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Title: As Far as They Had Got
Author: Arthur Morrison (co-author)
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As Far as They Had Got

by

Arthur Morrison (co-author)

Cover Image



Title

First published in The Strand Magazine, Aug 1911
This e-book edition: Project Gutenberg Australia, 2016



In our May number we published an article entitled "A Follow-My-Leader Picture," and in the following pages the same method is applied to the writing of a story, with an extremely interesting result. The story was opened by Mr. E. Phillips Oppenheim, who alone of the contributors was not required to have a complete story outlined in his mind. This opening was then sent to Mr. Pett Ridge, who wrote the next chapter, and also sent a brief statement of the manner in which he thought the whole story might have been completed. These two chapters were then sent on to Mr. Arthur Morrison, who, in the fame manner, added his instalment and his idea of the whole story: and so on, chapter by chapter, till the whole was completed. lt should, of course, be remembered that each writer had before him merely the preceding chapters of the story, and knew nothing whatever of his predecessors' proposed methods of ending it. These explanations are given as footnotes to each chapter, and will be found most interesting as throwing light upon the methods of work of the various eminent fiction-writers, and the way in which a story evolves itself in such widely divergent manners in different minds.



TABLE OF CONTENTS



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS



CHAPTER I.

By E. Phillips Oppenheim


THE two young men, complete strangers to one another, exchanged during those few moments a gaze whose intentness seemed to possess some hidden and mysterious quality. Spencer, in flannels and canvas shoes, bare-headed, his sunburnt face streaming with perspiration, paused for a moment, still gripping the pole with which he was propelling his somewhat clumsy craft. The man, a few yards away, who had attracted his attention seemed to have very different ideas of pleasure. Dressed in a spotless suit of white flannels, he was lounging in a wicker chair on the smooth-shaven lawn of a bungalow hung with flowers, whose garden, with its little stone terrace, fronted the stream. He, too, was young and good-looking, but of another type. His lips parted in a faint, good-humoured smile, as Spencer once more raised his pole.

"Hot work, isn't it?" he remarked, lazily.

"Beastly," Spencer replied.

The young man on the lawn touched a glass jug by his side, a jug whose frozen sides suggested ice, and in which green leaves were floating about.

"Care for a drink?" he asked.

Spencer shook his head. "We've sworn off, my pal and I, till we get her into the broad," he answered. "You haven't a cigarette to spare, I suppose?"

The young man rose from his seat and strolled gracefully down the lawn to the river's edge.

"Catch," he said, and threw the box which had been standing by his side into Spencer's outstretched hands.

"Awfully good of you," the latter declared. "Sure you can spare them?"

The young man nodded.

"Plenty more here," he said. "Good day."

Spencer sighed a little enviously as he settled down once more to his task.

"I never, in the whole of my existence," he exclaimed, "saw a fellow who seemed so jolly well satisfied with life!"

* * * * *

Across the cowslip and buttercup-starred meadows, now knee-deep in the mowing grass, now forcing his reckless way through a clump of bushes, a man was running as one might run behind whom came hot-footed all the strange and terrible shapes begotten of a Dantesque nightmare. Terror, livid and appalling, was in his face. Not all the burning heat could bring a spot of colour to his cheeks. Even his parted lips, through which his breath came in gasps and groans, were white. Once he fell, but rose without pausing, heedless of the blood which dripped from his hand and knee. Spencer paused once more with the pole in his hand.

"What, in Heaven's name, is this coming across the coming across the meadow?" he exclaimed.

"It's a madman!" his companion cried. "Look! look!"

The man who approached was running now in circles. His hands were raised to the skies, his head thrust forward. Once more he fell, but picked himself up without a moment's hesitation. Nearer and nearer he came to the river bank.


Illustration

"My God!" Spencer faltered. "It's the man from the bungalow—the man who gave us our cigarettes!"

The yawl was on the far side of the stream. Between it and the opposite bank the stream, which had widened considerably, was now about fifteen yards wide. The man who had been running paused for the first time as he reached the brink, but only for a second. Without any attempt at diving he simply threw himself in, face downwards. With a dull splash he disappeared under the green weeds. Spencer, who had been stupefied with amazement, hauled up his pole and stepped on to the side of the boat, prepared to dive. His companion stopped him.

