate, he is a friend of Vivian Beaucaire's," Joe pointed out. "And we know Beaucaire is a real wrong 'un, though it would not be policy to proclaim that to the world just yet."
"I am not so much interested in him as his companion," Daphne said. "Do either of you boys happen to know who the woman is? Did you ever see anybody more strikingly handsome? That combination of black eyes and fair hair is remarkable."
"Very," Pamela murmured. "So striking as to be absolutely unnatural. The fair curly hair of the Saxon and the vivid dark eyes of the Creole. Do you know I am wondering if she is wearing a wig. Those curls are so natural that they scream artificiality almost."
"Oh, come," Jimmy protested.
"Oh, I am not being catty," Pamela said. "Can't you see how easy it would be in these days of the Eton crop for a girl to wear a wig? The whole thing built upon an elastic foundation and fitting tightly to the scalp. I am probably wrong, but such things are within the bounds of possibility."
"I am sure they are," Daphne said emphatically. "No woman with dazzling fair hair like that ought to have nails like the prince's companion. I noticed them just now, because she was using the next lavatory basin to mine in the dressing-room when we were washing. If she hadn't been so handsome and so daringly dressed I probably should not have noticed her. But those nails. Why, they consist of half moons that are absolutely purple."
"You don't mean that," Jimmy cried. "That proves that she is of negro extraction. I learnt that in the States. Whenever you see an American claiming to be a hundred per cent. American with those coloured nails, you always know him to be part negro. That discovery leads to unpleasant consequences sometimes. However, it is no business of ours."
"I am not quite so sure of that," Musgrave said thoughtfully. "Never mind what I mean for the moment. We can go into all that later on. But that is a most amazingly handsome woman, though I can't say that I like her face. There is a certain hardness about the eyes, and I am sure those lips suggest a touch of the feline. If you watch her smile you will see how forced it is. But really, we are talking just like a lot of scandal-mongering old women."
Meanwhile, Phasy was conversing in low tones with the woman in the window seat. She had taken in the little party so critically examining her from the distant table, though she never showed the least interest in them by so much as the flicker of an eyelid. But no single detail of those two English girls had escaped her attention, despite her apparent indifference.
"So those are the girls, eh?" she asked.
"Those are the two, my dear, yes," Phasy smiled. "And what do you think of them?"
"Does it really matter what I think of them?" the woman asked. "Oh, yes, they are typical of the English beauty. Very fair and beautifully dressed and with that calm air of conscious superiority that I hate. And the one with the blue eyes. Is that the lady that you are so deeply interested in?"
"Well, up to a point," Phasy said. "But business, my dear child, business, nothing else. If you agree to do what I ask, then there is money in it for both of us. As I hinted to you before, my very dear friend Vivian Beaucaire is not playing the straight game with me. There is something he is keeping back, something with money behind it, you may be sure, and it is my business to find out what. That in why I jumped at the opportunity of bringing you into this pleasant little conspiracy. I knew those people were coming down here and I wanted you to see them. And now are you agreeable to my scheme?"
"Well, yes, I suppose so," the woman replied. "It will be terrible dull and dreary and not without danger. But times are hard and money is terribly scarce."
"Then you are coming in with us?" Phasy asked.
"I think so," the woman said. "I don't see that there is anything else for it. When do we begin?"
A smile of satisfaction lit up Phasy's face.
"This very night," he said. "This very night."
The aged chieftain of the clan Heronspey sat in the great wide barracks which formed the library of his ancestral home almost on the Scottish border. It was a majestic room, lined throughout with one of the finest libraries in the world, and from the big stone mullioned windows was a magnificent view of the great deer park beyond, and, past that, a glimpse of the sea. It was some days since his visit to Sandown Park, where he had encountered his next-of-kin, and now he was back again on his native heath, where he would remain, like the recluse that he was, until the next occasion on which a horse of his appeared in public. Not that he took the slightest interest in sport for its own sake, but because he maintained the traditions of his race, and those traditions embraced the keeping up of a blood stock stud which an ancestor had founded two hundred years ago.
He lived practically alone in that great fortress filled with art treasures and pictures, and tapestries collected by the Heronspeys in the course of the past centuries and secluded from the public eye. Time was when the house had been full of servants and guests, but no guests came now, and the domestic staff had been cut down to the last possible limit. Most of these had been born on the estate, and in that atmosphere of reverence and admiration that every Heronspey expected as his right. The old man had seen the coming and going of three generations of servitors, so that the present staff were comparatively young, and knew nothing of certain stormy episodes in the family which had taken place over 40 years ago. If there was a scandal somewhere, Heronspey's staff did not know it, and, certainly, there was no whisper of it ever amongst the older tenants from the farms that made up the great estate. So that Ian Heronspey was alone in his glory, sure in the knowledge that there was no one in the world, with one exception, perhaps, who could have pointed to the closet in the castle that had a skeleton.
Heronspey rose from the table at which he had been writing and crossed over to one of the big windows. In spite of the weight of his eighty-seven years, he was as upright as a boy. Under his thick thatch of hair that grew on his head like silver wire, his eyes were bright and alert, and his mouth hard and stern like that of an eagle he so much resembled. A wonderful man, and one who might have passed for a little more than half his age but for the grey thatch and the innumerable fine lines that were gathered about the corners of his eyes.
He was a lonely man, too, without a friend in the world, alone in the past, on which he constantly brooded, although no soul about him was allowed to guess. It was a trouble that most people would have forgotten long before, but Heronspey, who had no religion except his own intense family pride, hugged that strange ritual to his soul and fed upon it with an appetite that only increased with the passing of years.
For many a long day now no friend had ever crossed the threshold of the castle. Old as he was, Heronspey had still one or two contemporaries yet, though they were younger than himself, and, on occasion, though they were rare occasions, he corresponded with one or another of these men when he wanted advice or some knowledge of contemporary happenings. Forty years ago, the house had been noted for its hospitality, but that had all stopped when the tragedy had fallen and never been renewed. The only person who came north at long intervals, and that most grudgingly, was Jimmy Primrose, and his were entirely duty visits to the man whom some day he would succeed. Some day those vast estates and that great gloomy castle crammed with its treasures, was to be his, though he hoped that that day was far distant. If there was one place he hated more than another, it was Glentower Castle. In his more gloomy moments, he wondered what he was going to do with it. He could not sell the place, because it was strictly entailed, and he certainly could not keep it up unless Heronspey's own private fortune went with the property. And that was by no means certain, because the old man had the same sour dislike for his heir that he seemed to entertain for most young people. And it was in his power, if he so pleased, to leave James Primrose with a great white elephant of a place and nothing wherewith to maintain it.
Truth to tell, Heronspey was thinking something of this as he stood by the window contemplating the vast expanse of the park as it lay before him. He knew only too well that one of these days Jimmy Primrose would succeed him, and, on the whole, he did not approve of the volatile Jimmy. In his narrow, prejudiced eyes, Jimmy was a gambler and a waster, without any sense of responsibility and no proper family pride. This was a long way from being true, but then age, especially very old age, is inclined to this jaundiced aspect where youth is concerned.
Heronspey communed with himself as he stood there. Ought he to let things take their natural course, or ought he to embark on such steps as would bring Primrose to ruin? It was a question he often asked himself, and never with a satisfactory answer. He turned impatiently from the window, and stood in front of the great carved fireplace idly contemplating a full length portrait that stood over the carved family arms.
The portrait was an old one attributed to Godfrey Kneller, and represented what was obviously a girl, though she was attired in boy's clothing. Her leather jerkin was open at the throat, just suggesting feminine development, and her hair was cut short like a boy's, much the same as hair is cut to-day in the fashion known as the bob. For the rest, the figure was boyish enough down to the long riding boots, and underneath on a tarnished gilt panel were the words, "Sir Elinor Heronspey," and the date when painted. A strange picture, and a strange description, but both capable of explanation.
A certain Chandos Heronspey, then the young and impulsive head of the family, and unmarried, had chosen to throw in his lot with the royalists in the days of Cromwell's zenith, and he had been denounced traitor to the realm with a price put upon his head. Then he had had the misfortune to fall into the hands of the Roundheads, who would certainly have beheaded him, but for the amazing loyalty of the daughter of one of his tenants, by name, Elinor Marsh. She was young and beautiful, and romantic, and of the school of Flora MacDonald. Moreover, she was educated above her station, because she had been taken up by the abbess of a convent in the land of her birth, and brought up by the patrician sisters who ruled that seat of learning.
It was when the young girl learnt of her patron's peril that she decided upon her great adventure. Cutting off her luxuriant tresses, she assumed the garb of a boy and contrived, after many wonderful escapes, to reach the spot where Chandos Heronspey was lying. To a certain extent the rest was legend, but there is little doubt that she managed to secure Heronspey's escape, and out of gratitude he married her. Then, when Charles II came to the throne he heard of the incident and, in one of his moments of folly, insisted upon knighting Elinor Heronspey.
It was quite a wonderful piece of work that Heronspey stood contemplating, and none the less so because constant chatelaines who reigned benignly over Glentower had contrived to convey those perfect features to their descendants. And Heronspey was thinking about this as he stood there, dreaming before the picture.
"I wonder if I did right," he communed with himself. "I wonder if things might have been different, provided I had only ...... but then, what could I do?....... that beautiful girl I saw at Sandown Park. The same and yet different. No, best leave things as they are, leave youth to fight its own battles."
Heronspey swerved abruptly from the contemplation of the picture as a footman came into the room.
"Well?" he demanded. "What is it?"
"A gentleman to see you, sir," the servant said. "He is waiting in the blue room. Mr. Vivian Beaucaire."
Heronspey's brow clouded like a sky before a storm. Those dark eyes of his flashed strangely.
"Tell the gentleman I will see him," he said curtly.
Beaucaire set out on his journey to the North on the best of terms with the world in general and himself in particular. For the first time since the Armistice he began to see his way clear to a state of things he had been working for during the last seven or eight years. He had pulled off a considerable coup in that splendidly audacious manner of his and, with any luck, fortune would crown his efforts.
He was not, perhaps, by nature a criminal, and if he could once lay his hands on a sufficient sum of money to keep him in comfort for the rest of his life, he would be only too willing to turn his back upon the dangerous path and live, in future, the life of the ordinary prosperous citizen. Clever and unscrupulous as he was, he despised crime and criminals. It was, after all, so easy to be a criminal and the mere deceiving of mankind was not a difficult matter for anyone who devoted himself to the ways that were dark and the tricks that were mean. So Beaucaire told himself that once he was free to follow his own dictates, he would turn his back upon the past and live cleanly in the future. He knew only too well that he was beginning to be suspect. There had been one or two little episodes of an unsavoury nature in connection with cards and the turf which would not bear investigation and, but for the fact that he was a Beaucaire, whose mother had belonged to a distinguished English family, at least one investigation by the committee of a club would have followed. Another such scandal and the doors of society would be closed to him.
On the other hand, if he could manage to achieve something like fortune, it was his fixed resolve never to deviate from the straight path again, not because he was particularly honest, but because of unpleasant consequences. And now he had a chance to get away from the vicious circle.
He could see before him a prospect, within the next few months, of placing a sum of something like two hundred thousand pounds to his credit. That was precisely the amount he had fixed upon as being sufficient to enable him to live, henceforth, as his forebears had lived before him. There was a big risk, of course, but with any average luck that risk could be avoided and the desired goal attained. And, once it was, no more of that which was dark and underhand for Vivian Beaucaire.
Still, he had another string to his bow in case the first one snapped and he was not going to take Phasy into partnership in such a connection if he could possibly avoid it. For the big venture, they wanted at least another two thousand pounds which Beaucaire had promised to obtain, feeling quite confident that he would be able to lay hands on the money which he had every intention of putting into the big venture.
But this two thousand pounds was only a mere drop in the ocean. There would be much more than that if the primary scheme came to nothing and, if it did fail, Beaucaire was going to keep the second avenue entirely open to himself. He had an uneasy sort of feeling that Phasy was not without his suspicions, but he would have to risk that.
So he departed for the North with the idea of working two schemes at the same time. He took with him no more than a week-end kit, and in the course of a few hours, found himself in a far corner of Cumberland within a few miles of the spot where he had arranged to meet the seaman Dutton.
He left the train at Silloth Station and, with a suitcase in his hand, struck out boldly in the direction of the spot where he had planned to join his humble confederate. After that, he had something else to do and that was to go as far as Glentower with a view to seeing the formidable occupant of that border castle. Not that Beaucaire shrank from the interview, because he had in his possession that which would bring Heronspey to a proper sense of his position. It was only a matter of asking a few questions from a porter at the station as to the direction which he was to take and then he strolled along the lonely road until at length he came to a little valley within a mile or two of the sea and a picturesque old water mill standing at the mouth of it which was fed by a mountain stream. Here was Dutton standing in the roadway in the morning sunshine awaiting his instructions. He had discarded his shabby fireman's dungarees and was arrayed in a ready-made suit which he had purchased with the money Beaucaire had given him. He looked like a prosperous mariner who had returned after a long voyage to the scenes of his boyhood. It was just the note that Beaucaire wanted and he nodded approval as he caught sight of Dutton.
"Well, guv'nor," the latter said cheerfully. "Here we are and here's the old mill. What's the next move?"
"That I am going to leave to you," Beaucaire said. "I suppose you know most of the people in this neighbourhood?"
"Well, I used to at one time," Dutton replied. "But, Lor' bless yer, I haven't been here for years and years. I dare say there are a few people in the village still who will remember me and will probably be friendly enough, especially if they think I have come home with a few pounds to spend."
"That is exactly the impression that I want you to convey," Beaucaire said. "The prodigal son business. I dare say you left this place under a cloud——"
"Well, in a manner of speaking, yes," Dutton agreed. "But it wasn't so very bad. Bit of poaching. They gave me three months and after that I thought I had better go out in the world and scratch round for myself."
"Poaching on Mr. Heronspey's land, eh?"
"Yes, that is about it, though, mind you, the mill ain't his property and it isn't on his estate. I have seen one chap this morning as didn't remember me, so I put a few questions to him. If you want the mill you can have it. You can have it on a yearly tenancy, or month by month, just as you please, because it is no use to anybody and the present owner is only a small farmer who would be mighty glad of the rent."
"That is very satisfactory," Beaucaire said. "Look here, you see this farmer on my account and tell him you know a gentleman who is ready to rent the place for some time and doesn't mind what he pays for it within reason. You can use my own name if you please. Tell him that I was in the Air Force during the war and, if he likes to look up my record, he can. Say I am interested in a new type of aeroplane, something the like of which has never been seen before. Say I have got one or two French mechanics coming over to help me with the design for the engine and all that sort of thing. You can inform the owner that I want the water power to drive a small dynamo. You know how to talk all that lingo, because you are a ship's engineer yourself. Tell the man you recommended me to come here because it is so quiet and because I don't want a lot of people nosing about the place with the object of finding things out."
To all of which Dutton listened carefully. He knew exactly what to do and how to go about it. It was no use asking curious questions, because he was quite aware that Beaucaire would decline to answer them. And anyway it was not for him to know that something sinister was afoot and that if everything went well he would be a substantial gainer thereby.
"You can leave all that to me, guv'nor," he said. "Now perhaps you would like to look over the place. There is nobody about, there never is anybody about here."
They turned through a ruined gate and through a broken window into the mill itself. It was in a better state of repair than Beaucaire had expected. The great water-wheel stood silent as it had done for many years past, but the bearings seemed to be more or less intact and, save for a certain amount of rust, were capable of turning the wheel, once the sluice gates were let down and the empty mill dam filled again.
"Um, not so bad," Beaucaire said. "Now you know more about this sort of thing that I do, Dutton. How long will it take and how much will it cost to set the wheels going again?"
"Very little," Dutton said. "Give me £10 and I will get everything you need from Carlisle. We want some belts and shafts and a set of new bolts for the sluices. Once those are in place I shall be able to work the windlass that controls the sluices and fill the dam. There are two or three buckets on the wheel that want mending, but I can easily patch those up. But come round outside and have a look."
The place was as silent as the grave. As far as the eye could see, no house was in sight, though Beaucaire knew that the village of Kirby was only two miles away. There was no road along the valley either, so that it might be possible to work there for weeks on end without even a visit from some curious villager. It was in every way an ideal spot for the great scheme that Beaucaire and Phasy had in view. And if Dutton only told the tale properly in the village, there would be no sort of suspicions as to what was going on in the old mill. And, in any case, Beaucaire did not anticipate being there more than a month or two. He inspected the empty dam and the big double sluice gates, which had not been down for years, and it seemed to him that very little was required to drop those great doors into their places again, so that the dam might be filled and the water-wheel once more put in motion.
"I told you it was easy," Dutton said. "You leave it to me. Come over to-morrow and meet the owner and fix the whole thing up. Then we can take possession at once, and I can run over to Carlisle and get what we require. But what's the game guv'nor? What machinery are you getting?"
"Oh, I dare say you will know that all in due time," Beaucaire said evasively. "But the less you know for the moment the better. In a few days a couple of Frenchmen will be here. They don't know a word of our language, which is all to the good. You will have to find accommodation for them in the village, and you can tell the locals that they are engineers from Paris. You need not go any further than that. And you needn't be too curious as to what they are doing. You will have the run of the place, and it will be your duty to help them with certain machinery they will bring along. They are not coming by train; they will reach here via the Solway Firth and arrive in a motor-boat. The stuff they have with them is too precious to be trusted to a railway company. And now if you are satisfied, I will push along to my destination."
"If it ain't a rude question, guv'nor," Dutton asked, "where do you happen to be putting up for the night."
"I am staying with Mr. Ian Heronspey," Beaucaire smiled. "He doesn't know it yet, but it is a fact all the same. I will walk over here to-morrow afternoon at 3 o'clock, at which time you had better meet me and bring the landlord of the mill along. A sheet or two of paper and my fountain pen will do the rest. Then I can give you the money you want for the repairs, and you can set to work without delay."
"All right, guv'nor," Dutton said. "I'll be here and bring old Stick-in-Mud with me. Three o'clock, I think you said. That's right, sir; I'll be here to the minute."
Although the footman at the front door of Glentower had assured the intruder that Mr. Heronspey saw nobody, Beaucaire pushed his way carelessly in with a splendid audacity that fairly overawed the man in livery. It had just the touch-and-go situation that Beaucaire enjoyed. He did not even wait for the footman's return, but followed quietly behind to the very door of the library itself. When he heard Heronspey speak, he brushed the footman aside and advanced with outstretched hand. The fact that his hand was ignored did not trouble him in the least. He merely smiled.
"Ah, Mr. Heronspey," he said. "I suppose I ought to apologise for intruding on you like this, but, you see, in the circumstances I had no alternative. I happened to be in this neighbourhood on business and, just as I reached Silloth my car broke down badly. They tell me it will not be ready till to-morrow morning, so I hauled out a suitcase and walked over here with the intention of asking for a bed. I have never had the pleasure of seeing the castle before, but I think I am right in saying that my father used to come here when he was a boy."
"That is no," Heronspey said coldly. "I remember both your father and your grandfather perfectly well, and though I do live entirely out of the world, I have visited the scenes of my youth often enough to have heard a good deal about you and your past. Need I speak more plainly?"
"I like plain speaking," Beaucaire said. "As to part of my past, so to speak, I am not ashamed. I want you to remember that my generation saved yours from something worse than ruin. Whilst you were thinking about yourselves and your precious possessions we were fighting for your salvation. And in the end we won it. And who paid the price? Not you and your peers, who seem to have done remarkably well, all things considered, but my generation. Nearly a million of us. I venture to say if I had come here during my brief leaves when hell was let loose over yonder, I should have been welcomed with open arms. Then you remember, sir, that our English statesmen were making ready a land fit for heroes to live in. Where is it now? I lost everything I possessed and so did hundreds of thousands like me. My father's French estates were laid in ruins and his fortune swept away in the crash. And because I have to get my own living by the best means I can, you, and the likes of you, turn away from me coldly and wonder why it is that we don't try and live up to the traditions of our caste."
All this came from Beaucaire's lips with a quiet calm and biting sarcasm which were not without their effect upon the old man standing by the fireplace. Beaucaire had thrown himself into an armchair and sat with his legs crossed, speaking as quietly as if he were merely discussing the weather.
"I beg your pardon," Heronspey said. "I fear there is much truth in what you say. But I am a very lonely old man with few friends and no desire for company. Still, for the sake of the past, I will make you welcome. Stay here for the night, by all means. I will have a room got ready for you. Meanwhile, is there anything I can offer you?"
"Nothing, thank you," Beaucaire said. "Nothing except the permission to smoke a cigarette in this wonderful room of yours. Thanks. Now, Mr. Heronspey, you may be interested to hear that my life is not so scarlet as you imagine. I came up here because I am engaged in legitimate business. I am part inventor of a new type of aeroplane, which I hope in time will supersede every other machine on the market. But there is a long way to go yet. I wanted a place where I could work with my French mechanics without intrusion, and I think I have found it in an old mill on the far side of Kirkby village."
"Indeed?" Heronspey said with some show of interest. "If what you say is correct, I am very pleased to hear it. And if I can help you in any way——"
"I am much obliged to you for the opening," Beaucaire said. "As a matter of fact, you can help me considerably. I hardly know how to approach the subject, but the suggestion that you have just made emboldens me to speak. I was going to ask you for the loan of two thousand pounds."
"But why ask me?" Heronspey demanded.
"Well, principally, because you are the one man I know who could most afford it. Dare I remind you that you have lived a hermit's life here for over forty years, during which time you must have added considerably to your wealth. You are the sort of man who ought to go out of his way to make the land fit for heroes to live in. And after all, I am only making a business proposal. I am going to revolutionise air travel. Of that there is no doubt whatever. But to do that I want capital, and now that I am here by accident, I thought I might just as well give you the first opportunity of making another fortune. The risk is nominal, and the return is inestimable."
