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Title: The Dagger and Cord (The Lonely Lady)
Author: Aidan de Brune
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1701241h.html
Language: English
Date first posted:  Nov 2017
Most recent update: Dec 2017

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The Dagger and Cord
(The Lonely Lady)

by

Aidan de Brune

Cover Image

The Dagger and Cord. Cover designed by Terry Walker2017



First published by Cornstalk Publishing Co., Sydney, 1927

Serialised under syndication, e.g., in
Delegate Argus, NSW, 11 Oct 1928
Gundagai Times, 1928
Dubbo Dispatch & Wellington Independent, 3 Jan 1929 ff
Illawarra Mercury, Wollongong, NSW, 14 Dec 1928, ff, as
"The Lonely Lady"
Western Age, Dubbo, NSW, 3 Jan 1929

First e-book editions:
Project Gutenberg Australia & Roy Glashan's Library, 2017



THIS book is a product of a collaborative effort undertaken by Project Gutenberg Australia, Roy Glashan's Library and the bibliophile Terry Walker to collect, edit and publish the works of Aidan de Brune, a colourful and prolific Australian writer whose opus is well worth saving from oblivion.



Cover Image

The Dagger and Cord
Cornstalk Publishing Co., Sydney, 1927



TABLE OF CONTENTS

Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Chapter XV
Chapter XVI
Chapter XVII
Chapter XVIII
Chapter XIX
Chapter XX
Chapter XXI
Chapter XXII
Chapter XXIII
Chapter XXIV
Chapter XXV
Chapter XXVI
Chapter XXVII
Chapter XXVIII
Chapter XXIX
Chapter XXX
Chapter XXXI
Chapter XXXII
Chapter XXXIII
Chapter XXXIV
Chapter XXXV
Chapter XXXVI
Chapter XXXVII
Chapter XXXVIII
Chapter XXXIX
Chapter XL
Chapter XLI
Chapter XLII


CHAPTER I

"WANT 7a Peyton Place?" Sam Kearney swung round on the swivel-chair, his ruddy face alight with keenness. "What for?"

"To sell." Roy Onslay leaned back and calmly met the gaze of the big estate speculator. "You know I do a bit in that line, Mr. Kearney."

"So I've heard." The lower lip of the square, ruddy race jutted out fiercely. "Maybe one day you'll find yourself bought and sold, m'boy."

Roy did not answer. The Peyton Place property did not represent a big deal in the quickly developing city of Sydney. It was a two-story building in a back street not far from Circular Quay, and with only fifteen years of a long lease to run. The price would not be large, possibly well under five thousand pounds. He was prepared to go to that limit, but not a penny beyond.

"The Peyton Place property!" Sam Kearney leaned back in his chair until the solid structure groaned beneath his big weight. "There's a bare fifteen years of the lease to run, and you won't get it renewed. Well, it's your look out. What'll you give!"

"Three thousand pounds."

"And—"

"I've got to make a profit, Mr. Kearney."

"Then talk up in thousands. I'll tell you where to stop." The big speculator swung round towards his desk and picked up a letter. "Should tell you I've a man coming to see me in a few minutes, and you have a long way to go."

"Meaning?"

"You're wasting time."

"Three thousand five hundred." The big speculator picked a cigar from an open box on the table and bit off the end. There was a grim little smile lurking at the corner of his mouth.

"Suppose you give me a starter, Mr. Kearney.

"Offers reviewed. Go ahead, boy. That was a good break. Five hundred at a jump, but, you've got a long way to go."

"Four thousand!"

"My, You're anxious for it." Sam Kearney lit the cigar. "I'll say you're getting warm—but, keep on."

"I'll wait until you put it up for auction." Roy took his hat from the corner of the desk.

"Mayn't." The man did not look up.

"You've no reserve?"

"What's yours?"

"I'll go my limit. Five thousand pounds!"

"That all!"

"The last penny."

For a long minute the big man sat and stared at Roy. Not a muscle of his massive face changed, only from between the thin, firm lips came a spiral of fragrant smoke. With a shrug of his shoulders he swung the protesting chair towards his desk and drew to him a pile of papers.

"Nothing doing—good day!"

ON THE Pitt Street pavement Roy Onslay looked up at Aiken House, in which Sam Kearney had his offices. He was puzzled. His expert knowledge told him he had offered well over the value of the lease. At the outside it was not worth more than four thousand pounds. In making an offer of an additional thousand pounds he felt he had passed the business limit. Sam Kearney had turned down a big premium on his speculation.

Roy knew the big man had held the property for some time—it was one of his few bad guesses. He had bought it for a quick turnover, and had found it left on his hands. Kearney had paid two thousand seven hundred pounds for the lease. Now, after holding it for six months, he had refused five thousand pounds! Why? The speculator was a keen buyer and seller, satisfied with quick, small turnovers. He must have long since discovered that be had a white elephant on his hands, yet be refused to unload at a big profit!

Pondering on the problem, Roy turned up Pitt Street. Outside Mansell & Co's estate offices he hesitated, and finally entered. After a short wait be was shown into the private room of the head of the firm.

"No. 7a Peyton Place?" said Mark Mansell, a small, bald, fair man as he rubbed his head. "Belongs to Sam Kearney? Yes, I remember. Bit of a frost, wasn't it? Sam's not usually caught napping. What's wrong with it?"

"On your books?"

"Used to be. Funny thing. Only yesterday Sam rang up and told me not to make a price. Just to take offers. Now, I wonder what's up? What do you know?"

"I'll give you four thousand five hundred for it."

"Whew!" The estate agent pressed a button on his desk. To the clerk who answered the summons, he said: "Bring me the record of 7a Peyton Place. One of Mr. Kearney's properties."

The clerk left the room and Mansell sat silent, gazing at the top of his desk. Roy felt more bewildered. The estate agent had asked him what was wrong with it, and now he felt inclined to echo the words. There must be something wrong about the property. Sam Kearney's action in turning down a fine profit on his deal had appeared strange; his withdrawal of the property wholly from sale was still stranger. What had influenced the man's actions? He tried to think of something that would induce the speculator to hold on to the property, but he could not. There were many improvements going on in the city, but none of them would greatly influence Peyton Place.

Roy was not purchasing the property for himself. Twelve months previous he had, on inheriting a small legacy, left his job in the offices of Mansell & Co., Real Estate Agents, and started in business as a property broker. The previous day he had been commissioned to obtain 7a Peyton Place. His client was a stranger to him, but had produced satisfactory references. He had known of Sam Kearney's purchase of the property and the price the speculator had paid for it. Roy had suggested that Kearney might take a thousand pounds advance on his deal, secretly believing thee man would be glad to get out of the speculation with his money back. He had suggested that the property could be obtained for about three thousand pounds and was astounded when he was informed that he was at liberty to go as high as five thousand pounds, provided that the property passed immediately into his client's possession.

He had attempted to voice some protest, only to be told to follow his instructions explicitly. Now, his limit offer had been turned down, almost with contempt.

"Four thousand five hundred, you said." Mark Mansell was examining a record book. "Well, you're well over the price it was given to us to sell at, Roy. That price firm?"

"I'll write you a deposit cheque now, if you like."

"Not from you." The little man smiled cheerfully. "Say, you should get it. Let you know tomorrow."

Roy rose from his seat and went to the door As his hand was on the handle Mansell called to him in a low tone, "Say, Roy."

The young man walked back to the desk.

"What's the matter with the place? Title good?"

"So far as I know. I'm buying it for a client who seems to know all about it. Why?"

"Well, it's you I'm telling, not your client, remember. Sam would have let that place go for three thousand pounds, or close offer, yesterday."

ROY walked back to his office in Bent Street, puzzling over the problem and the strange attitude of the big estate speculator. Sam Kearney had been prepared to sacrifice the Peyton Place property the previous day for practically what he had paid for it. Today, he had refused to discuss an offer of nearly one hundred per cent profit on his bargain.

There could be only one reason for the man's actions. During the previous twenty-four hours something had happened in the city affecting the value of the Peyton Place properties. More, the unknown quantity in the problem was of such a nature that it was impossible at the time to judge of the estimated value.

Peyton Place lay away from the new city railway and the proposed alterations to Circular Quay. But those improvements had been public property for some time and well advertised in the newspapers. Their effect would certainly be far-reaching in the value of all property in the city, but in the instance of Peyton Place the freeholder would benefit nearly entirely.

Again in his office, Roy turned to the file of newspapers hanging on the wall. There might be some proposal for city improvements that he had overlooked. He did not think so, for he kept well in touch with all private and municipal proposals.

With eager fingers he turned the pages. Nowhere could he see anything that would warrant the peculiar actions of the big real-estate speculator. The day's Morning Mirror lay on the desk. A careful search of the newspaper was without result. He could find nothing to account for Sam Kearney's attitude, or for the desire of his client to acquire the property, even at a large figure.

Roy leaned back in his chair, frowning thoughtfully. Somewhere lay information it was vital for him to have, but where? There was not one clue to the problem in the many columns of the newspaper on the desk before him.

He began to scan the columns once more, then suddenly he sat upright in the chair, alert in every nerve.

Here was a clue, but he could not understand it.

One of the small-advertisement pages of the news-sheet lay open. Towards the bottom of the left-hand corner was a half-column of "Personal" advertisements. The fifth from the heading held a strange significance. It read:—

"Lonely Lady. No friends or relations in Australia. 7a Peyton Place, Sydney. Will some one help?—Box 3971, this office."


CHAPTER II

IT was some minutes before Roy caught the full significance of the queer paragraph.

"Lonely Lady" was advertising from a box number at the newspaper offices, yet she included '7a Peyton Place' in the body of her appeal. The house was empty and had been so for some considerable time. Sam Kearney had bought the place when it was empty and had not troubled to seek a tenant for it. His business was only the purchase and sale of properly for ultimate profit.

Again Roy read the advertisement. It was strangely worded. The advertiser professed to have no friends, or relations in Australia, and sought companionship through the columns of the newspaper. Why was the Peyton Place house mentioned? Its inclusion in the newspaper advertisement appeared absurd, unless the message was to be read as conveying some secret meaning.

Had this advertisement had anything to do with Sam Kearney's sudden decision to hold on to his bad bargain? The wording of the advertisement was obscure, yet it was the only thing Boy could find that had any bearing on the reluctance of the big speculator to part with the property.

Roy drew the file of newspapers towards him again. It was possible that "Lonely Lady" had advertised in some previous issue of the newspaper. If that supposition was correct, the connection between the advertisement and Sam Kearney ended. It was only the previous day that the man had withdrawn the Peyton Place house from the open market. Roy turned the pages quickly, devoting his situation to the few "Personal" advertisements.

In an issue dated ten days previous he found another message from "Lonely Lady:"

Lonely Lady.—No friends or relations in Australia. 143 Kensington Road, Redfern. Will someone help?—Box 2736, this office.

Again Roy turned back in the file of newspapers. In the third issue previous to the Redfern advertisement appeared another:

Lonely Lady.—No friends or relations in Australia. 29 Warren Street. Darlinghurst. Will someone help?—Box 2134, this office.

"Lonely Lady" was catholic in her addresses. The Darlinghurst address was about a mile and a half eastwards in a straight line from Peyton Place and the Redfern address was about the same distance in a southerly direction. Had these advertisements a hidden meaning?

Roy could not but believe that they contained some message concealed beneath the queer wording. He cut them from the newspaper and pasted them in order on a sheet of foolscap. He did not know the street mentioned in the Redfern address but he had a good knowledge of Darlinghurst, and knew Warren Street. It was a long, narrow street running along the eastern boundary of the district, from Oxford Street to Rushcutter's Bay. Most of the houses it contained were old-fashioned and let out in rooms, or makeshift flats. About one-third of the way down from Oxford street was a row of five shops. Their trade was small and of little value.

Roy swung round on his chair to the bracket telephone. In a few seconds he was talking to a large Darlinghurst estate agency. His suspicions regarding the Warren Street address were quickly verified. The house at 29 Warren Street was empty, and had been for some time. Peculiarly, it resembled the Peyton Place house in that it was of two-stories, the lower occupied by a shop.

Roy had known that the Peyton Place shop was empty. Now he knew the Warren Street shop was to let. Could he draw any deductions from that, or was it only a coincidence?

He was now certain that the Redfern house was also a shop, and to let. "Lonely Lady" declared that she had no friends or relations in Australia She advertised for help and acquaintances, and the three advertisements had been from different shops, empty, and possibly standing empty for some considerable time. The advertisements were not genuine. There was something behind them that the broker was determined to discover.

So far his investigations did not lead to a solution of Sam Kearney's peculiar attitude over the Peyton Place property. Roy determined he would examine Peyton Place, and particularly 7a.

Perhaps there he might chance on something that would answer the questions gathering in his mind. He looked at his watch. It was five minutes to five o'clock. At the hour Mark Mansell would leave his offices. He drew the telephone towards him and rang up the estate agency.

"Keys of 7a Peyton Place?" repeated Mark Mansell. "What do you want them for? Have a look around! Sugar! Look here, young man, you've got something on. Am I in on it? Oh yes, I've got the keys. Meant to send them round to Sam yesterday but forgot."

Roy thought quickly. Mark Mansell a man of forty-five years, active and ingenious, was a good sport, the head of an old-fashioned firm with a first-class reputation in the city. It would be an invaluable aid in the solution of the mystery that the broker was beginning to believe surrounded Peyton Place. Also, it would he well to have a companion on the adventure.

"You're in, Mark. Come round here when you leave the office, and we'll have dinner together. Then we'll go down to Peyton Place and have a look at it. There's something damned queer about the place. I'll tell you more when we meet."

Mansell did not reach Roy's office until well after half-past five. For half an hour the two men sat in Roy's room discussing the strange advertisement. Mansell was interested. He turned over the leaves of the newspaper, and, far back, chanced on another of the Lonely Lady's advertisements:

Lonely Lady.—No friends or relations in Australia, 421 Missingham Street, Surry Hills. Will someone help?—Box 995, this office.

"The lady's darned lonely." Mansell grinned cheerfully as he cut the advertisement from the newspaper. "Stick this on your sheet of cuttings, Roy Now we'll go to dinner."

"Think that's another empty shop, Mark?" Roy turned at the door to ask the question.

"Not a shadow of doubt. And, I'll bet it's been standing empty for some time. I'd like to meet "Lonely Lady." She's interesting."

Throughout the meal the two men talked of various things, but always their thoughts were on the four strange "Lonely Lady" advertisements. Once Mansell brought from his pocket three keys tied on a piece of wood, and laid them on the table. Roy did not ask questions. There was no need. He knew those keys belonged to 7a Peyton Place.

"Now for it!" On the steps of the club Mansell turned to his companion. "What is it to be? Cab, or walk?"

"Walk." Roy turned in the direction of Circular Quay. "We don't want taxi drivers about the place."

Night had fallen and the electric lamps glowed brightly in the cool, crisp air.

In a few minutes Roy reached Macquarie Place and came to the narrow lane named Peyton Place, joining Macquarie Place with Pitt Street.

Although a drive lay along the Place, there was hardly room for a vehicle to go down it. The one pavement was only a bare two feet wide, hardly sufficient to walk on in comfort. About half way down, the street widened until two carts might pass with some difficulty and manoeuvring. The right-hand side of the Place was occupied by a blank wall. On the left-hand side stood a row of fix dingy shops, narrow, dark, and with small windows. Three of the shops were vacant, the others being occupied by a newsagent, a grocer, and an antique-dealer.

The last house towards Macquarie Place was 7a, vacant, the shop-window broken and partly boarded up.

"Queer sort of a place," commented Mansell, staring up at the upper story. "What's your client want it for?"

"Don't know. Maybe he has the other shops and plans to pull the lot down and build something decent on the land."

"Best thing he could do." Mansell went to the padlocked door.

"What on Earth our ancestors wanted to build this sort of house for I never could understand. Yet, at one time, half Sydney was like this."

The door gave way under some little pressure. The fittings had been removed from the shop, and the floor was covered with litter and dust. As soon as he entered the door Roy produced an electric torch.

"Good thing you brought that," commented the estate agent. "It would have been folly to wander about here, striking matches. Phew! It's dark. Mind where you walk."

Almost immediately within the door, and facing it, was the stairway to the upper floor. The shop proper lay to the left-hand, and at the rear of the shop was a space partitioned off to make a room. The window of the room overlooked a small yard. The ceilings were low and brown with dirt. There was no back door, the yard apparently belonging to the house in the rear.

Mansell went to the shop door and shut it. In the space behind the door was a number of handbills and some envelopes. The two men went through the collection carefully. The only thing they found of importance was a rate-notice addressed to 'Mr. George Bird '—probably the last tenant of the shop.

"Coming upstairs, Roy?"

Mansell stood With one foot on the bottom step.

"May as well." The broker looked round the place with an expression of disgust. "I'd like to know why anyone wants to acquire a lease of this place, and to pay five thousand pounds for it. Why, it's not worth a solitary thousand."

"Get the places fronting this on Macquarie Place and these shops in Peyton Place and there's a fine site for a big building," answered Mansell. "Still, the price is stiff!"

Three doors opened on a small landing at the head of the stairs. The one directly in front of them led into a room, the window of which looked out over the yard. The next room was smaller and contained no window. The third door led into a large room overlooking the Place.

As he entered this, Roy stopped suddenly. "There's something here, Mark!"

The estate agent pressed forward. In the far corner of the room, past the windows, lay a long bundle. Mark bent over it, touching the mass with delicate fingers. He stood up quickly, and by the light from the torch Roy saw that he was deathly pale.

"We'd better have the police here, Roy," he said in a low voice. "There's the body of a woman under that pile of rags."

"A woman?" Roy dropped to his knees beside the long bundle. Very carefully, he drew the wraps to one side, disclosing the pale face of a young girl framed in masses of golden hair. Her eyes were closed and she lay slightly on one side, as if in sleep.

"Dead!" The broker's fingers rested on the pulseless wrist. "Not so long, either. Certainly not more than forty-eight hours."

Mansell was kneeling beside his friend peering down on the fair young face, calm in the majesty of death. With reverent fingers they drew back the enveloping rugs, and as they did so the body turned until she lay on her back, the arms falling outwards. The girl was clad in a low cut frock of shimmering white material. Around her neck was clasped a close fitting collar containing five rows of well-matched pearls. On her fingers were rings that glittered in the torch-light. Her left hand clasped the handle of an expensive hand-bag, the clasp of which was unfastened. However, its contents did not appear to have been disturbed.

"Dead!" Mansell peered inquisitively into the still face. "By Jove. Boy! She was a fine-looking woman. Good class, too. Wonder who she was? How did she get here?"

"Lonely Lady!" Roy murmured the words half under his breath.

Mansell looked up, startled.

"Is that what you're thinking? Lord, man! Just think! If you hadn't discovered those advertisements she might have lain here until—ugh! What is it? Murder?"

Roy was gazing down at the dead girl. Who was she and what was she doing in the empty house? There were no wounds visible on her person. She looked as if she had just lain down and fallen asleep, wrapped in the rugs. Yet why should a woman of her evident position come to this place? Roy felt certain she had not come of her own free will. She had been brought there, and possibly after death. But how had the people who had brought her obtained admission to the house? Mansell had held the keys for weeks in his offices.

"What are we to do?" Mansell had risen to his feet and was looking helplessly about the room.

"Call the police, I suppose." Roy came out of his speculations with a start. "Will you go, Mark? Headquarters, at Hunter Street, is the nearest police station. Don't telephone. Go and find a doctor and detective. I'll wait here."

"With that?" The estate agent gave a little shudder of repulsion.

"Poor girl! She can't do me any harm." Roy looked down at the still, fair face. "Get to it man. Lock the door after you. I don't want anyone walking in on me—and her."

Without replying Mansell went out of the room and descended the stairs. Roy waited until he heard the sound of the front door closing and the click of the key turned in the padlock. For some seconds he paced the room thoughtfully, then went to the side of the dead girl, and proceeded to turn out the contents of her hand-bag. There was a considerable sum of money in it—nearly fifty pounds. Also, there were the usual trinkets and other things carried by women. At the bottom of the bag he chanced on two letters, crushed and folded into a small compass. He was about to smooth out the envelopes and examine the contents when the shop bell rang shrilly. Thrusting the letters into his breast-pocket, be returned the money and trinkets to the bag, then waited.

Who had rung the bell? The door was padlocked on the outside and Mansell had taken the keys with him when be went in search of the police. Roy snapped off the light of his torch. He cursed his folly in not covering the windows with rugs before starting to search the girl. It was possible that some patrolling constable had seen a light in the upper windows and had come to investigate. Well, the fellow could not get in, nor could he open the door to him.

But, was it the police? No further ring had come at the bell. Stepping softly, he went to the open door. Was there anyone with him in that silent house?


CHAPTER III

THE faint light from the street-light half-way down Peyton Place filtered in through the dirty windows, faintly illuminating the room, but leaving the body of the girl in deep shadow.

Roy stood at the open door, listening intently. Who had rung the bell? Had the foul fiends who had taken the girl's life and brought her to this empty house, returned to complete their work—to add robbery to their list of crimes? He had wondered why the girl bad been left with the valuable jewellery and money. Had he and Mansell, when they entered the house, disturbed the criminals? That could not be, for they had searched the house and found it empty. He was certain he was alone in the place—Yet, someone had rung the bell, as if confident the house contained some inmate who would answer the summons.

Was the murderer of the girl still in the house? If so, where was he hiding? The idea seemed impossible. He was—he must be—alone with the body of the murdered girl.

Roy persuaded himself that a patrolling policeman had rung the bell, and was still waiting on the doorstep for an answer. In that case it was imperative that he should go down to the door. He would have to shout explanations through the glass; that he was locked in the house while Mansell was bringing the police. Would the man believe that? He would have to inform him of the dead girl in the upper room, and the man would force an entrance, possibly through the boarded-up shop window. There would be noise, and a crowd would be attracted.

If he waited, ignoring the ring, the constable might think he had been mistaken in seeing a light in the upper window. He might loiter about for a time; but then Mansell and the police from headquarters would arrive. Further explanations would then be necessary. The man would state that he had rung the bell and had received no answer, Roy would be called upon for explanations—and he had none.

Perhaps if he went to the door he could explain sufficient to induce the man to mount guard outside until Mansell returned with the headquarters police. That seemed the best solution to the difficulty. Roy went to the head of the stairs and peered down towards the shop door. He could only see the lower wooden panels. He crept silently down the stairs until he caught sight of the glass square. There was no one outside the door.

It a police officer had rung the bell it was possible that he had gone to the buildings in the rear in the hope of obtaining entrance to the house from the yard, but it was improbable. The officer would not leave the front of the building unguarded. He would immediately summon assistance.

It might not have been a constable who had rung the bell. Roy had to fall back on his theory that the person who had rung the bell was either the actual murderer, or some confederate who knew there was some one in the house. Yet, there was no one in the house. Roy was positive of that. He and Mansell had searched the place thoroughly before Mansell had left in search of the police. If the man was in the house, where could he be hidden? Roy rapidly reviewed the building. He could not think of a place where a man could hide.

Roy walked down the stairs and stood looking through the shop-door, out onto Peyton Place. There was no one in sight. Whoever had rung the bell had gone away. Would he return?

The ringing or the bell had come as a shock to the broker. He flashed the light of the torch around the shop. Where was the bell? He wanted to go up to the girl and continue the search he had started. But, he could not do that with the bell likely to ring again at any minute. He must find it, and put it out of action. The silence of the house was getting on his nerves. He wanted to shout; he almost prayed for something to break the awful silence—but not the ringing of the bell. He could not stand that.

After a short search be found the bell hanging in the back room, close to the door. It hung high on the wall, and he could not reach the wires. He looked around for something to stand on. He remembered he had seen a packing-case in the shop. He brought it into the back room and found it would allow him to just reach the wires above the bell. As he stepped on to it and reached upwards, the bell sounded again.