"It's all right, Spencer!" he cried. "He's here."

They dragged him on board—a dripping, wild-looking object. They thrust him into their only seat. He cowered there, gripping its sides, and in his face were the unutterable things. Spencer and his companion, who stood staring at him, felt suddenly that the sun had left the heavens. The pleasant warmth was gone, the humming of insects and the singing of birds had ceased. It was another world from which this creature had come. They both shivered.

"What, in Heaven's name, has happened?" Spencer demanded. "What is the matter with you, man?" There was no answer. Spencer caught up his pole.

"Let`s have her round," he cried. "We'll get back to the bungalow."

Then the stranger broke his silence. He shrank back in his place like some stricken animal. In his eyes the terror blazed forth, a live and awful thing.

"No!"



CHAPTER II.

By W. Pette Ridge


"VERY well, then; we'll take you in to the bank."

"Not there!" he screamed, piteously. "Anywhere else, but not there." He seemed to make a determined effort to pull himself together."Give me something to smoke. It will compose what I call my brain."

"One of your own cigarettes?"

He seized the box eagerly, and, turning aside, made a scoop through the contents.

They lound a clumsy suit of overalls and, landing farther down, he changed rapidly, throwing the damp suit of flannels into the hollow of an old tree.

"Fix up here," he urged, "and let's stroll across to the town, and you give me an opportunity of repaying your kindness by standing you both tea. My story is in many respects a strange one."

They exchanged a perplexed look as he washed his hands in the stream. The three strolled along the path, that went by the side of a field.

"You think I'm a gentleman, he went on, volubly, and, of course, I want people to think so. I dress well, and I aspirate my aitches to such an extent that I deceive a lot of people. As a matter of fact, before I came into my fortune I was a clerk. That was why,"— he beamed, excusingly,"—why I was so upset when you talked about taking me in to bank."

"How did you come by your money?" inquired Spencer, interestedly.

"It was at Folkestone I met her," he went on, mopping his forehead, "whilst I was on my holidays."

"Met who?"

"House property she'd got, so far as I could gather, Brondesbury way. The agent was making up to her, but she said she believed in love at first sight, or else not at all. The next morning I had the letter from the lawyers, and, believe me or believe me not—" he raised his bandaged hand impressively—"but since that time she'd gone clean out of my head, until a chance remark of yours brought her back again. 'Awfully good of you,' you said to me, and those were the very words she passed when I paid for her to go down the lift. And now," he shouldered open a gate for them," now I'd give every shilling of my twenty thousand pounds to see her again. Every penny."

"Braddell," remarked Spencer, excitedly, to his friend, "this is something in your line."

"Tell me," said Braddell, "do you know her name and address?"

"You're cold."

"Do you know the agent's name and address?"

"Very warm," he commented, approvingly. "I made a note of that at the time, and placed it in the cigarette-box I gave you. Having secured possession of it, our task now is an easy one."

"Your task, you mean.""You can understand my excitement, at any rate. If I'd lost sight of you, my last chance of finding her would have gone. And if you've suffered, as I have, from mothers with daughters who only want a chap because he's come in for a bit of cash, you'll realize, first, why I came down here for quiet; second, why I'm so anxious to find her. If she did love me, undoubtedly she loved me for myself alone. I'll make it worth your while to assist me," he promised. "I sha'n't begrudge a thousand or two."

The two gave a gasp in duet.

"Here we are!" as a lane took them into the main street. "You go on to the Unicorn and order tea and toast for three, whilst I pop in here and buy a hat."

Spencer and Braddell obeyed, consulting eagerly as they went. Coming a few minutes later from the outf1tter's shop in a sou'-wester that went well with his suit, the tenant of the bungalow crossed to the clematis-covered house which bore the words: "POLICE-STATION." He spoke sharply.