"I think I have heard a story like that before," Heronspey said coldly. "Upon my word, young man, you ought to go far if audacity counts for anything. And they tell me audacity is the finest asset a young man can have nowadays. But what if I refuse your generous suggestion?"
Beaucaire made no reply for the moment. His eye, roving round the room, had fallen upon the great picture over the carved stone fireplace. A queer, mocking expression crossed his face as he took in the splendid features of the beautiful Elinor Marsh looking down from her frame to those beneath. Then Beaucaire glanced up with a slow, dawning smile.
"What a wonderful painting," he said. "It holds the eye to the exclusion of everything else. Now, who—but stop a moment. Isn't that your famous ancestress? The brave girl who saved Chandos Heronspey from the Roundheads. Of course, it must be. I remember hearing my father speak about it. A beautiful face, so soft and womanly, and yet so strongly marked and resolute. Do you know, Mr. Heronspey, I happen to have met a young woman in society from whom that picture might have been painted. Did you ever hear of Miss Pamela Dacre?"
Ian Heronspey looked the speaker in the face without wavering in the slightest. But he did not fail to detect the menace behind Beaucaire's words, and translate the sinister motive that inspired them. He might have been carved out of stone as he stood there, looking down at Beaucaire.
"Well, sir," he commanded. "Go on. Who is this Pamela Dacre you speak of?"
"Ah, that is a question nobody can answer," Beaucaire replied. "She is young and beautiful and witty and has a fine courage of her own, as I have reason to know. We need not go into what that reason is, but I assure you it is true. She is a social favourite and is to be seen everywhere. She appears to have the command of considerable money, though who she is and where she comes from, nobody knows and nobody cares. With a beautiful girl like that, the past doesn't matter much."
"An interesting story," Heronspey commented. "But I quite fail to see what it has to do with me."
"Nothing, probably," Beaucaire drawled. "But, on the other hand, it may have a good deal. Miss Dacre is the very image of that picture. The likeness is all the more striking because her hair is shingled, like that of the boy-girl within yonder frame. Of course, these coincidences do happen, but isn't it possible that there is something more then coincidence? I was thinking that nearly 50 years ago you had a grown-up daughter. I think her name was Elinor."
"Be careful, sir," Heronspey muttered. "Be careful."
"What, have I said anything wrong?" Beaucaire asked, with an air of innocence. "You did have a daughter. And there was some family disagreement, wasn't there? She wanted to be an artist and family pride stood in the way. She disappeared from home and died in Italy. Am I right?"
Heronspey made no reply. He could only glare at his tormentor in a rage that left him speechless for the moment.
"She died in Italy," Beaucaire continued. "She was never reconciled to—well, to you. What became of her was no concern of yours. But suppose she had married? Suppose she left a daughter or son and that in turn that daughter or son begat a further offspring whom, for the sake of argument, we might call Miss Pamela Dacre? Did that ever occur to you, sir?"
Heronspey struggled with wrath that seemed to choke him.
It was not for Beaucaire to know, despite his acumen and worldly knowledge, what a hell he had aroused in the breast of the grand old man who stood opposite him. It was a fine tribute to Heronspey's race and training that he could face a crisis like this without showing it. When he recovered his voice, he spoke without heat and with a bitter contempt that brought the blood to Beaucaire's cheeks, despite his coolness and audacity.
"And if what you say is correct?" the old man began. "What, may I ask, has it to do with you?"
"Oh, well," Beaucaire smiled. "If you put it that way, nothing. But, at the same time, there is no reason why we should not discuss this matter in the light of common sense. Besides, for all you know to the contrary, I might be interested in the young lady known as Pamela Dacre."
"I have not the least doubt that you are," Heronspey said quietly. "That I presume, is why you have come here asking me for the loan of a large sum of money. You have no earthly right to do anything of the sort, and I am quite justified in refusing you. You have very cleverly placed me in rather an awkward position, and I must congratulate you upon the skill with which you have introduced a subject which is the inspiration of your visit here. But you are the guest of a Heronspey and I am not likely to forget it. I have given you the hospitality of the castle for the next day or two, and in return I will ask you to be good enough to keep off topics which you must know are extremely distasteful to me."
"Don't you see that I am trying to help you?" Beaucaire urged. "You are the last of your race, at least, you are the last of the Heronspeys, and some of these early days, in the ordinary course of nature, James Primrose will succeed you. You don't want to leave him with a scandal hanging over the family."
"And what scandal may that be?" Heronspey demanded.
"As you please," he said. "But don't blame me if people talk. I is a great many years since your daughter left this roof, never to return. And when she did leave it, it was in circumstances that might have caused much talk but for the fact that you had servants in those days upon whom you could depend. Those servants are dead now, and have been replaced by a younger generation, but the truth always comes out."
"I knew it," the old man said bitterly. "Now will you be good enough to speak plainly? You have got hold of some disgraceful story, and you have come here to sell your secret. In other words, you have come here to blackmail me."
"That is a hard saying," Beaucaire murmured.
"It is true, all the same. I don't believe your story. I don't believe that I owe your presence here to an accident to your motor car. You came trading upon the reputation of your father and grandfather, and falsely induced me to tend you my hospitality. In most circumstances that hospitality would be sacred, but there are limits, and I warn you not to go beyond them. The picture over my head has been used by you as a sort of prologue, mere introduction to a story of rascality. Be careful, sir, be careful. Do you want me to have you flung out of the house and thrashed with sticks through the parks by my lackeys? Because that is what you seem to be asking for."
"I am sorry you take it like this," Beaucaire said smoothly. "It is only a commercial transaction after all. I have something to sell, and you are the one man in the world who wants to buy it. The sort of thing that happens every day."
"And part of the price is my dishonour," Heronspey exclaimed. "Come, what have you to sell?"
"A secret," Beaucaire said. "Since you have chosen to take the gloves off, I am quite ready to fight you with your own weapons. Call it blackmail if you like——"
"And what other name could I call it? What would your father and grandfather say if they could hear their degenerate scion talking like this to me, and not ashamed to proclaim himself a member of the lowest scum of rascality? There is nothing on the face of God's earth more contemptible than a blackmailer. And nobody yet ever heard of a blackmailer who kept his word. You want a certain sum of money from me, and you are prepared to say that if I meet your requirements you will trouble me no more. But you will, you will come again and again, with an appetite sharpened by what it feeds on. Each time your demands will grow larger and larger. Oh, I may live remote from the world, but I know humanity just as well as you do. I refuse to listen to you and deny your request."
"In that case you will force me to speak still more plainly," Beaucaire went on. "Who are you to talk to me like this? What sort of a life have you led? You allowed your daughter to leave your roof and cared nothing if she lived or died so long as your family honour was maintained. The day she left this house until now you have never given her another thought. What became of her was, to you, of no greater moment than the death of a favourite dog."
Heronspey said nothing as Beaucaire paused. But through his mind there flashed the image of the beautiful girl he had seen at Sandown Park and under that iron surface of his, he was conscious of conflicting emotions.
"Go on," he murmured. "Go on."
"I am going on," Beaucaire said. "For the best part of two generations you have shut yourself up in this castle, indifferent to everything but your own dignity and self-importance. You have cared nothing for your friends or your servants and not one penny to charity has ever passed out of your hands. And then the war came. What did you do then? Disposed of most of your racing stud because you lacked the staff to keep it going. You sent your younger servants to the front, because you thought they ought to go, not so much for the sake of humanity as for the protection of your order. And they went, like others, in their thousands, and they died like flies in conditions that you never understood and nobody will understand except those who went through it as I did. And all that time the tenants of your farms were enjoying unwanted prosperity. Your revenues were greater than ever, despite the weight of taxation. You had money to spare which you invested in War Bonds and regarded it as an act of patriotism. And not one finger did you stir to help in the good cause. I am speaking very plainly, because I want to show you my side of the question."
"You are very eloquent, sir," the old man said sarcastically. "But pray don't let me interrupt you."
"Very well then. You came out of the war without a mental scratch or the loss of a penny. I came out of the war stripped of everything I had in the world in company with many millions who suffered so that the world might be made safe for democracy. I had nothing left except my brains and a certain useless education. And when I looked to you and such as you to put me on my feet again, you turned coldly away and talked about unrest and the upheaval of society. I tell you, we had ceased to care about society. We had to live though the society you think so much of practically denied us an opportunity. I have known what it is to go without a meal. I have slept in a garret with the snow coming in through the roof, just a derelict, a poor fellow to pass by on the other side with a shrug of the shoulders and a pious hope that I might emigrate or something like that. You look upon me as a scoundrel, and to-day I am. And who made me one? You and the likes of you who shirked your duty and said it was the State's business. And what the State did for us you know. That is why I am here to-day, Mr. Heronspey. You can call it blackmail if you like, but I call it getting my own back. There is a big chance before me at the present moment if I can lay my hands upon the sum of money I require, and I am going to ask you to find it."
"And if I refuse to do so?"
"Oh, I don't think you will refuse. After all, it would only be a small thankoffering for what men of my class did for you during those critical years. A couple of thousand pounds is not much, especially as it is only a loan."
There was something impressive in what Beaucaire had to say, and Heronspey was not disposed to deny it.
"You have something to sell?" he asked.
"Well, I don't think we need put it quite like that, but I certainly have some information which may be of interest to you. It may even cause you to regard the past in an entirely different light. It doesn't matter how the information I have came into my hands, but there it is, and you can have it at a price. I am sorry to put it in that way, but the circumstances of the case give me no alternative. Did it ever occur to you, sir, that when your daughter left home she might have married?"
Heronspey started. He regarded the speaker with a look in his eyes that was not pleasant to see.
"You hinted at that before," Heronspey said. "You have forced me into a discussion which is repulsive, but since you have said so much, I must go on. My daughter was different from the rest of us, in fact, she was not a Heronspey at all. She cared nothing for her position or the dignity of her family. She would go about amongst the poor as if she regarded them as her equals. She was what you call a born Bohemian. From her earliest childhood she was never happy unless she had a paint brush or a pencil in her hand. Doubtless, if she had been born in a different sphere, she would have become a great artist. But the Heronspeys have not much sympathy with that sort of thing; on the contrary, they have been patrons of the arts, and as such could not regard them as being a fitting occupation for one of an ancient and powerful race. I did everything I could to discourage the child from pursuing her folly. I might just as well have tried to sweep back the Solway Firth with a broom. The more I protested, the worse she became. And then finally one day she vanished in circumstances that would have caused a terrible scandal but for the loyalty of my then servants."
"So I understand," Beaucaire said coolly. "She went off with a gamekeeper whose name was Wallace."
Heronspey's face flushed blood-red and the veins stood out like cords upon his forehead.
"You put it very coarsely, sir," he said. "But that is the truth. Elinor disgraced herself and, I believe, deliberately. It was the way she avenged herself upon her family. She did it wilfully, with the intention of wounding me, and she succeeded beyond her wildest expectations. But I quite fail to see what you expect to gain by raking up this old scandal."
"I don't expect to gain anything." Beaucaire said. "I only wish to remind you that the carefully guarded secret is mine and that I am prepared to respect it if you make it worth my while. As I said just now, I have something to sell and you have something to buy. And I think that when you realise the value of what I have to sell you will agree that it is cheap at the price."
"Possibly," Heronspey said coldly. "But, in the face of what you have just told me, anything that comes from you must, of necessity, be suspect. I am not prepared to accept anything you say without proof beyond the shadow of a doubt."
"Very well," Beaucaire agreed. "Let us adjourn this conversation for a few hours. I want you to have time to digest what I have said and then, in your calmer moments, we will discuss the matter in a more congenial atmosphere. I propose to leave here some time on Monday afternoon, so that there is no hurry. And, before I go, I will show you something which will establish my good faith."
It was a strange, almost unnatural situation, but one that Heronspey was forced, against his will, to accept. The idea of entertaining a blackmailer under his roof filled him with horror and disgust. Yet, in the circumstances, what could he do? It was with a feeling of great relief that he found himself alone and realised that only at meal times would he be forced to make himself agreeable to his hated guest.
And, on his side, Beaucaire was not particularly anxious to spend much time in the company of his host. He dined that night and went to bed early and, until quite late on the Sunday night, he was away from the castle, as he said, speeding up the people who were repairing his apocryphal car. As a matter of fact he spent most of Sunday and half the following day with Dutton in the old mill. And, in the meantime, Dutton had been anything but idle. He had certain work to do and the sooner that was done the better, from his point of view, because he knew that he was merely a subordinate, and that he would not be permitted to know what was at the back of the big scheme once he had finished the contract with Beaucaire. Nor had he the slightest desire to find himself mixed up with the police, for whom he had a wholesome respect. Once the mill was put in repair and the alleged French mechanics provided with quarters in the village, Dutton's side would be complete. After that he could draw his money and discreetly disappear.
It was a bit of real good luck for him when he found in the village a handy blacksmith of the old type who had not too much work to occupy his time and was only too willing to concentrate on the repairs to the old mill. He threw himself heart and soul into the task, so that by middle day on Monday Beaucaire had the satisfaction of seeing the sluice gates let down and the mill wheel turning as soon as the dam behind it was flooded.
"Not a bad job, sir," the old blacksmith said. "I have put in nearly 30 solid hours' work on that. The machinery is a bit stiff yet, but it will be all right when the oil gets into the bearings and she warms up. I don't think there is anything more wanted, sir. If there is, you can send for me."
"It seems quite all right," Beaucaire said. "What have I to pay for all this?"
The local craftsman named a sufficiently modest sum which Beaucaire paid him, and he went on his way. Beaucaire turned to Dutton, with a smile of satisfaction.
"You have done uncommonly well," he said. "I thought this job would take several days longer. Now, look here, Dutton, I am going back to London this evening and you can come and see me at my flat. Give me your address in the village, and I will write or telegraph to you if I want anything. You will have to stay here a few days longer, and see that those French mechanics of mine are provided with decent quarters in the village."
"I have arranged for that already, sir," Dutton said. "But I will meet those chaps if you like and make things smooth for them. I speak a bit of their lingo, so that ought to be all right. Then, at the end of the week, I will come back to London and you can pay me what you promised. To tell the truth, sir, I don't like this business, though you might say I don't know what it is. Well, I don't, and I don't want to. All the same, when I get my little bit I'll ship for a long voyage for the benefit of my health. So long, sir."
Beaucaire walked through the village and made his way along the coast until he came to Silloth. There he sent off a message from a post office. It was a queer sort of message to a registered address in Liverpool, and ran:—
"Excellent golf at Silloth, and accommodation in the neighbourhood not far past the hotel. Anchorage for yacht quite safe. Come any time now, and bring all my spare golf clubs with you. You will be met on your arrival."
This cryptic message having been despatched, Beaucaire retraced his steps until he reached the village once more, where he had a final interview with Dutton. Then he walked thoughtfully towards the Castle, where he packed his suit cast and ordered tea to be brought him in the library.
"Nothing but a cup of tea and a piece of bread and butter," he said to the waiting footman. "I am leaving here in about half an hour's time, and I should like to see Mr. Heronspey before I go. Does he happen to be in the house?"
The footman thought so, and went off in search of his master. He came back in a few minutes' time, followed by Heronspey, who closed the door of the library behind him.
"You wanted to see me," he said curtly.
"Yes, just to say good-bye and thank you," Beaucaire said. "I am walking to Silloth, where I am picking up my car. Before I go I think we have a little matter to settle. I wonder if you have ever seen this before."
As Beaucaire spoke he took from his pocket the gold snuff-box and placed it in Heronspey's hand. The latter looked at it with an almost dazed expression in his eyes.
"Where—where did you get this?" he stammered.
"It matters nothing," Beaucaire said. "But I see that it is quite familiar to you."
"It is an old family treasure," Heronspey murmured. "I lost sight of it half a century ago."
"It was taken from here by your daughter when she left," Beaucaire explained. "I want to call your attention to the miniature on the outside. It shows the same face as the big picture over the fireplace yonder and the same features that I noticed in Miss Pamela Dacre. Now, if you will take that box and press on the rim just inside the top——"
"I know all about that," Heronspey said impatiently.
"So I had expected. But if you will do as I ask, you will find a sheet of paper inside. That sheet of paper may be of interest to you and well worth the money I ask."
Heronspey took the shabby sheet of paper from the lid of the box and read it carefully. His face clouded and there was a contemptuous frown between his furrowed brows.
"Absolute rubbish," he said. "Mere evidence that a foolish girl gave herself into the hands of a designing scoundrel. So this is what you have to sell. Well, sir, that box belongs to you, I suppose, probably by right of purchase. If it is no use to you, I should like to have it back again. And the price I am prepared to pay is exactly two thousand pounds."
Beaucaire concealed a smile.
"Agreed," he said. "That is all I want."
Without another word Heronspey proceeded to write a cheque, which he handed to Beaucaire, who took it as silently. Then, with a muttered word of thanks, the latter left the room, and, a few moments later, was striding across the park.
He had barely gone before Heronspey turned to his writing table and began to pen a letter. It was addressed to the Right Honourable Lord Mallingford, and ran:—
"My Dear Mallingford,—I want your help. Once I did you a little service, which you were pleased to over-estimate, and now you can repay. Being an ex-Cabinet Minister, you should be able to put me it touch with the man I need. He must be a combination of Home Secretary and Chief Commissioner of Police. The sort of man who can take risks with a certainty that powerful interests behind will protect him if he makes a false step. I think you know what I mean. Send this man to me, and I will pay him anything that he asks if he succeeds in his mission. When you have found the man, I will write to you again.—Your sincere friend,
The letter was addressed and stamped and dropped into the Castle bag by Heronspey himself.
"War," he murmured. "War to the knife."
Phasy sat in the shabby bed-sitting-room of his obscure hotel in one of the streets off the Strand, contemplating the telegram with an air of satisfaction. This had arrived that afternoon from Beaucaire, couched in somewhat cryptic language, but between the lines Phasy could read that his confederate had been successful in his mission and that he had contrived to raise the second two thousand pounds which was required to carry out the great scheme. So far as it went this was highly satisfactory, but Phasy would have been a great deal better pleased had he known from whence the extra capital had come.
To a certain extent he could guess. To begin with, there was the postmark on the telegram which pointed to the fact that the sender had not been very far from Glentower at the time of dispatch and was, apparently, still in the neighbourhood. Then there was the matter of the gold snuff-box with its medallion and the fictitious marriage certificate concealed in the lid, all of which pointed to the conclusion that Beaucaire had gone north, not only with regard to the old mill, but with the full intention of calling upon the aged Ian Heronspey and getting as much out of him as was possible. Therefore Phasy was pretty certain that the extra capital had been found by Heronspey. It was blackmail, of course, though there was no reason to call the transaction by that particular name. Heronspey would not be much impressed by the document revealed in the gold snuff-box, but he would be anxious enough to prevent the revival of an old scandal and ready to pay a handsome sum of money to silence anybody who was in a position to make that scandal public.
Yes, there was no doubt about that side of it. Beaucaire had contrived to squeeze a small fortune out of Heronspey on the understanding that the former would maintain silence and therefore the initial success of the great venture was assured. But even that knowledge did not quite allay Phasy's suspicions of his comrade. Two thousand pounds was the sum that he required to commence operations on a large scale, but how much more had Beaucaire succeeded in extracting from the old gentleman. That was what Phasy had to find out, and he would not be satisfied until he had done so. There was no reason, so far as he could see, why he should be hiding himself away in a fifth-rate hotel whilst Beaucaire still maintained his luxurious flat in the West End. And, somehow or another, Beaucaire always contrived to do that, however bad things were and however scanty was the supply of those gilded youths who kept the firm going. And Phasy was not the man to sit quietly down to a meal of bread and cheese whilst his partner was indulging in epicurean banquets.
Still, there was time enough to get to the bottom of that. Meanwhile there were other things to be done. In the first place, Phasy called up a mysterious individual on the telephone and made an appointment to meet the speaker at the other end in a well-known restaurant at eight o'clock that evening. Then he went back to his cigarette and modest drink, killing time as best he could until the evening.
He dressed himself with meticulous care, and, out of his scanty hoard, took a taxi. Once arrived at the restaurant, he turned into a lounge where a woman awaited him. It was the same woman that he had been seen with on the golf links, and whose striking appearance had so impressed Pamela Dacre and Daphne as she sat at lunch in the club house.
"Well, here you are," Phasy said. "Come along. I have engaged a table. But no champagne this evening, my dear Julie, because the exchequer will not run it."
The woman nodded carelessly as she followed her companion to a secluded little table on the far side of the dining-room. They had hardly taken their places before Joe Musgrave came into the restaurant in company with Primrose.
"Sit down there," Joe said, "and make yourself as inconspicuous as possible. I want to keep an eye on those two in the corner, and when they leave here we are going to follow them. I have kept with Phasy pretty well all day, because I believe I have discovered exactly what he is after, I mean, as far as that wonderfully handsome woman is concerned."
Meanwhile quite unaware that he was being watched, Phasy settled down to a luxurious and carefully-selected meal. He spoke only on general topics until the coffee stage was reached, and then, after lighting a cigarette and passing his case over to his companion, he grew more serious.
"Now, my dear Julie," he said, "let us get to business. I have given you a pretty general idea of what I want you to do, and I should like to have your opinion on the subject. Of course, you can refuse if you want to, but in the circumstances I don't think you will. It is going to be most confoundedly dull and will probably bore you to tears. But then, that will only last a short time, and if all goes well you will have more money than ever you saw in your life before. You will have all the money you want and I cannot think of a bigger order than that."
"Oh, I want money badly enough," the woman said, "but I hate the idea. Fancy asking me to take on a job like that. I would as soon spend a fortnight in gaol."