The sudden clanging nearly threw him from his frail support to the ground. He snapped off the light of his torch and peered round the edge of the door. From where he stood the stairway cut off all view of the glass panel in the shop-door. He must know who had rung the bell.

Roy stepped through the door into the shop and moved silently forward along the frame-work of the stairway. At length he came in sight of the door. Pressed against the square of glass was the face of a young girl. She was staring intently up the stairs.

For some time Roy stood watching the girl. He could see a fair outline of her head and shoulders, but he could not distinguish her features. They were in deep shadow. She wore a close-fitting hat.

The absence of any wrap around her shoulders gave a clear outline to her form. Roy believed he would recognise her again, if only because of the large quaintly-shaped ear-rings she wore.

At last the girl moved, stepping back into the roadway and looking up at the windows of the room in which the dead girl lay. For a full minute she remained there, then walked swiftly down the street in the direction of Pitt Street.

Who was this girl, and what interest had she in this house of mystery? Roy waited, leaning against the woodwork of the stairway. He half-expected her to return. Her actions had shown that she expected some one to be in the house. Would she leave the neighbourhood without another attempt to get to the person she believed to be in the house?

The minutes passed slowly.

Roy turned his back to the street door and pulled out his watch. By the light of his torch he saw that Mansell had been gone nearly half an hour. At any moment he might return with the police, and Roy's vigil would be ended.

The broker suddenly remembered the hand-bag that he had been searching when the bell rang. Wearily he turned towards the stairs and ascended to the upper floor. He snapped on the light of his torch and went to the front room.

As the light rested on the still form, he started back with a cry of terror. Above the line of dress right in the centre of her breast, had been driven a thin stiletto, about an inch of the blade of which was showing between the guard and the white flesh.

Roy bent over the dead girl. Instinctively his hand went to the hilt of the dagger to withdraw it, but he hesitated. He could not do the girl any good by withdrawing the weapon. If he removed it that might destroy some clue of value to the police. He knelt on the bare boards and focused the light on the stiletto. The blade, as far as he could see it, was very thin and pliant. He judged that it had penetrated four or five inches into the delicate flesh. That would make the whole blade about six inches long.

There was something strange about the weapon. Looking closer, he saw that a piece of good cord had been loosely wound round the hilt. Both ends were loose, and one of them rested on the dead girl's breast Then he saw that the body had been robbed. The pearl collar had been taken from her throat, and the rings from her fingers. The bag he had commenced to search was missing. Nothing remained by which she could be identified.

Who had been in the room? Roy looked around him, seeking some signs of the intruder's presence. He could see none. The girl had been dead for some time. Then, why the necessity for the stiletto in her breast? Where was the man? Had he and Mansell disturbed the murderer in his ghastly work?

It seemed improbable. The scoundrel would not loiter in the vicinity of his crime. Yet he could not doubt that the man was about the house. He could not have obtained entrance after Mansell had left. He must have been hiding in the house when they entered, and have crept up stairs while Roy was in the little room behind the shop. But what was the meaning of the dagger and the robbery of the jewellery? Had the man committed the crime to cover some further motive?

Roy rose to his feet and walked slowly around the room, looking for some clue to another presence in the house. Everywhere the dust lay thick, but the only marks he could identify were those that he and Mansell had made. The room was bare of furniture. A large mantelpiece surrounded the small fireplace. On the shelf of the mantelpiece stood an end of candle, fastened to the woodwork by a splatter of grease. He felt the wick. It was cold and brittle. He threw the light of the torch along the ledge. The dust lay thick and unmarked.

At the door Roy slipped off his shoes and, in his stockinged feet, crept softly to the next room. The door was ajar. He thrust it back and entered. There was no one there. He went to the rear room. That also was vacant. The window was fastened and the dust lay thick and undisturbed over the woodwork.

It seemed impossible that any person could have been in the rooms and not have left signs of his presence. Roy began to have a feeling that he was dealing with something uncanny. He retrieved his shoes and descended the stairs to the shop-door. He seated himself on the bottom stair and pulled on his shoes. He remained seated, awaiting the arrival of Mansell with the police.

In a bare five minutes, that seemed like dragging hours, a small group of figures darkened the glass of the shop door. Roy could hear the murmur of voices as Mansell unlocked the heavy padlock. The man entered, bringing with them the atmosphere of the everyday world.

"Sorry I've been so long, Roy, but—Good God, man, what's the matter?" Mansell started as the light of the police officer's torch lit the pale drawn face of his friend.

"Hush! There's someone in here."

"Some one here? Impossible! Why, I locked the door behind me when I left. You saw me open it just now."

"I don't know how they got in." Roy spoke under great stress. "I do know that the fiends got up to the dead girl while I was down in the shop and robbed and mutilated her poor body."

"Mutilated her?" One of the officers, a tall, burly man, quietly edged Mansell to one side and faced the broker. "What do you mean?"

"I waited for some time upstairs beside the dead girl. Then came a ring at the bell. I came down and there was no one at the door. I went into the rear room, and presently another ring came on the bell. From the shop I saw a young girl standing in the doorway. Mark had locked the door, and so I could not go to her. After a time she went away and I went upstairs. By the light of my torch I saw the dead girl. Someone had been there and had taken her jewellery and hand-bag. They had driven a dagger into her breast. I searched the house, but could find no one, and I could see no sign of any one's having been about the place."

Roy told his tale dully, unconscious of concealing facts. The shock of the past half-hour's watch beside the dead girl, and the mystery surrounding the house, had almost overwhelmed him. The police officer looked at him curiously for a few seconds; then, without a word of comment, pushed up the stairs. At the door of the front room he turned sharply towards the broker.

"Mr. Onslay. You say you saw the dagger in the dead girl's breast by the light of your torch. When did you light the candle?"

"The candle?" Roy stared in amazement past the police officer into the room. "I never lit the candle. I knew there was one on the mantelpiece, for I felt the wick, and it was cold and brittle. But I never lit it."

The officer turned, without comment and led the way into the room. On the mantelpiece the end of candle burned flickeringly in the slight draught of the empty house.


CHAPTER IV

DETECTIVE-SERGEANT Greyson moved across the room to the side of the dead girl, leaving Roy with the other man standing in the doorway. For some minutes he bent over the body, touching the wraps and clothing with light, careful fingers. At length he stood up and glanced round the room, taking in the bare surroundings with careful eyes.

"Michael! Get to a phone. I want the photographer—flashlight, of course. Hurry up that doctor, too. I want to move the body." Greyson gave his orders with curt abruptness. The plain-clothes man ran down the stairs and out onto the street, shutting the door behind him. Mansell moved slightly further into the room. The detective glanced round quickly, then nodded permission for them to come into the room.

"Let's get this straight." The detective turned abruptly to Roy. "Mr. Mansell made a sort of statement while we were coming down here. Now I want to hear your story. How did you come here?"

"It was my suggestion." Roy answered quickly. "I have a client who wishes to purchase this property. He—"

"Name, please?" Greyson opened his notebook.

"Mr. Basil Holt. I have his address in my offices."

"What did he want it for?"

"I don't know." Roy became impatient. "My business is dealing in property, not in inquiring into my clients' motives."

"Who owns the house?"

"Mr. Sam Kearney. No doubt you know of him."

"Sam Kearney?" The detective raised his eyebrows.

"I went to him and made a bid for it directly. He informed me he would not sell at my price. He declined to inform me of his reserve on the property."

"That let you out, eh?"

"Not altogether. It made me curious. I know that a few days previous Mr. Kearney was most anxious to dispose of the property, and would have taken almost any price. My offer was nearly one hundred per cent, above the price he paid for it only six months ago. He declined my offer, rather discourteously, I thought."

"Whew!" Grayson looked at the broker sharply. "What's the big idea? The place doesn't seem worth fighting about."

"I offered the limit figure that my client had instructed me to go to."

"And Sam Kearney refused to sell. He's not given that way, as a rule."

"That is what puzzled me. I determined to discover the reason of his peculiar conduct. To that end I instituted a search of the newspapers. I believed Mr. Kearney's refusal to sell was dictated by some property movement in the city that I was not aware of."

"Well?"

"I could find no clue to the reason for his conduct in the newspapers. Chance led my eyes to the 'Personal' column of today's issue of the Morning Mirror. There I saw an advertisement mentioning this house. It was strangely worded and aroused my curiosity."

"Where's the advertisement?".

"At my office. The advertisement was of such a nature that I searched back in the file of the newspapers and found two similar ones."

"Both of them mentioning this place."

"No. They mentioned different addresses, but they were all inserted by the came person, or, I should say, under the same name or title."

"Anything else strange about these advertisements?"

"Yes. I have reason to believe that in each case the address given was an empty shop and house—"

"Reason to believe?"

"I verified my suspicions in regard to the address at Darlinghurst and found the place vacant."

"What then?" The detective was filling the pages of his notebook with a workmanlike shorthand.

"I rang up Mr. Mansell, who had the house on his books, and asked if he had the keys. It was agreed that we should come and examine the place together."

"So you came here, and—"

"Mr. Mansell first examined the newspaper file and found another of the "Lonely Lady" advertisements."

"The 'Lonely—'"

"Lonely Lady! Oh, I understand." Roy laughed for the first time since he had entered the house of mystery. "I forgot to mention that the advertisements that attracted my attention were signed 'Lonely Lady.'"

The detective turned deliberately and looked towards the girl's dead body. Very slowly his eyes came back to meet those of the broker.

"Her?"

"I don't know."

Yet the same thought had passed through Roy's mind. Was this girl, twice stricken by some cowardly murderer, the "Lonely Lady" of the Mirror's advertisements? It was probable. Yet, it was also possible that she was the person for who's eyes the message had been written. The murderer might have shared some secret with this girl. She might have become dangerous to him. The apparently innocent advertisement might have been inserted to lure her to this lonely house, and to her death.

"Let's get back to what happened here." Greyson's voice broke sharply into the broker's reverie. "Mr. Mansell has told me what happened when the two of you came into this place. Now, tell me what happened after Mr. Mansell left you to go to Police Headquarters."

Very carefully Roy went over the incidents of the past half-hour. The only thing he concealed was his decision to disconnect the electric bell, and the reasons for the decision. Now, surrounded by living people, his sudden panic at being found alone in the house with the corpse of the girl seemed absurd. He told of the girl's face pressed against the glass of the shop-door. Again he concealed a fact—the strange earrings the girl had worn. He thought it was a useless detail. The girl could have had no part in the murder.

"You say this girl wore a lot of valuable jewellery and carried a handbag," commented the police officer. "It's gone, now."

Greyson had not asked a question. He made a statement. Roy felt the man's eyes fixed on his face, trying to read his secret thoughts. Did he suspect him of robbing the dead girl? Such a suspicion would be absurd. If this police officer continued on that line he would cause a lot of trouble. It might possibly lead to his arrest and—

Roy suddenly remembered the two envelopes he had taken from the dead girl's hand bag, just before the first ring came at the shop bell. Those letters were in his breast-pocket. If the detective suspected him and put him under arrest those letters would be found on him. Were they of a nature to foster the suspicion that the police officer was evidently harbouring?

If only he had had time to examine those letters! For a frantic moment Roy tried to remember if he had seen the address on the envelopes. Were they letters that had lured this girl to her death in Peyton Place? It was more than possible. If he stood in the very shadow of the gallows; for who, but the actual murderer, would be anxious to remove them from the eyes of the police?

If he were arrested those letters would be found on him. They would thoroughly destroy the credibility of his story of the fantastic happenings in that house during the absence of Mark Mansell. The police would argue that if he had abstracted the letters from the dead girl's hand-bag he could as well have taken the jewellery and the bag. That only the letters would be found on his person would at once be accounted one of those lapses that bring retribution to criminals. The police would theorise that he had hidden the bag and the jewellery and had forgotten the letters. The incident of the lighted candle would be looked upon as a feeble attempt to back up his fantastic story of the robbery and stabbing of the corpse, and the rings at the shop-door bell.

"I think you are going too fast, Sergeant." Roy pulled himself together with an obvious effort. "Everything is so involved that it will take time to work up into a connected story. Before the first ring at the door-bell sounded I had made up my mind to search the girl."

"Did you?"

"Only in part." The broker was speaking slowly and thoughtfully. "For a few minutes after Mr. Mansell left me I stood by the door theorizing on the cause of the death."

"Not much to theorise on."

Roy felt he had been right in his surmise. The police officer beginning to suspect him. "You will remember I mentioned that when we came in here the cause of death was not visible. It was after the bell rang, and I went downstairs, that the dagger was driven into her breast."

"Well?"

"I stood for some time at the door, looking about the room and puzzling out how the girl had been killed, for there were no marks on her. The handbag looked bulky, and I thought I might find a clue in it. I went to the side of the dead girl and opened the bag."

"She had it in her hand? Or, was it lying beside her?"

"She had the handle between her fingers. I opened the bag without taking it from her hand."

"What was in it?"

"A roll of notes—about fifty pounds, but I didn't count it—some loose silver; a few trinkets and oddments women usually carry with them; and two letters."

"Two letters?" The detective bent forward eagerly. "Did you read them? What was in them? Lord! What a clue lost—if they are lost." Again the deep keen eyes of the detective searched Roy's face with open suspicion. The broker shuddered slightly, almost feeling the big, heavy hand on his shoulder; the gruff voice warning him of the dangerous precipice before him. With an effort he smiled slightly and put his hand in his breast pocket.

"I think I said the bell rang almost immediately I commenced my search. I was startled, and closed the bag hurriedly. Then, I found I still had the letters in my hand. I slipped them in my pocket before I went downstairs. Here they are." He extended the two much-folded envelopes to the detective.

Greyson seized them with eager hands and pressed them into shape. Roy and Mansell moved closer, watching the man's actions. The envelopes were without addresses. Greyson took a powerful magnifying glass from his pocket and under the light of Roy's torch examined the fronts. Almost disappointedly, he opened one and drew from it a torn piece of newspaper. Ringed round in blue pencil was the "Lonely Lady" advertisement inked from that day's Mirror.

"God!" Roy caught his breath with a quick gasp. "How could she have had that in her possession? I'll swear she was dead long before it was published!"


CHAPTER V

"YOU say this advertisement was in this mornings newspaper?" Greyson held the scrap of paper close to the light of the torch. "Can you explain—"

The sound of the shop-door opening below, together with men's voices, came up to them. The detective slipped the piece of newspaper into its envelope and thrust both envelopes into the back of his notebook. In a few seconds three men came into the room. The last was obviously a photographer, for he carried a large hand-camera.

The plain-clothes constable, at an almost imperceptible gesture from Grayson resumed his position at the door of the room.

"Been waiting for you, doctor." The detective spoke to the man who entered first. "By the way, Dr. Henshaw, do you know Mr. Mark Mansell, and Mr. Roy Onslay? They brought us the news of—this."

A slight motion of his hand indicated the dead girl lying in the corner. Dr Henshaw briefly acknowledged the introductions, then walked across to the corpse and commenced his examination.

In a little over ten minutes he stood up and turned to the detective.

"Something wrong here," he said quietly.

"Murder?" Greyson asked the question carelessly.

"If you like to use that word to describe the body being stabbed some time after death." Dr. Henshaw smiled quietly.

"The woman died a natural death, then?" Greyson asked the question with obvious impatience.

"I am not going to offer a statement at present." Henshaw's answer was almost as impatient in tone as the detective's question. "I shall hold an autopsy. All that I will say at present was that the dagger was inserted in the body some time after death."

"Some time after death?" Roy asked the question breathlessly. He realised that on the doctor's reply depended largely the police belief in the tale he had told.

"I should say so."

"How long has she been dead?" Greyson asked the question, glancing furtively at Roy as he spoke.

"A matter of twenty-four to thirty hours; possibly more."

"That lets you out, Mr. Onslay." Greyson turned to the young man with evident relief. "I'm going to say now, you were in rather an awkward fix a few minutes ago. Your tale was almost unbelievable, and the disappearance of the jewels and bag complicated matters to such an extent that I—"

"That you would have had to arrest me?" Roy completed the sentence as the detective hesitated.

"I'm not saying that much." For the first time the detective relaxed his official manner. "All the same, you wouldn't have been far from me until I had things a little more definite, one way or the other. Now we'll have the photographs taken, and then—well, we'll see."

With a beckoning gesture he led the way from the room. On the landing he turned to Roy.

"You say you and Mr. Mansell searched the house. You looked in this room then?" He indicated the small room next to the front room.

"We went into every room." Mansell spoke quickly. "There was no one there and not a sign of anyone having been in the house for some considerable time."

"You looked for marks?" The detective was searching the room systematically. "No. There's nothing here. What's this room?"

He led the way into the room overlooking the yard of the house at the rear, and commenced a search. Roy wandered around aimlessly. He had searched the room twice, and found nothing. The dust lay thick on every ledge on which it could rest. A few pieces of torn paper littered the ground, and some fragments of packing straw. A small fire-place stood at one side, evidently adjoining the fire-place of the house next door. Some papers had been burned in the grate some time ago, leaving a litter of ash over which the dust had settled thickly. To one side or the ashes a patch of black ash lay, contrasting vividly with the grey of the dust-strewn ashes.

"Something's been burned here," Roy exclaimed suddenly.

Immediately Greyson crossed to his side, following the line of Roy's pointing finger.

"So there has." The detective poked at the ashes with his forefinger. "Nothing here to worry us, I'm guessing."

A splinter of wood lay near the hearth. Roy picked it up and slowly raked out the ashes. A few pieces of burned wood lay under the burnt paper, and something that tinkled as it slid over the hearthstone came out of the debris.

"What's that?"

Greyson pounced on a piece of glass, and laid it on his palm. It was discoloured, and about an inch and a quarter long, by less than an inch wide. Two thirds of the outer edge was smooth and ground to a curve. The remaining part of the curve was broken and ragged. There was no question but that the piece of glass was part of a spectacle-lens.

Greyson took the stick and continued raking the ashes, searching for some further portions of the spectacles. He could find nothing, so returned to the search of the room, not troubling with the fragment of glass that Roy had found. In a few minutes he completed his search and went to the door.

"What about that piece of glass?" asked Roy.

"Oh, that's nothing. More'n likely someone broke his glasses while moving out and throw the piece into the fire-place. If there'd been the frame and more of the glass it might have been worth while following up. As it is—Yes, doctor."

The man left the room, followed by Mansell. Roy stopped a few paces from the door, and hesitated. Suddenly he turned back and picked up the piece of glass. He could not help thinking that a clue lay in that simple thing. Greyson had declared that the police did not want it. With a shrug of his shoulders he slipped the broken fragment into his pocket, and followed the others to the front room.

The photographer was packing his kit preparatory to leaving. Dr. Henshaw was kneeling by the dead girl, preparing the body for the first stage of its long, last journey. With a gesture he drew the detective's attention to the dagger.

"See anything strange here, Greyson?"

"No." The detective bent down. "Why in thunder did the murderer want to tie that piece of string about the handle for?"

"That's what's strange." The doctor smiled, quickly. "I'm not going to remove the dagger here, but I advise you to study it closely, also that piece of cord, when I bring it to headquarters."

"What do you mean?"

"There was a noted secret society of medieval times that used the cord and dagger not only as means of assassination, but as a warning. Neither this dagger nor the cord are uncommon, but the combination is—is, well, strange."

"The Vhelmghelt!" Roy was kneeling by the doctor, examining the cord.

"We'd better have it photographed," suggested Greyson.

"No need for that, now." Dr. Henshaw rose to his feet, his work accomplished. "I will take care the cord is not disturbed when I take the dagger from the body tomorrow."

"Finished up here?" The doctor nodded affirmation to the detective's question. "Then we'll go down. Lock this door, Michael, and bring the keys to the office."

A quarter of an hour later they left the buildings and watched the ambulance carry away the unknown dead girl. The detective stood for some minutes looking up at the front of the house. Then, accompanied by Dr. Henshaw, he turned towards Macquarie Place.

Roy and Mansell walked slowly down to Circular Quay.

"What are you thinking of, Roy?" The estate agent asked the question after some minutes' silence.

"Eh?" Roy came out of a reverie with a start. "I'm thinking there's more to this affair than the police will be able to handle."

"Meaning?" Roy took from his pocket the little piece of glass and laid it on the palm of his hand. "Greyson considers this of no value."

"Well, is it?"

"I don't know. I'm guessing."

"Going in for detective work?" The estate agent laughed loudly. "Well, good luck to you. You live North Shore? Then I'll take this taxi."

Roy crossed the wide road and made for the Neutral Bay ferry. He had reached the barrier when he saw that he had missed the boat. He would have to wait twenty minutes for the next. Impatiently, he turned and walked out on to the street. The theatres and picture houses wore closing, and a continual stream of people were crossing Barton Street on their way to the various ferries. Roy stood watching them, tapping his foot impatiently on the curb. For a time the crowd interested him, then his impatience returned. He would cross to Milson's Point and from there take a taxi home.

He turned along the line of wharves to the Milson's Point wharf. As he reached the entrance a girl brushed hard against him, turning with a quick word of apology. Something about her caught Roy's attention. He was certain he did not know her—but he had seen her on some past occasion. Suddenly he remembered. The girl wore long, quaintly-shaped ear-rings. He had seen them before—when she stood with her face pressed against the glass of the shop-door in Peyton Place, that night.


CHAPTER VI

THE next morning Roy arrived at his offices worried and perplexed. The previous evening he had attempted to follow the girl with the ear-rings on to the North Shore wharf, but in the crowd he had missed her. On the short journey over to Milson's Point he had searched the boat from end to end, without success.

Had the girl, when she pushed past him at the entrance to the wharf recognised him in some manner? It could hardly be possible. When she had stood in the doorway of 7a Peyton Place Roy had been in the deep shadow of the shop. It was impossible that she had known that he was there. What had this girl with the ear-rings to do with the dead girl that he and Mansell had found in the upper front room in Peyton Place? Had she gone there to meet the dead girl, or to meet the murderer?

Both hypotheses seemed impossible. The girl had been dead for some hours, and it was unlikely the murderer would linger in the vicinity of his victim. Yet, someone had been in the house with him while Mansell was absent in search of the police. The girl with the ear-rings had rung the shop-door bell. While he had been investigating that ring, the murderer, or some accomplice, had crept into the upper room and robbed and defaced the corpse.

So far, there appeared to be a distinct connection between the girl with the ear-rings, and the murderer. How far that connection went, Roy could not guess. The girl with the ear-rings had not acted as if her object was to draw him from the room where the girl's body lay. She had lingered at the door for some time; she had even returned after a short absence and rung the bell again. That appeared to indicate that she expected some one to be in the house, and to answer her call. There had been some person in the house—the robbery indicated that—but Roy's presence had frustrated any communication between the girl with the ear-rings and the unknown person in the house.

Who was the other girl, and who was interested in her death? It was possible that when the police succeeded in uncovering her identity they might discover something in her history that would lead to the solution of the crime. Was it to shroud the girl's death in mystery that the unknown had returned to the house to take from her the hand-bag and overlay the crime of murder with the robbery of the jewellery?

Roy could not work. For hour after hour he sat at his desk, trying to weave together the conflicting threads of the mystery surrounding Peyton Place. First, there was the suspicious conduct of Sam Kearney. He had for months expressed a desire to get rid of the lease of 7a Peyton Place. Openly he had expressed self-pity at being saddled with the unremunerative property. Yet, when Roy had gone to him with an offer to purchase, that would have paid the speculator nearly one hundred per cent on his outlay, he had refused to sell.

Twenty-four hours before Roy had gone to Kearney with the offer of purchase, the speculator had withdrawn the property from sale on Mansell and Co.'s books. Twenty-four hours, or thereabouts, before Roy went to Sam Kearney, the unknown girl had met her death in the front upper room of that house of mystery.