"We've met before, perhaps. I am Inspector Wilmerson, of the C.I.D. Very well, then!" without waiting for an answer. "Two sunburnt young men in flannels and canvas shoes are wanted for the Moorgate Street bank robbery. They're about here somewhere. Keep a sharp look-out for them. Good day ! "

"Why," cried the young constable, "dang my eyes if I ain't just seen two answering to that yer description making their way 'long to the hotel. And ain't yours a clever disguise too, sir? I reckon I sh'd do pretty well at the Yard myself."

"Go and arrest them," he ordered, "and bring them here. Take handcuffs!"*


* The man of the bungalow kept a small map in the cigarete-case, giving the exact place of the buried money belonging to the Moorgate Street bank. The local police lock up the two young men, and their efforts, when released. to secure the vanished bungalow man are alded by a renewed acquaintance, in strange surroundings, with the cigarette-case.—W. Pette Ridge.



CHAPTER III.

By Arthur Morrison


MEANTIME, left together, Braddell stared at Spencer, and Spencer lifted his eyebrows and laughed.

"What have we found now?" Spencer remarked. "A madman, an actor, or what? First, on the lawn by his bungalow, a particularly easy-going man of good manners— a gentleman, in two words; then a wild, dancing dervish; and now a very common sort of bounder, who talks about 'repaying' us for hauling him out of the water and putting him into dry clothes by 'standing' us tea—like a beanfeaster!"

"Odd enough," replied Braddell; "but, actor or lunatic, I should say he was a pretty genuinely frightened man when he came bolting across the field. Why, he might have been bitten by the what d'ye call—the Italian spider."

"Tarantula?"

"Yes. It?s a nuisance to be stuck here like this, but I'm rather interested, and there may be fun in seeing it through. We must, in fact, if we want those overalls back—he?s pitched his flannels away!"

The coffee-room of the Unicorn had a small window looking over a corner of garden, and a bagatelle-table stood in the light of this window. Spencer took a cue and drove a ball or two idly up the board, while Braddell watched him.

"He?s slow in his choice of a hat," said Braddell, presently. "I'll stroll out and look for him."

By the door of the tap-room the landlord stood in whispered consultation with a policeman. Braddell unsuspectingly sought to pass between them, and instantly felt himself seized from both sides—and handcuffed!

"What's the meaning of this?" he demanded, with some difficulty, in his blank astonishment.

"All right, all right," replied the young policeman, grinning and winking; "sort of thing they allus say. You ain't obliged to say nothin', but what you do say'll be took down an' used in evidence. Come along!"

By the time that Braddell had gathered his faculties he was alone in a converted scullery of the little clematis-covered police-station, with bars across the window and a locked door. But in five minutes more the door opened before him and revealed his friend Spencer, handcuffed as he had been and accompanied by the Unicorn landlord and the same constable, reinforced now by a flustered sergeant, with crumbs on his whiskers, relics of a rudely-disturbed meal. It took a full half-hour or vehement protest ere the sergeant was persuaded to seek confirmation of the prisoners' bona fides in the search of the yawl; and it took a little longer still, and it needed telegrams, before the sergeant grew possessed of a suspicion that his subordinate had made the biggest blunder of a somewhat blundersome career. The official information as to the Moorgate Street bank robbery, too, could not, however stretched, be made wholly to agree with the appearance of the young men in custody; while the utter disappearance of the alleged Inspector Wilmerson lent a certain weight to one angry protest of Braddell.

"If there's a man wanted about here," Braddell had repeated again and again, "it is that man in the overalls. Go and get his flannels out of the hollow tree half-way along to the bungalow; and, above all, go to the bungalow itself, man, and don't waste more time. It may be the Moorgate Street robbery, or it may be something else; but, whatever it is, get there quick and find out!"

The sergeant was something less of a fool than his man. He hedged and made apologies. Of course, if his man had been misled, it was only from an excess of zeal; and in any case the gentlemen would understand that he, the sergeant, must keep them in sight till the matter had been cleared up. Had they any objection to going with him and the constable as far as the bungalow they spoke of?

"Objection? Certainly not! We want to go. Let's get along at once. There's an hour gone, and nobody can tell what you've missed. Come along at once. You've seen our letters and card-cases and the things in the yawl—you know we sha'n't run away. Come along, and we'll see it through with you."