"And aren't you more or less in gaol now? You are living in one room in a grubby little boarding house, and you could not put your hand on a five-pound note to save your life. Don't forgot that the famous Julie Corti is not in Hollywood now, but is merely a fallen star who has dropped out of the cinema firmament entirely owing to what she would call the artistic temperament. Six months ago you had the world at your feet and you threw it away because you had not learnt how to wait. If you hadn't been so greedy and had kept out of the drug scandal, which I advised you to do, we should have pulled off the biggest coup that ever happened in Hollywood. But no, you wanted money badly and you would have it at any cost. That is why I disappeared from California, foreseeing exactly what was going to happen. Then came that blazing scandal and Uncle Sam got on his hind legs, bellowing in his finest Puritan mood, and there was an end of Julie Corti so far as the films were concerned. Then some unkind critic discovered that there was a dash of African in your veins, and of course the land of Liberty could not stand that."
"Oh, why drag all this up again?" the woman protested. "It wasn't altogether my fault. There were others in it, but they made me the scapegoat simply because my grandmother happened to be a Quadroon. Land of Liberty, indeed! But never mind that. What do you want me to do?"
"My dear girl, I want you to do exactly what you are told. I want you to play a part for a week or two without much risk, and if everything goes well you won't have to worry about the films any more. I know it will be a dreary business, but if you don't accept my offer, what are you going to do? You are no actress and never will be. It is only your face and figure that made you so valuable an asset to the camera-man, and he won't dare to feature you again for some long time to come. How do you propose to live in the meantime?"
The woman sighed but remained silent.
"Very well," Phasy went on. "I am offering you free quarters and everything you can desire. The best of food and drink and your favourite brand of cigarettes. All you have to do is to lie low and keep in the background. And when you have finished I will see that you are well paid."
"When do we start?" the woman asked.
"Well, generally speaking, now," Phasy said. "In other words, this very night. All you have to do is to go round to your rooms and pack a bag. Pay your landlady what you owe her and say that you are going away for about a fortnight. The thing is a simple as possible. Come along."
Phasy summoned the waiter and paid his bill and led the way into the lounge. He was closely followed by Musgrave and Primrose, but not closely enough to prevent the two from slipping away in a private car which was standing by the edge of the pavement with the engine running as if awaiting the coming of the occupants. Musgrave snapped out an oath.
"I never thought of that," he said. "I am sure Phasy did not see us, but he is evidently afraid of somebody following him, or else he wouldn't have slipped off in that manner. But it can't be helped. We shall have to be more careful next time. Let us turn into a music-hall for an hour, then you can walk back as far as my place and I will tell you something."
All the same, it was well past eleven before the two friends turned out of their place of entertainment and walked along the quiet streets in the direction of Musgrave's flat. They had come a little out of their way, because Musgrave had expressed a desire to pass the Sinister House, though apparently this was only out of a certain idle curiosity.
"What's the next move?" Jimmy asked. "And what do you suppose that woman had to do with it?"
"Ah, that we have to find out," Musgrave replied. "I have a vague suspicion, but it is nothing more at present. However, I shall be able to say more about that after our next visit to the Sinister House. But I do wish that we had somebody behind us who makes a business of that sort of mystery. I don't mean the police, but somebody who will prevent us from getting into trouble with the authorities if they knew that we were concealing material facts. If it hadn't been for Pamela I should have put Scotland Yard on its guard long ago. My idea——"
Musgrave stopped speaking as Primrose grasped his arm. The latter pointed across the road to the Sinister House.
"By Jove!" he exclaimed. "Do you see that light upstairs in the attic window?"
Surely enough, the beacon light was there once more.
"The old woman come back," Primrose suggested.
"I wonder," Musgrave said drily. "I wonder."
It was a day or two later, and Ian Heronspey was seated in the library of the Castle as if expecting somebody. He had not long to wait, for a few moments later the footman came into the room with a card for his master. On this card was inscribed the name of Colonel Sir Philip Lyston, K.C.B., and in the left-hand corner the words "Army and Navy Club."
"The gentlemen is in the blue drawing-room, sir," the man said. "He told me you were expecting him."
"I am," Heronspey said curtly. "Ask him to come in here. And tell the housekeeper that Sir Philip will be here a day or two, and that he is to have a good room."
A moment or two later the footman came back followed by a man of some sixty years of age, who looked much more like a learned professor than a soldier, for he wore horn-rimmed spectacles, and his grey hair was growing scanty on the temples. He advanced with a scholarly stoop and a friendly smile, the only thing striking about him being a pair of flint-blue eyes that seemed to fairly sparkle behind his glasses.
"Ah, Mr. Heronspey," he said. "You got my letter, of course? Lord Mallingford told me more or less what you wanted, and I am always willing to oblige a man who has been as good a friend to me as he has. I don't know whether you have heard from him or not, but I had better tell you, perhaps, exactly who and what I am. To begin with, my title is my own, and my military rank I attained many years ego. I have been attache to one or two courts, and, at one time, I was in the British Secret Service. When I left there I went to the Home Office, and there I remained until I retired last year. Now, Mr. Heronspey, I can promise you the sort of amnesty you ask for, and I am entirely at your disposal. It is not a question of money at all. If you like to confide in me, I shall be only too pleased. And I need to tell you that secrecy will be the essence of my bond."
"'That is very good of you," Heronspey said. "And, now, Sir Philip, I might just as well tell you everything without delay. Nearly fifty years ago my family was subjected to a great scandal. By the grace of God, it never went outside these four walls, and I regarded it as dead and buried. But in the last few days it has cropped up in an entirely unexpected form. To put it bluntly and plainly, I am being blackmailed by the son of an old friend of the family—a man who, but for the war, would probably have made an honourable reputation for himself. Still, the fact remains I have paid him two thousand pounds with an understanding that he will never trouble me again."
"And you feel quite sure he will?" Lyston smiled.
"Why, of course. I was merely purchasing immunity until I could act. But if you will sit down and smoke a cigar with me, I will begin at the beginning and tell you everything. It is a long and shameful story and I hardly know how to begin. I would not speak of it unless I was compelled."
"Take your time," Lyston said. "I am all attention."
For a long time Heronspey spoke. He went back to the genesis of the scandal and traced it down to the moment when Beaucaire had appeared like a bolt out of the blue and indirectly demanded money as the price of his silence.
"And that is about all," Heronspey concluded.
"Very terrible and very sad," Lyston murmured. "I am afraid I shall have to cross-examine you a bit. Did I understand you to say that your daughter left home nearly half a century ago because you refused to allow her to become a professional artist?"
"Well, practically. Mind you, we never hit it off together, even from the time she was a child. She was wilful, and headstrong and the possessor of a strong temperament. She had no regard for her position or her family. She might have been the daughter of one of my tenants. She came and went as she liked and I could not restrain her. I suppose in one of her wanderings she came across that handsome scamp Wallace with whom she eventually vanished. Nobody seemed to guess where she had gone, or with whom, but I knew, and from that day to this I have never set eyes upon her. Whether she is alive or dead I do not know. But she must have left some sort of a family. And it is a curious fact with the Heronspeys that for generations the women reproduce themselves with an amazing regularity of feature and looks that never seem to vary. Other old families have the same characteristics, but rarely so marked as in the case of my own race. I suppose they inherit their looks from that ancestress of theirs that you see over the fireplace. Ever since Chandos Heronspey married her our women have been the same."
"Yes, that is a peculiarity which artists have noticed frequently," Lyston said. "A very fine piece of work that, and I should say a faithful reproduction of the original."
"Absolutely," Heronspey murmured. "Now, look at this snuff-box I was telling you about. Look at the medallion on the outside. This is a portrait of my daughter painted, no doubt, by herself. By some means or other it found its way into Vivian Beaucaire's hands, and he used it to blackmail me. He let me have it for precisely two thousand pounds, and I am hoping it will not be dear at that price. As a matter of fact, it is an old family treasure. But when I saw it last there was no miniature on the front of it, and no crystal protecting the painting. My idea is that my daughter took the snuff-box out of the case where it was kept in one of the reception rooms and painted that picture on it for her lover. Of course, that may only be a surmise, but there it is, and I am sure my daughter painted it. It is exactly as she was at the time she left home; in fact, every Heronspey woman is like that at her age."
"You never tried to trace your daughter?" Lyston asked.
"No, I didn't, sir. I allowed it to be said that she had gone to Italy to study art and that she had died there. It was a lie that hurt me terribly, but what was I to do? I did hear that Elinor had come into money through a distant relative, but I cannot say anything as to that, because our family solicitor at the time quarrelled bitterly with me about Elinor and we have never met since. His name is Hartley Horne and he has chambers in Lincoln's Inn. He must be getting quite an old man now and I am told that he has grown very secretive and furtive. He is the only man who is likely to know what became of my daughter and if she left any family. You had better make a note of his name because you will probably have to see him. And if you get anything out of him, you will be cleverer than I take you for. And now for another thing. I am quite sure that my daughter had a child and that child in her turn had another, because there is no doubt that I have seen the fourth generation. This girl would be, of course, my great-granddaughter. Not legitimate, of course, but the fact remains."
"But where did you meet?" Lyston asked.
"That I am just going to tell you. At long intervals I have a horse in some race, and when this happens I go down south and attend the meeting. I was at Sandown Park recently when, quite by accident, I came into contact with James Primrose, a young man who is my next of kin. You may have heard of him."
"Of course," Lyston smiled. "I am well acquainted with great family relationships. Please continue."
"Well, I had occasion to stop my heir and expostulate with him over his betting habits. I could not say too much because he had friends with him. Two of those friends were ladies. I was not interested in one, but the other struck me like a blow. She was the exact image of the heroine over the fireplace. There was no mistaking the likeness; it wasn't accidental or suggestive, but my daughter again as she was half a century ago. Making allowance for the difference in wardrobe and the dressing of the hair, she might have stepped out of that frame yonder. And a lady to her finger-tips. In an odd sort of way I felt quite proud of her. Of course, I could not recognise the girl, but in certain circumstances I might do something in a substantial way before I die. Yet she didn't seem like a girl who needed money. She gave me the impression of wealth and ease and she certainly is recognised by Society, judging by the class of people she was with. What do you think of that?"
"Very strange," Lyston said. "You say she was with your heir? But surely James Primrose must have noticed this girl's amazing likeness to the picture over the fireplace. I suppose he comes here sometimes?"
"Oh, yes, he comes here occasionally when I send for him, or on a duty visit. But he hates the castle and everything connected with it. I don't ever remember his being in the library, and if he was, he would not notice anything. A more unobservant young man never lived."
"Then we are to assume that James Primrose has no idea that this young lady—by the way, what is she called?"
"Pamela Dacre, I think," Heronspey said.
"Oh, Pamela Dacre. I have heard of her. One of our most noted Society beauties, an heiress in her own right and introduced into the great world by Lady Somebody or another, who is dead. I forget the name, but I can find out."
"That is exactly what I want you to do," Heronspey said. "You had better make the acquaintance of James Primrose and, through him, learn something about Miss Dacre. I feel pretty certain that it was she who was the inspiration which led to my being blackmailed by Beaucaire. I want you to get to the bottom of this tangle for me and, above all, I want you to keep an eye upon Vivian Beaucaire. That he is up to some rascality I am certain. After he left me he was supposed to return to London, but I have discovered, quite by accident, that he is still hanging about the neighbourhood. He is your quarry, Sir Philip."
"I think so," Lyston said thoughtfully. "Yes, I think it will pay me to watch Vivian Beaucaire."
Since the day when he had turned his back upon world politics and adventures in many lands, Sir Philip Lyston had established himself in one of the backwaters of the Temple, where he had a suite of rooms and a wonderful library, in which he passed most of his spare time. There was nothing about the little man with the bent shoulders and horn-rimmed spectacles to suggest a soldier and a diplomat and one who, in his time, had been the friend of kings and the confident a high officers of State in more than one country. But behind that mild reserve was an intellectual power and the fine courage that nothing could shake. And now the time has come when it seemed to Lyston that he could take things easily and write the books which had gone a long way to earn him an international reputation. He was the last man in the world to be idle, and therefore he had welcomed the commission which Heronspey had placed in his hands.
He had viewed the problem from all angles, and directly he had made up his mind what to do, he began to make the necessary inquiries. These led him, logically enough, to three of the leading persons in the drama—first of all Pamela Dacre herself, and, after her, Joe Musgrave and Jimmy Primrose. He had made acquaintance with Musgrave quite naturally, and the same might be said with regard to Primrose. They were flattered by the attention of the distinguished man, and when he asked them to come round one evening and partake of some special coffee which he prepared with his own hands from an Arab recipe, the two young men were only too pleased.
They sat in the big book-lined room overlooking the river, sipping their coffee and smoking some of Lyston's choice cigarettes, when the host introduced more or less abruptly, the subject which was nearest his heart for the moment.
"Now, let me make a confession to you two," he said. "I did not invite you here for the mere pleasure of your company. There is another thing. To put it bluntly, Musgrave, I think you are interested in Miss Pamela Dacre?"
"Certainly I am," Joe said with a little extra colour in his cheeks. "But I quite fail to see——"
"Yes, you naturally would," Lyston said. "But I am not asking that question out of idle, vulgar curiosity."
"I beg your pardon," Joe murmured. "But for a moment you rather ruffled me. I am interested in Miss Dacre, and I hope one of these early days to make her my wife."
"But there is an obstacle in the way, eh?"
"I don't know how you guessed that, sir," Musgrave responded. "But it is certainly true."
By way of reply Lyston took the gold snuff-box from his pocket and placed it in Joe's hand.
"Look at that," he said. "That box was lent to me by Mr. Ian Heronspey of Glentower Castle. If you look at it carefully you will see that on the outside of it is a miniature which was obviously painted a great many years ago. If you look at it more carefully still, you will admit that the features of the woman are identical with those of Miss Dacre. I know Miss Dacre by sight, and the likeness is unmistakable."
"Here, just one moment," Musgrave cried. "That snuff-box is mine. I bought and paid for it not so very long ago, and it was stolen from me by some pick-pockets at Sandown Park. In fact, it was stolen twice. But, perhaps, before you say any more, sir, you had better hear my story."
With that Joe went on to describe exactly how the snuff-box had come into his possession and its adventures until the moment that it lay there in his hand. It was flattering to see the attention with which Lyston followed this narrative.
"That is very extraordinary," he said. "And yet it tallies with what Mr. Heronspey told me. Now, to be quite frank, a man named Beaucaire——"
"How do you know that?" Musgrave demanded.
"Because Mr. Heronspey told me. And you have told me yourself that by some means or another Beaucaire wanted to get hold of the snuff-box. You think you know the real reason why, but you are mistaken. He wanted the box because it was likely to be of use to him in blackmailing Mr. Heronspey. In this he succeeded. And that is why I have come into the story. Once a man starts blackmailing he never leaves off. Mr. Heronspey bought that snuff-box back for two thousand pounds, but he knew perfectly well that that would not be the end of it. That is why I was asked, through a mutual friend, to take the case up. It doesn't matter, for the moment, how Beaucaire blundered on the family secret, because we have other things to occupy our attention first. But Beaucaire certainly got hold of some valuable information, which, being more or less an adventurer, he determined to make use of. I have just told you that his first venture yielded two thousand pounds."
"That is all very well, sir," Musgrave interrupted, "but where does Miss Dacre come in? What is the connection between her and that rather formidable old gentleman Heronspey?"
"Well, I strongly suspect her of being his great-granddaughter. It is all a queer tangle at present, but I will try and make it a bit plainer. Let me tell you what I have found out during the few hours I spent under Mr. Heronspey's roof."
With a few graphic touches, Lyston sketched the story he had heard from Heronspey's lips. The two young men looked at one another and nodded significantly.
"The woman in the Sinister House," they exclaimed simultaneously.
"And who might she be?" Lyston demanded.
It was evidently up to the visitors now to tell their side of the story from the moment Musgrave first lost his snuff-box to the time when they were hidden in the Sinister House watching Beaucaire and his confederate Phasy.
"All this is very remarkable," Lyston commented. "And it certainly makes my task easier. But we will not worry about Beaucaire for the moment. What I want you to tell me is all you know about Miss Dacre's past."
"And that," Musgrave said rather curtly, "is practically nothing. She came under the roof of an aunt of mine when she was quite a child. She was placed there by a solicitor called Hartley Horne, and she was brought up with us, more or less as one of the family. I don't think my aunt knew the true story, but, anyway, she is dead now and we can't call on her evidence. But Pamela lives the life of an independent lady of means and her monetary affairs are in the hands of the solicitor of whom I have spoken. Pamela does not know who she is or where she came from, and up till quite recently I don't think she has been very much interested. But now she has an idea that no nameless girl ought to marry a Musgrave. Very foolish on her part, sir, but there it is and I cannot make her see otherwise. But Hartley Horne can tell you all about it."
"I think that is evident," Lyston said. "Thank you very much for coming here and giving me all this information. I will call on Mr. Horne, and see if I can induce him to speak. Meanwhile, you had better be careful about the Sinister House, as you call it. You young fellows are playing rather a dangerous game there. If the police discovered what was going on, you might find yourselves in an awkward predicament."
"That is just what I said, sir," Primrose cried. "Still, with you behind us we ought to be all right."
"It certainly will make a difference," Lyston smiled. "If you do come up against an obstacle of that sort, let me know at once. I have done some service to Scotland Yard, and they will not turn awkward where a protege of mine is concerned. But don't take undue risks. Find out what those two scoundrels are doing in the Sinister House, if you can, and let me know. To-morrow morning I will go and call upon Mr. Horne."
Hartley Horne, seated in his office like a spider in his web, rose as his visitor entered and fingered Lyston's card with a certain deference.
"I am very pleased to see you, Sir Philip," he said. "Of course, I know who you are and all about you. If there is anything that I can do for you in the way of business, I shall be delighted. Do please be seated."
"It isn't exactly business," Lyston said as he dropped into a chair. "You might even call it impertinent curiosity, but it is hardly that, because I am here on behalf of Mr. Ian Heronspey, of Glentower Castle. He has discovered, quite by accident, that he is not the last of his race. In fact, he thinks that a few days ago he was introduced to his great-granddaughter. This was at Sandown Park races. And he is under the impression that you can confirm this opinion or otherwise. Now, Mr. Horne, I have seen that famous painting in the library at Glentower, and I have in my pocket a gold snuff-box——"
"I know it," Horne said curtly. "I have had the box shown to me. But it proves nothing."
"On the contrary, my dear sir, I think it proves everything. You knew Glentower's daughter, and I am under the impression that you know what became of her eventually. Mind, I am not guessing. For the first time in fifty odd years, Heronspey has taken somebody into his confidence. I am that somebody. He told me the whole history of the family scandal, and commissioned me to get to the bottom of it. Whether or not his heart is softened, I do not know, but certainly he is deeply interested in the beautiful girl called Pamela Dacre, who must be a descendant of his. It is possible that she has no legitimate claim upon the old man, but the sight of her, in her freshness and beauty, undoubtedly attracted him, and my idea is that he would like to do something for her. Now, Mr. Horne, I ask you to be candid."
The dried-up lawyer suddenly flamed up in a spur of passion. He brought his hand down on the desk violently before him in the vehemence of his rage.
"Oh, then there is a crack in the armour of the family pride, after all," he scoffed. "That thin, blue blood of Heronspey's is not altogether cold water. To think that, after all these years, Heronspey should possess a human impulse! Very well, Sir Philip, I will speak. I hoped the time would never come when I should be bound to do so, but, since Heronspey had chosen to appear in the role of a semi-penitent and show his family skeleton, even to a confidant like you, there is no reason why I should not speak from my point of view. That young woman is the old man's great-granddaughter, but that gives him no claim upon her. But let us go back nearly fifty years to the time when I was a young man and, like other young men, had my hopes and ambitions, yes, and my affections. And those affections were concentrated upon Elinor Heronspey."
Horne paused and struggled for breath.
"Very well, then," he went on more quietly. "I wanted to marry Elinor and she was not averse. I don't say that she loved me in the romantic way of drama, but I sympathised with her in her ambitions, and I was the only man in the world in whom she could confide. You see, for two hundred years my forebears have been in the law, and all that time we have been solicitors to the Heronspey family. There was a bond between us akin to actual friendship. Glentower was always open to us to go and come as we liked. No Heronspey ever did anything without consulting a Horne. And that is why I was mad enough to think that I was a fit mate for a daughter of the house. I have said just now she didn't care for me quite as I wished, but if she had married me, that would have come in time. And if it had, I should not have been the miserly old spider that I am to-day. Only Elinor and myself knew how things stood between us. She and her father never got on together and it is no exaggeration to say that when she was a girl she hated him. I want you to know that she had not so much a home as a prison house. She was allowed to have no companions, because nobody for miles round was held to be her equal. And all the time, her artistic impulses were developing. One day there was a great scene when she announced her intention of becoming a professional painter and I happened to be in the castle at the time. I asked her to marry me and she consented. I don't think it was because she loved me so much as to get away from her awful environment."
Horne paused for a moment and then resumed.
"Of course, I told Heronspey about it. He was absolutely furious. He made me feel the vast gulf between us, and told me point-blank that no Heronspey should marry a miserable rat of a lawyer save over his dead body. When we had finished I was literally thrown out of the house and two days later I sent all Heronspey's books and papers back to him. In the circumstances, I could never consent to act for him again.
"Well, I heard nothing more for weeks. I had promised that I would not write to Elinor and I didn't. I was waiting for a chance to see her. As things turned out, I waited too long and she, driven to desperation, left her father's house and went off with a handsome scamp of a gamekeeper called Wallace. I suppose in a way, he touched her heart and I know that she was fond of him. I heard later all about that. I heard how she took that gold snuff-box and painted her own portrait upon it as a kind of wedding gift to the man whom she regarded as her husband. I don't know whether he deceived her on that point or no, but, of course, they never were married. It was many years afterwards I learnt all this and it came about in a curious way. Perhaps I had better tell you exactly how it was.