Into the complex problem intruded the queerly worded advertisements in the Mirror under the name, "Lonely Lady." So far as Roy could judge, the advertisement had been handed in to the newspaper offices between the time of the girl's murder and midnight on the same day. Had that advertisement any bearing on the murder, or the identity of the dead girl? Yet, if the advertisement had been inserted to cover traces of the crime, what meaning had the other "Lonely Lady" advertisements, which specified the addresses of outlying districts?

One more factor entered into the problem. That was the broken spectacle-lens. Detective Greyson had thought little of the piece of glass found amid the burned paper ash in the grate of the back room. Yet, Roy could not dismiss it so easily. There had been two burnings of paper in that grate. One, he was prepared to admit, had taken place about the time that the last tenant had moved out of the house, but the second was much later. It was barely touched with dust. Had the broken spectacle lens been dropped at the first, or the second burning? If at the time of the first burning, it contained no significance with regard to the murder of the girl. But if that piece of glass had fallen among the ashes during the second burning of paper, it might prove a valuable clue to the discovery of the perpetrator of the crime.

Roy could not shake from his mind the questions that crowded around that little piece of glass. He had a belief that towards the end of the long trail leading to the murderer, that piece of glass would assume a great significance in the problem. Somewhere, he remembered to have read that spectacle-lenses had marked individuality. If the writer of that statement was correct, it might be possible to trace the owner of that broken lens, and discover his connexion with the murdered girl.

Roy jotted down the various conclusions he arrived at on a scribbling-pad, and sat back to consider them. He had set down the names of all persons connected with the mystery, and against each had placed such facts as connected them with the dead girl.

In that list he had placed his own name, for he could not conceal from himself that he, of all people at present connected with the mystery, must be under the greatest suspicion. He had been alone in the house with the dead body. It had been at his instance that Mansell and he had visited the house that night. He had been forced to tell a wildly improbable tale of some mysterious person in the house, unseen and unheard, who had robbed and mutilated the dead girl. He had told of a mysterious woman who had rung the shop-door bell late at night. More, he had produced from his pocket two unaddressed envelopes, and had stated, without proof, that he had taken them from the dead girl's missing hand-bag. One of those envelopes had contained the "Lonely Lady" advertisement, from that day's Mirror. He had found the advertisements in the newspaper, and had drawn Mansell's attention to them.

At every point he had been forced to tell a strangely improbable story, without one iota of proof to bring it within the realms of probability. The "Lonely Lady" advertisement in the one envelope opened by Greyson must tell against him. He had said that he had found it in the hand-bag, and had been able to call Mansell to testify that the girl held the hand-bag clasped in her hand when they first found her. But Mansell could not state that the envelope had come from that hand-bag. Considering the contents of the envelope, it could be reasonable to suppose that he had manufactured the evidence to fool the police.

The second envelope had not been opened last night. Greyson had placed it at the back of his pocket-book and probably forgotten it for the time. Much would depend on the contents of that envelope. So far, every point discovered had entangled him in the mystery surrounding the dead girl.

The contents of the first envelope had directed suspicion towards him. Would the contents of the second envelope dispel, or strengthen, that suspicion. He must know, at once, what was in that second envelope!

With an impatient gesture he drew the telephone towards him and asked for police headquarters.

He requested the man who answered the call to connect him with Detective Greyson. There was rather a long wait, and then came another voice on the wire.

"Is that Detective Greyson?" Roy spoke sharply.

"Detective Greyson to see you, Mr. Onslay."

Roy turned suddenly. He had not noticed the opening of the door and the entry of his typist.

"Good." The broker put down the receiver and turned to welcome the burly police officer, who had followed the girl into the room.

"So you were asking for me?" The keen eyes of the detective glanced quickly round the office. "Now, it happened I thought quite a lot about you during the night, Mr. Onslay. So much that I determined to call on you as early as possible this morning."

"Sit down." Roy spoke nervously. He fumbled in one of the drawers of the desk and brought out a box of cigars.

"Smoke?"

"Thanks." The detective bit off the end of a cigar and struck a match. "May I inquire the reason of your telephoning headquarters for me?"

"I wanted to know—" Roy hesitated to put his thoughts into words.

"Yes?"

"I wanted to know why you didn't arrest me last night?" Roy decided he could gain better knowledge by the abrupt attack.

"Ah!" Greyson blew two fair rings at smoke towards the ceiling. "Do you know, all night long I pondered that very question. Have you found an answer?"

"Possibly you have opened the second envelope found in the dead girl's hand-bag."

"The second envelope?" Greyson was staring intently at the scribbling-pad on the desk before the broker. "Yes. There was a second envelope and I opened it. By the way, Mr. Onslay, you seem to forget it has yet to be proved that the envelopes were at any time in the missing hand-bag."

"Then you think—?"

"In the Force we're not allowed to think." Greyson held up a warning hand. "There, we're handicapped against the amateur detective and the crime hunters of fiction. The Sherlock Holmeses of Sydney, and elsewhere, think considerably, and then set out to prove their thoughts correct. We, of the New South Wales police, have to confine ourselves to facts."

"Facts hit at me last night."

"Perhaps it was because those facts hit so hard I did not make the arrest you seem to have anticipated." The detective smiled slightly. "The first enveloped I opened certainly blackened the case against you."

"And, the second?"

"That is what I have come to see you about. Have you any knowledge of a man named Basil Holt?"

"He is a client of mine. I think I mentioned his name to you last night."

"So you did. A client of long standing?"

"A client since yesterday morning. In fact, Mr. Greyson, it was entirely through Mr. Holt that I developed my fatal curiosity in 7a Peyton Place."

"That's interesting." Greyson appeared to be paying more attention to his cigar than to the conversation. "I should like to know how Mr. Holt—Mr. Basil Holt, I believe you named him—brought you to 7a Peyton Place?"

"Mr. Holt commissioned me to purchase that property for him from Mr. Sam Kearney."

"You had no previous dealings with Mr. Holt?"

"No."

"Mr. Holt brought references to you?"

"Naturally. The deal would run into thousands, and a deposit would be necessary. He referred me to the Central Bank of New South Wales."

"The references were satisfactory?"

"Quite. Mr. Holt was certified by the bank as being financially able to complete the proposed purchase."

"Did Mr. Holt inform you how he came to place his business with you?"

"He mentioned the names of several persons with whom I have transacted business. I did not take up those references.

"You were satisfied with the bank reference?"

"Certainly. You must remember, Mr. Greyson, I am almost a newcomer in the game and so long as my clients are able to complete business and pay my commissions, I am content."

"Of course." There was a slight awakening of interest in the detective's manner. "I believe, in property deals it is usual for a deposit to be handed to the broker?"

"Certainly. I mentioned the deposit given me by Mr. Holt a few minutes ago. I hold his cheque for one thousand pounds. He insisted on drawing it for that amount, although I asked for a much smaller sum."

"One thousand pounds!" Greyson whistled softly. "Payable to Roy Onslay, and crossed, I presume?"

"Of course."

"You paid the cheque into your account? Let me see. I believe you informed me you banked at the—the—"

"I did not mention my bankers, Mr. Greyson." Roy spoke sharply. "If it is of interest to you, I bank at the Western City."

"You endorsed Mr. Holt's cheque and paid it into your account at the Western City Bank?"

"Peculiarly, I did not. I endorsed the cheque and intended to deposit it at my bank, if I should come to terms with Mr. Kearney. Mr. Kearney refused to sell the property, so I shall return Mr. Holt's cheque."

"So you endorsed the cheque, but did not pay it into your account." the detective was speaking in his normal, indifferent manner. Suddenly he leaned forward and placed a slip of pink paper on the desk before the broker. "Is that your cheque, Mr. Onslay?"

"My cheque!" Roy stared at the form in amazement. "Yes. That is the cheque Mr. Holt gave me. How did you get hold of it?"

"That cheque was in the second envelope that you handed me in the front upper room of 7a Peyton Place last night. I opened the envelope this morning."


CHAPTER VII

ROY'S hand went involuntarily to his breast-pocket. He was staring at the cheque on the table in blank amazement. Basil Holt's cheque, in the envelope he had taken from the hand-bag of the dead girl! It was unbelievable.

"Quite a mystery, isn't it, Mr. Onslay?" Greyson's voice seemed to come from far off. "First envelope produced a cutting from a newspaper published some twelve hours, or more, after the girl died—according to Dr. Henshaw. The second envelope contained a cheque that was given you—By the way, Mr. Onslay, when was that cheque given to you?"

"A little after noon yesterday." Roy spoke in expressionless tones. He was dazed at the shock.

"Hm. Then the girl had been dead not less than eighteen hours when the cheque came into your possession. Quite an interesting series of events, Mr. Onslay."

"What do you mean? Do you infer that I—?"

"Put them in the dead girl's hand-bag before extracting them?" Greyson laughed slightly. "You forget. Officially, I have no evidence that the dead girl possessed a hand-bag. There wasn't one about her when I arrived in the room."

"Nor jewels!" Roy's face was set in hopeless despair.

"Nor jewels!" Greyson echoed the broker's words. "I have only your word for the jewels and the handbag."

"Mark Mansell saw them."

"So he did." The detective took his cigar from between his teeth and surveyed it critically. "Now that's strange. I saw Mr. Mansell this morning, and he mentioned the jewels and the hand-bag. He also mentioned the cord and the dagger. By the way, Mr. Onslay, can you explain the cord and the dagger?"

"Isn't it usual to warn suspects that their words may be used against them?" Roy raised his head with a jerk and looked straight into the detective's eyes.

"Suspects?" Greyson raised his bushy eyebrows. "I have not arrested you, Mr. Onslay."

"You're going to." Roy fought back desperately. "There's no use beating about the bush. When you came in this morning, I was counting up the odds for and against my innocence. They showed a big debit against me. I came to the conclusion that the deciding factor would be the contents of the second envelope that, I handed you last night, that contains Basil Holt's cheque. Surely—"

"Interesting!" The detective reached across the desk and picked up the scribbling-pad. He read the lines with quiet smile around his somewhat thick lips. "For an amateur you've set out the case very well, but you've forgotten one thing."

"And that?"

"In our work we are just as suspicious of a hard and fast case for conviction, ready to our hand, as we are of a Simon Pure alibi. In this case you're either bluffing on the Police Department, with one chance in a thousand of bringing it off, or—"

"Or?" Roy echoed the word as the detective came to a significant pause.

"Or you're the biggest damned fool in Australia. You've got it straight there. Take your choice."

"You mean?"

"I mean that, on half the evidence, I would have you behind the bars inside half an hour. With all the evidence, I'm looking for the joker in the pack. Frankly, Mr. Onslay, the case against you is too good. If you laid out the ground you're a genius and deserve to get away with it. If some one prepared the case against you, they've stacked the cards badly. Why, they're not only showing five kings in their hand, but a pair of jokers as well."

"But—who would want to convict me of the murder?" Roy asked the question, bewildered.

"That's what I've got to discover, and when I can answer that, I shan't be far from the real murderer. Now look here, Mr. Onslay, you've got to allow yourself to rest under suspicion for a time. I'm going to let the press have all the facts. That will mean you will read a lot about yourself—and most of it tosh. You'll be condemned for a murderer, without trial, and without being called upon for a defence, by the newspapers. I shall come in for a lot of criticism. The yellow press will yell its life out at the thought of you walking about free. There'll be a lot of talk about 'influence' and 'pull.' Half your acquaintances will cut you; the other half will be so darned affectionate that you'll begin to believe they've got a few nice jobs of throat-cutting and the like for you to undertake for them. There'll be a hell of a broil, and at the end some silly sentimentalist will demand my head on a charger for neglecting to arrest and hang you at once."

"I don't see why you don't." Roy spoke miserably. "That cheque?"

"Is Just the last straw that turned my thoughts in your favour." For the first time Greyson relaxed in his manner. "It's too raw. Now, if you don't mind, I'd like you to continue that involuntary action you commenced some ten minutes ago, and withdraw your pocket-book—and hand me Basil Holt's cheque."

"What do you mean?"

"Just this. I'm not such a fool as to come to you without first verifying my facts. My first call this morning was on Mr. Mansell. Among other things, I asked if he had any letters from you, signed by you personally. He had, and he was good enough to let me take quite a few to headquarters. Five minutes after I had spoken to our expert, he informed me that you had not endorsed that cheque, although it was a darned good imitation of your writing."

Roy was fumbling with his pocketbook. In a moment he produced the cheque given him on the previous day by Basil Holt, as deposit on the Peyton Place house. Carelessly he turned it over, to stare at it in surprise. Without speaking he passed the slip of paper across to the detective.

"I'd have sworn I endorsed it yesterday before leaving this office. Even now—"

"Well, you didn't, and that's good enough for me. Now, we've got to explain why that chap, who put the cheque in the dead girl's hand-bag, thought you had endorsed the cheque."

"I quite intended to. In fact, I cannot understand why I did not. My intention was to go to Sam Kearney, purchase the property, and hand him my cheque for deposit. Then to go to my bank and deposit Basil Holt's cheque."

"Did you tell anyone you'd endorsed the cheque?"

Roy thought a few moments. Then he shook his head.

"Is that Basil Holt's signature?"

Greyson pointed to the cheque found in the second envelope. "The signatures look alike. I should say yes."

"I've got to test that answer. If correct I shall have quite a number of questions to ask Mr. Basil Holt with regard to his partiality for signing cheques for even thousands. I don't know—"

The shrill clamour of the telephone bell broke on the detective's speech. Roy reached to the bracket for the instrument, but Greyson stopped him.

"Go in your outer office and speak from there," he ordered quickly. "I'm listening in. If it's business, all right. If private, I'll cut out at once. Leave the door open."

The broker hesitated a moment, and left the room, leaving the communicating door wide-open. Before lifting the receiver on his clerk's desk he moved the instrument to a position from where he could plainly see the detective.

"Mr. Onslay?" The question was asked in a voice vaguely familiar.

"Yes. Who's speaking?"

"Basil Holt. I rang up to know if you'd been successful in obtaining an option on the Peyton Place property?"

"Sorry. The owner is disinclined to sell. His agent has asked for an offer, and I have made one of four thousand five hundred pounds. Is that agreeable to you?"

There followed a long pause; so long that Roy thought the line had been disconnected. His hand went on the switch when the man spoke again.

"What's this story of a dead girl being found in the place?"

"What?" Roy simulated surprise to gain time for the detective to instruct him. A quick nod showed the broker he was on the right track.

"A dead girl. Didn't you see the newspapers this morning?"

"Only just glanced at the headings. What's the story?"

"A dead girl was found in No 7a Peyton Place, late last night. That's all, except that after such a thing—"

"Possibly some poor creature of the streets, starved and ill, crawled in there to die. Still, I can't fancy the place after that. Do not go further with the matter, Mr. Onslay, please."

"I am to write to the owner's agent and withdraw my offer?"

"If you please. Of course, you understand that, in the circumstances, I am entitled to—"

"Of course! Certainly! If you will let me have a note of my indebtedness to you, I will have a cheque drawn immediately."

"And the cheque for deposit you gave me yesterday?"

"Please return it to me."

"It will be simpler for me to deduct my charges and send you my cheque for the difference."

"No." There was a note of irritability in Holt's voice. "I don't like that sort of cross-accounts. Telephone me your charges and I will send a clerk with a cheque to cover, and to bring back the cheque for deposit I gave you yesterday. By the way, I understand from the manner in which you speak that you did not pay it into your account. Did you endorse it?"

"Yes. Sorry, but I was certain—"

"Oh. It doesn't matter. Good-bye."

The sharp click of the receiver showed that Basil Holt had disconnected. Roy hung up and went back to his private room. Greyson was standing by the desk a wry smile on his lips.

"What did you make of it?" asked Roy, in a low tone.

"Just that the gentleman was most anxious to know if you had paid the cheque into your account; and also as to whether you had endorsed it, or not. He seemed very relieved and satisfied when he rang off."

"I lied because—"

"Because you've got no time for rogues and murderers!" The detective held out his hand. "I'm glad I called in on you this morning, Mr. Onslay. Sorry I've got to leave you under a cloud for a time, but believe me, you're doing the State a service by putting up with a little temporary inconvenience."

At the door between Roy's room and the outer office the detective halted and turned abruptly towards the broker.

"By the way What is Basil Holt's address?"

"I don't know." For the first time, Roy understood how effectively his late client had been using him for some indefinite purpose.

"Nor his telephone number?"

"No. When he first came to me he gave me his card. I placed it on my desk. When I came to look for it this morning I could not find it. I thought it had slipped to the ground and had been gathered up by the caretaker."

"More than probable Holt retrieved it before he left your office. He seems to know his way about, but he makes mistakes." For a few seconds the detective stood in deep thought. "Yes, he makes mistakes. Look here, Mr. Onslay. Endorse that cheque and pay it into your account at once. Don't waste a moment. Get it in, and pay any special fee to have it cleared at once. I'll stand behind you if there's trouble. See?"


CHAPTER VIII

DETECTIVE GREYSON turned on his heel and walked off. Roy heard his heavy footsteps cross to the elevator. For some moments he stood in the outer office with Basil Holt's cheque in his hand. Then he turned and re-entered his room, closing the door behind him.

The detective had instructed him to bank the cheque as soon as possible That would mean drawing his own cheque for the balance of the thousand pounds, after deducting his commissions. Where was he to send his cheque to? When Basil Holt had come to him with instructions to purchase the Peyton Place house, he had handed Roy his business card. The broker had slipped it under the corner of his blotter and had believed it to be still there when the man left the office. Greyson had professed to see something sinister in the disappearance of the card.

He had stated that he believed Holt had secretly abstracted it, so that Roy could not trace him. The presumption was that "Basil Holt" was not the man's real name.

The telephone directory would help towards solving the problem. If there was a Basil Holt in the book, Roy determined to ring him up and speak as if he was the man who had instructed him to purchase the Peyton Place house. If the man denied the business, that would go towards proving the detective's theory correct. The telephone directory gave a list of twenty "Holt's," but not one of them was named "Basil."

Roy sat back in his chair and reviewed the conversation he had had with the man the previous day. So far as he remembered, the man had spoken of several well-known dealers in real estate, either as personal friends or acquaintances. Roy turned to the telephone. He believed the man had mentioned Mark Mansell's name. Perhaps the estate agent might know something of him.

"Basil Holt! Never heard of him." Mansell's voice appeared troubled. "Said he knew me? He may, but I don't remember him. By the way, Roy, I had a visit from the police officer this morning. He seems very interested in you. Wanted a specimen of your signature. I thought it best to let him have it."

"Of course." Roy tried to make his voice indifferent. "He's been with me this morning. Did he tell you what he found in the second envelope I took from the dead girl's hand-bag?"

"No. That's interesting. What was it?"

"A cheque in my favour for one thousand pounds and signed by Basil Holt."

"Who is Basil Holt?

"The man who commissioned me to obtain the property for him. Say, Mark, I'm writing you this morning to the effect that I must withdraw my offer for the place. My client has decided not to go on with the deal."

"So? Am I to understand that the cheque found in the second envelope was the cheque Basil Holt gave you on account deposit for purchase of the Peyton Place house? That's awkward for you, isn't it?"

Roy sensed a change in the estate agent's manner. He made some excuse and cut off. Already he was under suspicion, and with only the bare facts known, of the finding of the dead body of a girl. Mark Mansell had been with him when they had chanced on the body. He had left him in the locked house while he went for the police. If any man had cause to believe in Roy's innocence, it should be Mansell, yet, on the flimsy evidence of the two envelopes found in the dead Girl's hand-bag, he was disposed to judge and condemn. If Mansell, with his full knowledge of the happenings of the previous night, condemned him, what was likely to be the attitude of the general public, when the matters became known?

Greyson had warned him that the police report to the newspapers would not be favourable to him. It would be a bare outline: a story, told in cold blood, and Roy well knew the facts told against him. Mansell's tone on the telephone was but the forerunner of the attitude that Roy's many acquaintances would assume when the press commenced its work. Almost immediately a coolness would creep into his intercourse with his fellows. There would be a furtive avoidance of his society. He would walk about the city a pariah, subject to open avoidance by the citizens, and deliberate hostility from the newspapers. He would be tried at the bar of public opinion. His condemnation would follow, and not one word would be demanded from him in his defence. He would be accounted guilty, mainly because some unknown person had framed him to shield the murderer.

The rasp of the telephone bell brought the broker out of his unpleasant speculations. He lifted the receiver from the hook and gave his name and braced himself to receive some unpleasant news.

"Kearney here, Onslay. Should like to see you for a few minutes. Can you come down? Right! I'll wait for you."

As he thrust back the bracket, Roy's eyes fell on the cheque lying on his blotter. Greyson had asked that it be immediately deposited in his bank. Turning it over he scribbled an endorsement and wrote out a pay-in slip. He put both in his pocket and picked up his hat.

His hand was on the communicating door when he heard voices in the outer office. He hesitated; had Basil Holt sent a clerk for his cheque? It would be difficult to explain that it was in the bank—with the cheque in his pocket. There was another door to the corridor. Roy took out his keys and unlocked it. There was no one in the corridor. He slipped out and relocked the door. He ran down a flight of stairs and called the elevator from the lower floor.

If Basil Holt sent, or called, for his cheque he would have to wait until Roy returned to his office. Roy was puzzled at the man's strange actions, and inclined to believe that Greyson had judged right when he said the man had taken a his card from his desk. Why had he backed out of the deal? His reasons were absurd; almost as incomprehensible as the manner in which he was trying to keep him in ignorance of his address and business.

On the street, Roy walked quickly down to Aikin House and went up to Sam Kearney's offices. The speculator was evidently anxious to see him, for he was shown immediately into the private office.

"Glad you were able to come at once, Onslay." Kearney held out his hand bluffly. "I'm going to astonish you. I've changed my mind."

"In the matter of the Peyton Place house?" asked Roy, quickly. "I'm sorry to say my client has just notified me that he is taking the same attitude."

"Has he? The brute!" the speculator's face lost its genial smile. "Thought you were putting a tale up on me and attempting to purchase for yourself."

"Not at that price, Mr. Kearney. The fag-end of a lease is no good to me."

"Not at a price?"

"Not at five thousands, nor anything like it."

"Queer thing about the girl being murdered in that house."

"Sydney's a growing city. We must expect strange things with the new business. So far as I know, it is quite a common sort of murder."

"Hm! That's your opinion. Seen the noon papers? They're asking for your blood."

"Yellow Press sensation!" Roy laughed easily. "Because I was in the house. I'm to be sacrificed to the yellow press ideas of law and order."

For some minutes the big man sat back in his chair and gazed speculatively at his caller.

"I fancy you will have to take things a bit more seriously, Onslay," he said, at length. "They certainly seem to be making a fair case against you."

"Oh. they'd make out a case against the angel Gabriel, if he happened to be found in an empty house with a dead cat. What about Peyton Place? Do you want me to sell it for you?"

"I thought, you might buy it for yourself, or a client."

"Client's disappeared. I might buy—at a price."

"I paid 2700 for the balance of the lease."

"Who owns the freehold?"

"A Miss Judith Warbor. Know her?"

"No. Will she sell?"

"She refused the offer I made her."

"Perhaps you were too careful." Roy was thinking rapidly. The Peyton Place house intrigued him. He had been successful of late, and had a fair sum in the bank. Why not buy the place and probe behind the mystery.

"I offered her a fair price. She didn't attempt to dicker. Turned my offer down cold. Say, are you a buyer?"

"At a price. I'll give you three thousand pounds for the lease."

"Cash?"

"If necessary. I'd rather have terms. I'm going to sell again when I get an offer."

"It's a go. Want any more of them?"