A few minutes later the two friends, with the sergeant, his helmet in place and the crumbs gone from his whiskers, and the young constable, his hopes of promotion gone by the board, were hurrying across the meadows toward the bungalow that had seemed so peaceful and innocent a retreat when they had last seen it. They came in view of the place from the back, and they spread wide as they approached, the better to intercept any retreat. Not a sound came from the bungalow, and nobody was in sight. They drew nearer, passed the flower-beds, and emerged on the sloping lawn. There stood the small garden-table, with the glass jug still on it, the wicker chair overturned by its side. The white-painted door of the bungalow was open wide, and as they approached the porch something on that white-painted door caused Spencer, who was ahead, to stop and point, turning with wide eyes to the others, There, in the middle of the upper panel, was the print of a human hand—in blood!*


Illustration

* The two perpetrators of the bank robbery have been lying in retreat at the bungalow. The chase is hot, and the cleverer thief, never yet convicted and wholly unsuspected, fears detection through his companion, an old convict. He resolves to murder him, and thus to get rid of an inconvenient and dangerous partner and monopolize the plunder. Having attacked him from behind in the bungalow and left him for dead, he is disturbed by the approach of the boat. Fearing someone may land, he stations himself on the lawn and behaves as calmly as is described in the opening. The boat passes on. The man in the house revives, seizes a poker, and, covered with blood, staggers out, leaving the print of his hand on the door as he passes. He strikes the cool thief on the head, and the latter, suddenly confronted with the ghastly figure of his associate—a bigger man and a far more desperate character than himself—runs wildly and erratically (because of the blow on the head). The other fellow, badly hurt and seeing strangers, fears to follow far. The thief given refuge in the boat invents a muddled yarn, and realizing that it is muddled plays up to the character of a Crazy Cockney, and gets the two witneeses in the boat held up by the police while he bolts. After this, the story may take any one of a dozen courses, or more.—Arthur Morrison.



CHAPTER IV.

By Horace Annesley Vachell


SPENCER exclaimed loudly: "I can swear that wasn't there when he gave me the cigarettes."

Braddell laughed.

"My dear fellow, the door was open. The hand is painted on it, excellently painted too, and recognizable from the river."

"Things seem quiet enough here," growled the sergeant, as he entered the bungalow. Braddell glanced for a moment at the iced drink on the wicker table, the overturned chair, and a newspaper lying upon the grass. He picked up the newspaper and followed the others into the bungalow. Two rooms in perfect order met his eyes. Behind these was a cooking-shed containing a gasolene stove. Everything inside the bungalow and the shed indicated exquisite neatness and cleanliness, not merely the neatness of the bachelor accustomed to camping-out, but the meticulous daintiness which expresses subtly a woman's love of her habitat.

"Nothing here," said the sergeant.

"Nobody," amended Braddell. "Did you expect to find somebody, sergeant?"

"I thought it possible."

"Consider the facts. Hardly had my friend and I come to the conclusion that the tenant of this bungalow was seemingly the happiest and most contented of mortals, when we see him tearing across that field like a dervish."

"Genuinely frightened, too." added Spencer.

"He'd turned from a pretty shade of pink to the colour of skilly!"

"Exactly. What could have frightened him so badly? He was not acting then, although he acted afterwards, and badly, too. His cock-and-bull story about heing a clerk and in love with a nameless woman was quite unconvincing. We left him sitting in front of an iced drink, which I notice to be untouched—odd that!—and reading this paper."

"Ah!" said the sergeant. "You mean, sir, that something he read in the paper must have scared him."

"I have found the item, I think." said Braddell, as he handed the paper to the professional.

Spencer said with pride:—

"My friend, Mr. Braddell, is not altogether an amateur. He belongs to the Criminologists, a dining-club made up of men interested in crime. Several K.C.'s are members."

"There's a Column about the Moorgate Street bank robbery," said thc sergeant.

"Which accounts for his mentioning it later. Look through the 'Agony' column, sergeant."

"I have it, sir." He read aloud: "'Red Hand. Your hiding-place is discovered. Bolt at once.'"

"By Jove, he did!" exclaimed Spencer.