"One day Elinor came to see me. She was changed almost beyond recognition. She told me she had a daughter who was the very antithesis of herself. It was a sort of punishment, I suppose. At any rate, there was no sympathy between the two, and the daughter, when she was about 20, left her mother's house and married a man named Dacre, who died not long afterwards. There was a child by this marriage, who, as you may guess, is the Pamela Dacre in whom you are interested. But that was not the reason why Elinor came to me. She came because she had seen an advertisement in a newspaper in connection with a man who died in Australia leaving considerable wealth. And that man was a relative of her mother's. When I went into matters carefully, I discovered that under this man's will, Elinor inherited something like forty thousand pounds. That I managed to get for her, and with part of the money she bought a house in Manton-street, where she lives at the present moment."
Lyston's eyes gleamed. He had hit upon the very thing he was after. All the same, he made no sign.
"All this is intensely interesting," he murmured. "But I interrupt you. Please go on."
"There is very little more to tell," Horne said. "I told you Elinor had changed beyond recognition. She looked twice her age. She had grown prematurely old and become very eccentric. Perhaps it was because the blighting of her hopes, perhaps it was because the man Wallace had deserted her ages ago and left her entirely on her own resources. And when the legal business was finished and Elinor found herself comfortably off, it was a whim that her daughter's child should be brought up a lady. The capital sum of twenty thousand pounds was placed in my hands with instructions to see that the little one was brought up in a refined atmosphere, so that when her education was finished and she entered the world, she had a handsome income. I managed to place her with a lady whom I greatly respected and who was good enough to trust me without asking questions. From that day to this, I have never seen Elinor Heronspey, though I believe she lives in her big house by herself and does her own housework. I should not call her mad exactly, but she has become exceedingly eccentric and some day she will be found dead in her house with no one to look after her. It has occurred to me more than once that she might have informed her father that she was still in the land of the living, or at any rate, let him know that he had a great-granddaughter alive. But, apparently, she did nothing of the sort and there the thing would have ended if you had not come along, as you have done to-day, and more or less forced me to speak. After Heronspey had taken you into his confidence, I could not do anything else. But I should certainly like to know what you are going to do about it."
"That, for the moment, I cannot tell you," Lyston said. "It all depends upon Heronspey himself. You told me just now that Pamela Dacre's father was dead, but you said nothing whatever about the mother."
"Oh, didn't I? Yes, she is dead too. She died very soon after her husband. Now if there is anything else I can tell you, pray let me know what it is. I may tell you that, though I am a crabby, hard-crusted old man, I am not entirely without feeling, and I have a high regard for my ward. I don't want her secret dragged out in public."
"That, my dear sir, is the very thing we want to avoid. There is a danger of that same happening, and to avert that danger Heronspey has consulted me in the matter. It is my business to get hold of a scoundrel and lay him by the heels. If I can't throw him into the jail which he so richly deserves, I may, at any rate, be able to hold a sword over his head which would fall if he dared to turn his knowledge to account. Otherwise, I should never have worried you to-day."
More than satisfied with the result of the interview, Lyston went back to his chambers and there wrote a long letter to Heronspey. He spent the afternoon at his club and after dining quietly, proceeded to ring up Musgrave on the telephone. The latter was fortunately at home and replied in person.
"Yes, it's Joe Musgrave," he said. "Oh, yes, Sir Philip Lyston. Hello. . . . Are you there? What is it you want, sir?"
"I have an idea," Lyston said. "I think I should like to go and have a look at this mysterious Sinister House. I understood from what you told me that Beaucaire is not in town. But, of course, he isn't, because Mr. Heronspey gave me the same information. And if Beaucaire is still hanging about somewhere in the North, then we couldn't have a better opportunity. I suppose there is no chance of that Austrian turning up alone?"
"I don't think so, sir. They always work in pairs. I don't think that either of them will visit the Sinister House again until they are ready to carry out their big scheme. What that big scheme is I don't know, but we are going to find out."
"I hope so, most heartily," Lyston laughed. "It is very evident from what I can gather, that those two clever scoundrels are making use of Sinister House for some purpose of their own. I should say that they have banked on the fact that nobody knows what they are going to do, and that Sinister House is the last place in the world in which the police would look for them. A very brilliant idea. But never mind about that. I want you and your friend Primrose to come round here at about 11 o'clock to-night and act as my guide to the Sinister House. There is nothing to be afraid of as long as you are in my company. If we do find ourselves in the hands of the authorities, a few words from me will set matters all right."
"Delighted," Musgrave said. "We will come round at about 11 and take you."
Big Ben was chiming a quarter after the hour as Lyston, with his guides, set out along the Embankment and thence up Northumberland-avenue, and through Trafalgar Square in the direction of their destination. They passed along the blind alley at the back of Manton-street and at the end of it Musgrave pointed out the ruined stables that had been turned into a garage.
"That was Beaucaire's idea," he explained. "They had the place fitted up so that they could bring cars here at all hours of the day and night without attracting attention. You see, those two are leaving nothing to chance."
Lyston appeared to be more interested in the new garage behind the Sinister House than his companions had expected. Now that he was up and doing, he seemed to shed much of the burden of his years, for his shoulders had straightened and the alert look in his eyes was keener than ever. He halted before the back gate of the Manton-street house.
"I should like to know a bit more about this garage business," he said. "Am I to understand that the men on whose track we are, have managed to get hold of these stables and turn them into a modern housing place for a car?"
"That is the idea, sir," Musgrave explained. "And not a bad one either. It enables them to come right up to this broken gate at all hours of the night without arousing the suspicion of the policeman on the beat. Not only that, they can bring quite heavy packages practically into the garden and nobody any the wiser."
"Yes, I quite see that," Lyston said. "And it rather alters my point of view. Now let us see what fortune has in store for us inside."
They crept through the wood covered garden and into the Sinister House, which was silent as the grave. Nothing appeared to have been disturbed or touched since their last visit and the lamps in the hall and the studio were still burning. Very cautiously they moved about the room, and for a long time Lyston stood contemplating the picture on the easel.
He was beginning to see his way now, though certain points were still obscure. It was when they were whispering together a little later, that there came with a startling suddenness, the jangle of a bell in the area below. It was a harsh, jingling note and the creaking of the wires could be distinctly heard by the three men standing in the studio.
"Where did that dome from?" Primrose asked.
"Goodness knows," Musgrave said. "It must have been the front door. We know the old lady is upstairs and that she is quite alone in the house and therefore it would be perfectly useless for her to tootle on her bedroom bell."
Followed a pause and then the clamour of the bell in the area once more. It was followed almost immediately by a noisy rapping on the front door. The rapping became more importunate until the whole house echoed with it.
"Now what are we to do?" Jimmy Primrose asked. "We can't answer that bell ourselves and if that noise goes on any longer it will fairly rouse the neighbourhood."
"Better wait," Lyston whispered. "Unless I am greatly mistaken, the police are outside. If I could get a word or two with the man who is knocking at the door, it would be all right. But explanations take time, and we have no time to waste. Confound it, there he goes again."
The knocking had begun again, louder than ever. Then there came another sound, and that inside the house. The distinct echo of footsteps coming down the stairs.
The intruders crept on tip-toe to the door and looked out into the hall. Surely enough, a figure appeared. It was a bent figure, clad in black with a tattered shawl over its head and it advanced to the front door and proceeded to pull back the bolts and fling open the heavy oak.
"Who are you there and what do you want?" the woman asked as she peered out into the darkness.
"Not very much, madam," a deep voice responded. "I am a sergeant of police and it is my duty to come here and make a few inquiries. You are the occupant?"
"I am," the woman croaked. "What then?"
"Well, you see, that makes all the difference, madam," the officer said soothingly. "I merely had to satisfy myself that there was nothing wrong here."
"Well, why should there be anything wrong?"
"Really, madam, I don't know. It's like this. A gentleman who lives, or rather lodges, in a house on the other side of the road telephoned to the police station about half an hour ago saying that he was rather concerned about number seventeen, because he had heard that for the last day or two the local tradesmen had not been able to make anybody hear, and that milk and bread, and so on, had not been taken in through the area door. The gentleman had been away from home for a day or two and it was only when he got back and heard this in the way of gossip from his landlady that he decided to telephone us."
"I am sure I am vastly obliged to you," the woman said. "But I do wish people would mind their own business."
"That is old General Goldsworthy for a million," Jimmy whispered with a chuckle. "Just the sort of thing he would do. What an interfering busybody he is!"
The conversation on the doorstep ended presently with a sort of half apology from the sergeant, then the front door closed once more and the dark woman was seen crossing the hall in the direction of the stairs. She vanished at length and the three watchers heaved a sigh of relief. It was not for long, for two or three minutes later, the footsteps were heard again, and once more the woman stood in the hall. Out of the comparative darkness of the studio, it was possible to watch her. She was still wearing her dark, clinging gown and the shawl was muffling her head and shoulders as before. Then she very quietly drew back the latch and opened the front door again. The trio could see her looking up and down the road before she finally closed the door and vanished into the darkness.
"She didn't strike me as being so very old," Joe remarked.
"Old woman be sugared," Jimmy cried. "She isn't old at all. She is quite young. Did you notice her hands?"
But neither of the other two had noticed her hands.
"Well, I did," Jimmy grinned. "I caught a flash of light on her fingers as she drew up her long skirt, and I could see that the nails were purple. Joe, my boy, the old woman who has just gone out isn't the proper owner of the house at all. She is that handsome quadroon creature we saw the other night dining with Prince Phasy."
"Eh, what's all that?" Lyston asked.
In a few rapid words Primrose explained.
"Well, in that case, the owner of the house has been spirited away, and that woman has been brought here to take her place," Lyston exclaimed. "What a lucky thing we were here just at that moment. There is something very wrong going on, and it is our work to get to the bottom of it. But, come on, let's follow that woman. She can't be more than the length of a street away. Quick's the word."
They went out of the house at once, leaving the door on the latch behind them. They almost raced down the road, listening eagerly for footsteps ahead, and presently they picked up the sound of them. They were just in time to see the dark figure turn the corner, so that they could close in on her without any fear of arousing suspicion, and merely in the guise of three gentlemen who were going home after an evening's amusement. From a safe distance they could see that the shawl round the woman's head had somehow resolved itself into an evening wrap, and the long skirt had entirely vanished.
"There is a regular Arabian Night's touch about this," Jimmy grinned. "I wonder where our Semiramide is going."
They were not left long in doubt. The woman turned presently into a street off the Haymarket and vanished abruptly through the portals of The Aphrodite Club.
"I am afraid we are done now," Lyston said.
"I don't think so," Musgrave smiled. "You see, I happen to be a member of the Aphrodite. You stay here while I make a few inquiries of the hall porter. We can't do anything for the moment, so we might just as well rest on our laurels. But I can find out what the woman is doing there and what her name is. That will be something, at any rate."
"Excellent," Lyston murmured. "Proceed."
Whilst the other two remained in the background, Musgrave went into the club where the hall porter received him with his customary salute.
"Coming inside, sir?" he asked.
"Well, that depends," Musgrave said. "If there is a lady I want to meet, certainly, but if she hasn't arrived, then I am going home. But I rather think she is on the premises. Unless I an greatly mistaken, she has just come in."
"Very likely, sir," the hall porter replied. "If you are looking after Miss Julie Corti——"
"Oh, that was Julie Corti, was it?" Joe cried. "Oh, I thought she was the lady I was after. I suppose Miss Corti is a member of the club?"
"Oh, dear, yes, sir. Very handsome lady she is, too. Well, good night, sir, if you are not coming in."
Musgrave went back to the others.
"It's all right," he said. "I have managed it. That woman is the film actress Julie Corti, and she is a member of The Aphrodite. You may have heard of her, Sir Philip."
"Oh, I have heard of her all right," Lyston chuckled. "A lady most decidedly with a past. She came here from America because she found that Hollywood was not quite as healthy as it used to be. But I can get her record from the police. I don't think we need worry about that for the moment. Now let us go somewhere where we can talk."
A few minutes later and the trio were comfortably settled in the sitting-room of Musgrave's flat. And there, over a whisky and soda and a cigar, Lyston began to explain what his plans were for the future.
"Now, I want you boys to listen to me carefully," Lyston said. "We are up against a very big thing here, and we shall have to move with extreme caution if we are to succeed in bringing those two scoundrels to justice. I am not going to go into all that Mr. Heronspey told me, because, for the moment, it would be superfluous, and, at the same time, more or less betraying confidence. But I think we can take it for granted now that the proper tenant of number seventeen Manton-street, otherwise known as the Sinister House, is Ian Heronspey's daughter. And by a natural process of reasoning, Miss Pamela Dacre is the old gentleman's great-granddaughter. For the moment we can ignore the link between the occupant of the Sinister House and Miss Dacre. By that link I mean Miss Dacre's mother. Now Vivian Beaucaire has discovered the family skeleton. He is playing on the intense pride of the old man with a view to obtaining money from him. He has already got two thousand pounds."
"Which he paid for the snuff-box," Primrose pointed out.
"Quite right, my boy, quite right. He parted with that sum to get back the snuff-box and that perfectly meaningless piece of paper which purported to be a marriage certificate between the man Wallace and Elinor Heronspey."
"What piece of paper?" Musgrave demanded.
"Oh, you don't know that, do you?" Lyston asked. "It was discovered between the double lid of the box. It was probably put there by Elinor Heronspey about the time she painted the miniature on the top, which no doubt was done when she went off with Wallace and was under the impression that he had married her. I suppose it was, in a way, a wedding present from the bride to the bridegroom. At any rate, there it was, and Beaucaire discovered it. That was his first move in blackmailing Ian Heronspey. Of course, he will try it on again, because the blackmailer never stops once he begins. I don't suppose it is worth the ink it is written with, but you can quite understand why Ian Heronspey would want it back again. He would have destroyed it if I had let him, but I pointed out to him how stupid it would be to do a thing of that sort when we might be able to use that sheet of paper as evidence against Beaucaire and his colleague in the dock, where they most certainly will be one of these early days. So far, everything is fairly plain sailing. We know what Beaucaire's game is, so far as the Heronspeys are concerned, and that game I can nip in the bud whenever I please. But to-night we have hit upon something far more sinister than that. I suppose you can guess what it is."
"I think that is pretty easy, Sir Philip," Jimmy said. "By a bit of sheer good luck my friend Joe here, found his way into the Sinister House when he was rather foolishly trying to escape from the police, and he saw that picture. I mean the picture that might have been Heronspey's daughter and might have been Pamela Dacre. And then one night when Joe took me round the Sinister House to show me that portrait, Beaucaire and Phasy practically blundered in on top of us. We had just time to hide, which was very fortunate, because we heard certain details of the big scheme and how the Sinister House was to be used as the scene of operations. What they are going to do I don't quite know. Forgery or coining, or something like that, I suppose."
"I don't think you are very far off the mark," Lyston said. "But we need not worry about that just yet. The point is why have they got rid of the woman whom we believe to be Elinor Heronspey, and why has that adventuress taken her place?"
"You don't mean to suggest murder," Jimmy gasped. "Oh, come, I don't think Beaucaire would go as far as that."
"Well, perhaps not," Lyston agreed. "But then very few murderers do mean homicide when they start. But we have clearly established the fact that the old lady has been spirited away from the house, and an unscrupulous female substituted, because it is vital that someone of the weaker sex should be about the premises to—well—take in the milk. It is imperative that the local tradesmen should not have anything to gossip about. That is why the fallen film star is there. I suppose she gets tired of her solitude sometimes, and that is the reason why she ran the risk of leaving the house to-night and going to a dance club. She is probably in the habit of doing that sort of thing regularly, and she will go on doing it as long as Beaucaire and that man Phasy will allow her to. Now it is most imperative that she should be watched. By that, I mean watched at night. And then followed, and her movements observed. I don't want to call in one of the regular police, because I don't want the Yard in this if I can help it—at least, not yet. Have either of you a man you can recommend?"
Musgrave and Primrose exchanged glances.
"Of course," the former exclaimed. "There is my man, Verily. Couldn't have anybody better."
"Emphatically the right man in the right place," Jimmy agreed. "Topping fellow, Verily, Sir Philip. The best man-servant in London. He was Joe's sergeant-major during the war, and has served him ever since. Moreover, he is a V.C. The sort of chap who can keep his mouth shut and is not afraid of anything, living or dead. We could not do better."
"Very well," Lyston said. "Let it be Verily, by all means. No, there is no reason why I should see him. You can tell him in the morning what you want him to do, Musgrave. What he will have to do is to turn out late in the evening and watch number Seventeen Manton-street so that he can report the comings and goings of our fascinating actress friend. Of course, he will not be able to go everywhere that she does, but it will be hard if he doesn't pick up some useful information."
It was after breakfast the following morning that Musgrave took Verily into his confidence. The latter listened with his usual apparently stolid attention, but there was just the suspicion of a gleam in his eye that told that he was fully grasping the importance of his mission.
"Very well, sir," he said when at length Musgrave had finished. "I will do just as you say and nobody will be any the wiser. I shall have to have a latchkey to come and go as I please and, if you don't mind, I should like to take just one person into my confidence."
"And I suppose that person is a woman," Joe smiled.
"Well, yes, sir. I think a woman would be very useful. You see, if this actress is in the habit of going regularly to The Aphrodite Club, it would be a fine thing if we could have her watched inside. Of course, sir, I am barred from that sort of thing for more reasons than one. But a woman who might be a servant in the club would be mightily useful."
"I don't think we need, argue about that," Joe said. "But how is it to be done? You are not suggesting that I should go round to the club and ask them to take on an extra female attendant just to please me?"
"No, sir, of course I am not. But there is an old saying that there is more than one way of killing a dog besides choking him with butter. I think I can see a way, if you don't mind leaving it entirely to me, sir."
"Very well, Verily," Musgrave said. "Go about it your own way, but don't forget your own part."
Verily went into the kitchen where Mary Cotton, the pretty parlour-maid, was busy cleaning the silver. The cook was out for the moment, so that Verily was free to say what he had at the back of his mind to the girl who, one of these days, was going to be Mrs. George Verily. It was characteristic of the man that he had not told her this, nor had he the slightest intention of doing so until such time as his master was married and settled. Then he was going to purchase the tea-rooms in a prosperous southern watering place which were waiting for him at any time he could put up the money, and Musgrave had already told him that should George choose to settle in life he could always look to his master for the price of a business.
"Now you just sit down a minute, Mary," Verily said. "And listen to what I have got to say. I can't tell you what is at the back of the business, because I don't know myself, but we have got to do as we are told, because it in a question of the masters' happiness and that must come first."
"Of course it is," Mary said emphatically.
"Very well then. Now listen carefully."
At some length, Verily explained the scheme and exactly what part he wanted Mary to play.
"What, you want me to try and get inside The Aphrodite Club?" the girl laughed. "Well, if that isn't a good 'un. I can get inside there at any time I please."
"You can't," Verily said explosively. "Mean to tell me that you can get the run of a club like that?"
"Of course," Mary said with great calm. "Of course. Because you see I happen to be a member."
"A member?" George cried. "Good heavens!"
"Well, why not? Those dance clubs are all the same. The swells go there, the actresses go there, and the flash swindlers go there, and no questions are asked as long as you can pay a subscription. Between ourselves, George, I go to the Aphrodite twice a week. I never told you because you are not interested in dancing, but with my good wages I can easily pay the ten guineas subscription. You should just see those two dance frocks of mine! Why, I have Charlestoned with friends of the master's before now, and more than one of them has asked me to have dinner with him. But not for Mary Cotton, if you don't mind. This is a democratic age, George, only you don't seem to know it. And now tell me just what you want me to do."
Lyston was not the type of man who did things in a hurry. He liked to take his time and work out his problems before he started action, because experience had told him that if he only possessed his soul in patience, his quarry would sooner or later do something to render his task much easier. So, for the next two or three days he merely waited on events, making inquiries here and there, and gradually collecting his forces together.
Being possessed of a certain sense of humour, he was highly amused to hear what Musgrave had to say on the subject of Mary Cotton. There was something distinctly humorous in the idea that the pretty parlour-maid should belong to the same club as her master. At the same time, Lyston was not blind to the usefulness of this knowledge.
"Yes, I think that we shall be able to apply Miss Cotton's worldly knowledge to the problem in hand," he said. "No, there is no occasion for me to see her. A girl who has the cool nerve to obtain membership of a semi-fashionable club like The Aphrodite ought to go a very long way."
"I always thought she should," Musgrave smiled. "She has good looks and style. Even you, if you met her at a dance, would have some difficulty in placing her. I suppose the idea is that she shall keep an eye upon Julie Corti and report progress. At least, that is what I suggested to Verily, only I didn't mention any names. Of course, she knows Julie Corti by sight. Now I had better tell her exactly what she has to do?"
"I think so," Lyston said thoughtfully. "You have already arranged for your man Verily to watch the Sinister House and keep an eye upon the comings and goings of the late film star. But, of course, he can't go into The Aphrodite, but, on the other hand, Mary Cotton can. And if she is half as smart as I take her to be, she will be able to pick up something."
"With regard to number Seventeen?" Musgrave queried.
"I think we can gamble on that," Lyston said. "In the meantime, don't hurry. And don't go near the Sinister House for the present. I know you are in a violent hurry to get to the bottom of the mystery which surrounds Miss Dacre, and we shall get to the bottom of it, unless you spoil everything by undue haste. I have a pretty shrewd idea of the use to which those men are putting the Sinister House, and my idea is to land them actually in the act of wrongdoing. It may take a bit longer than you expect, but we shall succeed in the end."
"Very well," Joe said. "Of course, I leave it entirely in your hands. But I must confess I am rather uneasy as to that old lady. I don't like the idea of the woman whom we must regard at Pamela's grandmother being in the power of those scoundrels. You don't think they have done her any hurt."