"More of what?"

"The Peyton Place houses. There's six of them all on similar leases. Tell you what! You can have the six for ten thousand pounds; three thousand down and the balance on terms. Suit you?"

It was a gamble. Roy recognised that on his next word depended his future. Out of his own resources he could not provide more then half the sum required without hampering other activities. If he bought he must make quick sales, and those sales would have to be effected before the balance of the purchase money became due. Kearney had warned him that the movement against him had commenced. The newspapers had the story, as supplied by the police. That story, on its bare outline, damned him utterly. Embellished by the fertile pens of the writers, he would, in a few days, walk about the city shunned by friends and acquaintances. Strangers would point him out as a police-protected murderer, if he bought Peyton Place!

A feeling of recklessness, came over him. His purchase would give his enemies another weapon with which to hit him. They would be able to declare that he had purchased the property to baffle the search for clues—clues that, would undoubtedly lead to his conviction, for the murder of the unknown girl.

Roy looked up to meet the keen, unfriendly gaze of the big speculator fixed unwaveringly on him. What did this man know? What schemes were maturing behind that massive face? Roy already believed that, if he could pierce behind that baffling forehead, he would be able to read thoughts that would lead quickly to a solution of the mystery. He was coming to believe that Sam Kearney was in the centre of a gigantic web, holding out enticing bait to tempt him still further into the tangle. Two days ago the unknown girl was alive, and Sam Kearney was willing to sell 7a Peyton Place for what he could get above the price he had paid for it. Yesterday, the girl was dead, and Kearney refused to part with the property at any price. Today, the dead girl had been discovered and the police were in full cry after the murderer, and Kearney was again willing to sell—nay, eager to get rid of the property on almost any terms. What was the reading of the riddle?

For a full minute the two men sat and stared into each other's eyes. Roy felt that he was going to accept Roy's offer, and that the masterful man before him was willing him to that end. Yes. He would accept and the newspapers, and the public opinion that they led and formed, could journey to a nethermost hell.

"Well?" The word came from Kearney's lips, followed by the fragrant smoke from the cigar between his teeth.

"I buy." Roy drew his chair to the desk and wrote a cheque for three thousand pounds. "Six months to complete the purchase or deposit forfeited. One condition. The contract of sale must be in my hands by five o'clock this afternoon. Accepted?"

"You're quick." Kearney scanned the cheque and placed it under a paper weight. "I'll send the receipt round with the papers, all in order, by four-thirty. My clerk will wait and bring back your signature. Good day!"

In the street, Roy looked at his watch. It was twenty past twelve. He determined to go back to his office and see if Basil Holt had sent for his cheque. On the way he would deposit it at his bank and ask for it to be cleared immediately. By five o'clock he would, have thrown down the gage of battle against public opinion.

At the bank, and about the streets, Roy met many friends and acquaintances. He thought there was a growing coolness against him. Men who dabbled in real estate, and had in the past been anxious to meet and talk with him, now crossed the road, or were interested in shop windows. Roy held his head high and walked straight forward. He would fight this out, but the fight must be one of attack, not of defence.

A youth was standing at the counter in his outer office. For a moment Roy thought he had come from Basil Holt. He was about to speak when his typist turned towards him.

"Mr. Basil Holt telephoned to ask you to be in to meet him at a quarter to one, Mr. Onslay."

The broker looked at his watch. It was exactly a quarter to one. As his hand rested on the handle of his private room the outer door opened and Basil Holt entered.

"Ah, good!" Holt, a short, stout man with a very florid face, came quickly round the counter, his hand outstretched.

"I'm glad you waited in for me, Mr. Onslay."

"You've come for your cheque?" Roy felt slightly nervous. "If you will come into my room, Mr. Holt, I will—"

"Keep the cheque, Mr. Onslay." The man waved a podgy hand. "I've determined to go on with the purchase of the house—at any price."


CHAPTER IX

"I DON'T quite understand, Mr. Holt!" Roy spoke across his desk, facing his late client. "You say you now want to purchase the remainder of the lease of 7a Peyton Place, at any price?"

"That's so." Basil Holt was seated very upright in his chair, puffing nervously at a cigar. "You told me you had made an offer of 4500 for the property. Have you had any result from it?"

Without answering the question Roy drew the telephone to him and called Mansell & Co. Mark Mansell was in his office and was immediately connected.

"Sam Kearney stated a few minutes ago that the property was sold." answered the estate agent to Roy's inquiry. "Don't know who the purchaser is. Why! Do you want it now?"

"My client is in my office and has renewed his instructions to purchase." Roy spoke impersonally.

"That's funny." There followed a long pause. "I suppose I'd better tell you. Almost immediately you rang me up and cancelled your offer I received an instruction to purchase the property, at any price."

"At any price!"

"Sky the limit. I called Sam Kearney, and made on offer, prepared to go the limit, but was curtly informed I was too late, the property has just been sold. What do you know?"

"Little more than you. Suppose I mustn't ask who your client is!"

"Secrecy clause in the contract. Oh, say, have you seen the noon papers? They're hitting at you."

"So! Where do you come in? Have not forgotten we entered the house together, have you? Why hit at me and let the wealthy head of Mansell and Co. off without even a warning?"

"I wasn't there when—"

"When the cord and dagger appeared. Say, Mr. Mansell, have you forgotten your history so far that you fail to recognise that the cord and dagger once stood for a warning."

Without waiting for a reply Roy rang off and hung up the receiver. He could not have resisted the last thrust at his one-time friend. Mansell had been with him when he discovered the dead girl. The man had full knowledge of Roy's innocence, yet was trying to shift from under the coming storm. Roy could feel only a bitter contempt for him.

"Peyton Place is in the boom, Mr. Holt." Roy turned carelessly to his client. "I can tell you the property was sold just before midday, and shortly after half-past twelve Mansell and Co., received instructions from a client to offer the limit for it."

"Sold? The limit for it?" The man's face paled strangely; the hand holding the cigar shook so that the ash fell on the knees of his trousers.

"Mansell's received instructions to obtain the property at any cost." Roy took a vicious delight in seeing the man squirm. "He had acquired a very solid distaste for Basil Holt.

"Who made the offer?" Holt bent eagerly forward. "Don't you understand, Mr. Onslay. It is imperative that I have the property."

"Dead girl and all?" Roy was speaking recklessly. He had hardly spoken when he started from his chair, amazed at the effect of his words. The man fell forward, as if stricken by a paralytic stroke. For a moment he hung on the corner of the desk, his face white as a sheet his breath coming in long panting efforts. At last he managed to prop himself back in his chair, and sat staring stonily at the broker. Roy went round the desk and fetched a glass of water.

"Sorry, Mr. Holt, to have startled you so." He held the glass against the man's chattering teeth. "Here! Drink this!"

For a few seconds the man gulped greedily at the liquid. He sat upright with an effort, and stared at the broker.

"I want that property," he stuttered.

"It is not for sale."

"I'll give ten thousand pounds for that house." The man was watching Roy with glazed, expressionless eyes.

Ten thousand pounds! The bid left Roy speechless. He had but to speak one word and clear his indebtedness to Sam Kearney. He could part with 7a Peyton Place, but he would have the remaining five house on his hands, free from debt. It was probable he could quickly sell them and come out of the deal many thousands of pounds to the good. It would be, perhaps, the finest day's work he would ever accomplish in his business career.

"Sorry, the property is not for sale." Almost involuntary he spoke the words, keenly watching the man in the chair before him.

"But I must have it. What does the purchaser want? Ten—twenty thousand? Find out, Mr. Onslay. There must be a price. Money doesn't matter."

"Money does not matter to the man who has purchased the property." Roy spoke slowly. "I'm going to tell you the inside story of the deal, Mr. Holt When I received your instructions to cancel your bid for the property, I telephoned Mansell and Co. to that effect. Shortly after, I received a telephone message from Mr. Sam Kearney. He asked me to call on him. I did so, and he asked me if you were prepared to bid for the property. I answered 'No.' He then asked if I would purchase for myself. I considered the proposition and at last agreed. I purchased 7a Peyton Place and the five adjoining houses at noon today."

"Good!" Basil Holt recovered his colour. He drew his chair to the desk, and took his cheque-book from pocket.

"Of course, I understand the instructions to you are cancelled. We can start off afresh on a new deal. Now, what is your price for 7a Peyton Place?"

"I purchased the six houses, Mr. Holt."

"I don't want the six; I only want 7a."

"The houses are not for sale, Mr. Holt."

"Ten thousand pounds for the one house, 7a." Holt's voice became persuasive. "You know, Mr. Onslay, that's big money. I'm guessing you paid less than that for the six. Think! I'm offering you your money back, and you will have the five houses to your profit. Really, a splendid deal!"

"The houses are not for sale," Roy spoke stolidly.

"Nonsense." The man's voice became sharp. "Of course you're holding me up on what I said just now. Well, name your price, Mr. Onslay. I don't care what it is—it's sheer blackmail, anyway. Twenty thousand pounds for the one house!"

"Look here, Mr. Holt. I've given my answer." Roy had risen angrily from his chair and stood towering over his visitor. "I've made my plans regarding the houses. The two house at the corner of Macquarie Place and Peyton Place have been in my hands for sale for some time. I'm buying them. They, with the Peyton Place houses, will form an ideal hotel site."

"Hotel site?"

"Yes. I recognise you gave me the clue to a good deal, and I don't want to be ungenerous. I will sell you a quarter share in the eight houses for five thousand pounds."

For some minutes there was complete silence in the room. Basil Holt had risen from his chair and was leaning heavily against the corner of the desk, his left hand clutching his throat.

"I don't understand," he muttered in a strangled voice. "You refuse my offer of twenty thousand pounds for the one house, and offer me a share in the eight houses for five thousand pounds?"

"The problem's quite simple." Roy laughed slightly. "I'm offering you a quarter share in an hotel site proposition, not in the old houses. They'll be cleared away, and—"

"Are you proposing to pull down 7a Peyton Place?" The man looked absolutely stupefied.

"Just that. All the Peyton Place houses will come down, and also the two houses fronting Macquarie Place. On that site I intend to build a fifteen-storey—"

"Pull down 7a Peyton Place!" Holt looked with wondering eyes at the broker. "Man, you're mad!"

With a despairing gesture Holt turned and almost ran to the door, jerking it open and speeding out into the corridor. Roy stood staring after his late client The man had been an enigma from the first; now he appeared to be a plain lunatic.

Suddenly an idea came to the broker's mind. He turned to his desk and seized the telephone, calling police head-quarters. Hurriedly he asked to be connected with Detective Greyson. A long delay ensued before the cool, quiet voice of the police officer came over the wire.

"What's the hurry. Mr. Onslay. Told you the newspapers would go you some. Do you want me to come round and arrest you straight away?"

"Listen, Greyson." Roy could hardly speak for excitement. "Basil Holt's been here. Offered me any money for the Peyton Place house. I told him it was sold, and he went up to twenty thousand pounds for a last bid. When I told him the six houses were coming down to make way for a modern hotel, he nearly went mad and bolted from the room."

"Yon told him 7a Peyton Place was to come down—to be pulled down?" Greyson spoke with exasperating slowness.

"Yes, 7a and the other houses. To be pulled down, destroyed, obliterated! Don't you understand? Not one brick left on the other—and all that!"

"If you spoke to him as you're speaking now, I quite understand why he bolted from your office. Say, Mr. Onslay, what induced you to purchase that property?"

"Where did you get that from?" Roy asked the question in bewilderment. Little more than an hour had passed since he had made the deal with Sam Kearney.

"It's the talk of the town, young man. The Moon's got a double column on it, and is coupling it with the murder. Seems to suggest the murder was the outcome of the deal, or the deal of the murder. You've opened up things with a vengeance—and what the hell for, I quite fail to understand."

Roy dropped the receiver back on the hook, his bright idea on Holt's visit unstated to the police officer. This news overtopped everything. But a bare hour ago he had sat in Sam Kearney's offices making the deal. The contract of sale was still unsigned, although he had paid over his deposit cheque. Only he and Kearney—and now Holt—knew of the sale of the Peyton Place property to him.

Kearney had been most anxious to sell. He had practically forced the purchase on Roy, and that after refusing a fine profit on the one house the previous day. Was he to believe that Kearney, immediately he had left his office, had rung up the newspapers and given them details of the sale? It could only be so. What phase of the mystery surrounding the house in Peyton Place, and culminating in the death of the unknown girl, had forced the speculator to alter his plans and get rid of the property?

Roy believed that the great publicity given to the finding of the unknown girl's body in the Peyton Place house had been the dominant factor, forcing the speculator to get rid of the property Kearney had been most insistent that Roy should purchase. Immediately the deal was consummated he had conveyed the information to the press.

Was the passing of the Peyton Place property—so promptly conveyed to the press—intended for some particular person's eyes? Roy remembered that the man had started slightly when he informed him that his client had refused to go on with the purchase. Immediately, Kearney had assumed Roy to be the principal, shielding his interest behind talk of a client. Kearney had known that Basil Holt had withdrawn from the deal, and had been annoyed that he had not been able to anticipate the man's withdrawal. But, apart from Holt and Kearney, there appeared to be another party interested in 7a Peyton Place.

Was the person who had panicked the big speculator Mark Mansell's unknown client? Was it for the eyes of this person that Kearney had so widely advertised the purchase of Peyton Place by Roy Onslay? What had Sam Kearney known of the girl who had lain for twenty-four hours dead in that upper room?

More and more Roy's thoughts turned, in accusation, towards the big speculator. Slowly the clues to the mystery surrounding the unknown girl were linking together, and holding in their grip the big man who, for years, had dominated Sydney's property markets. Roy believed that Kearney, with half a dozen words, could put the police on the track of the murderer—but the man dared not speak those words. He was in mortal fear of some one—some one for who's eyes he had broadcasted Roy's purchase of the property.

Roy believed he was on the right track, at last. He picked up his hat and turned to the door to go to lunch. As he passed round his desk he caught sight of the open cheque-book lying before the chair on which Holt had been seated. He bent over it, inquisitively. Two cheque-forms were missing from the thin book. He pushed back the cover so as to reveal the butts. The first butt was blank, except for the amount: 100. The second butt was fully filled in. The cheque had been made payable to 'Roy Onslay,' and was for one thousand pounds.

Yet Roy had seen two cheques for one thousand pounds each, drawn by Basil Holt in favour of himself. One of them had been handed across the desk to him by the drawer. The other had been found on the dead girl in Peyton Place. The man's cheque-book showed only one cheque for one thousand pounds as having been drawn, and a cheque for one hundred pounds, payable to some unknown person. Did that partly filled-in butt represent the cheque Greyson declared he had found in the second envelope? If so, why the wrongly entered amount?


CHAPTER X

THE cheque forms in the book were mechanically numbered. The butts of the two cheques already used bore the numbers 70071 and 70072. The unused form exposed was numbered 70073, and a quick glance through the remainder of the book showed that no form had been withdrawn elsewhere.

Roy threw his hat back on the peg and telephoned police headquarters, asking that Greyson should come to his office as soon as possible. Then, with the open cheque-book on the desk before him, he sat down and tried to fit this new clue—if clue it was—into the mystery.

A telephone inquiry to his bank would give him the number of the Basil Holt cheque deposited for clearance that day. His hand was on the instrument when he hesitated. Greyson had asked that the cheque be immediately cleared. If he made any inquiry about it he might cause delay.

He was not quite certain what was at the back of the detective's mind when he made the request. A delay might seriously hamper some plan Greyson had formed and was waiting to develop. Some instinct told him that neither of the cheques torn from the butts of the book before him corresponded with the cheque he had found in the dead girl's hand-bag. If that was so, then this new discovery might lead nowhere. The second filled-in butt would correspond to the cheque he had paid into his bank. The '100' butt might have been used by the man for some purpose other than the Peyton Place house.

Who was Basil Holt, and what were his reasons for wanting the Peyton Place property? He had come to Roy out of the teeming multitude of Sydney city. He had asked that the broker purchase for him a house in a back street. There was little but suspicion to connect him with the dead girl Mansell and he had found in that house. Up to the telephone conversation that day, the man's attitude had been normal. The refusal to go on with the negotiations for the purchase of the house, because of the finding of the dead girl on the premises, had been trivial and illogical. The man's incomprehensible attitude in Roy's offices, when informed that the houses in Peyton Place were to be pulled down, was the first direct clue to anything but a business interest in the place.

Had not Roy become curious regarding the house in Peyton Place—had he not chanced on the "Lonely Lady" advertisements—it was possible 7a Peyton Place might have passed into the possession of Basil Holt. In that case, Holt would have found the body of the girl, some days later, when he went to take possession of his new purchase. What would Holt have done? Would he have sent for the police?

Roy had a strange belief that if Holt had acquired the property in the normal manner the dead girl would never have come to her death in that house—that Holt's keen desire to purchase was to cover some criminal activities, of which the murder was but an incident, unforeseen and embarrassing.

Against that assumption stood Sam Kearney's wavering attitude regarding the property. He had refused to sell the house at the time Basil Holt was willing to purchase it. He had, with no known reason, changed his mind; and almost coincident with Kearney's willingness to sell had come Holt's refusal to go on with the negotiations.

It only remained for Kearney to try to get out of the contract to sell, that he had entered into that morning, to complete the cycle of mystery. From whatever angle Roy looked at the facts, they held a direct relationship to the discovery of the dead girl. Could Kearney have had any knowledge of the girl's dead body in that upper room in Peyton Place? He had refused to sell the property while the corpse lay there, undiscovered. Immediately on the publication of the finding of the body he had been anxious to be rid of the place at any cost. He had sent for Roy and almost forced the purchase of the property on him; and immediately he had effected the sale, gained the greatest publicity for it.

Yet, in some manner, the discovery of the girl's body had forced the hands of both Sam Kearney and Basil Holt. Roy was certain of that. He believed that both men wore interested in concealing the murder and in shielding the murderer, although for different reasons. The one positive fact indicating this was Basil Holt's panic-stricken flight, when faced with the fact that Peyton Place was to be pulled down. At that interview he had clearly indicated that his sole interest lay in 7a. He did not care what happened to the other houses in the row. Roy looked at his watch. It was nearly half-past one. For the moment he debated whether to go to lunch or to wait for the police officer.

Ho decided to remain in his office. Lunch could wait. The suggestion that in some manner Sam Kearney would try and slip out of the verbal agreement to sell Peyton Place persisted in his mind. Roy went to the typewriter in the outer office and slipped a sheet of note-paper in the machine. He would write to Kearney confirming the purchase of the property and insisting that the contract of sale be immediately completed. He would ignore the question of terms of payment and arrange to hand over the balance of the purchase money to the speculator immediately.

The letter completed, he next wrote to the bank. They held certain securities sufficient to cover the balance of the purchase money on Peyton Place. Roy asked that the bank advance the necessary money on these securities, until they could be realised on the market. He was risking much by this action, but he had a belief that, with the Peyton Place houses in his hands, he held the key to the strange mystery in which he had become involved.

As he finished the second letter, Greyson walked into the office. The broker handed the copies of the two letters to him. He read them carefully and nodded his satisfaction. "You're certainly justifying my belief in you, Mr. Onslay," the detective remarked gravely. "But this is going to cost you a pretty penny."

"Ten thousand pounds—nearly all I have in the world. But, if the plans I have formed materialize, I stand to make quite a hundred thousand pounds on the deal."

"A hundred thousand pounds in pulling down a row of dilapidated houses!" Greyson whistled softly. "There seems to be some money in real estate."

"Not in pulling down the houses," corrected the broker, "but in changing one of the eyesores of Sydney into a big, modern hotel with a handsome frontage to Macquarie Place. Wonder some one never thought of it before. With all the overseas shipping crowding Sydney Harbour, the proposition's a gold-mine."

"Not on a fifteen years' lease," the police officer objected. "You told me a while ago that Miss Warbor refused to consider selling the freehold."

"She might consider cancelling these leases and giving me a satisfactory long term lease of the whole place," Roy laughed. "So far, I believe, I have made a very fair bargain. If Miss Warbor falls in with my views, she will find herself in a much more satisfactory position."

"There's a lot in that. Now, what do you want me for?"

Roy led the way into his private room and pointed to the cheque-book that Holt had left on his desk. Without speaking, Greyson examined the book, fingering it as little as possible. He took from his pocket-book the cheque taken from the second envelope, and laid it on the book. The number on it did not correspond to any of those on the forms. They were numbered from 70071 and ended with 70090. The cheque was numbered 70091.

"Probably the first form out of a new book," commented the detective. "Now, Mr. Onslay, give me the description of this Basil Holt again. Don't try to remember what you told me yesterday. Go ahead describing the man as you saw him this morning. Between your two descriptions I may be able to pick out something that will identify him to our fellows."

Roy tried to give a careful word picture of the man, as he had appeared that morning. Greyson listened in silence, making occasional notes in his pocket-book. When the broker ceased speaking he lay back in his chair, frowning thoughtfully.

"Let's get back to the Peyton Place deal," he said abruptly. "You'll remember, I remarked over the phone, that your purchase of Peyton Place would be made to look queer. That's because you're the only person who seems to have set eyes on this Basil Holt. He's not in the directories, nor on the electoral rolls. I can tell you there's quite a hue and cry about the city for that man. Some of the newspaper fellows refuse to believe he exists. They infer you're working some queer point behind this imaginary person."

For half an hour the two men discussed the latest developments of the mystery. Then Greyson placed Basil Holt's cheque book in his pocket, and left for police headquarters. He instructed Roy, if the man returned and demanded his cheque-book, to refer him to headquarters. He was to explain that he had handed the book to the police, because he was not aware of Holt's address. Nothing was to be said of the cheque found on the dead girl. Roy went out for lunch.

On his way down the street he purchased the late editions of the newspapers. The Peyton Place mystery was well displayed. The Moon gave special prominence to Roy's part in the mystery. Boxed in the centre of the story was a paragraph setting out his purchase of the property from Sam Kearney. The inference could not be avoided. In the three columns devoted to the affair his name occurred again and again, always accompanied by suggestions that he had not taken the police—and incidentally the public—into his full confidence. Roy was struck by the remarkable absence of any mention of Mark Mansell's part in the discovery of the dead girl. The newspapers merely recorded that Mansell had been with Roy that night, and had left immediately the body was found, to obtain police assistance. The Estate Agent had, apparently, not been interviewed by the newspaper reporters. If he had, his story of the night's happenings should have materially contradicted the newspaper case against the broker. Roy felt the attack was unjust. He could not but think that some great influence was at work in the newspaper offices to overwhelm and discredit him. He had to couple this veiled attack with the anxiety Kearney had shown to get immediate publicity for his sale and Roy's purchase of Peyton Place.

Leaving his meal half-finished, Roy walked out of the restaurant. He was disinclined to go back to his office. There was little to do there, and possibly Kearney might attempt to seek him out to obtain a revision of the contract of sale. It would be wise to keep out of the way for the time. At half-past four the contract should be ready for his signature. If it did not arrive by five o'clock Kearney would have defaulted, and he would hand him over to his solicitors to deal with. Then the full story of the Peyton Place dealings would come out, and probably Sam Kearney would have many awkward questions to answer.

Roy was determined to go on with his suddenly conceived plans for an hotel on the Peyton Place site. The scheme had been born of a sudden impulse, but the more he considered it the more it appealed to him. If Judith Warbor would grant the new lease, or sell him the freehold, he was certain he could put the deal through. It was a proposition that would appeal to Sir Matthew Hyston, the best-known architect in the city. With his interest engaged, there would be no trouble in obtaining the necessary capital. That secured, Roy's ten thousand pounds speculation would yield a magnificent return.