"We are wasting our time here," said the sergeant, irritably.

"Not altogether," replied Braddell. "May I suggest that you leave your man here to see if anybody comes, rather thirsty, to enjoy that drink?"

"Remain here," said the sergeant, addressing the constable.

"Before we leave," murmured Braddell, suavely, "I should like to open that trunk, which I perceive to be locked. No doubt, sergeant, it has not escaped your eye that there is neither shaving-brush nor shaving-soap on the washing-stand."

The sergeant coloured.

"I don't mention all I see." he remarked, in an injured tone. He bent down and wrenched open the trunk. Spencer, peeping over his shoulder, whistled. The trunk was full of a woman's clothing.

"I thought there was a woman in this," said the sergeant. "The sooner we lay hands on the man the better."

"A bungalow built for two," murmured Braddell, absently.

Leaving the constable in charge, the three men hastened back to the town, taking the tow-path as being the shortest way. At the first bend in the river Braddell halted and laughed.

"We now know," he affirmed, with conviction, "where the young gentleman really is." He smiled genially at the sergeant and pointed down the long reach ahead.

"Where?" asked the sergeant.

"On board our yawl."

Spencer laughed also.

"I don't see the joke," said the sergeant.

"I don't see the yawl," added Spencer.

"The yawl," replied Braddell, " is running down the estuary on an ebb tide, and the joke is on—us."

"The beggar got us arrested so as to commandeer our boat," said Spencer. "Clever chap, eh, sergeant?"

"Tub like that can't have gone far," said the sergeant, hopefully. Obviously, the young gentleman was no ordinary criminal.

"Tub yourself!" thought Spencer, with a scornful glance at the sergeant's rotundities. Then he heard Braddell's pleasant voice saying:—

"I suggest, sergeant, that we examine the young gentleman's flannels. They may be marked."

"He changed behind those willows," said Spencer, "and stuffed the wet clothes into that old pollard."

A moment later Braddell was thrusting his hand into the hollow of the tree. He flung upon the grass the sodden fiannels and a bundle of wet linen. With a smile he held up an unmistakable garment.


Illustration

"I am sure, sergeant, that this is no surprise for you. The young gentleman who was too modest to change before us is a young—lady!" *


* The young woman is not a criminal of sanguine hue, but a modern miss who has bolted from an irascible guardian to escape a marriage of convenience, and has donned trousers so as to avoid attracting attention as a pretty girl alone in a bungalow. Upon the morning when the story opens she is expecting her lover, who will recognize the bungalow as he punts down the river by the red hand painted on the door, a happy symbol, inasmuch as the lover is a bnronet, albeit rather impecunious. They have corresponded—since the young lady left hom—-by means of the Agony column in the Daily Mail. The young lady, not quite of age, is a ward in Chancery, and the moment she is of age she hopes to marry her baronet, enjoying the while a quiet life in the bungalow, punctuated by visits from her beloved. The constable left in charge arrests the guardian and complications follow, including the capture of the runaway, who finds herself at the mercy of wind and tide. Braddell plays the familiar part of Deus ex machina, and true love triumphs.—H. A. Vachell.



CHAPTER V.

By Barry Pain.


"THIS," said the sergeant, frankly, "is getting a bit beyond me."

"What do you mean to do?" asked Spencer.

"Get back to the station and get on the 'phone. I can have our men on the look-out for that yawl all the way along. By the time we get the yawl we get the young lady, don?t we, sir?"

"I presume so," said Spencer.

"I don't," said Braddell. "Well, get on to the station, sergeant, and we'll go back to the bungalow. What about your man there?"

The sergeant caressed his whiskers thoughtfully. "Well," he said, "we're short-handed."

"Very well," said Braddell. "We'll send him back and remain there ourselves until this evening. Did you say that you meant to have a constable sleeping at the bungalow to-night?"

"If I did not, it was in my mind."

"Good. You might engage bedrooms for us to-night at the Unicorn. It will be all on your way."

They went back to the bungalow and dimissed the constable, who was rapidly developing into a young man with a grievance. Spencer stretched himself at full length on the lawn. "And what do we do now?" he asked.

"l`m going to feed the dicky-birds," said Braddell.