"No, I don't," Lyston said. "I can't quite see Beaucaire and Phasy being parties to actual bodily violence. And by that I mean manslaughter. No, I think the old lady must have surprised them in the Sinister House one night or they decided that they must get her out of the way. If I were asked to express an opinion, I should say that she had been smuggled out of the house. Difficult, but possible."
A sudden thought flashed into Musgrave's mind.
"By Jove, I believe you are right," he cried. "Let me tell you something. A few days ago, old General Goldsworthy—by the way, do you know the man I am speaking about?"
"As a matter of fact, I do," Lyston said. "There are very few people in society I don't know, at any rate, by reputation. If I am not altogether mistaken, the General is well known as a gossip and retailer of scandal. Spends most of his time at The Marathon Club. Am I right?"
"That is the man," Musgrave replied. "He has his own chair in the window looking on Piccadilly and all that sort of thing. A sort of military Pepys. Knows all the gossip and scandal and makes a point of collecting it. It was he who first told me all about the Sinister House. After my first visit there I was naturally keen to get all the information I could, especially after I had seen that picture in the studio. So when I remembered that the General actually lodged in Manton-street, it occurred to me that he might be able to help. I was not wrong, because I found him just as curious about number Seventeen as I was. He told me about the mysterious occupant and her strange ways, though he had never seen her. And then he told me something else which comes back to me now with particular significance. He said that one morning as he was shaving, he saw a furniture van drive up to the house and presently a big oak chest came out and was taken away by the man in the van. I remember remarking how strange it was after all these years that the mystery woman should admit workmen inside her front door. She had never done such a thing in living memory."
"Yes, it was a strange thing," Lyston agreed. "Was it a big chest that these men brought out?"
"So I understand. What do you make of it?"
"Well, it may sound very fantastic, but I should not be at all surprised if the old lady was in that box. Drugged and carried away to some remote part of the country where she is imprisoned at present."
"I am glad to hear you say that," Musgrave replied, "because the same thought had just occurred to me. After all, it would not be very difficult. If those rascals could get rid of the old lady in that way, up to a certain point the rest of the scheme was plain sailing. Then they had the house to themselves, and could do as they liked there, without the slightest fear of interruption from the police. In other words, they work their scheme in the heart of London, and in one of the best parts of the metropolis right under the noses of the authorities. But there is just one flaw. Somebody must be in the house to impersonate the old lady. At least, not exactly to impersonate her, but to answer the back door and take in the milk and the bread and all that sort of thing. Otherwise, questions would be asked and the suspicions of the police on the beat aroused. That is how I worked it out."
"And you are right," Lyston said emphatically. "I am glad you told me about that oak chest. After the old lady had been got rid of, Julie Corti was smuggled into the house, which fact we know, because we actually were present when the police visited number Seventeen. Now, you go on your way and I will let you know when I want to see you again."
Once rid of his companion, Lyston made his way to Scotland Yard, where he gave the name of a certain assistant commissioner, who received him without hesitation.
"Good morning, Sir Philip," the former said. "What can I do for you this very fine day?"
"Not very much," Lyston smiled. "All I want is a Yale latchkey which will open pretty well any front door."
"Well, I don't think there will be much trouble about that," the man in authority replied. "What are you up to? Committing some sort of legalised burglary, I suppose."
"That is about what it comes to," Lyston said. "I want to enter a certain flat not very far from here, and make a search of the premises. I know the owner is out of London, and as he lives in a service flat without a man-servant, the place is locked up when he is away. That is all."
"Anything in our line?" the other asked.
"Not at present, Belton," Lyston said. "It is really a private matter up to a certain point. But later on, if all goes well, I think I can put Scotland Yard on to the track of one of the biggest frauds that have been attempted in recent years. You can have the credit for all that, if you will only help me in the early stages."
Belton nodded emphatically. Lyston had been too useful to the police from time to time to be received without due deference, and Belton, knowing his man well, did not ask any impertinent questions. It was an easy matter to give Lyston what he required, and to fall in with certain suggestions he made as to any further assistance necessary.
"I will ask Winchmore to see you," Belton said. "He will give you two or three keys, one of which is certain to do the trick for you, and if you want any of our men around whilst you are at work, you have only to say so."
"That is all right, Belton," Lyston said. "Here is the address on this piece of paper. I propose to call in at the block of flats about three o'clock this afternoon. I shall be slightly disguised with a dragging limp in my left leg. I tell you that, so that the policeman I want you to send round to the flats will be able to recognise me, and keep the hall porter in conversation whilst I slip up the stairs. I think that is about all for the moment, at any rate."
It was just after four-o'clock when a bent figure crept through the vestibule of the block of flats where Beaucaire resided and, out of the corner of his eye saw one of the Scotland Yard men in close conversation with the hall porter. Passing along up the stairs, Lyston reached his destination, and at the second attempt with the three Yale keys in his possession, he contrived to open the front door of the flat and pass inside. Then he closed the door behind him without the slightest hesitation, happy in the knowledge that Beaucaire was hundreds of miles away. He pulled up the blinds of the sitting room, so that he could get all the light possible and began his task of investigation. This was not a very difficult matter, because he had other keys in his pocket and one of these was sure to fit the writing-desk that stood in the sitting-room window.
At the very first attempt with a skeleton key, Lyston opened the American roll-top desk and the series of drawers that ran down both sides of it. With meticulous care he removed the papers from one drawer after another and placed them face downwards on the floor so that he could restore them to their proper order when he had finished his search. The best part of half an hour elapsed before he came upon what he was looking for in one of the pigeon holes at the back of the desk. This consisted of a French thousand franc note, and with it a sheet of paper about the same size and exactly the same shade of colour. Lyston smiled as he held these scraps side by side to the light and examined the watermark. As far as he could see, they were identical.
"Now," he communed with himself, "that blank sheet is either a very clever imitation of French banknote paper, or our friends at the Sinister House have managed to steal a considerable quantity of the real thing. But that would be almost impossible. No thieves could get away with banknote paper without the fact being discovered in a day or two, and then every police headquarters in Europe would know about it within a few hours. Still, one never knows, so I will make sure."
With that, Lyston crossed over to the telephone in the corner of the room, and called up his friend Belton. He put the question which he wanted to ask, and, by way of reply, received the information that Scotland Yard knew nothing from the French Government as to the loss of banknote paper.
"All right, Belton," he said. "Thanks very much. That it all I wanted to know."
Then, beyond the shadow of a doubt, Lyston had established the fact that the paper he had found was forged. It was remarkably well done, and evidently the work of men who had made a close study of the subject. Possibly some late employee in the mills where the franc notepaper was manufactured had turned traitor and got away with the secret of manufacture. And if that was so, and that wonderfully marked paper was being made somewhere in England, then it seemed to Lyston that he knew where to look for the source of output.
Within a few hours he was on his way to the north of England again. The following morning he left his belongings at Silloth station and walked along the country road in the direction of Glentower. There he asked to see Ian Heronspey, and a few minutes later was seated in the library.
"I dare say you are rather surprised to see me like this," he said. "But I made a discovery yesterday which interested me exceedingly. Unless I am greatly mistaken, I am going to straighten things out for you before very long. Your great trouble is the fear of growing blackmail?"
"One of them," Heronspey said. "But I have been thinking a good deal since I saw you last. I am a very old man, Lyston, close on ninety, and I haven't many years to live. I have always been my own advisor and I have never taken anybody into my confidence. I used to pride myself on that, but latterly I have begun to see that it is a mistake. No man can afford to be absolutely independent and happy at the same time. Perhaps I was wrong in the way I treated my daughter fifty years ago, and it is more than possible that I behaved very badly. I have felt this ever since that day at Sandown Park when I came face to face with the girl who must be my great-granddaughter. I can't get her face out of my mind. I ought to do something for her. Of course I know her grandmother brought disgrace on the family, but that is no reason why I should inflict suffering on the third and fourth generations as I have. But never mind about that. What did you mean when you said that you could help me over that blackmailing business? Not that I care very much about myself, because, in a year or two, mundane things will cease to trouble me. But I don't want that beautiful child to suffer, I don't want that scoundrel Beaucaire going to her and robbing her of her last penny under threats of exposing the family scandal. If you can avert that scandal, then it would be a debt that I could never repay."
"That is exactly what I hope to do," Lyston said. "With any luck, I can forge a weapon that will close Beaucaire's mouth for good. At any rate, I can throw him into gaol for the next 10 years, by the end of which time I hope everything will be forgotten and that your granddaughter will be the wife of my young friend Joe Musgrave and beyond the reach of a blackguard like Beaucaire. And I think I can do it."
"But how?" the old man asked eagerly. "How?"
"Ah, that I need not go into the moment. But I am not the man to make promises I can't carry out. Didn't you tell me the last time I was here, that Beaucaire was in the neighbourhood? Is he still somewhere about?"
"I believe so," Heronspey replied. "I thought I caught sight of him yesterday. Of course, he doesn't come anywhere near me, neither will he so long as the money I gave him lasts. But when that is gone, another visit is inevitable. Meanwhile, I believe he is very busy in connection with an old mill he has taken. It is close by here."
"Ah, I remember. That is the mill that Beaucaire was going to use in connection with the wonderful airplane he had invented."
"Quite right," the old man said. "It is just possible that he was telling me the truth. At any rate, with local assistance he has got the old mill working, and my butler tells me that several French mechanics have arrived, also a certain amount of machinery. Local gossip, of course, but in a quiet neighbourhood like this anything out of the common sets tongues wagging. But whether Beaucaire is at work on an aeroplane or not, he is spending a lot of money on something."
"All that I can safely believe," Lyston said drily. "In fact, I know that Beaucaire is engaged in an occupation out of which he hopes to make a huge fortune. If he does, he is not likely to trouble you any more. He is a peculiar sort of scoundrel. Not a born criminal, but a clever man who has taken up criminal ways simply because the social upheaval of the last few years has prevented him from making a handsome income by legitimate means. If he came into money, he would start once again as a respectable member of society. But I can tell you there is something very sinister about that old mill. And because I know as much, I am here to-day. I don't want anybody to know I have called upon you, and I am not going to stay here to-night. I have other work to do. I am going as far as that mill to investigate for myself."
"Rather dangerous, isn't it?" Heronspey pointed out. "If Beaucaire is the desperate criminal you say he is, he is not likely to be particular if he discovers that you are down here to make enquiries. Be careful."
"Oh, you need not worry on my account," Lyston smiled. "I shall know how to take care of myself. No, I won't stay to lunch, because I want to finish my work and get back to London by the night train. Let me out by a side door and show me the way across the fields to the mill."
Half an hour later Lyston was pottering down a lane at the end of which stood the old mill, the wheel of which was turning and the mill itself showed signs of activity. It was not the same Lyston who had parted with Heronspey a little time before. It was an elderly gentleman with a slight limp and a face that beamed benignly through large heavy silver-rimmed spectacles. He wore a beard and enormous whiskers of the Dundreary pattern, and in his hand he carried a butterfly net attached to the end of a walking stick. Over his shoulders he had slung a specimen box, though it contained nothing except a small pair of exceedingly powerful glasses. Five minutes halt behind a hedge had been quite sufficient to Lyston to have plunged his hands in his pockets and assumed his disguise. Thus, changed beyond recognition, he pottered on until he came by the side of the mill-race, exactly opposite the water-wheel, which was turning regularly, so that quite an air of industry seemed to impregnate the atmosphere.
There Lyston appeared to go mad. With a shout, he waved his butterfly net above his head and leapt across the flood-gates that held up the dam behind the water-wheel until he was actually at the door of the mill itself. A stout man with a pointed brown beard and small imperial, who was coming out of the mill with what appeared to be a wire screen in his hand, eyed the stranger with a look of astonishment.
"Ah, lost him, lost him," Lyston piped, in the voice of one fretted into vexation. "He flew over the mill just as I had my net on him. A perfect specimen."
"Pardon, monsieur," the Frenchman asked.
"A Red Admiral," Lyston responded. "But perhaps my eyes deceived me, and he came inside. May I come in and look?"
The stranger smiled and shook his head. At that moment, evidently aroused by the shouting, Beaucaire appeared. He turned and gazed at the elderly gentleman in the side whiskers with a cold, suspicious anger in his eyes.
"Who the deuce are you and what on earth do you want?" he said. "Go away at once."
"But my butterfly, my butterfly," Lyston squeaked. "The finest specimen I ever saw."
"Clear out," Beaucaire stormed. "Clear out. This is private property. Look here, if you come around here again butterfly hunting, I'll have you thrown into the dam."
With a frightened sort of apology, Lyston turned away and shuffled down the lane again. But he had seen what he wanted. And that was an old iron ladder which led from the foot of the mill to a hatchway at the top of the water-wheel.
"Not exactly a wasted journey," he muttered.
Lyston retired in apologetic disorder, but he did not go very far. He paused once he was out of sight of the mill and sat down behind the shelter of a gorse bush to think out his next step. He removed the butterfly net from the end of his walking stick and cast it aside. Then he took off his spectacles and whiskers, and once more resumed his proper identity. There was no longer occasion for any sort of disguise, because he was going on another tack altogether.
Lyston was not the type of man to turn back when once he had put his hand to a thing. He knew what it was to go two or three days without food or sleep when once he was hot upon the trail of his quarry. So that he was not worrying much from the point of view of personal comfort for the next few hours. He sat in his hiding-place smoking until the shades began to fall and, when at length the darkness had come, retraced his steps and once more stood under the shadow of the water mill. He had to visualise his position exactly, so that there would be no chance of making a false step. And with that wonderful sense of locality of his, he was not likely to go wrong.
It was nearly nine o'clock at night before he felt his way forward and he smiled to himself as his hand touched the cold rusty outline of the ladder that led from the foot of the mill to a little trap-door on the top of it. This, no doubt, had been placed there many years ago in the days when the mill was used by the corn factor who owned it and, doubtless, his spare stores were kept in the loft overhead, which would account for the presence of the ladder there. Without the slightest hesitation, Lyston felt his way up the steps until he came to the trap-door. This he managed to push open very cautiously and, using his flashlight, without which he never travelled far, he saw that he had only to drop a foot or two before he stood on what appeared to be a firm oak floor. He could see by the thick dust lying everywhere that the loft had been untenanted for years, except for on occasional rat or two, and the knowledge heartened him.
It was a very old mill, built with the sturdiest timbers, or, doubtless, it would have been in pieces long ago. The floor boards were beginning to show signs of dry rot and here and there the joints gaped, so that when Lyston extinguished his torch, the light from the big floor below penetrated through and made fantastic patterns on the roof. It was possible, by bending close down, to see what was going on beneath. Not only that, but to hear what was being said.
This was just what Lyston had anticipated and hoped for. Very carefully, he worked at a knot that he had discovered by touching one of the floor boards and when, at length, this came away, he had a perfectly clear view of the mill itself and all that was going on under his feet.
The whole building was humming with the noise of machinery. Lyston could feel as he looked down with a more than passing curiosity. He saw that a shaft driven by the water-wheel was in its turn driving a dynamo, which was the motive power for a mass of machinery that gleamed and glistened in an improvised electric illumination. He could see the glitter of steel and polished brass, catch the drip of water and make out the forms of three men, who seemed to be bending over what appeared to be vats filled with a pulpy substance into which wire frames of fine mesh were plunged from time to time, and these, when they came out coated with matrix, were put into a corner of the big room and there, apparently, hung up to dry. Half the wide floor of the room below seemed to be a tangle of washing lines, and on these were hung damp sheets which might have been linen, but which Lyston recognised as newly-made blankets of paper.
Once more Lyston smiled to himself. He had found exactly what he wanted and he was prepared to wait any length of time to prove the value of his discovery. He could see Beaucaire down there, directing operations and catch, ever and again above the noise of the machinery, certain words used by the men who were working about those shallow vats. The artisans were talking in French, which was just what Lyston had expected.
Having established these vital facts, Lyston might have retraced his steps without further delay, but he still lingered. There was just the chance of picking up some further information and he waited for it patiently. Presently he saw Beaucaire gave a sign, then the mill wheel ceased to revolve and the shining machinery lapsed into silence.
"That will do for to-night," Lyston heard Beaucaire say. "Another two or three days and I think I can dispense with your services for the present. Get those boxes down from the shelves and put them just by the door. If I am not here to-morrow morning before the car turns up, hoist them on to the automobile, the driver of which will know what to do with them. Now you can all be off to the village."
The workmen assumed their jackets and lighted their cigarettes and departed, leaving Beaucaire to lock up, which apparently was his nightly custom. He was just turning to leave when the mill door opened and a stranger came in. He was a short, thick man, dressed in a suit of pilot cloth and, from the rolling walk, Lyston rightly judged him to be a seafarer of some kind. In which Lyston was quite correct, because the newcomer was no other than the man called Ratty Dutton.
"Oh, here you are at last?" Beaucaire said. "Where on earth have you been? Drinking again, I suppose."
"There," Dutton said. "You does me an injustice. You are cruel 'ard on me, guv'nor. I've been doing nothing of the sort."
"Then why didn't you come back when I told you? There has been a whole lot of stuff waiting for you for two or three days. I wanted you to bring the car out from Silloth and to take boxes to London. Put them in the garage at the back of the house in Manton-street, and lock the place after you. And here you are, off enjoying yourself——"
"Nothing of the sort, guv'nor," Dutton grunted. "I've 'ad plenty to do, and all your business, which I haven't been paid a penny for. I should have been back day before yesterday, only I got a letter from Sam Smith——"
"And who the deuce is Sam Smith?"
"Who the deuce is Sam Smith? Well, that's a good 'un! Mean to say you've forgotten the man who's looking after the old lady? I means the blacksmith on Romney Marshes. He write's me a letter and says he's been done. You promised him five and twenty pounds down directly a certain old party was safe under his roof, and another five and twenty within a week. And he hasn't had a single bob. I tell you, guv'nor, he's getting fed up. He says if 'e don't have that money before the end of the week, 'e'll let the old gal go, or make terms with 'er. If 'e does that, she'll very likely pay 'im and say nothing about. Oh, I can tell you, Sam 'as fairly got 'is monkey up. Why didn't you send 'im the splosh, guv'nor?"
"Curse the man," Beaucaire burst out passionately. "What's his hurry? Of course, I am going to pay him, but with this machinery here and the wages of those Frenchmen, I haven't got anything to spare. In a fortnight's time it will be quite all right. You had better get hold of one of those two cars at Silloth and go right back to Romney Marshes and smooth your friend over. Tell him it is only a question of time."
"No use, guv'nor," Dutton said obstinately. "'E won't listen to a word I say. Now, if you was to go down there yourself and talk pretty, like you can do, I am sure that Sam'll wait. But you must go, and there ain't no time to lose."
Beaucaire appeared to dwell upon this point, for he paced up and down the floor of the mill muttering to himself.
"Very well," he said suddenly. "I'll go. It is most infernally inconvenient, but I cannot have all my plans upset at the last moment for the want of a little care. I can get away from here in an hour or so and walk to Silloth. Then I can go as far as the garage on the outskirts where our two cars are put up. But how do I get to this blacksmith man. How can I find his cottage? I don't want to go down to Romney Marshes asking a lot of questions, and I don't want to take the car down there either, because it looks conspicuous, and cars are easy to trace. Tell me, what is the idea?"
"Well, it's like this, guv'nor," Dutton said. "You had better take a ticket from Charing Cross to Walley Junction. It is only a small station. When you get out into the road, go along about a mile, and then you will come to a broken mile post. Turn down the lane to the left, and a few hundred yards further you will see the old smithy."
"Very well," Beaucaire said. "I will start out and drive through the night. I still have time to go to my flat and get a wash and change, and I ought to be able to catch a train from Charing Cross about three in the afternoon."
"That's right," Dutton said. "There is one at three twenty-five and another one back just after eight. That will give you about an hour with Sam, and that ought to be more than enough. I can stay here till you come back, and then——"
But Lyston waited to hear no more. He crept quietly through the trap and down the rusty stairs, after which he set out at a round trot in the direction of Silloth. He had left his bag at the small hotel there with an intimation that he might possibly return and want a bed for the night, and as he ran he made up his mind what to do. Certainly he had not been wasting time, and ere he reached the outskirts of the little town he had a plan clear cut and ready for action.
Lyston turned into the office of his modest hotel and asked for the landlord. When that individual came forward Lyston explained that he was staying for the night and was anxious to know if he could call London on the telephone of the hotel, or whether he would have to go into the town to do so. On this the landlord promptly led the way to a telephone box in the hall which Lyston saw, to his great satisfaction, was one of those proper soundproof, cork-lined cabinets which effectually prevent anything like eaves-dropping. He put through his call to Mayfair and, at the expiration of forty minutes, shut himself in the box and took down the receiver.
"Is that 00615 Mayfair?" he asked. "Oh, it is. Can I speak to Mr. Musgrave? Oh, you are Mr. Musgrave, are you? Well, this is a bit of real luck. What? Oh, yes, I am Lyston, speaking to you from a little hotel at Silloth. Eh? No, I haven't been wasting my time, I assure you. I have had a fine piece of luck. I have actually discovered where the mysterious lady who owns number Seventeen Manton-street is hidden. Yes, that's right. I want you to take a hand. Listen."
Lyston proceeded to explain at some length. Then he waited to hear what Musgrave had to say.
"But look here, Sir Philip," Musgrave's voice came quite clear over the line, "I quite see your point. You can't get here any sooner than Beaucaire can, and because I am in London you want his arrival anticipated."
"That is the idea," Lyston agreed.