First, he must obtain the freeholds, or a long lease of the ground, from Miss Judith Warbor. Roy know little of her, although her name was familiar. Her father, Stephen Warbor, had many years before established a chain of newsagencies and libraries throughout the State. He had built up a gigantic business—to die and leave his young daughter a majority of the shares in a company paying heavy dividends.

Still considering the problems surrounding his visionary hotel, Roy wandered down Pitt Street. He came to a halt at the entrance to Peyton Place. It opened on the east side of the street, some two hundred yards from the spot where Pitt Street merged into Circular Quay. At the south corner of the Place stood a branch of Warbor Libraries Ltd. The opposite corner was occupied by a large hairdresser-tobacconist shop. Across the entrance to the Place straddled a queer, stone arch, containing, so far as Roy could see, two rooms, occupied by the Library. The tobacconist's shop did not enter into Roy's scheme for the new hotel. The library stood on the corner of Peyton Place and backed on to the houses. If he could interest Judith Warbor, he might be able to acquire the Library site and include it in his plans. From the bulk of the new building he would be able to make provision for the Library, possibly turning it into a valuable asset to the hotel.

The more he considered the scheme the better Roy liked it. He remembered that for some time the City Council had wished to close the Place. Only the strong influence of the Warbor Estates had kept it open. There would be no difficulty in obtaining the closing of the thoroughfare.

Roy entered the Place and walked down past the row of shops. Numbers 1 and 2 had disappeared—they had probably been pulled down when the Library building was erected. The first existing shop was numbered 3, and the numbers continued to 7a. From 3 to 7 the houses were of one pattern. Number 7a was different. It showed signs that it had been erected at a later date, probably on the gardens of the houses fronting on Macquarie Place.

Number 3 was empty, and a glance through the windows showed that it was being used as a store by the Library. Number 4 was in the occupation of a petty newsagent. Number 5 was kept by a grocer named Green. Number 6 was empty, and 7 was in the occupation of as antique-dealer. Number 7a was vacant. A constable lounged in its doorway.

Roy halted half-way down the Place and looked at his newly-acquired property. Why had Sam Kearney bought these leases? They were right out of his usual line of speculation. The houses were dilapidated and not worth renting unless considerable sums of money were spent on their repair. Kearney had told him that Judith Warbor would not sell the freehold. He had said that he had approached her with an offer; possibly before he purchased the leases. She had refused to sell: then why had he bid for the leases? The man had held the property for quite six months—and had taken no steps to sell it, or to put it in a condition for letting. He had allowed it to lie idle, neglected, and unremunerative, until the dead girl had been found in the upper room of 7a. Then he had hastened to sell—at a price Roy believed to be less than the sum he had paid for the leases!

As Roy turned on his heels, surveying the Place, he noticed a man standing close against the blank wall under the arch. For a fraction of a second their eyes met. Roy started forward. The man turned abruptly and, crossing before the Library, disappeared in the thronged Pitt Street. Roy walked swiftly after him, but he was soon out of sight. The man was Basil Holt! Why had he been standing there, watching him? If Holt had recognised him why had he not come forward to inquire about the cheque-book he had left in Roy's office? He must have known, by this time, of the loss of the book. Yet, immediately Roy turned towards him, he disappeared in the crowded street.

Roy shrugged his shoulders and turned up the Place again. The man was mad. If he came to his offices he would inform him that the police were in possession of his cheque-book, and advise him to apply to them for it. A burly man stepped out of the antique-shop, halting to speak to someone within. Roy hesitated, then turned sharply, towards Pitt Street. Under the arch he loitered, with his back to the Place, until he heard the man's steps close behind him. He turned swiftly, his hand outstretched.

"How are you, Mr. Kearney! Come to have a final look at the property you have so recently disposed of?"


CHAPTER XI

"ROY ONSLAY!" Same Kearney looked slightly confused, but quickly recovered his assurance. "I was coming to see you this afternoon."

"Meaning?" The broker looked the speculator full in the eyes.

"Seen the newspapers?" Kearney's eyes wandered down the Place. "They're giving you quite a bit of—er, publicity."

"That's so. I had the pleasure of reading my name quite a number of times while I was having lunch. Was your visit to be one of sympathy?"

"I can see you're raw, my boy." There was a sympathetic note in the big man's voice. "I can't blame you. Seems I've let you in for a lot more trouble."

"More trouble?" Roy smiled quietly. He had guessed the speculator's thoughts correctly.

"Letting you buy this property." Kearney gave a vague wave of his hand up Peyton Place. "I like to help young men. So—so we'll say no more about what took place in my office this morning. Get me?"

"I'm not asking to be let off my bargain, Mr. Kearney?"

"No one's suggesting that." There was impatience in the big man's voice. "It was my fault, not realising how you stood in—"

"Where I stood?" Roy's voice hardened.

"Oh, you can't understand. Why, I asked Anderson, K.C., at lunch, if an action for libel would lie against the Moon and he had said they had gone far, but he was doubtful as to an action. Of course, libel actions are costly. I've fought quite a few, as you know."

"Issued quite a number of writs, Mr. Kearney." Roy spoke with scorn. "I understand your meaning, but I don't like that sort of thing. The law of defamation in this State is a curse! The man who does wrong can issue a writ at the cost of a few shillings and so prevent any further attempt to expose his malpractices. He can gag the newspapers for six months at a time, for a 'fiver,' or thereabouts, and by the time the writ expires something more modern has cropped up and he continues on his career, unexposed. If any fresh attempt is made to publish further facts relating to his activities he issues another writ. He has not the slightest intention of proceeding in Court. His one aim is to stifle exposure, and in ninety-nine cases of the hundred, he attains his object. Sydney is littered with abortive writs, not one of them issued with the idea of being pleaded before a Judge and jury."

"Saint Roy!" The big laugh rumbled against the archway over their heads.

"I'm neither reformer, politician, nor business rogue." Onslay spoke warmly. "I'm willing to grant that big men in this country have taken advantage of this law. I can quote a Cabinet Minister of Australia who used this gag. But even his high office, and general character, is not sufficient to induce me to follow a line of conduct of which I strongly disapprove."

"Well, let it pass. Take my tip, Roy. Go for a holiday and forget that such a spot as Peyton Place exists. I'll not remind you."

"That means you want to cancel the sale of Peyton Place?"

"Don't you?" The big man registered surprise in almost a professional manner.

"Who gave the information regarding the sale to the newspapers, Mr. Kearney?"

"That's my fault." Roy could see the big man was holding his temper with difficulty. "A young journalist drifted in almost as you left my office demanding real estate news. Without thinking that the information could hurt you, I mentioned the sale of Peyton Place. Never thought they would link it up with the murder in the way they had. Don't worry, Roy. I'm going back to my offices, now. I'll telephone to the newspapers and say there was some mistake. Trust me to get you out of it."

"But you're not going to get out of it, Mr. Kearney." Roy simulated innocence. "Before lunch I advised my solicitors of the purchase, and arranged that the contract was to be completed as quickly as possible. I expect the contracts from you, as promised, before five this afternoon."

"You mean you don't want to withdraw?" Kearney stared at the broker in surprise.

"I don't think so." Roy was smiling quietly. "Mr. Compton Browne, who acts for me—I believe you know him—is satisfied that I have made a good bargain, and advises me to go on." Roy noticed that the mention of the lawyer's name had caused Kearney to change colour. Twice in his career the big speculator had had to face cross-examination at the instance of Compton Browne, and each time had left the witness-box with his character torn to ribbons.

"You're a damned fool!" Kearney uncontrolled temper flared up suddenly. "A damned, conceited fool! Well, this case'll be your end, if you don't stand in the dock on a charge of murdering that girl."

"Thanks very much for your sympathy." Roy could not help the broad smile on his face. "I won't add, for your proposed help, for I can't believe it entirely disinterested. Please understand, Mr. Kearney, unless Compton Browne hears from me by five o'clock that I have the contract of sale and that it is satisfactory, he will—"

"What?" Sam Kearney's face was flushed and his fists clenched. "Well, what?"

"I believe a very pretty case for damages will lie, to say nothing about other matters that may be brought into court. I expect to make quite a hundred thousand pounds on the deal."

"Blackmail, eh?" The big man caught Roy roughly by the shoulder, as he was turning away. "Suppose you're dickering for a deal. Well, I'll buy. Name your price to cancel the contract of sale, which you haven't signed yet. Put a price on it, damn you. Don't care what it is—it's sheer blackmail, anyway. Twenty thousand for the row of houses!"

For a moment Roy was staggered. Sam Kearney was acting—nay, using the same words Basil Holt had used in his office but a few hours ago.

"There's no attempt at blackmail, Mr. Kearney." Roy shook the heavy hand from his shoulder. "You pressed me to buy Peyton Place, and I bought it. Keep to your contract. If you will not honour your word, when I get back to my offices I'm going to call the reporters and give them the strength of Messrs. Kearney and Holt, and their peculiar behaviour over the Peyton Place property. Your very inconsistent attitude will make interesting copy for them."

Without another glance at the dumbfounded speculator, Roy turned and walked into Pitt Street. He was furiously angry, and much puzzled. Sam Kearney had changed his mind again. Roy swore that he would not recede from the attitude he had taken up. Sam Kearney had sold the house, and he would force him to complete the deal. Kearney and Basil Holt had been loitering about Peyton Place! For what reason? Basil Holt had avoided him. Sam Kearney might have done do if Roy had not seen him coming out of the antique-shop, and trapped him.

Did Basil Holt and Sam Kearney know each other? Roy came to a sudden halt as the question struck his mind. Was Basil Holt watching him or Kearney? The big man had been in the antique-shop when Roy entered the Place. Yet it was not until Roy had been there for some time that he noticed Basil Holt. It was more probable that the man had been watching him.

Roy had thought that, with the passage of time, the mystery surrounding Peyton Place would become clearer. Instead, it was thickening. Event followed event with startling rapidity, and not one of them appeared to link with another. The one fact he could see in the maze of bewilderment was, that not one of the interested parties know whether to sell or hold Peyton Place. Roy was determined that that should no longer obscure other facts. He had purchased the houses from Sam Kearney, and he would have them delivered—and hold them—at all costs.

Roy strode up Pitt Street to Kensington Chambers, where Sir Matthew Hyston had his offices. He had met the famous architect on several occasions, and liked him. The old man, grey with wisdom in dealing with city men, had shown a fancy for the broker. Roy knew that he could rely on a careful hearing and sound advice, if not on actual assistance.

Across the desk of the man who was doing much to make Sydney a city beautiful, Roy stated his case for a big modern hotel on the Peyton Place site. In answer to questions, he harked back to the commencement of the mystery in which he was involved, setting out his interviews with Basil Holt and Sam Kearney.

Sir Matthew listened in silence, pulling at his long grey moustache.

"Glad you told me the full story, Onslay." The old man held out his hand warmly. "Had you come to me with the proposition for the hotel, without explanation, I should have refused to have anything to do with it. As it is now, I like your proposals. I think you've been hardly treated by some person you haven't yet uncovered. Come and see me in a couple of days. I'll have a talk with some of the people I'm in touch with. Your part for the present is to get those leases put right. When that's done, perhaps we can talk business. One doesn't build a first class hotel in a day, y'know."

The brief interview with Sir Matthew considerably smoothed Roy's feelings, which had been ruffled by the interview with Sam Kearney. He walked up to his offices conning plans for an hotel that should overshadow all other hotels in the growing city. He would create a wonder-palace, to be spoken of, not only through the great Australian continent, but in the old world, and the Americas. He had conceived the idea hastily, almost in defiance of the slanders gathered about him. Now he would create a monument to the lasting disgrace of the secret enemies who sought his destruction.

"A lady to see you, Mr. Onslay." Isobel Malim swung round in her chair as her employer walked into the outer office. "She is in your room."

"Thanks! Anything from Mr. Kearney? No. Did you have those letters I left on your machine delivered? Good! Four-thirty! There's no need for you to stop, if you want to get away."

Roy crossed the outer office and opened the door of his room. A girl was sitting in the lounge chair under the window, her face bent over a magazine. She looked up as Roy came into the room, and he stopped, almost exclaiming in amazement. She wore the ear-rings of the girl who had looked in at the shop door of 7a Peyton Place on the previous evening.


CHAPTER XII

WHAT did the girl with the ear-rings want with him? Roy stood in the doorway, staring at her. She showed no signs of embarrassment, looking up at him with a little smile playing at the corners of her mouth. She was a pretty girl. Roy quickly made up his mind to that. A dark oval face, the skin clear and of a pure olive complexion. Her eyes were dark—the broker could not quite decide their exact shade. At first, in the deep shadow in which she sat, he thought them to be black but, when she turned her head, the light lit them with flickering points of gold. Her nose and chin were firm, and finely moulded. The mouth was large, almost too large for her face, but the lips arched finely. Her hair was black, loosely cut, giving her a strangely boyish appearance.

She was dressed in black, unrelieved by colours. The effect was sombre. Pendant to her ears were the quaint green-stone ear-rings identifying her with the girl at the shop-door. They seemed to overweigh her small delicate face.

"Mr. Onslay." The girl spoke easily, but with a slight accent that Roy could not quite place. "I am Rene Wesche."

Roy bowed and walked to his seat at the desk. Had she recognised him? He did not believe so. He had been at the back of the shop and in deep shadows. He would not have recognised her, but for the ear-rings.

"What can I do tor you, Miss Wesche?" Roy spoke hesitatingly. He wanted to ask her what she had been doing at the mystery shop on the previous night. She looked too fine and clean to be the associate of thieves and murderers. Yet he could not but remember that she had rung the bell to clear the way for the murderer, or his associate, to rob and deface the unknown girl.

"I came to ask you if this is true."

Rene leaned forward and laid a copy of the Moon on his desk; the announcement of the sale of Peyton Place exposed, and marked with a blue pencil ring.

"What is your interest in the matter, Miss Wesche?" Roy glanced at the newspaper, carelessly.

"You do not deny the purchase of the leases?"

"No." the broker spoke thoughtfully. "I have no wish to deny the purchase of the property. May I ask again what interest you have in my purchase?"

"I am Miss Judith Warbor's secretary."

"Did Miss Warbor ask you to see me on this matter?"

"No." The girl coloured slightly. "I have not seen Miss Warbor for some days."

"Then Miss Warbor is ignorant of the fact that I have purchased the leases from Mr. Sam Kearney?"

"I do not know."

"Has Miss Warbor given you authority to deal with matters relating to the sale of the Peyton property?"

"I do not think Miss Warbor has any power of dispute in the matter of the transfer of the leases." Rene spoke almost antagonistically. "Her interest will commence in about fifteen years, when the lease falls in."

"I may sell before that time." Roy smiled quietly. "In fact, I can inform you, I have a client anxious to purchase one of the houses. I have knowledge of a client who wishes to purchase the row of houses."

"You are willing to sell?"

"Buying and selling property is my business."

"Miss Warbor is anxious to purchase the leases."

"Did Miss Warbor authorise you to make me an offer, Miss Wesche?"

"No. I believe Miss Warbor made an offer of purchase to Mr. Sam Kearney."

Roy was interested. This was news, indeed. Sam Kearney had not mentioned that fact to Roy. It was a new factor in a seemingly unsolvable mystery! Sam Kearney had had control of the Peyton Place property for at least six months; he had taken no steps to put the property in order and repair; he had refused to sell when Roy had gone to him on behalf of Basil Holt; he had refused Judith Warbor's offer of purchase. Why?

It was unlike Kearney to hold on to a property, unless by doing so he could see great profits. In this case he had held—to sell to Roy—when he could have obtained big profits from others.

"Miss Warbor tried to purchase the leases of the Peyton Place property from Mr. Sam Kearney!" Roy spoke thoughtfully. "Can you tell me how long ago that was, Miss Wesche?"

"Just before Judith dis—but a few days ago."

"Just before Miss Warbor disappeared." The broker accented the last word. "So, Miss Warbor left home without advising you when she would return, or where she was going?"

"Yes."

"Do you know what price Miss Warbor offered Mr. Kearney?"

"I believe she asked him to name a price."

"And Mr. Kearney refused—to name a price!"

"Yes."

"Did Miss Warbor seem worried by Mr. Kearney's refusal to sell?"

"Yes. But, Mr. Onslay, you are cross-questioning me about Miss Warbor's business."

"I am most anxious to have an interview with Miss Warbor about the property, Miss Wesche."

"You wish to sell?" The girl leaned forward, as if Roy's answer to her question was of importance.

"No. I would like to purchase the freehold of the property."

"Miss Warbor will not sell."

"I think she will, when she hears my views. I want to pull down that row of ugly, dilapidated houses, and—"

Roy stopped and stared at the girl in astonishment. Her face had grown deathly white, and the newspaper she held trembled visibly.

"To pull down Peyton Place? Miss Warbor will never consent to that."

"Not if I propose to erect better buildings on the site?"

"Your leases only run for fifteen years. Your proposal is fantastic!" Rene sat upright in her chair, speaking emphatically.

"I propose to ask Miss Warbor, if she will not sell the freehold, to replace the present leases with a long-dated leases at a fair rental. I think Miss Warbor will not consider my proposal so fantastic when I explain it fully to her."

"Miss Warbor will not consider the destruction of the Peyton Place houses." Rene spoke firmly. "She will make you an offer to purchase the leases."

"Then there will be spirited competition." Roy laughed openly. "Do you know Miss Wesche, I had an offer of twenty thousand pounds for the lease this afternoon?"

"Twenty thousand pounds!" Rene turned the newspaper quickly. "Why, it says here you only gave ten thousand pounds for the property."

"Mr. Kearney made that offer to me soon after lunch to-day, in Peyton Place."

"You refused?"

"I refused. Miss Warbor will have to bid high to induce me to let her have the property."

"Why, this is blackmail!" The girl started to her feet. "The houses are not worth the money you gave for them."

"I believe Mr. Kearney gave about that price for them six months ago, and his only interest is to buy and to sell at a profit. By the way, Miss Wesche, you spoke of blackmail! Have you a good reason for using that term?"

The girl had risen to her feet and was walking agitatedly up and down the room. Roy sat silent, watching her. In a few seconds she regained her composure and turned to face him across the desk.

"I must apologise for the expression." Rene spoke with some effort. "I should not have spoken so. But—but there are things you know nothing of. Things that worry me; that I can't understand, and—"

She had ceased speaking and threw herself in the chair, covering her face with her hands.

"I understand you are in trouble. Miss Wesche." Roy rose from his seat and passed round the desk to the side of the girl. "You say Miss Warbor has disappeared. I gather that she left her home and you, very soon after she received Sam Kearney's refusal to sell her the leases of Peyton Place. Do you connect the two facts together?"

"I do not know." Rene raised her face from her hands. "I don't know what to think. I don't know what to do!"

"Have you been to Miss Warbor's solicitors? Perhaps they have heard from her? Miss Warbor has, I believe, many interests. She may have been called away, and forgotten to notify you."

"Called away without a change of things, without even signing important letters lying on her desk? No, no! Something dreadful has happened. I am sure of that."

"What advice did the lawyers give you Miss Wesche?"

"Mr. Allard told me to go home and not worry. Miss Warbor is—is a little eccentric, and—They have known her since she was a child."

"If Mr. Allard refuses to worry over the temporary disappearance of his client, that should reassure you." Roy spoke almost against his convictions. Queer thoughts were chasing through his brain.

"Mr. Allard knows little of Judith's personal affairs. I know she has been worried and distracted for months. I have watched her, and have tried to make her talk things over with me, but she would not."

"When did you last see Miss Warbor?"

"The day she went down to Mr. Kearney's office to try and purchase the leases of Peyton Place. She came back dreadfully worried and said she must find some means of forcing Mr. Kearney to sell to her.

"For a long time she shut herself in her room, walking about and talking to herself. She refused to open the door when I wanted to go to her. About five o'clock she came downstairs, dressed to go out. I met her on the stairs and asked if she would be in to dinner. She said she did not know, and did not reply when I asked if I should give orders for dinner to be delayed until she returned."

"And then!" Roy asked the question as the girl paused.

"I put dinner back an hour, but she did not come home. She did not return that night. Then I searched her room. She had taken nothing with her. I was worried and went to Mr. Allard."

"Miss Wesche." Roy spoke quietly. "Were you looking for Miss Warbor when you peered in at the shop-door of 7a Peyton Place last night?"


CHAPTER XIII

"WHAT do you mean?" The girl sprang to her feet, staring at Roy in amazement.

"I say, I was in the shop at 7a Peyton Place last night when a ring came at the bell, and I saw you, or someone extremely like you, and wearing those queerly-shaped green ear-rings, standing looking in at the door."

For a moment there was deep silence. The girl stood staring at him with wide open horrified eyes. Then, with a slight moan, she dropped on the floor, insensible.

Roy cursed the impulse that had urged him to challenge the girl at the time when she was distressed over the disappearance or Judith Warbor. He dropped to his knees beside her, not knowing how to act. The glass and water-jug on the shelf close to the window caught his eye. He went to it and poured out a glass of water, then returned to the side of the insensible girl. Should he dash it on her face, or try to make her swallow some? What on earth was a businessman to do with an attractive girl who dropped in a faint at his feet? Isobel Malim might not yet have left the office, although it was some time since he had told her to finish for the night. He went to the door. As his hand was on the handle the door was flung open and Basil Holt strode into the room.

"What do you mean by walking into my private room in that manner?" Roy was thoroughly angry, and the sight of the man who had led him into the maze of perplexities in which he was involved was too much for his temper. "Get out, and be damned."

"Eh?" The stout man stood with his hand on the door-handle, staring past Roy. The broker lurched forward and swept the man on one side. Isobel Malim had left the office. He turned to find Holt had walked across the room, and was staring down at the unconscious girl.

"So that's your game?" Holt leered up significantly into Roy's face. "First you got yourself mixed up with a dead girl in the Peyton Place house; now I come here to find a girl on the floor of your office, and insensible. Looks like there's a lot of awkward questions for you to answer, Mr. Roy Onslay!"

"Is there!" Roy's hand went out and caught the man by the collar, shaking-him from side to side. "Perhaps there's a few questions you might answer. What have you come here for? Your chequebook? Well, you can apply to Detective sergeant Greyson for that. He was here at midday and I gave it him as you had so carefully removed the card with your address from my table. He's got the—"

Roy stopped abruptly. He had been about to challenge the man with the cheque found on the dead girl, but remembered Greyson's warning in time.

"The police?" The man's ruddy face went gray. "What's the police got to do with my cheque-book?"

"I've told you. Greyson's got your cheque-book, because you'd taken care I shouldn't know where to find you. Now he wants to see you and ask you a few questions."

The shot went home. For a moment Holt stood hesitant, then turned quickly to the door. Roy was before him. He swung the door closed and turned the key in the lock.

"Here you stay, my friend, until Greyson arrives. Perhaps he'll return your Cheque-book, but I rather fancy he will went you to answer some questions about your ability in drawing cheques. I think you can clear up quite a number of little points that are worrying him. Get out of my way, now. I've got to see to this girl."

He slid the key into his pocket and walked across to where Rene lay on the floor. She had not moved and he was uncertain how to act. He turned to the telephone and called police headquarters. To the constable who answered he gave his name and address with a message for Greyson to the effect that he had Basil Holt locked up in his office. It was a curt message, likely to receive immediate attention in the Department. His next business was the insensible girl. Roy lifted her into the lounge chair. The movement seemed to arouse her. In a few minutes she struggled to an upright position.

"I fainted, didn't I?" Her hands went instinctively to her hat. "How silly of me. Mr. Onslay, have you a—"

"Mr. Basil Holt." Roy ironically performed the introduction, seeing Rene stare at the stranger. He was feeling pleased with himself. With Holt and the girl as prisoners in his offices, and Greyson hurrying to take charge of the situation, he felt that the mystery was in a fair way towards solution.