Spencer sat up. "Have you gone mad?" he said.

"Wait and see, as they say in another place."

Braddell went laughing into the house. and returned with a piece of bread in his hand. He picked up the glass jug.

"Smell that," he said to Spencer, "and tell me what you make of it."

Spencer smelt it diligently.

"Cup of sorts, I suppose, and the young lady's rather overdone the Kirschwasser. The thing reeks of it. I'll just taste it and—"

Braddell took the jug out of his hand.

"Half a minute," he said. He poured some of the contents of the jug on to the piece of bread and then broke it up and scattered it at the far end of the lawn.

"Bet you the birds don't touch it," said Spencer. "They've plenty of better grub this weather."

"Oh, you can depend on the sparrows," said Braddell.

And presently a couple of sparrows fluttered down on to the lawn and tackled the crumbs vigorouslyn. In a few seconds they rolled over dead.

"Great Scot!" said Spencer. "And that was the stuff the young lady wanted me to drink!"

"Quite so," said Braddell. "Prussic acid smells very much like Kirschwasser. The addition of the borage and ice was quite a happy thought. I don`t think our friend is a very moral young lady. but I`m absolutely convinced she's a very clever young lady."

"Well, now, Braddell," said Spencer, "what do you make of it so far?"

"I can only see what is perfectly obvious. She was in hiding—from whom I do not know. She wanted her hiding-place to be easily distinguished by someone coming up the water. For whom she was waiting I do not know. There you have it. There was some person from whom she wished to hide, and there was some person by whom she wished to be found—hence the red hand painted on the door. But there is a further complication that I have not yet reached. When we saw her running across the meadow she was mad with terror. There is no doubt about it. Why? And what was it she took out from that box of cigarettes she had given us? The game of hide-and-seek is obvious, but there must be a second complication. It is quite possible, by the way. that when she offered you that drink she mistook you for somebody else."

"But what's the key to the second complication?"

"Can't say. But this is the key to the bureau in the drawing-room. At any rate, it fits it. Quite a common lock. I tried it when I went in for the bread. Come and investigate."

"I say," said Spencer, "what business have we got with her bureau?"

"Hang it all " said Braddell. What business has she got with our boat?

"By the way," went on Braddell, as they walked back into the house together, "she did not fling herself into the water because she was terrified nor because she wished to commit suicide. People who want to drown themselves don't do it where there are two lusty young men waiting to fish them out again. She wanted to be fished out. You can bet on that,at any rate. I wish I had her lightning rapidity in plan and execution. I should be a great man, Spencer." *


* The lady on the lawn was the head and brains of a gang of thieves. The bungalow in which she was taking refuge was haunted. Her terror was in consequence of this and genuine. Others of her gang were to have joined her at the bungalow, and she was waiting for them when she received the warning that the detectives were on her track. The poisoned drink was intended for the detectives.—Barry Pain.



CHAPTER VI.

By Charles Garvice


WITH not unreasonable nervousness Braddell unlocked the bureau, Spencer looking over his shoulder with feverish curiosity. The thing unlocked quite easily. Braddell threw up the lid, and Spencer exclaimed with amazement, for, quite, uncovered, were a number of bags such as are used by banks for gold. There could be no doubt about the contents, for one of the bags was open, revealing a mass of sovereigns. Beside the bags was a quantity of bank-notes, and tucked away in the corner was an old stable cap, with one end of a crpe mask still attached to it.

The two men fell back and stared at each other.

"Great heavens!" gasped Spencer. "There must be thousands of pounds there! We've come upon the loot of a gang of thieves."

He looked round the neatly-furnished room, through the door at the beautiful and peaceful scene. The whole place in its loveliness and serenity was absolutely incongruous with so mean and sordid a crime as bank-cribbing.

"It's—it's a mystery!" exclaimed Spencer, dropping on to a chair and wiping his brow.