"Yes, quite so. That can easily be done. I can put my man Verily on to watch Beaucaire's flat and see when he comes and when he departs, and even see him off by the train you have just mentioned from Charing Cross Station. But don't you think that that is rather risky? If I follow Beaucaire he will suspect something at once. He knows of my friendship with Miss Dacre, and much the same remark applies to Jimmy Primrose. Also, he knows my man Verily by sight. Of course, I will go if you like, but I think we are running unnecessary risks. Once we arouse Beaucaire's suspicions, that old lady will be moved somewhere else. May I venture to make another suggestion?"
"Go on," Lyston said. "Go on."
"Well, what about my parlour-maid, Mary Cotton? She is as clever as she is pretty and she has any amount of native courage and audacity. Otherwise she would not be a member of The Aphrodite Club. Suppose we send her to spy out the land?"
"Now that is really a good idea," Lyston agreed. "Send your pretty parlour-maid by all means. I shall be back in London late to-morrow night and will look round and see you. Anything more now? No? Well, good-bye."
It was after he had finished his breakfast the following morning that Joe Musgrave disclosed to Verily the gist of his conversation on the telephone the previous night. Verily listened in his usually stolid way, but his eyes lighted up with a suggestion of humour when the name of Mary Cotton was brought into the discussion.
"I should think she would do very well, sir," he said. "Wonderful nerve she's got, to be sure. Would you like me to mention it to her, sir, or shall I ask her to come in here?"
"Bring her in here, by all means," Musgrave agreed.
Mary came demurely into the room and listened to all that her employer had to say. Then she showed her perfect teeth in a smile of appreciation and enjoyment.
"Nothing I should like better, sir," she said. "Oh, yes, I know Mr. Beaucaire by sight, and his friend the Prince, too, for the matter of that. I can go down to Charing Cross and travel by the same train as Mr. Beaucaire. He won't think anything of a servant following him along the road. He will probably think that I am in service in some local house. Do let me go, sir. I should love it."
"I believe you would," Joe said admiringly.
"Yes, wouldn't it be splendid? Just like the pictures. I will put on a plain hat and my service black dress, with a pair of house shoes, and look just like one of those Victorian servants you read about in books. Then I could find the house and take my observations. No, I think we could do better than that. If you will leave it me, sir, I believe I can get inside the blacksmith's premises and stay the night. It would be grand to play a part like one of those film heroines. If you will trust me, sir, and won't ask any questions till to-morrow morning, I think I can do everything you want."
"Very well," Joe agreed. "You are a bit of wonder, Mary. At any rate, you can try. No harm can come of it. And if you are successful, then I will make it my business to see that it is the best day's work you ever did in your life."
Shortly after three o'clock that afternoon a demure-looking, old-fashioned servant, with her hair plastered down the sides of her face, took a third-class ticket from Charing Cross to Walley Junction, and entered the train. But she did not do this until she had seen Beaucaire safely into a first-class compartment in front. Then she settled down calmly to a book until the train reached its destination. Three or four people got out and went their ways, leaving Mary alone on the platform with the figure of Beaucaire strolling away in the distance. Then she followed him, feeling sure in her disguise that so fine a gentleman would have no suspicions of a humble domestic like herself.
At the end of a quarter of an hour the lonely smithy came in sight, and in front of it Beaucaire paused. Then, as he went up the little garden path leading to the front door, and finally disappeared, Mary trudged past and continued for a mile or so. She found a cottage presently where a board told her she could get tea and light refreshments, and that the owner of the house catered for motorists. Here she had a substantial meal, and lingered talking to the occupant until she felt sure that Beaucaire had left the smithy on his way to catch his train back to town. But still Mary lingered on until the shades of evening deepened into night. Once it was really dark she retraced her footsteps, and, arriving at the smithy, boldly walked up the path and knocked at the door.
An elderly woman, with a hard, forbidding face appeared, and asked the stranger what her business was.
"Oh, dear, oh, dear," Mary sobbed. "I don't know what to do. I am in the most dreadful trouble. I am too late to catch the last train back to London, and I don't know where I am going to sleep to-night. What can I do?"
"I am sure I don't know," the woman said. "Who are you, and how did you get in this mess?"
"My name is Jones," Mary explained. "Mary Jones. I was engaged as general servant to an old gentleman as lives about two miles away, across the marshes. I left my box at the station because I couldn't find any conveyance. And it's a good thing I did, because the old gentleman turned out to be a horrid man. One of those nasty, dreadful men—oh, you know what I mean. I took a dislike to him directly I saw him, and if I hadn't have kept my head I believe he would have detained me against my will. I pretended not to notice anything, and when he went out of the room for a cup of tea I opened the window and got out. I thought I would try here, because I saw a light in the window. Oh, don't say you can't give me a bed for the night. If you do I shall have to sleep out of doors. Only give me a shake-down somewhere and a cup of tea in the morning, and I'll be off to London by the first train. I've got money, indeed I have. You won't turn me away, will you? If you can only give me the shelter I want and something to-morrow, I will give you the pound note I have got in my bag. And that will leave me just enough to get back to London by the first train. Isn't there one from the junction about seven o'clock?"
"That's right," the woman agreed. "You just stay here a moment while I speak to my husband."
The woman vanished and Mary could hear a whispered conversation going on somewhere in the darkness. Then the woman returned in a less truculent frame of mind.
"Come inside," she said. "I find I can give you a sort of shake-down in what you mayn't call a bedroom, but it's better than nothing. The attic is occupied, or I'd put you in there. You can have a cup of tea and an egg for your breakfast in the morning, provided you catch the first train back. Come in and I will show you where you are to sleep."
"Oh, thank you, thank you," Mary said tearfully. "What should I have done if you had refused? I am that tired I'd like to go to bed at once."
The woman smiled sourly as if the information pleased her. She led the way upstairs to a tiny room in which was a broken bedstead and a flock mattress, at the sight of which Mary suppressed a shudder. But she smiled, as if she regarded the forbidding bed as one of roses. All she wanted now was to be alone, and there in the darkness, she sat, waiting and waiting for some movement down below.
It came presently with a heavy footstep on the stairs and the clinking of china. Through a crack in the door, Mary could see the sour-faced woman carrying something up to the attic on a tray with a candle and key in her other hand. Then Mary, venturing outside, saw the attic door open, and the woman vanish inside. She had seen all she wanted to see, and learnt all she wanted to learn, so that she shut the bedroom door again and threw herself on the mattress to get what sleep she could.
It was a full budget of information which Joe Musgrave had to impart to Lyston when he returned to London late on the night following Mary Cotton's adventure on Romney Marshes. Sir Philip listened with obvious satisfaction to all that Joe had to say.
"Yes, she seems to have done very well indeed," he commented. "Evidently a very smart young woman. I should like to have a few words with her if you don't mind."
Mary came smilingly into the dining-room and told her story in a few words.
"And that is about all, sir," she said. "Really it was not so very clever after all. Of course, those people didn't want me in their cottage at all, but they couldn't resist the temptation of making a pound by letting me sleep there for the night and giving me a sort of breakfast in the morning."
"Yes, I quite understand that," Lyston said, "That is where your cleverness came in. But are you quite sure that you were not the only occupant of the cottage?"
"Of course I am, sir," Mary said emphatically. "I have just told you that I saw a meal going upstairs into the attic over my so-called bedroom, and I heard the key turned in the door. Yes, and I heard the door locked again afterwards. And that is not quite everything. I couldn't sleep on that awful bed, so I lay listening. Three or four times in the night I heard somebody cough, and I am certain that the sound of that cough came from somewhere above me. Besides, I could hear footsteps in the attic, as if somebody was wandering up and down the room. That convinced me that someone was a prisoner there."
"Seems rather strange," Musgrave remarked, "that whoever it might be made no attempt to attract the attention of passers-by. I mean by way of the window."
"I don't believe the attic has a window," Mary said. "I had a good look from the front of the house, and I managed to see the cottage from the back as well. But though I know there is an attic to the cottage, there is certainly no window."
"A very smart young woman, that," Lyston said, when at length Mary had departed. "Nothing like a girl for that sort of thing, if she only has her head screwed on right. I think we have established beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the owner of number Seventeen Manton-street is being held as a prisoner by those people. And, of course, we know why. Now I am going to tell you what I have found out. I only gave you a general idea when I was calling you over the telephone from Silloth, but those two adventurers are out for a very big thing. The idea is forgery of French franc notes for large amounts on a gigantic scale. The paper is being made in the old mill, close to Heronspey's castle, by some French experts who probably at one time were employed in the mills where France manufactures the paper on which her notes are printed. They are Frenchmen right enough, because I heard them talking. Also I watched the stuff in the process of manufacture, and probably by this time enough material to carry on with is either in London or on its way. It will be stored for the moment in the garage behind what you call the Sinister House, and when our friends are ready the notes will be printed at Seventeen Manton-street. The necessary machinery is probably in the house already. All we have to do is to allow them a certain amount of rope and arrange for a police raid. There is no reason why we should appear at all. Let Scotland Yard have all the credit; in fact, I have already promised one of my friends there that they shall. All I have to do is to look after the interests of Ian Heronspey and put Vivian Beaucaire in a place where he will be powerless for some years to come. You may be pretty sure that he hasn't told his comrade anything about the big blackmailing scheme. It is any odds that he is keeping that to himself, for his own benefit."
"That is my idea," Musgrave agreed. "But what's our next move? Are we going to wait on events?"
"Well, more or less," Lyston said. "Give those chaps two or three day's rope. Have them carefully watched, and one of these early nights, when we know that they are on the premises at Manton-street, hang around the house until we hear the machinery going. Then a telephone message to the Yard and half a dozen plain clothes men enter the house by the back garden. It is quite easy and not in the least dangerous."
"I see," Musgrave said thoughtfully. "I think I will leave all that to you. At the same time, don't you think Miss Dacre ought to know something of what is going on? We can't be absolutely certain, of course, but it is long odds that the mysterious owner of Number 17 Manton-street, is Pamela's grandmother. Don't you think I ought to tell her?"
"Yes, I think perhaps on the whole you might."
"Very well, then, I will. But what about Mr. Heronspey? Is he to be left in the darkness?"
"Oh, no. I shall go back to the North to-morrow and tell him everything I have discovered. Unfortunately it will be necessary in the meantime, for the Romney Marsh prisoner to remain where she is. Any move to set her free until we are ready to act, will be fatal to our plans. Probably the old lady is being well treated and properly fed and all that sort of thing. But we cannot go to her rescue yet. I think this business is going to turn out rather well in the end. You see, Heronspey is changing. He knows that his end is not very far off, and he is beginning to realise that he behaved very harshly towards his daughter all those years ago. Beyond that, it was quite a shock for him when he came face to face with Miss Dacre the other day at Sandown Park. He told me that himself, and he went on to say that he could not get the girl's face out of his mind. I am quite sure that he wants to see her, only he is too proud to say so. Family pride has been his besetting sin. It has embittered his whole life and wrecked the lives of others. My idea is to go up North and persuade Heronspey to come down South and meet Miss Dacre. I think, when I am ready to act, that I will take the old gentleman with me when we go down to Romney Marshes to release the woman in prison there. In the meanwhile I think you should tell Miss Dacre everything."
Musgrave contrived to see Pamela the following day, and induced her to take a run in his car out in the country, and in a quiet spot, over a tea basket, he told her, as diplomatically as he could, all that he had learnt during the past few hours. It was a long story, to which Pamela listened with rapt attention, and a face that grew more and more disturbed as Musgrave proceeded. He could see she was fighting to keep the tears back.
"All this is very dreadful, Joe," she murmured.
"But why, dear old thing, why?" Joe asked. "It looks to me as if it was all making for our happiness."
"Oh, no, no," Pamela cried. "It is even worse than I feared. Can't you understand, Joe? There has always been a mystery hanging over me, but I have tried to make light of it. But the reality is terrible. If it weren't for you I should not care so much. I couldn't marry——"
Pamela broke off as if unable to proceed. Joe looked into that supremely beautiful face of hers with an expression in his eyes that Pamela hesitated to meet. He took her hands in his and firmly refused to release them.
"Now, listen to me, Pamela," he said. "You practically know the whole of the story now and you know how we propose to close the mouth of the only man who can raise the old scandal. Let us be quite plain with one another. You believe that your grandmother ran away with a man who never married her. You won't mind my saying it, but it is probably true. But why should you suffer for that? You don't remember your own mother, but she was married, at any rate. I think you are taking a very absurd view of the situation. Before that night at The Aphrodite Club your pose was that nothing in the world mattered so long as you could enjoy yourself and have enough money to spend."
"Oh, don't remind me of that," Pamela implored. "I was a fool, Joe, a senseless conceited fool. But I learnt a lesson that night that I am not likely to forget. I should never pose again as long as I live."
"Of course you won't, darling," Joe said. "I knew it was only a passing phase. It worried me for a bit, but I was convinced it would never last. And now you are my own incomparable Pam again and I want to marry you more than ever. Don't you know that we were made for one another? What do I care who your mother or grandmother happened to be? And what would you care if I came to you and told you that I had been changed at birth and was the nameless son of some washer-woman? Would you turn your back upon me because of that?"
"Of course I wouldn't," Pam cried indignantly.
"Very well, then. That knocks the bottom out of your argument. I know this business is causing you a good deal of grief and anxiety, but that is no reason why it should be allowed to spoil your life and mine."
"But you are the head of the Musgraves," Pamela murmured. "And I am merely called——"
"You are Pamela," Joe said. "And that is enough for me. Now, come, give me a kiss, a real proper one. You never have yet, and it's about time you began. Never mind about the Musgraves. Just think of two commonplace people who are very fond of one another and who can afford to laugh at any scandal."
Pamela looked up into Joe's face, and seeing the expression on it, hid hers on his shoulder. But he bent down and raised her so that he could look into her eyes.
"Now then," he whispered. "Come on."
And Pamela surrendered with a happy sigh.
It was two days later, and Lyston was back in the North again. This time he made no pretence at disguise, but turned up at the castle in a hired motor and boldly asked to see Heronspey. He had made a little detour before reaching his destination, so that he could pass the old water mill, and he noticed with satisfaction that the wheel was still and that the whole place presented a deserted appearance. For the present, at any rate, the business which had gone on there had ceased, and no doubt all that carefully prepared paper was either on its way to London or had already arrived. Within a few hours now it might be safe to call in Scotland Yard and make the proposed raid on the house in Manton-street. There was no hurry, so that Lyston could afford to take his time.
He found Heronspey, as usual, in the great library engaged on the business connected with his estate. The old man rose and greeted his guest with a flattering eagerness that showed how anxious he was to know how things were going.
"Well," he said, "well, what news?"
"Plenty of that presently," Lyston said. "Everything is going as well as possible. You need not have the least anxiety as to the future. I shall be able to put that scoundrel Beaucaire out of the way where his tongue will be tied for many a year to come. There is going to be no scandal."
"I am glad to hear that," Heronspey said, with a sigh of relief. "Now, sit down and make yourself comfortable. A cigar? A whisky and soda?"
"When I have finished my story," Lyston smiled. "You told me the last time I was here that you believed Beaucaire to be up to some rascality under the guise of constructing a new aeroplane at the old mill. Well, you were right. He and his precious confederate are about to forge French banknotes to a large extent. They will be printed in London and then sent to Phasy's lonely old castle in the Austrian Tyrol, from whence they will be distributed. It is a very pretty scheme and most ingenious. Nobody would suspect a prince with royal blood in his veins of using his ancestral family seat as a centre for spreading forged banknotes. That is my theory, anyhow. But the forgery is no theory, because I have actually seen the paper being made. I was in the loft of the old mill after I left you the other day, and I watched the French artisans at work. They have gone now, and the paper is on its way to London, if it has not already arrived there, so that the notes can be printed in a certain house in West End. And, unless I am greatly mistaken, that house belongs to your daughter."
"My daughter?" Heronspey cried hoarsely. "She died long ago."
"Any proof of that?" Lyston asked curtly.
"No, not any actual proof, of course, but I haven't seen her for 50 years. She must be dead."
"Well, she isn't. Now, listen to what I have to say."
With that, Lyston went on at considerable length into the strange story of the Sinister House and how Joe Musgrave had, by the accident of fortune, been driven inside it. He described the strange picture in the studio and the mysterious air of the house in Manton-street.
"Well, that was pretty extraordinary, wasn't it?" he asked. "But it is more amazing to think that Beaucaire should have picked upon that solitary domicile as a base for his forgery exploits. It is not so very remarkable, either. There are lots of houses in London, occupied by mysterious tenants who live, year after year, within four walls and never go out—eccentrics who are not troubled by the police so long as nothing suspicious is noticed by the outside public. You can imagine a clever criminal pitching on one of these homesteads and making up his mind to get possession of it. But undoubtedly that is what Beaucaire did, and he might have got away with it but for those happenings at The Aphrodite Club, of which I have just told you. When you consulted me and told me all about Miss Pamela Dacre, I naturally went and hunted up Musgrave, because I knew that he was hoping to marry your great-granddaughter."
"But surely——" Heronspey began.
"One moment; don't interrupt me. The girl is your great-granddaughter, as I shall prove to you. When Musgrave realised that I was anything but antagonistic, he told me all about what he called the Sinister House and how he and his friend Jimmy Primrose had actually seen those two precious scamps in the studio. Musgrave was glad to have my help, because he was a little bit nervous as to what might happen if Scotland Yard got wind of what was going on. He was quite right there, because the single-handed game might have led to trouble. Well, I went over the Sinister House and I saw that picture. I should say it was a portrait of your daughter, painted by herself. Indeed, in view of what you had told me about her, I could not doubt it. When I saw that picture, and bearing in mind all I had heard about the old lady who owned the Sinister House, I naturally concluded that your daughter was alive. You told me yourself that she had inherited money which would account for her being in the possession of considerable property. But, to make assurance double sure, I went to see a lawyer called Hartley Horne, who is your great-granddaughter's guardian, and I forced him to tell me a certain amount. He told me all about the enmity between you two, dating back to the time when a mere family lawyer dared to raise his eyes to a Heronspey. That must have been a great blow to you."
"It was," Heronspey admitted. "Family pride has always been our bitter curse. We have boasted of it, we have hugged it to our breasts, we have made it a sort of god. But even in those days, if I had realised what was going to happen, I should have given way. Better, far better, that a Heronspey should marry beneath her than not marry at all."
"But your daughter, when she left home secretly, expected to be married," Lyston pointed out. "She went off with that handsome scamp of a gamekeeper, who counted on your relenting sooner or later and taking him into your favour. He put up some sort of a bogus marriage to satisfy Elinor, and was going to trade upon that false ceremony to make terms with you. Then, no doubt, they would have gone through a proper ceremony, and all would have been well. But I think it is probable that your daughter found out what was happening before she and her so-called husband left Scotland. Probably there was a great scene between the two of them, and when Wallace was at length convinced that in no circumstances would you ever recognise your daughter again, he deserted her and flung her on her own resources. He didn't know then, and probably never did know, that some day or another Elinor would inherit a considerable fortune from a distant relative. Anyhow, Wallace disappeared and has never been heard of since. But he must have taken that gold snuff-box with him, and some time or another given it to one of his friends, or it wouldn't have turned up in England again. I have already told you how Musgrave saw it in a curiosity shop, where it was sold to a dealer by a common seafaring man. Also, I have already told you how anxious Beaucaire was to get hold of that box and the steps he took to obtain it. And, by Jove, a sudden thought occurs to me. That sailor was at the mill the other night. I mean the man who told Beaucaire all about the trouble with the blacksmith. But you don't know anything about that yet. I may not be right, but it is pretty long odds that the man Beaucaire spoke of as Dutton was the seafaring man who got hold of the box somewhere abroad and brought it back to England. I will look up Mr. Dutton; he may be useful to us presently."
"Stop a moment," Heronspey cried. "You are fogging me up completely. Who is this blacksmith, and how does he come into the story? Up to a certain point you have made yourself quite clear, and then, when that sudden thought occurred to you, you went off at a tangent, leaving me quite bewildered. Please go back to the point where you interrupted yourself."
"Sorry," Lyston murmured. "It is like this."
He resumed his narrative from the point at which he had broken it off, until he came to the incident of the abduction, and the spiriting of Elinor Wallace from her residence in Manton-street to the smithy on Romney Marshes.
"And now I think you have everything," Lyston concluded. "I shall be utterly mistaken and absolutely lost if the woman now being detained as a prisoner in that lonely spot does not turn out to be your daughter Elinor. I don't want to go down there and make a fuss until the afternoon of the same day that Scotland Yard is raiding Manton-street. Then I can go and interview Mr. Smith and his wife, and I think it would be just as well if you came with me."
"I will do that," Heronspey said. "In fact, I feel that I ought to do so. Anything that will prevent this dreadful scandal from becoming public property. Once I began to argue with my family pride, I could see that the blame was not all on one side. I ought to have recognised that my daughter had the same wilful, headstrong nature as my own. I should have reasoned with her, I should have pointed out to her what she owed to her family. I might have known that she would take the bit between her teeth and defy me. Strange that I should have been so blind all these years. I am going to put myself entirely in your hands, Lyston, for you to do as you please. I will come up to London any time you like."
"Then come to London with me to-morrow," Lyston said. "After all, you owe a duty to somebody else besides your daughter. I am speaking of your great-granddaughter now. Wouldn't you like to see her and talk matters over?"
"I should," Heronspey said humbly.
Lyston came down from the North with the understanding that Heronspey would follow him at any moment that he was required to do so. The latter was only too willing and eager now to meet his great-granddaughter, and also that child of his who had suffered so much from family pride and her own headstrong determination. That meeting would no doubt come in a day or two, but meanwhile there was much to be done.
If the whole situation was to be saved, so far as Heronspey was concerned, then it was necessary to strike the blow just at the right moment. Lyston knew how to bring this about, but there was just the chance that anything like indecent hurry might wreck the whole scheme. So when he returned to London he made his own simple and effective plans and sat down to wait the result with characteristic patience.