"Mr. Basil Holt?" Rene looked at the stout man with a puzzled frown. "I—Haven't I seen you before, Mr. Holt?"

The man staring intently at the girl, shook his head slowly. A sullen, furtive look had come into his face; his fingers drummed nervously on the top of the desk.

"I'm sure I've seen you somewhere before." The girl did not appear able to take her eyes from the man's face.

"Perhaps it was in Peyton Place, Miss Wesche?" Roy felt he was cruel in reminding the girl of the cause of her fainting fit, but he was determined to gain information now that he had these two actors in the tragedy with him.

"Peyton Place!" A slight shiver shook the girl's slender frame. "No, I have not seen him in Peyton Place—oh, I remember. You called to see Miss Warbor one day."

"Called on Miss Warbor!" Roy grinned. "Perhaps Mr. Holt would like to explain the reason for his call on Miss Judith Warbor?"

"I shall explain nothing." Basil Holt had recovered his poise. "I demand that you open that door and let me go."

"Without your check-book? Couldn't possibly! You might want to draw a few more cheques. No, I'm afraid your business is in this room until Detective Greyson arrives. Now, let me suggest to you, Mr. Basil Holt, that your call on Miss Warbor was in reference to 7a Peyton Place?"

Holt started violently. Again His ruddy colour paled. However, on this occasion he was quicker in recovering his composure. "Mr. Onslay has queer methods of dealing with his clients," he sneered.

"You're no client of mine." Roy was enjoying the scene. "You withdrew our instructions. Suppose you've conveniently forgotten that?"

"I've not forgotten that you purchased the property I instructed you to obtain for me. I suppose the thousand pounds I handed you went to pay the deposit?"

"The thousand pounds?"

"Oh. you needn't start to make excuses." Holt spoke rapidly and with temper. "The matter will look mighty strange when I've had my say. Looks to me, young fellow, that you'll have to clear out of the country—and quick. You take my information and my money, and close the deal for yourself. Who's going to trust you after that? Immediately the police come I'm going to give you in charge for misappropriating ten thousand pounds. You'll have to answer that charge, even if the police let you off answering for the death of the girl in the Peyton Place house."

"You damned scoundrel!" Roy made an angry movement towards the man, but checked himself. "I'm not going to argue with you. Here you stay until the police come."

"As for you, young lady." Holt turned to the girl. "You've heard what I said about this follow. I'll advise you to be mighty careful, if you have any business with him. He's as slick as they make 'em. I wouldn't trust him a yard."

"The police!" The girl turned suddenly to Roy. "Mr. Onslay, they mustn't find me here. You must let me go before they come."

Roy shook his head. The situation was beyond him; Greyson must handle it. He did not believe that the girl had any guilty knowledge of the unknown girl in Peyton Place, although her actions might appear suspicions. He would have let her go, but to unfasten the door might give Holt a chance to escape. The man would be no mean opponent in spite of his short figure.

"Very well. I'll wait for the police." Holt spoke quietly, seating himself on the edge of the desk. "You'll have to explain how you came to cash the cheque of mine after I had notified you that I would not go on with the deal. Pure stealing; that's what I call it."

Roy took no notice of the man. He was looking at the girl lying back in the big chair, pale and languid. He was beginning to realise the strain she had borne for days. First, the mysterious disappearance of her friend and employer; then, the gradual coupling of Judith Warbor's disappearance with the mystery surrounding the house in Peyton Place, following the notoriety that house had so suddenly acquired; and finally, the long columns in the newspapers retailing the discovery of the dead girl and the sensational purchase of the leases by the man who stood—in newspaper trial—convicted of the murder.

"Won't you let me go?"

The girl half-whispered the words, looking up at Roy with beseeching eyes. The broker slowly shook his head. No, she must remain until Greyson came. He would say nothing of seeing her at the door of the house in Peyton Place, but the detective must release her.

"May I have a glass of water?" Rene's voice brought Roy out of his reverie. He turned to the desk where he had placed the water bottle and poured out a tumblerful. The girl sipped it slowly.

"What is Miss Warbor like?" Roy asked suddenly. "An elderly woman?"

"No." Rene looked surprised. "She is almost my age, quite young. Dark, with gold-brown eyes; quite slight and graceful. Why?"

"I was picturing her quite a middle-aged woman," Roy laughed slightly. "Young and beautiful, and with plenty of money! I wonder why she wanted to disappear?"

"Something was troubling her." Rene spoke positively. "I've been watching her for days, and I'm certain she has some trouble that she will not speak to me about—Oh, Mr. Onslay, be careful!"

Roy tried to turn at the girl's sudden call, but something hit him a slanting blow on the head. He half-turned to see Basil Holt swing the water-bottle again. He put up his hand, dizzily, to guard his head, but the force of the blow drove him to the floor. He lay there, partly conscious, feeling rough hands searching him. He heard Holt give an exclamation of satisfaction, then oblivion came like a falling curtain over his senses.


CHAPTER XIV

ROY impatiently shook his head, and groaned. There was a steady drip of water on his face, He felt tired and ill, his head ached terribly, and he wanted to sleep. Still the drip of water persisted. He opened his eyes to see Detective Greyson bending over him.

"Hullo." Roy thought his voice sounded weak. He moved his head, and it seemed that every muscle of his neck and head were clasped in iron bands. He looked around him. He was lying on the floor of his office. For a moment, he did not understand how he came to be there, then memory returned, and he strove to sit up.

"Better?" Greyson asked the question gruffly, although his actions were gentle. "You're a nice kind of fellow. Telephone me you have Basil Holt locked in your office, and when I arrive I find you lying on the floor with a cracked head. Here, have a sip of this."

The strong spirit made Roy cough, but it cleared his brain of the remaining lethargy. He struggled to his feet, and saw a couple of men standing in the doorway, gazing at him with interest. For a few seconds he looked at them, puzzling who they might be. Then he understood, Greyson had brought a couple of plain clothes men with him to take the prisoner to headquarters. And Holt had got away! He laughed, weakly.

"Perhaps you'll explain the joke," continued the detective. "Can't say that I see a broken head as a cause of laughter, and I've had more than one. You telephone me to hurry, saying that you have a prisoner for me. We come in a hurry, to find your office door locked. A bit of a search and we locate the caretaker, and enter, to find you insensible on the floor and the prisoner flown."

"Holt hit me with the water-bottle." Roy stated after a moment's thought. "Yes, I remember. Rene Wesche called to me and I turned to see the bottle over my head."

"Holt did? Well he's fairly thorough. From what I see, that turn saved your life. He hit to kill, he did. Lucky you've got a fairly thick skull, and you only caught the slant of the blow. Had he hit you on the back of the head there'd have been a different tale to tell. Teach you not to turn your back on a prisoner. Why, you were asking for it!"

Another drink of the strong spirit and Roy was able to tell the story of the past hour.

Greyson beckoned his men into the room, and locked the door. He listened intently to the broker's description of the scene between Holt and the girl. Then he made Roy repeat his description of Basil Holt, confirming and amplifying it from items he read from his pocket book.

"That's all, you fellows. Luke, you and Lear go back to headquarters and have that description telephoned round. Mr. Onslay will swear out a warrant for assault. Don't know how the magistrate will look at it, considering he had the door locked on the man, but we'll manage that question when we get to it. Anyway, it'll give us a chance to ask Mr. Holt a few questions on other subjects and I'm thinking he'll prove interesting to listen to on the Peyton Place matter."

Greyson had asked few questions regarding the girl, Rene Wesche. However, when his men had left he was more curious regarding her. The fact that she had undoubtedly saved Roy's life by her warning showed she had no complicity with the man. Roy was certain she was honest, and Greyson apparently accepted his belief. It would be easy to test her statement—that she was Judith Warbor's secretary-companion and in great distress over the mysterious absence of her employer.

Basil Holt had to be marked dangerous. The manner of his attack on Roy and his very evident terror of the police were strongly suspicious. He had heard Roy telephone for Greyson, and had protested. He had hit to kill, presumably in terror of the arrival of the police, and to prevent Roy communicating to the detective his belief that Holt could clear up much of the mystery surrounding the Peyton Place murder. Although Greyson would not speak plainly, he said enough to show that the man had at some time passed through the hands of the authorities.

Until Holt was arrested nothing more could be done in that direction. His description would be broadcast throughout the States—and he was not a man easy to disguise. Sooner or later, he would be found, and with the lever of his murderous assault on Roy, pressure could be brought to bear to make him confess the part that he had played in the Peyton Place murder.

When Roy was able to walk, Greyson escorted him down to the street and called a taxi. At police headquarters the divisional surgeon was sent for, and Roy's head patched up so as to show little of the injury when he was wearing his hat.

No record of the assault was to be allowed to get into the newspapers. Roy was not to appear in public without his hat, and he was to avoid his office and business associates as much as possible. He was to call at police headquarters at stated times, to be attended to by Dr. Henshaw. His offices were to be guarded by a plain-clothes constable, who would act as Roy's managing clerk.

Roy signed the various papers Greyson pat before him, without demur. He handed over the keys of his offices, on the promise that duplicates would he made by the police and the originals returned to him on the following day.

"Mark you." Greyson stood on the entrance steps of police headquarters, speaking authoritatively. "We've got the best sort of clue now. We're going to arrest this Basil Holt. It's our chance to take the offensive, and I believe in that. I don't like pottering round after clues, and straining to prevent my opponent making moves without my knowledge. Let me get my hands on this Basil Holt—if that's his true name—and I'll drive this gang of crooks out into the open, and give them something to defend. Don't talk, Mr. Onslay, even when you read the advertisement for the cheque-book."

"You mean to advertise that?" Roy asked the question wonderingly.

"Not the cheque-book you gave me today." Greyson smiled. "I'd like Holt to come and apply for that, but he won't. You've warned him off by saying I had it. No, I'm advertising for a cheque-book, numbered X70091 on, as lost and must be found immediately. When I get on the trail of that, things will begin to happen."

"Why not apply to the Central Bank of New South Wales?" asked the broker. "They keep a record of all cheque books issued. That will save you the name of the holder, without any fuss and advertising."

"Ever had an account there, Mr. Onslay?"

"Never. My bank is the Western City. I've been with them ever since I've had an account."

"Then, maybe, you'll be quite surprised to learn that the cheque-book was issued to you."

"Issued to me? Why, that's impossible."

"Yet, I'm guessing that if I applied to the bank that's just what their answer would be. What I'm advertising for is private information from some trader in the city. I want some one to write to me and tell me that they held one of the cheques from the book, and that it was drawn by 'so-and-so.' You're forgetting that the cheque you found on the dead girl was numbered X70091, and that Holt's cheque-book ends at the number immediately before that. Nearly all cheque-forms are issued out in books. They're in 10's, 20's, 25's, 50's, and so on. I want one of the cheques close up above the number of the cheque found on the dead girl—and I'll get it."

"I understand." Roy began to believe the detective knew more than he was telling. "'Nother thing. Cheque-books are not handed across the counter haphazard," continued the detective. "I'm guessing there's something like an account in your name at that bank. Those fellows who are planning to frame you for the murder wouldn't stick at opening an account in your name. They'd guess I'd go to the bank with the cheque from the second envelope. They want me to be told that that cheque was issued to you. I'll pass that for a time. Tomorrow, when you go to your office, you'll find my man will have a cheque for you to fill out on that account. Also, he will have a letter demanding your pass-book. Give him what he asks for. There's the police force of the State behind you, Mr. Onslay, and although we may seem to be driving you towards a lot of trouble we'll find the way out for you. See?"

Roy nodded and turned from the steps. Greyson called him back.

"You'll remember what I said a while ago about these criminals making mistakes? Well, I'm guessing this crowd's made quite a big mistake in this cheque business. They're just a bit too perfect in their arrangements to fasten the murder on to you, and that's the thing that will trip them. Just you keep close and let us work around you. We're not all the dead-heads in the police force that the newspapers say we are. Good night, Mr. Onslay, and don't make any more arrests on your own."

On the journey over to Neutral Bay, Roy puzzled over the incidents of the day, culminating in Basil Holt's attack on him. He was irritated at the fact that Rene Wesche had left him senseless on his office floor, escaping with his assailant. Why had the girl left him? She had taken no part in Holt's attack. Indeed, she had warned him, though too late for him to save himself.

He remembered the fingers feeling in his pockets. They had not possessed a woman's delicate touch. She had held no part with the assailant, yet she had taken advantage of Holt's murderous attack on him to escape from the approaching police. He had been attracted to the girl who had announced herself as Judith Warbor's secretary-companion. She was true and honest; not a girl who would leave a man senseless from a cowardly attack, unless she were under some great stress. She had appeared greatly worried by the disappearance of her employer.

Roy did not believe that she had fled from his offices for personal reasons. It might be that Judith Warbor feared the intervention of the police in her affairs. Again his thought turned to 7a Peyton Place. The accidental finding of the dead girl had embroiled him in the schemes of some gang of crooks who were using the house for their own illegal purposes. He believed he had visited the house at the moment when some deep plan had gone awry. Possibly the murder of the girl had been unpremeditated and had thrown the crooks into a panic. His advent had been seized upon as a possible means to divert suspicion from themselves.

Yet the gang's schemes against himself had not commenced with the death of the girl. Long before that took place they must have planned to use him as a shield. The girl had been dead well over twenty-four hours when he discovered her. Immediately after her death Basil Holt had come to him with the proposition to purchase the house. It was within a few hours of her death that the cheque and newspaper-cutting had been planted against him. Thus, they had been ready to hand before her death. Given that, the murder of the girl stood premeditated, and the cheque and the newspaper-cutting prepared, to shield the person who had committed the crime.

A new factor had now entered into the mystery. Rene Wesche had stated that Judith Warbor had disappeared. Could the dead girl be Judith Warbor, the heiress of the Warbor Estate and one of the wealthiest women on the continent? She owned the house in which he had found the unknown girl. It was possible that she had keys of the property in her possession. Was Judith Warbor the person who had inserted the advertisement in the newspaper; or had that advertisement been prepared by an unknown hand to lure her to that house of death?

At Neutral Bay wharf Roy looked round for a taxi. Although there was not a rank at the wharf, sometimes a taxi drove down with a passenger and waited for the next boat on the chance of a return fare. That evening there was not one about, and Roy sat down on one of the benches to wait. He felt that he could not manage to walk the half-mile between the wharf and his flat However, he had not long to wait.

Within a few minutes an empty taxi drew up at the wharf. Roy stepped into it and sank back on the hard cushions with a sigh of relief. He wanted to get home and to bed. His head throbbed as if to the beat of gigantic steam-hammer. His eyes were sore and tired. He could not think intelligently, and his brain was crowded with irresponsible thoughts.

At the door of the block of flats the driver assisted him to alight, and helped him up to his room on the first floor. Roy tipped him handsomely, and the man grinned his thanks.

"Been in the wars." The man nodded understandingly. "Lucky the lady saw you and telephoned me. Said you were ill and I was to wait for you at the wharf."

"Lady saw me?" Roy turned suddenly on the man. "What lady?"

"Didn't give her name. Just the telephone message. Nice voice—just like cool clear water, if you know what I mean. Thank you, sir. Hope you are all right, soon."

So Rene had telephoned for the taxi to meet him at the wharf. Yet he had been some considerable time with Greyson at police headquarters. That could only mean that she had not deserted him after Holt had knocked him down. She had escaped from the room, because she had some reason for not wanting to meet the police. But she had waited, and had watched him on to the street. She had waited for him to come out of police headquarters, and had seen him turn down towards the wharf. She had arranged for a taxi to meet him in Neutral Bay and take him home in comfort.

Roy went to the sideboard and poured himself a stiff peg of brandy. He look the glass into his bedroom and placed it on the dressing-table. He would have a shower, and then to bed. He did not want to eat—only to sleep, sleep, until the mighty throbbing in his head should cease.

The clamour of the telephone bell caught him when under the falling water. Wrapping a towel round him, he went to the instrument. Immediately he recognised Rene's voice.

"Mr. Onslay! Oh, I am so glad you got home safely!"

"Yet you abandoned me to the tender mercies of the police!"

"You are unkind. Oh, what can I say? But, I dared not wait."

"Why are you frightened of the police? Surely you have done no wrong?"

"I'm afraid there are many like me in this city, who would prefer to run than face a police inquisition. But I must not talk of that. I rang up to know if you are safely home."

"When shall I see you again?" Roy wondered at the passionate desire that swept over him—the desire to see again this girl who had come into his life out of the turmoil or mystery.

"Perhaps one day, when the clouds have rolled away. When—Oh, I can say no more. I am glad you arrived home safely, and—"

"And? Is there nothing I can do to help you?"

"Will you help? I wonder! You know so little, and I dare not tell you more. I'm all alone, and—"

"Poor girl!" Roy barely breathed the words. "Poor lonely lady."


CHAPTER XV

"LONELY LADY! What do you mean? What do you know? You can't be—No, no!—That is impossible!" The girl's voice came over the wire tense with anxiety.

"What is impossible?" Roy asked the question perplexedly. "Why, you mean—Oh, I understand. I was not thinking of that, Miss Wesche! Rene! Rene!"

There was no answer. Roy reluctantly hung up the receiver and returned to the bathroom. Why had Rene been so distressed at the words, "Lonely Lady?" What did she know of the strange advertisements?

He had used the words unconsciously without any ulterior meaning that they might convey to her. He had spoken, only pitying her loneliness and distress. The words had risen unconsciously to his lips—and she had cried out, as if in mortal terror.

What did Rene know of the deep mystery that had grown out of the discovery of the "Lonely Lady" advertisements in the small-ads columns of the Morning Mirror? He believed those advertisements were the means of communication between the members of the gang, who were using the empty shop in Peyton Place as a headquarters for their criminal activities. What connexion had Rene with that gang? Roy refused to believe that she could be a member, but her involuntary exclamation showed him that she had knowledge of them, and their works.

Again came the thought: Who was the girl he and Mark Mansell had found in the upper front room of 7a Peyton Place? The police search for her identity had been fruitless. She lay in the morgue, a lonely unknown piece of flotsam of the great city. On the notice boards of the police-stations throughout the State were posters bearing her photograph and description. No one had come forward to claim her, and tell how she had come to that sudden awful death.

Was she Judith Warbor? When Rene had told Roy that her employer had left home mysteriously on the day before he had found the unknown girl in Peyton Place, he thought she might prove to be the heiress to the Warbor Estates. Yet, in his office that day he had asked Rene for a description of Judith Warbor, and she had replied that Judith was slight, of average height, and very dark. The girl he had found in the empty house was pure blonde, rather full in figure, and above the average height.

For hours after he had climbed into bed, Roy lay puzzling over the many aspects of the mystery in which he was involved. At length, he fell asleep, awakening late in the morning much refreshed, although his broken head still ached badly. For a time he lay staring up at the ceiling.

He was to keep away from his offices as much as possible. The police were to take charge of the place, possibly thinking the gang, of whom Basil Holt was the only person known, might make some further attack on him. Roy was to go to his offices at irregular intervals, and the necessary business was to be transacted by the plain-clothes man in charge. He would have little to do. Roy's business was mainly personal. His quickly growing circle of clients would deal only with him.

For the time he would be idle. The thought made him stir restlessly on the bed. With the strain of the past two days fresh on his mind he wanted work, and plenty of it, to keep him from useless theorizing.

There were the plans to be drawn up for the big hotel to be built on the Peyton Place site. That would keep him employed, and most of the work necessary at present could be done away from his offices. Sir Matthew Hyston had shown interest on the venture; with the architect behind him he had every prospect of success. Sir Matthew could interest capital, and Roy believed that he knew men who would favourably consider the project.

The first step was to obtain the freehold of Peyton Place, or a lease so extended that it would pay to build on the land. The question had to be taken up with Judith Warbor. But the heiress had disappeared. Before he could get definitely on to the subject, he must find this girl and induce her to come to terms. The search for the missing heiress would bring him in close contact with Rene Wesche. The girl had greatly appealed to him on the previous day, and he had promised to help her. By finding Judith Warbor and helping her in her evident need, he would be assisting Rene. With a sudden movement he flung back the bedclothes and went to the bathroom. There was still work to be done—work that would keep him interested.

AN HOUR LATER he landed at Circular Quay wharf and went to his offices. Isobel Malim was at her machine. There was reproach in her voice when she announced that the new clerk had arrived, and had taken possession of his private room. It was plain the girl felt aggrieved. During his former infrequent absences from business, he had left her in full control, and she had proved herself competent. Now, she felt that she had been slighted by the appointment of a clerk-in-charge, without any previous explanation.

Roy felt he was not breaking office confidences in explaining the new arrangement to the girl. Immediately, she was enthusiastic and promised her full support. She had resented the attacks on her employer very keenly. Leaving her assured that she would be in actual control, in spite of the presence of the police officer, he went to his private room.

A tall, slenderly-built, young man rose from Roy's seat behind the desk. Roy hesitated at the door. He did not know how to address him.

"Mr. Onslay?" In answer to Roy's nod, the man continued: "I am plain-clothes constable Herbert Thye, from headquarters. I believe Detective-sergeant Greyson advised you of my presence here."

"Glad to welcome you, constable." Roy held out his hand. "I don't know what experience you have had in this business, but Miss Malim, my typist, is quite competent, and will advise you on all that you will find necessary to know."

"She seems rather antagonistic." Thye laughed slightly.

"She did not understand the position." Roy hesitated a moment. "Miss Malim has been with me since I commenced business. I thought it best, in the interests of smooth working in the office, to explain your presence. I believe you will find you can trust her fully. She has always been in sole charge of the offices while I have been absent in the country. Most of my work is personal and—"

"I had some experience in real estate in Melbourne before I came to New South Wales and joined the police force," interposed Thye quickly. "I don't want you to think I wish to interfere in your business, Mr. Onslay, but while I am here I wish to help you as much as possible. Look upon me as others will—I'm your clerk. You will find I'm fairly competent."

"Good." Roy took the chair that the constable had vacated. He liked the young fellow, and if he was willing to fall in with the routine of office work, it would solve many difficulties.

"You'll find tobacco, cigars, and cigarettes, in this top drawer. Make use of them, please. Now, I believe you want some signatures from me. Have you the papers ready?"

Thye opened a file which was lying on the desk, and produced a cheque form and letter. "Fill up this cheque for twenty pounds, please, Mr. Onslay. Your usual signature. Now sign the request for the pass-book. Thanks. I am to tell you that Mr. Greyson will present them at the bank himself, and will take the necessary steps to cover you, if there is trouble."

"What of the thousand pounds lying in my bank, and belonging to Basil Holt?" asked Roy when he had completed the cheque arid signed the request for the pass-book.

"It has been decided to leave that in your account for the time." Thye grinned broadly. "I don't think there is any chance of Basil Holt coming here to claim it."

Roy touched the bell-button, calling his typist into the room. For a quarter of an hour he went over the few matters in hand with her and the constable. Satisfied, at length, that they thoroughly understood the business and would act together in accord, he picked up his hat.

"I should like to have knowledge of your movements throughout the day." Thye spoke officially.

At Circular Quay Roy hailed a taxi and drove up Hunter Street to Kelly Allard's offices. He sent in his name to the head of the firm of solicitors, and expected to be kept waiting for some time. Instead, he was almost immediately taken to the solicitor's private office.

"Mr. Roy Onslay." The old gentleman peered over his spectacles. "Miss Wesche telephoned me that you would call, and—" he looked at his watch, "—I see you have wasted no time. Now, what can I do for you."

Roy had observed the old-fashioned solicitor during the couple of minutes that he had been engaged with his papers. He felt he could trust him. In fact, unless he spoke fully and freely on his aims and plans, he would have little chance of success. Quietly and methodically, he went over the points of his proposals, laying some stress on the desirability of wiping Peyton Place from the map of the city. He ended with an account of his interview on the previous day with Sir Matthew Hyston, and the interest the big architect had shown in his scheme.