"Nothing of the kind," said Braddell, quietly. "It's all perfectly plain and simple. Some of the gang, two of them, perhaps— the clever young lady and a man, probably —have been using this bungalow as a kind of screen and blind. No doubt they've been living here for months, leading the kind of simple life which would mislead anyone. For who would suspect a young girl—and her husband, probably—dawdling through existence in such circumstances as these, of being concerned in a conspiracy to rob a bank? And, still more, who would think of searching for the stolen money in such a place as this? It was a very pretty plant, and I can't for the life of me understand why it failed. One would have thought it would have been the easiest thing in the world to have got the loot away by boat. I think I could have done it."

"Something must have disturbed them," said Spencer. "Something evidently did upset her, for she was mad with terror when we saw her tearing down the lawn. What was it?"

"Something she saw, something she heard," said Braddell. "It may have been the red hand on the door. It may have been a warning signal, the imitated note of a bird, a faint cooee, which we didn't notice, but which she heard immediately after we had gone."

"What's to be done?" asked Spencer, staring at the precious contents of the bureau.

"I'll go and fetch the police to take this stuff away. You stay here and mount guard over it," said Braddell.

"No; I'll go," said Spencer, a little paler than he had been before, "and you mount guard. No; you sha'n't run any risk, old man. We'll both go. No one is likely to interfere with this stuff for the short time we shall be absent. To be quite frank, I couldn't leave you alone here. This place, the whole thing, is getting on my nerves."

Braddell re-locked the bureau, and they set out at a sharp trot for the station.

"What I can't understand," said Spencer, "is that poisoned cup. Whom was it meant for, and why did she offer it to us? No object in killing a couple of chaps she'd never seen before."

"I don't know," said Braddell, musingly. "If she'd done for both of us it would have been easy to have pushed us overboard, seized the yawl, and escaped."

"Ingenious, but a trifle risky," commented Spencer, with a shake of the head. "One may go in for bank-cribbing, but draw the line at murder. Here we are. They seem in a state of excitement. I'll bet they'll lose their heads altogether when we show them what we've found."

The sergeant stared when Braddell curtly requested him to accompany them back to the bungalow and to bring a small sack; but Braddell refused any explanation, and the sergeant and a constable—the latter with the sack over his arm—returned with the two young men to the bungalow. With a gesture that was instinctively dramatic Braddell unlocked the bureau, threw up the lid, and, with his eyes fixed on the sergeant, said:—

"Put it in the sack."

"Put what, sir?" demanded the sergeant, staring amazedly.

Braddell tumed his eyes swiftly to the open bureau and saw that it was empty. He was too thunderstruck to utter a word, and it was Spencer who gasped out:—

"That thing was full of notes and gold when we left a quarter of an hour ago."

The sergeant looked from Braddell to Spencer with a surprise which gradually gave place to a mixture of suspicion and pity.

"There's nothing there now, sir," he said, as he swept his hand round the inside of the bureau. "It's quite empty; not even a scrap of paper or a—hairpin. Sure you saw it, sir?"

"Sure!" exclaimed Spencer, indignantly. "Do you think we've taken leave of our senses?"

"Well, sir, you've 'ad an upsetting time," responded the sergeant, apologetically.

"Someone has been here," said Braddell, suddenly; "someone strong enough to carry off the money. They can't have gone far; there must be some traces."

He sprang to the door and, bending down, examined the gravel path; but it had been closely rolled and neatly swept, and there were no traces of footsteps. But a little farther on he found, on the edge of the grass, the impress of a man's shoe, a boating shoe which had been recently whitened, for there was a speck or two of pipeclay on the edge of the footprint.

"Come along." he cried, in a voice trembling with excitement.

They followed him as he tracked the footprints. They went straight for the shrubbery at a little distance from the bungalow. Braddell stopped here and pointed to the bush in front of him. Some of the twigs had been broken, as if a person had rushed through the bush, heedless of where he was going.

"Better go round," he said. "We won't disturb this."