Meanwhile it was necessary to see Musgrave and Primrose and discover what had gone on in his absence. Musgrave had to confess that he had done very little.
"There was very little to do," he said. "I thought it just as well for Primrose and myself to keep in the background and leave all that sleuth work to Verily."
"Well, you might have done worse," Lyston said. "Call Verily in and let me speak to him."
Verily came out of his pantry and gave a brief account of his doings during the last day or two.
"I have been watching, for the most part, sir," he said. "Keeping an eye on Prince Phasy. As far as I can make out, Mr. Beaucaire has been up North, though I think he is coming back either to-day or to-morrow. Mary Cotton hasn't been idle either. She has seen that actress woman in The Aphrodite Club on two occasions and followed her home. You see, there is a lot of work going on at number Seventeen Manton-street now, but the people there generally shut down at about 11 o'clock at night and it is after that time that the lady leaves the house. I know, because I have been inside myself."
"Oh, you have been inside, have you?" Lyston asked.
"Yes, sir. Two or three times. I go in by the garden gate the way my master showed me. They have got a lot of machinery in the studio now and they are printing something. Of course, it isn't for me to say what they are doing, sir, but I should say that they were printing banknotes."
"And you will not be far wrong," Lyston smiled. "All right, Verily, you have done very well and I don't think we shall have to trouble you much longer. Let us know the very minute that Mr. Beaucaire comes back, because when he does things will have reached a crisis. I think the night of his arrival will see some late work at the Sinister House."
A minute of two later Verily went back to his work, and Lyston proceeded to explain all that had happened since he started on his northern journey.
"So you see, the net is beginning to close tightly," he said. "So far as we can gather from what Verily says, the Frenchmen at Number Seventeen, under Phasy's eye, have been actually printing those forged notes for a day or two. I should think by this time, that they have struck off a great many thousand of them. When Beaucaire comes back, they will suspend operations for the moment, if not entirely. The next move will be to transplant the whole lot of stuff to Phasy's castle, from whence the notes will flood Europe and unless we intervene, those two scoundrels might get away with millions. It might be months before the forgeries are detected, especially if the plates with which the notes are printed are as good as the paper. The paper is, to all practical purposes, the real thing. That is hard to imitate and the plates, by comparison, are easy. But never mind that for the moment. I want to speak to you about a more personal matter. When I was up North, I had a very intimate conversation with Heronspey on the subject of his daughter. That conversation naturally led to a discussion regarding Miss Dacre."
"Oh, really," Joe said. "That is interesting."
"Yes, more interesting than you think. Do you remember encountering Heronspey at Sandown Park not so very long ago, when Miss Dacre was in your company?"
"Of course, I remember it very well."
"Yes, I thought you would. Heronspey said nothing at the time, but he was very shaken and agitated when he saw the amazing likeness between Pamela Dacre and his own daughter as he remembered her 50 odd years ago. He knew at once that Miss Dacre was a relation of his, and guessed that she was his great-granddaughter. And I think he brooded on it. At any rate, the old gentleman is strangely altered, and ready to confess that he behaved very harshly to his child, Elinor, in the old days. He knows that he drove her from under his own roof and literally forced her into the arms of that handsome scoundrel, Wallace. It was his fault that she left home, and that she lived for some time with a man who was not her husband. Of course, Heronspey knows now how the girl was deceived into believing that the mock ceremony before witnesses was a genuine marriage."
"Of course she did," Joe cried. "I am quite sure of that. The old man ought to have recognised the fact. And, in any case, how does that affect Pamela? Her mother was married, and that is all I care about. As a matter of fact, I don't even care about that, because Pamela is Pamela, and I would marry her if she had been originally found in a ditch."
"So would most men, for the matter of that," Lyston said drily. "But don't interrupt. Heronspey wants to come down here and see his great-granddaughter and make his peace with her. He is also anxious to find his own daughter. I told him where she was and that she would have to remain in custody until we could lay the two principal scoundrels by the heels. But anyway, Heronspey is coming down South when I send for him and I want you to arrange a meeting between Miss Dacre and himself."
It was two days later before the meeting took place. Musgrave had prepared Pamela for the interview and she went to it in fear and trembling. Not that she need have been afraid, for the stern old man who had so impressed her at Sandown Park had strangely altered in the meantime. He was just as upright and just as keen eyed and virile, so that it was impossible to believe that he was verging on ninety years of age, but that rugged old face had lost its haughty look and it was a very tremulous old gentleman indeed who took Pamela's hand in his.
"You know who I am, my dear?" he asked.
"I think so," Pamela murmured. "You must be my great-grandfather. I hardly remember my mother, and I know nothing of my grandmother. You see, when I was quite small, I was told that my parents were dead and an old gentleman named Horne informed me that he was my guardian. I was very much afraid of him then and I am afraid of him now. But I was only a child, you see, and didn't understand. And when I got older and Mr. Musgrave's aunt, who brought me out into the world, died, I began to ask myself questions. It was so awkward, you see, I didn't know who I was and where I had come from, and when I realised that Joe and myself——"
Pamela coloured and hesitated, and the old man could see that there were tears in her eyes.
"Don't say a single word more," he almost implored her. "I understand. I have been understanding a good deal lately—things I have ignored for years, things I ought never to have forgotten. It may be hard for you to believe it, my child, but there was a time when I was young myself, and in love with the woman who became my wife. It was a sore loss to me when she went, but I was glad afterwards that she didn't live to see the trouble that grew up between my daughter Elinor and myself, and the dreadful end to it all. Elinor wanted to become an artist—a professional artist, you understand."
"And why not?" Pamela demanded, with some little display of temper. "There is no disgrace in that, surely. I think I remember that a certain king felt himself honoured at the opportunity of picking up a great painter's brush. I would rather be a celebrity than a princess of the blood. But then, I suppose I am different to the rest of my race. That is if you recognise me as being one of your race."
"I deserve that," the old man said. "But don't let us quarrel, please. I have only a little more time to live, and I want to be at peace with everybody. I dare say you will say that I have only just found this out. Well, I admit it. Shall I tell you when and how I found it out?"
"If you please," Pamela said.
"Well, it was the day I saw you at Sandown Park races. Rather a strange setting for an eleventh hour conversion, but there it was. I saw you in your youth and beauty and the pride of your budding womanhood, and I admired you as I would admire a perfect picture. And then I saw in you the traditional loveliness of the Heronspey women, and I knew at once that you had come into your kingdom through my own daughter. I was very near to telling you so on the spot. But that infernal pride of mine held me back, and I returned to my lonely castle in the North and tried to forget you. But I couldn't, my child, I couldn't. And when my friend Lyston came to see me, and told me the remarkable story with which you are already acquainted, I jumped at the chance of seeing you again. I want you to be friends with me, and I want, before I die, to have you and your grandmother under my roof. If you think you can forgive me, I shall bee happy for the first time for half a century. Now do you think you could give me just one little kiss."
Heronspey was at length happy in the knowledge that he had made his peace with Pamela. There had been a good deal to explain, and a good many questions to ask and answer, but they were finished at length, and there was an opportunity now of examining the less personal side of the problem. It was here that Lyston came into the discussion, and advised as to what was the next step in the complicated drama.
"We shall have to move slowly," he said. "You see what I am driving at, Heronspey? Before very long, I hope you will have your daughter under your own roof again. How you are going to explain to your neighbours and tenants, I don't know, but that is no business of mine. You must make up some story concerning an estrangement which lasted over half a century and—oh, well, we have more important things to think of than that. Then there is your great-granddaughter."
"Oh, yes, yes," the old man said eagerly. "We must not forget her. She is going to marry young Musgrave, and a better match I could not wish for. Musgrave is, at any rate, a social equal of the Heronspeys."
"Oh, quite," Lyston said drily. "I see you have not lost all your family pride yet. My young friend Joe Musgrave would have married Pamela in any case, but then the young men to-day are far more sensible than their fathers were. However, that is not the point. We have to do two things—place Beaucaire in a position where his lips will be sealed for many years to come, and rescue your daughter from her captivity. Naturally you want to see her and—er—smooth matters out."
"Of course," Heronspey said eagerly. "Of course."
"Very well then. You have put this affair in my hands and therefore I must ask you to leave it to me to decide what to do and how it is to be done. But I don't see how we can run down to Romney Marshes and liberate your daughter until we have seen Beaucaire safely in the hands of the police. And yet possibly there is a way. No, I think we will wait. It is only a matter of being patient until Beaucaire comes down from the North again and then raiding number Seventeen Manton-street. We shall take the whole gang red-handed. That, of course, will be a matter for the police. I promised Scotland Yard a sensational capture at an early date and I am going to keep my word. There is no reason why either of us should come into that side of the business at all. But one thing you can do. You can go and see your one time friend, and, at the same time, old enemy, Hartley Horne in Lincoln's Inn, and get him to fill in the gaps between the time when your daughter left home and the present moment."
"Yes, I suppose I shall have to," Heronspey said. "Once I have started humbling my pride, I don't see why I should stop at a thing like that. Over fifty years ago I kicked Hartley Horne out of my house with scorn. He dared to raise his eyes to a Heronspey and I told him in no measured language what I thought of him. The idea of a family lawyer aspiring to marry a child of mine! And yet, mind you, for two hundred years the Hornes had been our confidential advisers. All our family secrets have been in their care. The mere fact that Horne is a rich man did not worry me in the least. And yet if I had only realised what was going to happen I should never have stood between Elinor and himself. You see she was my only child, and if I could have managed it, the future mistress of the castle. My idea was to get the next of kin to break the entail, which I am sure James Primrose's grandfather would have done for a lump sum of money down. In those days I was my own god and my own providence. I thought I could direct things just as I pleased and bend the girl to my will. But I was mistaken, Lyston, terribly mistaken."
"Yes, I know," Lyston said. "It is a thing that always happens to men of your type."
"Yes, I suppose it does," Heronspey said thoughtfully. "Well, you know what happened. Disgrace and dishonour and a care that ate into my heart and blighted my life for years. And all for nothing. But why dwell upon it? I will go and see Horne and ask him pardon. He is a hard man and it will be a difficult task, bit I think, for the sake of that beautiful young life in which I am interested, he will not object to speak."
Heronspey went off almost immediately and made his way to Lincoln's Inn, where he found himself confronted with the man he had not seen for half a century or more. Horne stood up, rigid and stiff like a statue, glaring across the table at the man who had thus intruded on him.
"This is a strange visit," he said. "Strange and unexpected, Mr. Heronspey. Of all the men on God's earth, you are the very last I had looked for or hoped to see in my office. At any rate, let me congratulate you upon the way in which time has dealt with you. You are just the same—but what is it you want, why do you come to me like this?"
"I am afraid I expected to hear you speak like that," Heronspey said. "One of us must bend and that one will be me. I came here to ask your pardon."
"After all these years," Horne said cynically. "You must want something very badly indeed."
"Oh, I do," Heronspey replied. "I do. Horne, you may or may not believe it, but in the last week or two I have become a changed man. And not altogether because I am old. I feel as young as you do. But a little while back I had a vision. It was a strange place for a vision, because it happened to be on a racecourse. I saw there a girl, a young and beautiful girl with "race" stamped all over her. She was in company with one James Primrose, my next-of-kin, and Joseph Musgrave. Perhaps you can guess who she was."
"That would not be very difficult," Horne said drily. "You are speaking of Miss Pamela Dacre, of course."
"I am. They call her Pamela Dacre, and perhaps that is her name. But I feel quite sure——"
"That is her name surely enough," Horne interrupted. "Her father married your granddaughter. I don't quite know who he was, but I think he was a gentleman, and they both died when Pamela was a child. She was left penniless, and I might say derelict. Her grandmother didn't want her, because she and Pamela's mother never got on together, and the latter was only too glad to leave home at a very early age with the man who was ready to marry her. So Pamela's grandmother came to me——"
"You are speaking of my daughter," Heronspey broke in.
"I am. We have been in communication for goodness knows how many years. When Elinor came into money, I managed her affairs for her. She bought that house in Manton-street, and lived a hermit-like existence there. The older she got the more eccentric she became. But all the time she found a certain annual sum which was devoted to Pamela's education and up-bringing. It was a very handsome sum, and still continues. Bit I am afraid that the fund is nearly exhausted, and I may hear any day that Elinor cannot see her way to find any more. Mind you, I never see her. I have not seen her for more years than I can count. I suppose she cannot altogether forget the past and the mere sight of me seems to remind her of it. And, on the other hand, I have my feelings, though it may seem strange to you to hear me say so. I write business letters to Elinor, and she writes to me. I suppose she creeps out of her house late at night to a pillar-box and drops her letters into it, because I know that she lives in the house quite alone, so that even her tradesmen cannot ever remember meeting her face to face. I suppose she has her share of the family pride, which may account for her peculiar conduct. Women are very much like men in that way. Elinor saw no particular shame in running away with a gamekeeper, but when the scoundrel turned his back upon her, realising that you were not going to treat him as a kind of prodigal son, Elinor felt her position keenly. If the man had married her, she was the sort of girl that would have held her head up in the air, and looked the whole world in the face defiantly. I think that is at the back of her eccentricity. Now, what do you want me to do? How can I help? I don't see why I should help, but I will. Now tell me."
"Well, I want you to bring me face to face with my daughter. You cannot do it for the moment, for reasons which I will tell you presently. But I shall be more than obliged if you will see her when the opportune moment arrives, and say that her father wants to meet her once again. Not only for her sake, but for my great-granddaughter's. Tell her I am sorry for the past and the part I played in it. I have fully realised now that when Elinor left my roof she went away to be married. She would never have gone unless she had felt sure of that. And that man deceived her. I suppose she convinced him on their flight into Scotland that there was nothing to be expected from me. And that is why he never married her. He stayed with her for a week or two, hoping for the best and then he fled abroad, leaving her to her own resources. Of course, that piece of paper in the lid of the snuff-box which was witnessed by some persons in Scotland was a clumsy artifice to induce Elinor to believe that she was lawfully wedded."
Suddenly Horne sprang from his seat.
"The paper signed by witnesses," he cried. "In Scotland? Where is it? Who has it?"
"At the moment," Heronspey said. "It is with Lyston, who——"
"Go and fetch it, fetch it at once," Horne shouted. "That paper is worth its weight in diamonds."
Lyston sat in his quiet rooms in the Temple, making a final revision of his plans, which at length he had worked out so to speak, to the last decimal. He knew when and how he was going to strike, and directly one more fact was duly established he was going to put the crown upon his work. There came to him presently one Detective-Inspector Calcraft from Scotland Yard, who entered quietly into the pleasant sitting-room and took the cigarette that Lyston offered him.
"Well, here I am, Sir Philip," the newcomer said. "And I think I can give you the information you require. Then perhaps you will tell me what it all means."
"That will be all right," Lyston smiled. "Meanwhile it is for you to speak first. I asked your people a few days ago to trace a certain individual for me. I gave the department a description of him, and I believe he was kept in sight by the police up in Cumberland. A seafaring man. Now have you anything to tell me about him?"
"Very little," the detective confessed. "But he has been kept in sight, and he is at the present moment somewhere in the neighbourhood of Limehouse. He is a ship's engineer, and calls himself Dutton. There is no reason why that should not be his proper name, because I cannot ascertain that he belongs to the criminal class, being just the usual type of fireman on a tramp steamer. But if you want him, I can get hold of him and bring him round here at any time."
"No, you need not trouble about that," Lyston said. "You have given me all the information I want, and when I require to see Dutton I will ask you to bring him along. And now, as to the big thing. To-morrow night the men we are after will assemble at Number 17 Manton-street, with the intention of making certain final preparations. They will arrive at the garage behind the house of which I speak about midnight. You had better have the lane at the back watched. You can enter by the front door by putting the key in the latch and opening it. I will give you a key that will fit. Now just listen to me, and, unless things go extraordinarily wrong, you are going to arrest two of the most dangerous and audacious forgers that ever planned a big coup right under the nose of Scotland Yard."
Half an hour later Detective-Inspector Calcraft departed with all the information he required, and Lyston strolled along in the direction of Musgrave's flat. There he told Joe exactly what was going to happen.
"I thought it was just as well to come and see you," he explained. "Because I don't want any hitches. Those people will be arrested to-morrow night directly they enter Seventeen Manton-street. They are coming down from the North in a car, and should arrive somewhere about midnight. They will, of course, drive up boldly to the garage and put up the car, after which they will enter the house and collect all the odds and ends they require. Then the next morning they expect to cross to the Continent, en route for Phasy's castle in the Austrian Tyrol. What I particularly want you to do is to keep out of the way. The less we are mixed up in this affair the better."
"But why?" Joe asked. "What is the idea?"
"Well, you are more or less directly connected with Pamela Dacre, and if we are to avoid scandal, I don't want you to run the risk of being called as a witness in the case later on. So you and Primrose had better lie low. But don't interfere with Verily's work. He is a very good, man, and I should like him to be knocking about to-morrow night, and, if possible, hiding in the house when the police make their raid."
All of which Musgrave told Verily a little later. And that excellent individual, perhaps a little elated by the value placed upon his services, passed the information on in due course to Mary Cotton. She followed all that he had to say with the deepest interest.
"But what about the woman?" she asked. "Aren't they going to arrest her? What's the good of my going to all that trouble in connection with the Aphrodite Club if she is going to be let off at the last moment? Doesn't Sir Philip want me to watch her any longer? Or do they want to catch her on the premises? But they won't do that to-morrow night."
"How do you know that?" Verily demanded.
"Because it is a big night at the Aphrodite. A special troupe of comedians has been engaged, to say nothing of an entirely new band. And I know that Julie Corti will be there, because I heard her making arrangements to meet a man. He is one of those rich Argentine half-castes who, they tell me, is rolling in money. Just the sort that Julie Corti would be in the look out for. Whatever happens in Manton-street, the Corti woman will steal away, and, when they come to make the raid on Manton-street, she won't be found."
"Well, we can't help that," Verily said. "I will tell the captain what you say, and he will probably pass the information on to Sir Philip by telephone. You carry on just as usual, unless you hear something to the contrary."
But no information of any importance reached Mary Cotton either that day or the next. So that she set out in the evening of the second day for her visit to the Aphrodite Club with a feeling that she would pass no more than a pleasant hour or two and come back very much as she went. She had expected to figure prominently in the crime drama, and at the very last moment her hopes were fading into nothingness. Moreover, Verily had been rather reticent in the way of information. He had told Mary in as many words that the big business behind the activities in Manton-street was connected with the forgery of foreign banknotes of big denominations but, beyond that, Verily had said very little. So that Mary set out on her evening's amusement with the vaguest idea as to what she was likely to discover in the way of dramatic information.
Then for the moment she put the Sinister House out of her mind altogether. She would enjoy herself and show off that new dance frock to the best advantage and, perhaps, if the fates were kind, she might discover something that was likely to be of use to Musgrave and his friends.
The dancing floor was fairly crowded when Mary arrived, and for the next hour guests poured in until the place seemed to be filled almost to suffocation. There were celebrities on all sides, not only in the world of fashion and art, but in the sphere of audacious criminality. There were plenty of partners, too, because Mary was an exceptionally fine dancer and it pleased her to pose at The Aphrodite Club as a lady of independent means who preferred to come there alone and choose her own associates. There was no doubt either, that she was perfectly capable of taking care of herself, so that she was entirely free from any sort of nervousness or apprehension.
Mary was enjoying herself with one of her many partners when she became conscious for the first time, that Julie Corti was in the room. There was a big clock over an alcove at the far end of the great apartment and Mary could see by that that it was some time past 12. She could see that her partner, who was a neophyte youngster about town, was attracted by the flashing adventuress who whirled past him in the arms of the millionaire from the Argentine.
"By Jove, that is a bit of a stunner," the boy said, as he danced in the direction of the disappearing couple. "Do you happen to know who she is?"
"Well, as a matter of fact, I do," Mary said. "Everybody does for the matter of that. Do you mean to say that you have been in London all this time amongst the night clubs without hearing of Julie Corti?"
"I am afraid I do," the young man confessed. "You see I have only just come back from Australia where I have been winding up my late father's affairs for the last few months. That woman looks like an actress."
"Oh, she is an actress all right," Mary laughed. "A film actress. But out of a job at present. There was some scandal out in Hollywood and people say that Julie Corti deemed it prudent to come to Europe for a time. You won't think I am jealous or envious, but if you take my advise, you will keep as far away from her as you can. Women of the type ought to be put away in a cage and labelled dangerous."
"Oh, well, she is not my style at all," the young man said. "But any chap with an artistic eye must admire her. She is the handsomest woman I ever saw."
It was a little later that Mary found herself alone seated at one of the tables, with Julie Corti, herself free for a minute or two, lounging in a chair close by. The woman ordered some refreshments and tendered in payment what appeared to be a banknote for a considerable amount.
"It's French," she told the waiter. "A thousand franc note. Get the manager to change it for me, will you?"
Mary rose swiftly and followed the waiter into the office at the back of the alcove. She spoke to the manager, whom she knew well enough by sight.
"Excuse me a moment," she said. "Miss Julie Corti has just given your waiter here a thousand franc note to change. I have every reason to believe it is a forgery. Of course, if it is not, things may be very awkward for me. Still, I think it will be worth your while to examine the note."
The manager smiled grimly. He knew all about the class of people who tried to pass spurious currency. Under a strong light he examined the note through a magnifying glass.
"You are right," he said curtly. "It is forged."
Mary thrilled gently. That flash of acumen of hers had not played her false. It had come to her in a moment of illumination, and she had not hesitated to put it to the test. She looked smilingly into the eyes of the manager.
"Well," she asked. "What are you going to do now?"
"I don't quite know," the manager said cautiously. "How did you guess that was a forged note?"
"Ah, that is another story," Mary said. "A good many of us are not what we seem, and perhaps that remark applies to me. Perhaps Miss Julie Corti will explain."