Kelly Allard heard him without interruption. When Roy ceased speaking the solicitor picked a letter from a file and read it slowly. "I'm impressed by what you say, Mr. Onslay." The solicitor spoke with slight emphasis. "I like your scheme. I believe you can make good with it. I will have a talk with Sir Matthew and obtain his views. Come and see me tomorrow. I shall have a definite answer for you then."

"You will be able to got in touch with Miss Warbor so soon?" Roy asked the question, slightly astonished.

"Peculiarly, Miss Warbor seems to take the same view of Peyton Place as you. I can tell you, in confidence, that the only reason that she has not dealt with the property before was that she wanted to get in touch with some person whom she could trust, and who had a definite end in view. Now—But, I'll say no more than—Come and see me tomorrow. Good day, Mr. Onslay. Very pleased to have met you. Ten-thirty will suit me, and you? Good."

Roy was closing the door behind him when the old solicitor spoke again.

"By the way, Mr. Onslay. I have a message from Miss Warbor to you. She says: 'Have you considered the many "Lonely Lady" advertisements in regard to the Peyton Place mystery?' Please remember I am only conveying a message, but I believe Miss Warbor does not consider that you are sufficiently studying your surroundings in dealing with the many problems you are involved in."


CHAPTER XVI

ROY left the lawyer's offices much perplexed at the message so strangely conveyed to him. How did Kelly Allard come by that message, and what did it mean? What knowledge had Judith Warbor of the strange mysteries surrounding Peyton Place and the stranger advertisements in the Morning Mirror?

As far as his knowledge went, he knew that Judith Warbor had left her home before Basil Holt had come to him with the proposition to purchase the Peyton Place house. Rene had said that Judith had been in communication with Kelly Allard regarding the Peyton Place property before her disappearance; that she had tried to purchase the leases from Sam Kearney. Now the old solicitor had stated that the heiress was only waiting to get in touch with some one having a definite scheme, before taking action.

Rene had sent him to Kelly Allard, with the possible idea that he was the man Judith Warbor was seeking for the handling of the Peyton Place problem. That showed she was fully in her employer's confidence, but it did not explain how the solicitor had so quickly, got in touch with his client—It did not explain the cryptic message that the girl had sent him. "He was not studying his problems sufficiently!" Yet those problems had arisen since Judith Warbor had mysteriously left her home.

Judith Warbor must have been in communication with Kelly Allard within the last hour. She must have been in communication with Rene on many occasions since she had left her house. Then, why had Rene shown great distress at the absence of her employer? Where was Judith Warbor? She must be somewhere within easy access. Rene had described her as dark, with gold-brown eyes. That description would fit Rene Wesche. Roy halted suddenly, startled at the idea that had come into his mind. Was Rene the heiress, Judith Warbor?

Many happenings, beside the personal resemblance of Rene to her description of the heiress, supported that theory. That Rene was Judith Warbor, hiding behind the identity of her secretary-companion, would explain Kelly Allard's quick acceptance of his plans regarding Peyton Place, and also the cryptic message. If Rene was Judith Warbor, where then was the real Rene Wesche? Had Judith Warbor's secretary-companion disappeared, or was she in hiding to allow the heiress to assume her identity and, free from some menace, work out her plans.

Was the unknown girl, whom he had found in the house in Peyton Place, Rene Wesche? That theory explained much. But the dead girl was blonde, and Rene had declared that Judith Warbor and herself were alike in colouring and general build. To suggest that the dead girl of the Peyton Place house was Rene Wesche was to make a definite connexion between Judith Warbor and the murder. So long as he assumed that Rene was the heiress, Roy felt that his theory was impossible. He had only to remember the candour looking out of Rene's clear eyes, to put the theory from him as unbelievable.

Yet the idea persisted. Judith Warbor, posing in her own home as Rene Wesche while the real Rene was lying in the city morgue, unknown, murdered by some nameless fiend, explained much of the mystery that Roy was trying to fathom. The change of identity would enable Judith, more or less openly, to free herself from some terror, linked with the Peyton Place house menacing her. It would explain her disappearance after her unsuccessful attempt to purchase the leases from Sam Kearney.

Against the theory that he was unconsciously building, stood one grave objection. Judith Warbor, posing as her secretary, Rene Wesche, in her own home and surrounded by life-long friends and acquaintances, would be in hourly danger of discovery. When he had been at Kirri-end, Rene had walked freely about the grounds. She had taken no precautions to seclude herself from observation. She had come into the city where many people knew her. He swept the theory from his mind. The girl could not sustain the substitution for twenty-four hours.

Roy determined to concentrate on facts, and not on vain theorizing. But before he could act on his plans for the hotel on the Peyton Place site, he must wait for Kelly Allard's answer. That would be given him the next day. What should he do in the meantime? Judith Warbor's strange message came into his mind. She had declared that he had neglected the clues contained in the "Lonely Lady" advertisements. Roy turned and went down to the Mirror offices. He had given Grayson the cuttings from the file of newspapers, but at the newspaper offices he would be able to discover the various addresses.

Half an hour later he walked up to Elizabeth Street and caught a Darlinghurst tram. He had the four addresses in his pocket, and had decided to investigate the Warren-street house first. If he had no success there he would go on to the others. At Taylor Square he alighted and walked down Oxford Street to Foley and Co's., estate offices.

"The Warren-street shop?" Charlie Foley, a young, fair man about twenty-five years of age, looked slightly astonished. "Right out of your line, I should say, Mr. Onslay. Why, it's only a small place, letting for a few pounds a week. Might do a fair general trade with the houses around, as most of them are let out in rooms, but for a speculation! Lord! I wouldn't give a couple of hundred for the freehold."

"I guess you wouldn't take that price for the freehold." Roy grinned broadly. "If you would I'd—"

"The owner has a better opinion of the property than I have," the young agent laughed. "If you're really serious, I'll make you a price for a lease. It's on our books, but I haven't looked at the entry for quite a time. Wait a minute and—"

"No good." Roy stopped Foley on his way to the counter. "All I want is to have a look at the place—By the way, you have the keys?"

A short hunt and the estate agent produced a bunch of keys. He stood at the door and with a puzzled frown on his face, watched Roy stride along the road towards Paddington Town Hall.

Some hundred yards past the Olympic Theatre, the broker crossed the road and stopped at the corner of a narrow street, breaking a line of small shops. On the blank wall of the corner house, hung a weathered sign-board bearing the word: "Warren Street."

Rows of small two-storied, red-brick houses, with enclosed verandas to the upper floors, lined the upper part of the street. A few yards along, Warren Street dipped down a steep hill. Roy walked slowly. As he came to the crest he saw that the street widened considerably. The new-looking houses had given way to old detached residences, some of them very old and dilapidated, set in neglected gardens. About two hundred yards from Oxford Street, a small road turned off to the left. At the corner stood a soft-drinks shop and, next to it, number 29.

Roy crossed the road and came to a halt before number 29. It had been built as a private house. Later, the ground floor had been converted into a shop. The square of plate-glass had recently been replaced. In the middle of it was a large circle of whitewash surrounding the "To Let" bill of Foley and Co. The woodwork bordering the window was covered with enamelled signs advertising various household commodities. Two small windows, giving light to the upper front room, were both thick with dirt. The lower pane of the left-hand one was broken.

Roy fitted the key in the lock and opened the floor. The shop was full of litter. Dilapidated shelving hung on the walls. Under the shelving were cupboards, broken and dirty. A cheap counter ran the length of the shop, and at the rear end, next to the wall of the back room, the flap hung by one hinge. The back room contained a broken table and two insecure-looking chairs. A fair-sized packing-case stood near the table, and about it was a litter of straw and paper. The broker turned from the sight with an exclamation of disgust. How could estate agents think to let the place in such a state?

The rooms upstairs were in a similar litter. Roy scanned them eagerly for some clue to the "Lonely Lady" advertisement. He could see nothing of interest. He was certain no one had lived in the house for some time. Descending to the shop again, he commenced a systematic search of the place. At length, baffled and worried, he seated himself on the counter and looked around him.

Where could he find a clue to lead him to a solution of the mysterious advertisement? There was nothing in the house to connect it with the shop in Peyton Place. It appeared to be an innocent, empty house, frowsy and dilapidated. His eyes wandered along the lines of shelving and rested on the plate-glass window. He was looking at the rough circle of whitewash. It had been drawn on the inner side, and was the usual warning to persons working near. It was a common thing and looked innocent, but for some reason it held the broker's gaze.

"Lonely Lady" had mentioned this shop, in an advertisement similar to the one referring to Peyton Place. The only differences had been the box numbers and the addresses. Roy racked his brains to find some explanation.

Jumping down from the counter he went to the door and examined the lock. It was in good order, and the key turned almost silently. On the wards of the key there showed a little film of oil. Someone had recently repaired the lock. It was possible that one of Foley's men had oiled it, but Roy was doubtful about that. If the estate agents had lent a man for that work they would certainly have instructed him to clean up and make the place more attractive for a possible tenant.

Why had "Lonely Lady" referred to this shop? The Peyton Place shop had been used as a meeting place for some unknown gang of criminals—there could be no doubt of that. The unknown girl had been enticed there to meet someone, and there she had met her death.

Standing in the open door, Roy again carefully surveyed his surroundings. As far as he could discover, there was no clue to the mystery here. His eyes wandered over the bare wall dividing the shop from the house next door. At the rear was the angle containing the stairway to the floor above. Then came the shop-wall and, close to the stairs, the door leading to the back room. The left-hand wall was covered with shelving and cupboards. Immediately beside him was the narrow boxed-window, with its glaring new pane of glass—and the whitewash circle.

Roy shrugged his shoulders vexedly. Why did his eyes continually turn to that whitewash circle? It was irregularly drawn—Just a thick splash of whitewash, more oval than circle. It seemed to stare at him from the centre of the almost invisible glass like a wide-opened eye.

One of the panels of the window-box was slid back. Roy climbed into the box and went to the circle. The whitewash had been liberally applied, and was almost opaque. It had been badly scratched. That might have happened in shifting the glass from the wagon to the window-frame. But, while the scratches looked accidental, they bisected the circle with a queer regularity. Sub-consciously Roy counted them.

There wore fourteen scratches; two almost at the top of the circle and two about the position at the figure 'nine,' on the clock-face, if viewed from the street. Roy could not believe that the scratches were accidental. For some time he stood in the window puzzling over them.

He had decided that he must be mistaken and that the scratches were made when the window was being lifted into place, when he chanced to look down at the floor of the box. Immediately beneath the circle was a rough round of whitewash. It could only have been made by the paint-pots having stood there. The circle had not been placed on the glass at the factory! It had been drawn on, after the glass had been set in position in the frame. A further search and Roy was convinced that the circle had been placed on the window after Foley and Co. had stuck their 'To Let' bill there. On the back of the bill were thick globules of whitewash.

Why had the whitewash circle been placed there after the window had been erected? The 'To Let' bill was sufficient protection. Why had the scratches been made on the whitewash after the circle had been drawn and the bill affixed? The box of the window protected the glass from accidental breakage from the inside, and the circle from scratching. Some one must have made the circle and the scratches with deliberate intent.

Then he noticed that something was drawn on the 'To Let' bill. He took a powerful magnifying glass from his pocket and scrutinized the paper. Immediately, he saw that the bill had been taken from the glass and re-affixed. He left the window and went out into the street. He was beginning to understand what had happened, but he could not discover the reasons for it.

Someone had taken the 'To Let' bill from the window and with a soft pencil or piece of chalk had drawn a crude dagger and cord over the black ink of the 'T.' When once he know where to look he could identify it easily. From the street, the marks on the white-wash stood out plainly. The twelve strokes represented the hours, and the extra strokes the clock hands. The time indicated was 'nine o'clock.'

The dagger and cord! Roy remembered the dagger bound with cord that had mysteriously been driven into the breast of the unknown girl in Peyton Place. Here again was the dagger and cord, and coupled with it a clock-face indicating a time.

Roy went back to the shop and made another search, but unsuccessfully. Then he locked the door and walked down to Foley and Co's. offices. He was both pleased and perplexed. He had discovered that the Warren-street shop was being used by the gang who had used Peyton Place, but he could not fit his discoveries into the mystery surrounding the dead girl.

"Well? Satisfied?" Charlie Foley looked up as the broker entered his office. "Are we to have the pleasure of an offer for the lease of the property from you?"

"Not unless you choose to explain why you botched up a perfectly good glass window with that whitewash design." Roy spoke carelessly, yet keenly watching the estate agent.

"Funny you mentioning that." A shadow of perplexity came on the young man's face. "There's been something queer about that window. Of course, you saw it was new. Neither the glass merchants nor we put that whitewash circle on it. In fact, the glass was in position for some days before the circle appeared."

"One of your men with a bit of time to spare?"

"None of our chaps." Charlie Foley spoke earnestly. "I asked them what they'd been up to, and they all denied the joke."

"When was the glass renewed?" Roy continued to talk carelessly.

"February 10." The young man referred to a book before he answered. "So far as I can discover, the circle appeared on the window about five days later. That would make it the fifteenth. One of our men went to the place on the thirteenth, and I passed down the street on the morning of the sixteenth. It was when I came back I asked who had drawn the circle. Not that it mattered much, but you know there's a rough lot round here. That circle, with the bill in the centre, is a fascinating bull's-eye for the youth of Darlinghurst."

"Wonder you never wiped it off."

"Might have done so, but for the fact that it quite slipped my mind. We've been short-handed, or I'd have sent a man down there to tidy up a bit."

"Suppose the man who went there on the thirteenth repaired the lock." Roy spoke as if making a statement.

"Repaired the lock?" Charlie Foley repeated the question wonderingly. "The lock wasn't broken."

"Wasn't it? Somehow I fancied that it had been repaired—and lately, too. Locks of places that have been idle for some time get very awkward. This lock turned easily."

"Maybe the last tenant kept it well oiled." The estate agent passed the question as of little moment. "Making us an offer?"

"Lease or freehold?"

"Lease only. I've had an offer for the freehold and the owner won't part."

"Humph! No good to me either way." Roy hesitated. "By the way, Foley, who is the owner?"

"Not going behind my back?" The young man grinned cheerfully. "No, you haven't that reputation. It's one of the small places belonging to the Warbor Estates. Girl owns it. You know the people I mean—Warbor Libraries Ltd."


CHAPTER XVII

TOTALLING up the information he had acquired through his journey to Darlinghurst, Roy found himself possessed of three now facts. First, and most important, the Warren-street shop belonged to the Warbor Estates. Secondly, the whitewash circle had been placed on the window for the purpose of conveying a message to some unknown person or persons. Thirdly, the shop at Warren-street had been entered by some person, without the authority of the Darlinghurst estate agents.

The most perplexing problem was the white-wash circle. It had been used to convey a message, and that message had been signed with the dagger and cord. The broker believed the message to convey notice of a meeting to be held at the hour of nine at some place, probably in the Warren-street shop. Nine o'clock at night would certainly be the hour, for at that time Warren-street would be almost deserted. A meeting could easily be held in one of the upper rooms of the building. A thick rug, stretched across the windows, would prevent any light filtering from the room and, with due caution, a dozen people could enter and leave the house, without attracting attention.

When had the meeting been held? Roy believed he held two clues to the date. The circle had appeared on the window between the thirteenth and the sixteenth of February. The "Lonely Lady" advertisement referring to the Warren-street shop had appeared on the morning of the seventeenth. It was more than possible the meeting had been held that night.

He had next to consider what bearing his discoveries at Warren-street had on the mystery surrounding Peyton Place. Here he found himself at a loss. The "Lonely Lady" advertisement, referring to Peyton Place, had appeared on the morning of the twenty-seventh, yet the unknown girl had met her death in that shop twenty-four or more hours earlier—probably on the twenty-fifth.

Again the broker found himself seeking to reconcile facts. He had, at first, considered that the discovery of the message on the Warren-street shop window, coupled with the information he had extracted from Charlie Foley, would advance him a big step on his quest. Instead, he had acquired a new series of facts, appearing to have but little connexion with those already in his possession. He could not couple the advertisement, or the white-wash circle, with Peyton Place. The one and only point where they touched, was in the rudely drawn dagger and cord, on the agent's bill.

It was late in the afternoon when Roy reached Bent-street and turned into his offices. Thye was reaching for his hat as the broker entered his private room. The man turned to the desk and handed Roy a small pile of notes.

"What's this?" the broker dropped the pieces of paper on the desk as if they were unclean.

"Twenty pounds, Mr. Onslay." The constable grinned broadly. "I think you'll find it correct. Here's your passbook. I'd like you to have a look at it, before I take it to headquarters."

Roy took the slim cloth-bound book and opened it. The credit side showed that a sum of one hundred pounds had been paid to open the account by cheque, from Basil Holt. On the debit side were three entries. The first was for a cheque-book of fifteen forms; the second for fifty pounds paid to Michael Bravry; and the third for the twenty pounds withdrawn that day.

Roy placed his finger on the entry referring to the cheque-book and looked inquiringly at the constable. The man turned to the desk and picked up a small oblong of paper. On it was a series number. Roy had no need to refer to his pocket-book to identify that number. It was x70091/105, and so including the number of the cheque found in the dead girl's handbag.

"Quite methodical, those fellows." The constable was speaking almost admiringly. "They open an account for you with a cheque from Basil Holt. They get a cheque-book in your name and use a form out of it to duplicate the cheque that Basil Holt gave you in this office. If Basil Holt had been able to persuade you to return that cheque to him before Greyson saw you, they'd have had you fairly set. Tell you what, Mr. Onslay, unless Greyson had the information he says he possessed, it would have looked as if you had opened both your own and the Basil Holt accounts—or that Basil Holt was but a figure of your imagination. Believe me, that's just what those devils wanted us to think."

"Information?" Roy jumped at the word. "What information had Greyson, constable?"

"Perhaps you know more than I do, Mr. Onslay." the man spoke without reserve. "You've been with him quite a lot on this case. I'm only here on a watching duty. Perhaps it is that you're walking about the city, free and planning to pull down Peyton Place, will induce these scoundrels to move against you again. Sure, they're wondering why we haven't arrested you—and a good many of the general public with them. I'm staking that Greyson's planning to make this crowd think they have missed a point, and work to fill it in. More than possible, Basil Holt will think fit to give you another call. Then comes my chance. Mr. Holt doesn't get away from these offices too easy once he pokes his nose in the door again. We'll take him for the assault on you, and before that's over we'll squeeze quite a bit of information out of him."

"Basil Holt come here?" Roy looked his surprise. "Surely he won't do that after the assault. I hope he does, and while I'm in. He won't—"

"Look here, Mr. Onslay." Thye leaned forward on the desk, and spoke earnestly. "I'm not going to say criminals are fools. They're not, for they wouldn't be criminals five minutes if they were—they'd be jail-birds. But they've got one fault you haven't reckoned with. They're damned frightened of being found out and sent up for a term. That's where the police have the whip-hand of them. They lay out a plan, and it's good. They go ahead with it, and then something happens they didn't expect. Instead of letting well alone and waiting to see what happens, they try to put things straight with another plan. Now, meddling with a well-thought-out plan is like walking into a lion's den to see whether the lion had made a good dinner. The lion might not have fancied beef that day, and seeing 'long-pork' walking in under his nose he becomes hungry and eats. It's a good plan to keep a lion well-fed, and he'd eat beef if let alone until his grouch, or stomach trouble is over. But tempting him with a fancy tit-bit when he's got a temporary dislike against beef is like throwing a spanner into some machinery, in the hopes it will tighten some loose bolt. See?"

Roy nodded. The constable's reasoning was sound but he rather wondered if the man was referring to him as "beef" or "long-pork." He felt rather like the latter.

"What are you going to do with these?" The broker pushed the small pile of bank-notes with his finger.

"They're yours." Again Thye grinned. "Looks like you're still receiving Christmas presents—and still there's quite a lot in that account someone opened for you at the Central Bank."

"They are not mine." Roy spoke decidedly. "I'm not going to even have them in my office. Take them down to headquarters and hand them to Greyson with my compliments. If he can't find the owner, and the Crown authorities consider I have any claim on them, pay them into the Police Benevolent Fund. One thing, I won't have them here."

He took an envelope from the rack and placed the notes in it. As he passed it across the desk to the constable, he remembered the cheque for a thousand pounds from Basil Holt, that he had put into his account at the request of the detective.

"What of that cheque from Basil Holt, paid into my account? Will that be met? It looks as if I shall get it back marked 'refer to drawer.'"

"I'll stake a week's pay against it, Mr. Onslay." Thye stood beside the desk, looking down with a quizzical smile on his lips. "The men we're after are not pikers, and they won't hesitate at a few pounds. I'm guessing there's quite a number of pound notes in that account even with the thousand pounds cheque deducted. Now that Basil Holt knows you've banked that cheque, he'll see it met, otherwise it might mean a point against him in the game."

The man's reasoning appeared possible. For some time Roy sat thinking hard. He disliked the money being in his account. He was determined that if the bank cleared the cheque, he would get rid of the money somehow.

"Do you think those fellows are likely to operate on my fictitious account?" he asked suddenly.

"Possible. More than probable." The constable drew a chair to the desk and seated himself. "We've got to let them play, before we see their cards."

"They don't play that game the second time." Roy spoke emphatically. "They won't cash cheques over the counter, I suppose?"

"Not likely. That would be too dangerous. If they use the account at all, they'll pass the cheque through some trader."

"Then close the account tomorrow." Roy drew a scribbling-pad towards him and made some calculations. "Tell the bank I have decided to close the account—No, simply draw the money out and leave it at that. If these rogues draw again on the account the bank will act promptly, and we shall have a chance at getting on the drawer's tail. Business men in Sydney are getting too wise to accept cheques from all and sundry. They want to know something of the drawer."

"Good." Thye spoke emphatically. "I never thought of that, and I'll bet Greyson didn't either."

"Get me a cheque on the Central Bank tomorrow morning and I'll sign it for this amount when I come in. Go to my bank, the Western City, and get my pass-book. If the thousand pounds cheque Basil Holt gave me is cleared, I'll draw a cheque for that amount and the police can take possession of the money. I'll not have it littering my account on any terms."

The constable looked dubious and murmured something about consulting Greyson. Roy did not heed him. He was determined that, while agreeing to assist the police by taking no notice of the press crusade against him, he would have nothing to do with the money he had unwittingly received from the scoundrels.

Roy walked down to police headquarters with the constable. He had been there once before during the day—to allow the police surgeon to dress his wound. The injury was healing satisfactorily, and only occasioned him small discomfort. As they reached the front of the building Greyson came out. Roy stood talking to him for some minutes and then proceeded towards Pitt Street and Circular Quay. He was not anxious to go home. Some attraction drew him Peyton Place.

For minutes he lingered under the arched entrance to the Place, watching the hurrying crowds in the main street. He noticed that very few people turned into the Place. It would not hurt to close it. There were other streets close at hand, through which communication could be had with Macquarie Place.

After a time he crossed the street and stood before some small shops, looking across at the Warbor Library. He was trying to picture the big hotel that he intended to build on the site. It would make a great improvement to that quarter. It would serve a good purpose, even if it only supplanted one of the few remaining eyesores of the city, and would certainly prove a great investment.

A couple of hundred yards from where he stood, Pitt Street joined the west side of Circular Quay. Almost in a straight line with Pitt Street, and along the west side of Sydney Cove extended the Pacific Islands wharves of Burns Philp and Co, and the Matson Line from the U.S. To these wharves, alone, came much trade and many passengers. His hotel would be the nearest and best, central to the chief shopping districts and many houses of entertainment.