They found an opening a little lower down in the shrubbery, and Braddell cautiously entered, signing to the others to keep back. They waited almost breathlessly; then suddenly they heard a sharp, low cry from Braddell, and the next moment he came out, clutching the branches on each side of him as if for support. His face was deathly white, and he gazed over their heads as if he were obsessed by some horrible sight.*


Illustration

* The girl, a member of a good family, had fallen into the hands of a professional thief, at handsome, fascinating scoundrel. The two had been concerned in the bank robbery, the proceeds of which the had secreted in the bungalow, where they had been living for some time. They had arranged to meet at the bungalow, whence they were to escape in disguise. The girl had put on a man's flannel boating suit and was awaiting her accomplice when Spencer and Braddell's yawl came up. After they had gone she went to the house, and saw the red hand, a warning sign, on the door. She was about to take flight when she came upon the body of her accomplice lying in the shrubbery behind the bungalow. He had committed suicide by drinking the cup, which she did not know contained poison when she offered it to Spencer. A third accomplice who had been watching had made off with the contents of the bureau while Spencer and Braddell had gone for the police. The girl and the rest of the gang were captured and sent to penal servitude.—Charles Garvice.



CHAPTER VII.

By Richard Marsh

"PARDON me." A man had stepped out from among the bushes who was regarding them with a smile. "Excuse me, gentlemen, this is all right as far as it goes, but the point is how far does it go? That's the point."

"There's a dead body lying on the ground where that man?s just come from," Braddell stammered to the sergeant. "I saw it with my own eyes."

"Of course you did, and a very nice one it is."

"What fiend in human shape," cried Braddell, facing the grinning stranger, "have we got here?"

"That's the point, as I was about to remark. "How far have we got? I killed him—"

"You killed him? You killed the man who is lying there? You admit it?"

"Certainly I killed him; that's the idea. I gave him five blows with a hatchet. While he was struggling for life he caught hold of whatever he could, and that's his bloody hand which you see upon the door-post. She saw it, the young lady who was dressed as a gent, and she did a bunk. Half-mad with tenor she was: we'd got her just right—we wanted to get her like that, you know; into the water she goes, then you come on the scene, and that's as far as we've got."

"It seems to me that you've got some distance." Spencer was surveying the stranger with a glance which, perhaps, insufticiently showed, his bewilderment.

"Are you a murderer, or merely a criminal lunatic, or what are you, sir?"

"Yes, what am I? That's another point. We haven't got so far as that."

Taking off his straw hat, the stranger passed a hlue silk handkerchief across his brow. "Of course, the idea was that I was to cut her throat, drag her out of the water by the hair of her head, and, as she lay gasping for breath on the bank, slit it from ear to ear; but, as I was about to remark, 1hat's what we haven't quite got to."

"Haven't you? You may thank your lucky stars that your carnival of crime was not played out." Spencer`s tones were portentous. "Sergeant, do you happen to have a pair of handcuffs in your pocket? If ever there was an occasion on which they were required, surely this is one."

"I'm thinking l've met this chap before," the sergeant remarked.

"You have, sergeant, when I gave you half a crown to smash my friend's head open with your truncheon; then we had a hand-to-hand fight, after I'd thrown my wife out of the window."

"I remember," agreed the constable; "I remember very well. You made that half a crown five shillings."

"It was worth it; you put up something like a iight; you'd have killed me if my friend hadn't thrown you out of the window after my wife. Excuse me, gentlemen, but it occurs to me"—the stranger turned to Braddell and Spencer with the friendliest possible gesture—"that this may require a little explanation; something in your attitude suggests it. Perhaps you will find it here."

From a letter-case he took two cards, presenting one to each gentleman. They were inscribed:-


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Reprsentative, Jack Thompson.


"That's me, gentlemen. I'm Jack Thompson, very much at your service. We were rehearsing a little idea in which the intention was to cram more varieties of bloodshed and crime than have ever been crammed into twelve hundred feet before—a film full of human interest, with a heart-to-heart ending. And when you came upon the scene that was as far as we`d got."

"And why," exclaimed a voice behind them, "you wish to waste good Kirschwasser on making two sparrows dead drunk is beyond me altogether."

The speaker picked up two sparrows which were making some rather singular attempts to walk across the lawn.

"Drunk?" murmured spencer. "I thougnt they were dead."

"Of course you did; you'd think anything—you're such a nice young man." The speaker plunged a pair of hands into his two trouser pockets. "You thought I was a man. Well, I'm not, I'm a girl; and that's as far as I've got."


THE END

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