"Perhaps she will," the manager said grimly.
Without another word the speaker turned out of the office and strode across the dancing floor to the spot where Julie Corti was seated. He spread out the note on the table before her and pointed to it with accusing finger.
"That note, madam," he said, "is a forgery. Is it the only one you have, or are there others in your bag?"
For once in her life the woman was swept clean off her feet. She hesitated and coloured, and made a snatch at her bag, but the manager seemed to have anticipated that move, for he caught up the bag and opened it. Inside were other pieces of paper unmistakably banknotes of the same character.
"I wouldn't speak if I were you," the manager said. "But come with me. Please don't make a fuss."
"What do you propose to do?" Julie Corti stammered.
"I am going to give you the chance of explaining," the manager said. "And failing that, my intention is to give you in custody. Twice this week already I have been the victim of this sort of thing and I am going to put an end to it."
There was no alternative but to do as the manager suggested, and Julie Corti disappeared in the direction of the manager's office. Mary Cotton followed at a discreet distance and waited peering into the office until at length she saw Julie Corti vanish in the company of a man who wore a policeman's helmet. And then Mary made her way home.
It was not so very late when she got back, so that Musgrave had not yet gone to bed. Mary poured out her story, to which Joe listened with rather a grave face.
"Well, you might have done right," he said. "And, on the other hand, you may have upset everything. I must try and get Sir Philip on the telephone at once."
"I am very sorry," Mary stammered. "But I really could not resist the temptation, sir. When I knew what those men were doing at the Sinister House and I saw that note produced, I felt certain that it was one of the forgeries. Then, on the spur of the moment, I spoke to the manager and found I was right. I do hope, sir, that I haven't done anything very wrong."
"We shall see," Musgrave said. "Now you go to bed and I will get Sir Philip on the telephone."
He reached out for the receiver and called up Lyston's chambers. The familiar voice answered him. Then in a few words he explained what had happened.
"Oh, I shouldn't worry about that, if I were you," Lyston said. "Apparently, it was a womanly intuition on Mary's part and I don't suppose it has done any harm. It's very long odds that the gang working in the Sinister House has the remotest idea that Julie Corti is outside the house. You see she is only there for the purpose of impersonating Elinor Heronspey and they will probably conclude that she is in bed. It may turn out that she will be an important witness for us. She must explain where she got that note from, and she won't hesitate to do so if her liberty is at stake. Anyhow, I don't see how it is possible for those people in Manton-street to find out what has happened to their lady confederate. It is just possible, by this time, that the gang has been arrested. According to my calculations, Beaucaire and Phasy reached Manton-street about half an hour ago. They would have to garage their car and convey certain things into the house—but why not run round here and wait results? Scotland Yard is certain to telephone me directly the arrest has been made."
"That's not a bad idea," Joe agreed. "I am feeling as nervous as a cat over that business. I will buzz round to your place as soon as I can get hold of a taxi. With any luck, I shall be with you in a quarter of an hour."
As a matter of fact, it was just under fifteen minutes before Joe entered Lyston's chambers. The latter proceeded to explain the plan of operations.
"It's like this," he said. "Two plain clothes men will be hanging about the lane at the back of Manton-street, and will remain there until the two principal criminals turn up. Then, when the car is garaged, and Beaucaire and Phasy enter the house by way of the garden, the men in mufti will guard the back door. They will have other men with them by that time, in case there is anything like violence. Then there will be three or four officers in Manton-street itself, ready to enter the house by the key I gave them directly they get the signal from those who are waiting the arrival of the car. So you see there is no chance for escape whatever. The whole gang will be taken red-handed, and conveyed in custody to Bow-street. In the course of time, they will disappear, and I don't suppose that you or Heronspey or Miss Dacre will hear anything of them again. So sit down and help yourself to a drink, and possess your soul in patience until Scotland Yard calls us up."
"And what about the man Dutton?" Joe asked.
"Oh, Dutton is where I can get him when I want him. Mind you, I am not so sure that Dutton is really one of the gang. I think he is just the usual type of easygoing sailor-man who spends his money as he gets it, and doesn't mind taking a risk or two to fill his pockets when he is broke. I believe that Dutton is the man who first told Beaucaire all about the gold snuff-box. But I shall be sure of that when I confront Dutton with the dealer in antiques who sold you the box in question. I feel quite sure I am right there, and, unless I am greatly mistaken, it will transpire that Dutton obtained that box from that scoundrel Wallace."
"What, the man who was supposed to marry Elinor Heronspey," Joe cried. "But he is dead long ago."
"How do you know that?" Lyston asked. "How does anybody know that Wallace deserted the woman he had betrayed as soon as he discovered that there was no money to be obtained through her and went abroad somewhere. Why shouldn't he be as much alive as Elinor Heronspey?"
"When I come to think of it, there is no reason," Joe agreed. "I should think that you are probably right. However, we shall know before very long. If you can put your hand upon Dutton, as you say you can, he will speak fast enough, especially when he hears that Beaucaire has been arrested. But I say, Sir Philip, they are an awful long time in Manton-street, aren't they. Why not go down and see how they are getting on?"
"All right," Lyston agreed. "We can walk down Manton-street as if we were going in the direction of your flat, and if we stop and light a cigarette just opposite number Seventeen, nobody can object. I may be able to get a word with one of the officers waiting outside. Most of them know me by sight, so I shall not have to waste time in explanations."
A little later the two were walking down Manton-street. Three men in plain clothes were standing on the pavement opposite number Seventeen, apparently in a heated discussion connected with some football match. As Lyston approached he gave one of them a sign and walked on. The man who had accepted the signal strolled alongside and spoke under his breath.
"Sir Philip Lyston, I think," he said.
"That's right," Lyston said. "Anything doing?"
"Not just yet," the officer explained. "I can't quite make it out. There are five men at work inside and we can have them any moment we want. But the big birds are still inside the garage. They have closed the door and locked it, and they are up to something inside that I can't understand. They've got on some game or another. If they don't leave the garage in the next few minutes I shall instruct my men to break the door open. We can't stay here all night."
Five minutes crept slowly on and then the officer turned to one of the other men and whispered to him. The second watcher vanished swiftly down the road and round the corner into the lane at the back. Then, after the lapse of another five minutes, the front door of number Seventeen was thrown violently open and the messenger stood on the threshold wildly signalling. Immediately half a dozen extra policemen appeared from nowhere and rushed through the hall of the Sinister House into the studio, where four or five individuals were busily engaged in some elaborate printing operations. The man who acted as messenger gave a sign and the gang was immediately overpowered.
"What's the meaning of this?" the detective in charge of the expedition demanded. "Why have you changed all the arrangements without consulting me? More than that, what has become of Beaucaire and Phasy?"
"Come this way, sir," the messenger whispered hoarsely. "We broke open the garage—but come this way."
It was a quick dash to the garage, followed by Lyston and Musgrave. The doors had been broken down and the window at the far end smashed into fragments. On the floor lay the motionless bodies of Beaucaire and Phasy, as if they had been smitten with sudden sleep.
It was the officer in charge of the men at the back of the house who proceeded to explain. He turned to Detective-Inspector Calcraft with an apologetic air.
"It was like this, sir," he cried. "When I got the signal to break open the garage door, I did so without loss of time. I saw those two men enter in their car and I heard them lock the door as if afraid of being interrupted. I listened outside for a long time and noticed that the engine had not ceased running."
"It is running now," Calcraft muttered.
"So I see, sir. I was rather afraid those men had seen something to alarm them and made off by a secret passage at the back of their garage. They were so quiet that I grew more and more suspicious. I knocked repeatedly, but no reply came, and when I burst the lock I was nearly overpowered by the fumes that struck me in the face like a blow. Then I realised, as I staggered back, that those men were dead."
Calcraft turned eagerly to Lyston.
"What do you make of it, Sir Philip?" he asked.
"Simple enough," Lyston replied. "Those men were killed by carbon monoxide. They were in such a hurry that they rushed the car into the garage and left the engine running whilst they were lifting out those boxes. The door was locked and that window latched, and when your men thought they were escaping, they were simply lying dead on the floor. It isn't the first time that the same thing has happened. Unless a garage is properly ventilated there is always danger from the gas. And there seems to be no ventilation here at all. However, all that will be explained at the inquest. What you have to do now is to get those bodies inside the house and leave them there until you have communicated with the coroner. I suppose the rest of the gang are safely locked up by this time."
There was nothing for it now but to wait upon events, that was so far as the police were concerned. After the necessary steps had been taken and Calcraft felt himself free to return to Scotland Yard, Lyston took him on one side.
"I want you to listen to me," he said. "There are a good many aspects in this strange case with which you are not familiar. I told your chief that I would put you on the track of two of the most notorious note forgers in Europe and I have done so. It isn't your fault or mine that they slipped through our fingers. At any rate, we have put an end to a serious state of affairs, and I am quite willing that Scotland Yard should have all the credit for it."
"That is very generous of you, Sir Philip," Calcraft said.
"Well, perhaps it is not quite so generous as you think. That man Beaucaire was a notorious blackmailer, and it was my duty, on behalf of a friend of mine, to put an end to his activities and thus save a big scandal in the courts. There is no more danger of that, but, all the same, I am not satisfied and I shan't be satisfied until I know that no proceedings are to be taken against that woman Julie Corti. But perhaps you don't know that she has been arrested within the last hour or two on a charge of passing one of those very notes, recently forged at Manton-street. You tell the chief that I want the case dropped, so far as the woman is concerned. I have no doubt that the manager of The Aphrodite Club will be perfectly satisfied to get his money back. People who run such establishments are never anxious to figure in the police courts. You go back to the Yard and, if the chief has gone, ring him up and tell him what I say. If he is quite agreeable, as I have no doubt he will be, send out one of your men to-morrow morning and get hold of the sailor Dutton. Bring him round to my chambers, and leave me to deal with him. I think he is only a subordinate in this forgery business and there is no occasion to take proceedings against him. In fact, I don't want anything of the kind, so far as he is concerned. I think that will do."
Calcraft went off to carry out these instructions, and Lyston and Musgrave returned to the latter's flat, accompanied by Verily, who had come out of the Sinister House, where he had been hiding earlier in the evening. That faithful servant had very little to say, nor did it matter very much now, seeing that the drama was practically finished. He had played his part and was perfectly content to drop quietly into the background.
"You have done very well, indeed, Verily," Musgrave told him. "And I will see that you are properly rewarded. You can inform Mary Cotton to the same effect."
Verily retired to his quarters more than satisfied, and a little later Lyston returned to his chambers in the Temple with the air of a man who has not been wasting his time. It was late the following morning before the man called Ratty Dutton turned up with the information that he had been ordered to call on Lyston without delay.
"Well, here I am, guv'nor," he said. "I don't know what I've got to do with you, but the police told me that I'd better come along and ask no questions, or it would be the worse for me. And I should like to know what I have done."
"How should I know?" Lyston said drily. "Now, you sit down in that chair and listen to me. I suppose you know by this time that the man you have been working for is dead, and that his friend shared the same fate?"
"Well, I did hear something about it, sir," Dutton muttered. "Very sad, but it is nothing to do with me."
"Not directly, perhaps," Lyston said. "Now, I suppose you know what those men were up to. Don't pretend to be innocent, because it was you who found Beaucaire the lonely spot where he could get that paper manufactured, and you showed him another lonely spot where he could stow away the owner of No. 17 Manton-street until he no longer required the premises."
"I didn't," protested Dutton vigorously. "That was Bosley. Bosley was the man who——"
Dutton broke off suddenly, and Lyston smiled again.
"Another confederate, eh?" the latter said. "Yes, I suppose Beaucaire must have needed a confederate or two. Were they in the house last night when the raid was made? Now, speak up, Dutton, you know all about it. If you don't want to go to gaol for four or five years, it will pay you to be candid. If you are, you probably will not hear any more of this business."
"I suppose they were sir," Dutton said humbly. "I was to have seen one of them this morning, but as he didn't turn up, I expect the police got him all right. The same way as they got the lady. That there actress woman."
"Ah, I see you know all about it," Lyston said. "You mean the actress woman who pretended to be the tenant of the house? Now, Dutton, where is the real tenant of the house? I may as well tell you I know, but I want to give you a chance of saving your face. Now suppose I put you in a car. Can you drive me to the place where Mrs. Wallace is a prisoner?"
"Yes, sir, I can. But I didn't know as the lady's name was Wallace. Leastwise, not till you mentioned her by that name. So she's the wife of my old friend George Wallace. Pore chap as died three or four years ago, and who gave me——"
"Precisely," Lyston interrupted. "Who gave you the gold snuff-box. I think that Beaucaire wanted that snuff-box, but you could not wait, because you were in need of money and you sold it to an antique dealer?"
"Well, you are a fair knock-out, sir," Dutton exclaimed admiringly. "No use trying to keep anything from you. Of course, I don't know why Mr. Beaucaire wanted that snuff-box so badly, and I don't care. Seems to me I've had a pretty narrow escape. But if you want to see the lady you are speaking of, all you've got to do is to jump into a car with me and I'll take you to the place where the lady is hiding. Leastwise she is not exactly hiding, because she is a prisoner. Mind you, sir, I don't particularly want to go, because it looks as if I had given Joe Smith away to save my own skin."
"Well, I can't go into those delicate ethics," Lyston said. "You must make your own peace with Mr. Smith. I'll have a car round and we will start at once."
It was the best part of two hours later before Lyston pulled up outside the derelict smithy on the Romney Marshes. There was no time to waste or lose in politeness.
"Listen to me," Lyston said to the sullen-looking blacksmith. "You are detaining a lady here against her will. Don't lie or prevaricate. Hand her over to me at once, and you are not likely to hear anything more about this business. You really ought to have five years, but we need not discuss that. Bring the lady downstairs, and do it at once."
There emerged into the daylight a rather pathetic haggard figure of a woman prematurely old, despite her sixty years, and one who seemed to have but a hazy idea of what was going on around her. But she certainly woke from her apathy when Lyston addressed her formally as Mrs. Wallace.
"Yes, that is my name," she said vaguely. "I am Mrs. Wallace. But I don't know how you know that. Some people have brought me here and they wouldn't let me go. If you are a gentleman, and I think you are, please take me back to my own house, number Seventeen Manton-street. I must get back to my studio."
"And that you shall do," Lyston said soothingly. "Am I wrong in supposing that your name used to be Heronspey?"
A quick eager light flashed into the woman's eyes. "Heronspey, Heronspey," she cried. "Elinor Heronspey. Yes, I think I have heard that name before. She ran away from home and married a man named Wallace. No, she didn't. Oh, it was a dreadful business altogether."
The speaker broke off and lapsed into sullen silence.
It was many days before the unfortunate owner of number Seventeen Manton-street was able to give some account of her doings over a long period of years. For days she seemed to be almost at the point of death, a physical collapse due in part to the sordid life she had been leading and partly because she was suffering from voluntary starvation. Then, under careful nursing and attention she began to mend and take interest in what was going on around her. And from the very first she appeared to be singularly attracted to the personality of Pamela Dacre. Pamela, of course, had been told the whole story, and had gone out of her way to help her grandmother as much as possible.
It was some time, however, before the poor deluded creature recognised the fact that her father was still alive. And Heronspey himself was doing his honest best to atone for all his harshness and cruelty in the past. So that, gradually, the clouds began to drift away, and the time came when there was something like an understanding all round. The house at Manton-street had been restored to something like its original cheerfulness and cleanliness, so that it was no longer the dismal prison-house in which Elinor Heronspey had shut herself up for all those years.
She was sitting in the big studio one afternoon with her father and Pamela in attendance. The famous picture still stood on the easel, and that weird altar had been dispensed with and replaced by various articles of furniture.
"I want to talk to you now," Elinor said. "I seem to have come out of a sort of dream, but everything has become clear. I went away with George Wallace, partly because his good looks fascinated me, and partly because I wanted to strike a blow at that family pride which had ruined all my hopes and rendered me desperate. So I ran away with George to Scotland, and there we were going to be married. But it is not so easy to get married when you want to all in a hurry. But George told me that the laws of Scotland were different to those of England, and that all we needed was a certificate signed by witnesses to make a legal marriage. We had that piece of paper witnessed, and put it away carefully. I hid it between the covers of a gold snuff-box which I took away from the Castle with me, and on top of it I painted a miniature of myself, and had it enclosed under the glass as a sort of memento of what should have been a happy occasion. I know now that I was being cruelly deceived, and that George only wanted me for what I could bring him. And when I assured him that there was nothing to be expected from my father, he deserted me with a callous indifference and went abroad. I suppose that changed my whole life, so that I went away and hid myself from everybody until my daughter was born. It was a time of hardship and poverty, and I am afraid that I resented the fact of being a mother. As my daughter grew older, she reminded me more and more of father, so I came in time almost to hate her. We had nothing in common, and, when she was old enough to marry, she went her own way, and I never saw her again. But I heard later that she and her husband had died, leaving one little girl behind them. That was you, Pamela. By that time I had come into my money, and had shut myself in this house, determined never to see or speak to anybody again. But I suppose I was not entirely devoid of feeling, and that is why I went to see my old friend, Hartley Horne, and arranged that he should use the best part of my income to bring up my granddaughter as a lady. And he was faithful to his trust. My dear Pamela, you are just like I was when I was a girl, and just like my daughter would have been if she had not been brought up in poverty-stricken circumstances, and half-starved. But we need not talk about that. I believe Hartley Horne is coming here this afternoon, and he will tell you all that you want to know. He wanted to marry me once, and I was quite willing, but my father would not hear of it. The idea of a lawyer marrying a Heronspey was, in his eyes, an outrage."
Heronspey, listening, shook his head sadly.
"Quite right, Pamela," he said. "It was the greatest mistake I ever made in my life. I ordered Horne out of my house, and for over fifty years never saw him. It is only recently that we came together again. He is coming here presently with my friend, Sir Philip Lyston, because he has something important to say. He may be here at any moment now."
It was about a quarter of an hour later when Horne and Lyston entered the now cheerful studio, and were welcomed by the woman lying back in the big armchair. After the first rather awkward greetings, Horne turned to his hostess.
"I suppose you have told your granddaughter everything?" he asked. "Yes, I see you have. And now it is my turn to speak. Sir Philip, will you be good enough to hand me that gold snuff-box?"
From his pocket Lyston produced the object which had been the cause of so much lurid melodrama, and handed it over to Horne. The latter opened the double lid, and took from it the sheet of paper which the man Wallace had given to Elinor Heronspey all those long years ago.
"Now I want everybody to look at this," he said. "It is a simple statement that George Wallace and Elinor Heronspey declare themselves to be man and wife, and it is witnessed by two people who are now dead. But I have ascertained from people who remember them that those witnesses actually existed, and, moreover, by comparison, with documents those signatures are held to be genuine. There is no doubt whatever in my mind that they are genuine. And if this is the case, and proof will not be difficult, then whatever Wallace's intentions were, my old friend Elinor Heronspey was his lawful wife, according to the laws of Scotland and I am prepared to prove it in any court. When my old friend calls herself Mrs. George Wallace, she is absolutely entitled to do so. It is very strange that clever men like Heronspey and Sir Philip here, with all their brains, never realised the importance of that paper."
Heronspey almost jumped to his feet.
"Is that absolutely correct?" he asked hoarsely. "No doubt whatever about it?"
"Not the slightest," Horne said emphatically.
"Then in that case there is no stigma and no stain on the family honour," Heronspey cried. "No thanks to me that it is not otherwise. Still, I have been punished enough. I have been hugging this wound in my breast all these years and heaven knows I have suffered. And I suppose Elinor has suffered too."
Elinor Wallace smiled faintly. She lay back on her pillows overcome by what she had just heard.
"Does it much matter either way?" she smiled faintly. "There are things in the world much more precious than the family pride of the Heronspeys. Still, I am glad, if it is only for Pamela's sake. Wipe those foolish tears away, my child."
"They are not bitter tears," Pamela said brokenly. "They are tears of joy, because now I shall be able to look the whole world in the face and, when I meet Joe Musgrave——"
She broke off in red confusion and Lyston changed the conversation more or less hurriedly. When he turned round again, Pamela had crept out of the room.
She crossed the hall and silently left the house, walking in the direction of Kensington Gardens. There, as arranged, Joe Musgrave was awaiting her.
"You are a bit late," he said. "Nearly five o'clock, and I haven't had any tea. I suppose the old lady detained you. Do you know, Pam, I am rather glad that you are getting on so well together. When one comes to think of it, she has had a terrible life, and I suppose she has been brooding over that Wallace scoundrel all these years. Worse than being in gaol. But what are you looking so happy about? Am I to flatter myself that it is merely because I am here?"
"Partly," Pamela smiled. "Oh, Joe, the most wonderful thing has happened, I feel so excited, I don't know how to tell you. But sit down and don't interrupt till I have finished."
So Pamela told her story in rather disjointed fashion with Musgrave listening eagerly until at length there was much the same wild delight in his eyes as in those of Pamela.
"Amazing!" he murmured. "Amazing! Isn't it rather a pity you told me this story in so public a place?"
"Why?" Pamela asked innocently.
"Because, my dear child, I want to kiss you ever so much. I want to take you in my arms and fairly hug you. And, upon my word I would if it wasn't for that round-eyed cherub in the sailor suit who seems to take such an interest in our proceedings. It's all very well to regard this place as a sanctuary for children, but they might have made a sanctuary for lovers as well."
Joe spoke lightly enough, though he was feeling the situation keenly, and, above all, he wanted to win a smile to Pamela's face and keep her from breaking down in that public spot. She caught her lip in her teeth and smiled bravely.
"And so,"—Joe quoted—"and so the wicked ogre was slain and the prince and princess lived happily ever afterwards. Isn't that the proper end of the story?"
"Yes, I hope so," Pamela sighed. "And I am sure it won't be my fault if we don't."
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