It was a splendid dream, and Roy vowed he would turn it into a reality. It would fit into the reorganisation of this part of the big city, then proceeding. Two lines of small shops bordering Circular Quay and the north end of Pitt Street would presently disappear, their places taken by fine office blocks. With them would go the old wooden wharves bordering Sydney Cove. The new city railway would come out of the earth under Macquarie Street and cross high over Circular Quay and connect to the Ferry Companies. Away to the left would tower the vast structure of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

He came out of his dreams to see Rene Wesche walking down the opposite side of Pitt Street towards the Quay. Immediately, he started to cross the road to meet her. A taxi-cab speeding from the Circular Quay corner made him jump for safety. When he looked ahead again the girl had disappeared.

On the opposite pavement he was almost immediately in front of the Warbor Libraries branch shop. It was possible that Rene had gone in there. Impulsively, Roy entered, and looked around him. The girl was not in sight. Where had she gone to? Roy was certain she had not had time to pass down the street and turn into Peyton Place. If she had done so, he must have seen her, for he had crossed the road immediately opposite the Place. She could have only gone into the Library. He turned to one the attendants.

"Did Miss Wesche come in here?" Roy blurted out the question without thought.

"No." The girl looked surprised. Miss Wesche has not been in here for some days."

"Or, was it Miss Warbor who came in? I saw one of the ladies come down the road. She disappeared before I could get across the street."

The girl looked puzzled. She made an excuse and went to the rear of the shop. In a few minutes a man came over to where Roy was standing.

"You were asking for Miss Warbor, or Miss Wesche. We have not seen either of the ladies for some days. Is there anything I can do for you?"

"Miss Warbor gets her library books here?"

"Always. Of course Miss Warbor is free at all libraries of the company, but she invariably comes here."

"I thought I recognised one of the ladies coming down the street." Roy was uncomfortable. "I lost sight of her while crossing the road and thought she might have turned in here."

"We have some books Miss Warbor asked us to obtain for her," observed the manager. "They have been in hand some days. I wrote to Kirribilli to ask if I should send them over, but received no reply. May I ask if you are a member of the Library?"

Roy was on his way home. It would be lonely in his silent rooms, with only his thoughts and dream plans. A book would be more companionable. He had missed Rene. She had turned into some shop, or had passed him in the crowd.

"I'll join the Library."

Roy accompanied the manager to the rear of the shop and complied with the few formalities. A few minutes later he left with a couple of books under his arm. A girl was passing the door. Roy recognised her on the moment. He quickened his pace and caught her up just past the tobacconist-hairdresser's on the far corner of the Place.

"Miss Wesche!" The girl turned quickly. "I thought I could not have been mistaken. I thought you went into the Library'.

"And you followed me?" The girl's eyes rested, with a glint of amusement, on the books under the broker's arm. "Are you a subscriber, Mr. Onslay?"

"Guilty for the last five minutes." Roy spoke cheerfully. "I was going to spend the evening improving my mind, but now—"

"Now the impulse to study modern literature has passed?" The girl looked at him curiously.

"There is a cloakroom on the Quay where we can leave our parcels." The broker spoke quickly. "There is also a restaurant up town I have long wished to visit. May I suggest that it is not good for a man to dine alone?"

The girl hesitated for a moment; then, with sudden decision she turned up the street. "The Library is open till nine o'clock. We can leave our things with Mr. Benson and pick them up later."

"Mr. Benson is the manager who took pity on my ignorance of books?" Roy spoke as they turned in at the doors of the Library. He could see that the man near the door was watching them, and wondered how he would address the girl.

As they passed through the wide doors the man came forward.

"Good evening Miss Wesche. I have all the books you asked me to obtain. If you can spare the time to look them over, I will have those you select sent on to Kirribilli to-morrow."


CHAPTER XVIII

"THOSE 'Lonely Lady' advertisement houses puzzle me!" Detective Grayson lay back in a lounge chair in Roy's office's, fingering the leaves of a small black-bound pocket book, which rested on his knee. "They are all the same kind of place as you describe Warren Street to be. Also, they belong to the Warbor Estates. Now, what's the connection."

"Rene Wesche is not Judith Warbor!" The broker made the announcement, somewhat inconsequently.

"Who said she was? Just because the two girls are dark and live together, and one of them disappears, all the amateur sleuths in Sydney jump to the conclusion that the remaining girl has assumed her friend's identity—and that the majority of the people of Sydney are leagued to support the substitution. If you read the newspapers—then heaven help you!—you will find more than half the reporters spending the whole of their time writing up that sort of stuff. And when the press gets down to that sort of work it's time for the police to look elsewhere."

"I was at the Warbor Library depot in Pitt Street yesterday, and the manager addressed Miss Wesche by name!"

"Publish that, and the wonderful crime investigators of the Sydney press will flock to give him the third degree, and then set to work to prove his denials establish the fact that he murdered the unknown girl to conceal Miss Warbor's change of identity. Didn't think it of you, Mr. Onslay. That working of the banking account gave me another idea of your capabilities."

"Sorry to disappoint you." Roy grinned broadly. "My abilities such us they are, have completely failed to advance me to a solution of the mystery."

For some seconds Greyson sat on, idly turning the leaves of his notebook. Time and again he bent over some entry, only to pass it with an impatient shrug of his shoulders.

"We want more girls in this story." The detective looked up suddenly. "And I can't find them. There's Miss Warbor and Miss Wesche—two young girls living together in the big house at Kirribilli. They have a number of friends and acquaintances—but apparently no intimates. Miss Warbor disappears, and Miss Wesche carries on, as if the disappearance of her friend and employer was of no consequence. Immediately after Miss Warbor disappears you find that unknown girl in the Peyton Place house. She's not Judith Warbor. I've had a round dozen of the employees of the libraries at the morgue, and not one of them will swear to having seen her before. I've had the State placarded with portraits of the girl—and not a soul has come forward with a single word that is likely to lead to her identification. If I'd only been ten minutes earlier in reaching that house—and seen the contents of that hand-bag!"

"I wish you had!" Roy spoke from his heart.

The crusade against him, by the yellow press had not slackened. On the previous afternoon the Moon had openly castigated the Police Department for not acting on the clues plainly under their eyes. About the street he met men who had once sought his companionship, but who now crossed the streets to avoid him. He had been tried and condemned by public opinion, and the Police Department withheld him from answering the attacks or making any attempt to bring the authors of the slanders to task.

"What have you done about the Peyton Place houses?" The detective asked the question abruptly.

"Been waiting for Kelly Allard to move." Roy reached forward on his desk and picked a letter from his morning post. He tossed it across to the detective. "That letter states that Miss Warbor approves of my plans regarding Peyton Place and will grant a satisfactory lease of the ground. I've seen the City Clerk this morning and arranged for the closing of the Place as a thoroughfare. This afternoon I'm interviewing Sir Matthew Hyston regarding the plans tor the hotel and the formation of the building company."

"Fast work!" Greyson nodded approvingly. "You've given me just one line. You said: 'Miss Warbor approved.' Now, how the devil can the girl approve when she's disappeared?"

"Ask Kelly Allard?" The broker could not resist the grin that spread over his face. "I'm quoting from the letter you have in your hand. If you want my opinion, I suggest that Kelly Allard holds some power of attorney from Miss Warbor to act for her. He wouldn't have written that letter, unless he had sufficient reason to know he could prepare the leases the building company would require. Another thing, Sir Matthew hints that Miss Warbor will acquire a big interest in my building-company."

"That's that," Greyson nodded approvingly. "Either that, or Kelly Allard knows where to communicate with Miss Warbor, and quickly. I've had that suspicion all through. In fact, I've had an idea her disappearance was due to—"

The detective stopped abruptly and tapped the letter from the lawyer with his forefinger.

"Due to Sam Kearney."

After a long wait Roy uttered the thought that he believed to be in the detective's mind.

"Now, where did you got that!" Greyson looked surprised.

"Judith Warbor went to Sam Kearney, almost immediately before she disappeared, with the object of purchasing the Peyton Place leases. Something took place at that interview that made her fear—something. She goes into hiding, and within a few hours I discover a dead girl in 7a Peyton Place. Immediately following the publication of my discovery Sam Kearney wants to sell the house he had previously refused to part with. When the portrait of the dead girl and her description is published he wants to buy the property back. Why? I can only conclude that he thought my find was Judith Warbor. When he found he was mistaken, he reverted to his old plans whatever they were, but had them blocked by my refusal to part with my purchase."

"You're inferring that Sam Kearney killed the girl."

"No. If he'd killed her he'd have known that she was not Judith Warbor. Remember, he ignores the dead girl—when he knows who she is not, or rather, when he understands she is not Judith Warbor.

"When he knows who she is not," Greyson murmured the words slowly. "There's a lot in what you say, Mr. Onslay. I'm open to state I'm not satisfied with my interview with Sam Kearney. He didn't tell me the truth. Fact, I believe ha tried to wangle facts to suit his own purpose."

"For the same reason, he gave my purchase of the Peyton Place property to the newspapers," replied Roy. "Right through the piece he's been particularly anxious to fix the murder on to me, or at any rate, a suspicion of the murder."

"Some one's trying to frame you. That's a fact." The detective spoke emphatically. "The funny thing is that there's not a breath of suspicion against you at headquarters now. I've traced you up from the moment you left Sam Kearney's offices, after making your bid for the property. Your girl, Miss Malim, tells a good story of the man Basil Holt, and she heard enough of your conversation with him to know that he instructed you to purchase the property for him. There's not a moment of your time unaccounted for, up to the instant when I walked into 7a Peyton Place, except just that twenty minutes while Mr. Mansell came to headquarters to fetch me. Then you were locked up in that shop with a girl who'd been dead for twenty-four hours or more. Mr. Mansell says you both searched the house, and he's prepared to swear that there was no one in the place. There's not a loophole, anywhere."

"If you told that to your friends of the newspapers they might let up a bit on this campaign of slander," said Roy bitterly.

"That's just what I've done." Greyson leaned forward. "I've had the police roundsmen in my room and put the facts to them bluntly, and asked them why their rags kept on hitting at you? There wasn't one of them could give me an answer. I don't believe they're on it, for they've had nothing from headquarters pointing at you. It's all been worked in the editorial rooms. That means someone with a bit of influence is working the news heads."

"Coming?" Roy rose suddenly from his chair, and reached for his hat.

"Where?"

"Down to Peyton Place. Somewhere in that house is the solution of all this mystery work we've been mulling over for days. I'm going there, right now, and I'm staying on the spot till I get somewhere near the bottom of the story. God, man! Can you imagine what it is to walk down the street and have all the men you know turn their backs on you, as a suspected murderer? There's not a place in the world like Sydney for that sort of thing. Talk of 'small-town' gossip! It's worse in this city, boasting of its size and cosmopolitanism, than in any way-back town. And mine's not the only case. I can tell you of more than one poor devil against whom some one with a bit of pull had a down—and passed the silent word. It stuck. A few, with a bit more than average pluck, put up a fight. But it was no use. There's nothing to fight against. Just a shrug of the shoulder—Just the muttered word 'Bolshie'—that's all, but the man it's worked against is utterly damned."

Greyson nodded agreement, as he followed the broker into the corridor. He was thinking that the man before him had a good chance of going down in the battle against the malicious, intangible, rumours spread against him. Roy had spoken generally when he told of men being driven from Sydney, and even from Australia, by the 'silent voice' of malicious rumour—only to make good in other parts of the world. He could have given names, and in many instances have indicated the motive.

"Another month and that comes down."

Roy stood under the arch across Peyton Place and pointed to the row of old buildings. "I've got the houses in Macquarie Place. Wilson, the owner, was delighted to throw in with me when I explained my plan. Kelly Allard tells me that Miss Warbor will consent to allow me to include the Library as long as the business is not interfered with. Once I have the authority of the council to close the Place I shall go ahead—and I'll push it through for all I'm worth."

"What if the Council refuses to close the thoroughfare?" asked Greyson curiously.

"The Place comes down anyway. I can go on until there's a new City Council elected, and then try again. But they won't refuse. They've passed too many resolutions against Peyton Place, for to care to have extracts from their Minute Books published beside their refusal."

Roy opened the door of 7a and led the way up-stairs to the room where he had found the girl's body. In the daylight the place looked almost cheerful. There were no signs that a crime had been committed there. All that remained of that night of mystery was the long, oval chalk-mark drawn on the floorboards by the police, to indicate where the body had rested.

On the mantelpiece stood the small piece of candle in the pool of grease. There was not another thing in the room. Almost mechanically Greyson began to walk about. He had searched the place thoroughly on the night of the discovery of the unknown girl. Almost daily he had returned to it, seeking some way out of his perplexities. Yet now he searched again, although hopeless of results.

Roy watched the detective for a few minutes, then walked out of the room. He was trying to reconstruct the murder. Had it taken place in that house, or had the dead girl been brought there, perhaps hours after death? He was beginning to believe that the body had been conveyed there after the murder. It was impossible to believe that she had been lured there and murdered. That would make fit a crime of premeditation, not passion.

To suggest that the murderer had made an appointment with the girl to meet in that empty house would be fantastic. A girl of her apparent standing would not keep an assignation in a shop devoid of furniture and occupants. Even if she had been on intimate terms with the murderer, she would have refused to accompany him to this lonely, dirty house.

Assuming that the murder had been committed outside the house, how had the murderer conveyed the body to that upper room? It would have been exceedingly dangerous to have brought her into the lonely Peyton Place in any vehicle. Again, the door had been padlocked. It was possible to suppose that the murderer had obtained the key of the premises, but its truth was very improbable.

Greyson had bee careful to trace up the known keys to the house. They had all, with the exception of those with Mark Mansell, been in the hands of persons absolutely unconnected with the mystery. Since the lock was a very ordinary pattern, the murderer might have opened the padlock with a master-key.

Roy was certain there was a secret door opening into the house. He believed that, from the moment he and Mansell entered the house, they had been kept under close observation by the murderer, or by his associates. Their actions had been noted. They had seen him search the dead girl's handbag and had believed it held some clue that would incriminate them. Standing on the dark landing, Roy tried to reconstruct the events of the night on which he had found the unknown girl. It was possible that she had been brought to the house only a short time before he entered it. She may have been brought there while other means for her disposal were being devised. Mark Mansell and he had arrived at the house unexpectedly. The criminals had heard them enter and had hidden from them. Where?

There was no place in the house suitable for hiding even a rabbit. The rooms were bare of furniture. There was no cupboard of size in the building. They could only have found concealment through some secret door. The criminals had been forced to leave the girl's body to be discovered. They had waited for Mansell and him to go for the police. His decision to remain in the building, watching the corpse of the girl, had disconcerted their plans. Possibly, they had hoped to remove her before the police arrived. To accomplish that they had to get him from the room, and for that purpose they had sent the girl to ring the shop-bell.

Did that theory implicate Rene Wesche in the crime? Roy could not get away from the suspicion that Rene had been the girl at the shop-door that night. Yet his identification rested only on the quaint, green earrings. He could not believe that she had taken any part in the murder. The criminals, holding her in their thrall, had used her, unwittingly, for their purpose.

Roy wandered down the stairs and into the little room at the rear of the shop. For some time he stood looking out of the dingy window, over the yard of the house in the rear. Was there some way out or that house, into the yard? He remembered that two years previous, the houses beyond that yard were pulled down and a fine lot of offices erected on the ground. Those offices were easy of access to occupants, during the greater part of the night. It was possible the girl had met her death in some room in that building and had been brought across the yard into 7a Peyton Place.

The detective hailed Roy from the shop. The broker went to him and found him standing before the paper-covered boxes hiding the space under the stairs.

"Say, Mr. Onslay." Greyson did not turn from his examination of the partition. "You're serious this place has to come down?"

"Yes. Why?"

"Then I can pull down this woodwork." The detective turned a puzzled face towards the broker. "There's a fair-size space under the stairs, and no way of getting into it. Never thought of that before, but—"

He did not finish the sentence. Roy looked round. The shop-door was open and the constable in charge had disappeared. In a few minutes he returned carrying an axe and a hammer. Greyson motioned him towards the partition. The constable swung the axe, and the force of the blow, meeting little resistance nearly carried him against the woodwork. The axe head and most of the haft disappeared in a cloud of dust.

"Rotten to the core!" The detective was examining the hole with great satisfaction. "Now why the blazes did they want to seal up a space that would have given them much storage room? There's not too much cupboard space in this house so far as I can see."


CHAPTER XIX

WHEN the dust subsided, Greyson stepped forward and peered into the space under the stairs. He caught a jagged edge of the woodwork and pulled. A piece of boarding came away in his hand, throwing up new clouds of dust.

"About time you did pull down these places, Mr. Onslay."

The detective wiped his eyes.

"If that stairway is as rotten as this woodwork, it's positively dangerous to walk on."

At length the dust settled and Greyson climbed through the hole. Roy followed and looked around him curiously. Then was a fair amount of dust on the floor, but the walls and the underside of the treads were singularly clean from cobwebs and dirt. As they moved in the space, the dust arose from the broken debris that had fallen from the partition in fine clouds.

Roy bent down and cleared a space on the floor. As he suspected, there was no accumulation of under-dirt. The space had recently been cleaned, yet, so far as he could see there was no entrance to the place other than the hole that the constable had recently made.

For some time the detective stood in the centre of the space looking around him. Suddenly, he turned to the constable standing outside the broken woodwork.

"Get me a torch, man." He stood there holding out his hand until the officer returned with a large-sized electric torch. Slowly the light swept the inner face of the woodwork, through which they had broken a way. There were no signs of a door. The light wandered on and came to the wall dividing the space under the stairs from the back room. This showed without break or mark. Still the light moved steadily on, then rested on the dividing wall between the house and number 7. The bricks could be seen through the thin layer or plaster smudged over them. Greyson felt the plaster with his fingers and turned to Roy with a grim smile.

"They say Jerry-building is a modern invention, Mr. Onslay. Look at this stuff. Just because the brick work is to be covered in, the builder smeared only a thin layer of plaster over it and called it a do. Why, this house is a hundred years old if it's a day."

The torch was swinging idly in the detective's hand. It chanced to light the underside of the stairs some feet from the ground. Roy thought he saw something shiny and black on the woodwork. He caught the torch from the detective's hand and focused the light. It was a new and modern hinge.

Greyson was at his side almost as the exclamation passed the broker's lips. Roy swept the light over the rising treads. On the same tread as the first hinge but closer to the wall, was another hinge. Against, and framed on the brickwork, was a queer arrangement of pulleys and levers.

Greyson caught at one of the handles and pulled vigorously. Without sound, a section of the stairs dropped slowly to their feet, and through the space they saw the shop-door. Almost as soon as the section of stairs touched the flooring, it rose again until it rested in its accustomed place.

"Well, I'm damned!" Greyson made a dive for the lever. "Put your foot on those stairs when they come down again, Mr. Onslay."

Again the section of stair-treads fell to the ground.

Roy placed his foot on them. The detective released the lever and walked over the treads into the shop. As he stepped on to the flooring the section rose behind him. Roy and the constable waited in the semi-darkness. They had almost made up their minds to go through the hole in the partition and join the detective, when the section fell again and Greyson walked back to join them.

"There's what looks like a split board, on the wall side of the lowest stair, that works this lever," he explained. "Press hard and the section swings open. Now, I want to know what all this is for?"

The thing was a mystery, although it gave the answer to Roy's question of a hiding-place in the house. Why had the people who had taken possession of the house created this elaborate door to a simple hiding-place? Why did they need a hiding-place? The secret door with its complicated arrangement of pulleys and levers could [not?] have been constructed during the few hours between the girl's death and the discovery of her body. There was nothing in the space beneath the stairs. At no time, so far as Roy could see, had it been used for a storage room.

Yet the discovery of this hole under the stairs, with its peculiar secret door, explained much that had happened on the night of mystery. It explained where the man who had thrust the dagger into the dead girl's breast had hidden, while he waited for Roy and Mansell to leave the premises. In some way the scoundrels had received warning of his, and Mansell's, proposed visit to the house. They had secreted themselves in this hole, waiting for them to go for the police. Possibly they had planned to bring the girl downstairs to the hiding-place. Roy's decision to remain on the premises would have upset this plan.

Had not Roy had the attack of nerves that brought him from the side of the girl in search of the bell, the scoundrels would have had no chance of leaving their hiding-place. Had he come downstairs to the door, in answer to the ring, and attempted to communicate with the girl, the secret door in the stairs would have silently opened and the ruffians would have overpowered him. His action, in ignoring the girl and the door and searching for the bell, had allowed them to gain the upper room and rob and deface the girl.

His reasoning was logical, yet it did not cover all the points of the complex mystery. Roy shrugged his shoulders, and turned to his companions. Greyson and the constable had left him and were ascending the stairs. He climbed through the hole into the shop. He remembered that when he had passed the house on the previous day he had noticed that soma attempt had been made to tidy the place. That inferred that a broom was somewhere about. He found it in a corner of the back room and, returning with it to the space under the stairs, he commenced to clean up the dust. It was not until he obtained a billy of water that he was able to do effective work. The dust was light, and rose in fine clouds at the slightest disturbance.

With the floor clear he called to Greyson to send the constable to him with the torch. Instead, the detective came down the stairs at a run, and stared at the dust-covered figure of the broker. The first examination of the flooring, by the light of the torch, did not yield results. Roy went into the shop and returned with an axe. The first blow on the floor gave a hollow sound.

"Starting the house-breaking, Mr. Onslay?" Greyson stood at the hole in the wall, watching the broker curiously.

"There's some other way out of here besides the hole through the stairs." answered Roy. Again the axe fell and the floor under his feet seemed to spring into the air. "Jove! That's strange!"

Greyson came through the hole and snatched the axe from Roy's hands. "Wait a minute."

Roy turned to where he had left the broom. He knelt on the floor and focused the light on a certain spot.

"Hit it again, Greyson, and hit hard."

Again the axe fell. He moved nearer the wall and motioned for the detective to hit again. This time he managed to slip the handle of the broom into a crack that suddenly showed between the boards. There was a trap-door.

With the axe and the broom-handle they managed to lever it up, breaking the concealed catch that had held it in place. Beneath the light of the torch showed a flight of new steps, leading down into the blackness of the cellar.


CHAPTER XX

GREYSON led the way down the steps. At the foot of them he waited until Roy and the constable joined him. He was sweeping the light around him, now and again exclaiming in astonishment. The cellar was of considerable size, furnished with a long table, around which were arranged a number of chairs. To one side stood a small table, and on it a litter of empty bottles and some dirty plates.

"So that's that!"

By the light of the torch Roy saw that the detective was grinning broadly.

"That was a lucky strike of yours, Mr. Onslay. This looks like the meeting place of some secret society. It's another point that joins up a lot."

Though Greyson could apparently fit this new discovery into the clues he held to the mystery, Roy was greatly perplexed. He was certain the murder had been premeditated, but he had not reasoned it to be the act of one of the secret political societies all too common in the great cities of the world. To him, it was but another of the strange, disconnected discoveries he was continually making—clues that seemed to have not the slightest bearing on the murder, and but little connexion, one with the other.

The detective gave attention to the furnishing of the cellar. He circled the walls, followed by the constable, closely scrutinizing almost every brick. At length, the circuit completed, he returned to the spot where Roy was standing.

"It beats me." Greyson turned slowly on his heels, sweeping the light around. "What do they want the place for if it hasn't an outlet?"

Roy shrugged his shoulders. Greyson appeared, pleased and satisfied in part, but the broker was only mystified. He turned to the steps. There was nothing to be gained by remaining in that dark cellar. Slowly Greyson and the constable followed him upstairs.

In the light of day he drew deep breaths of relief. He could visualize the rows of seated figures in the cellar, plotting and planning against civilization.

"What's behind here?" The constable struck his hand against the outer wall of the house.

"No. 7—the antique-shop," answered Roy.

"What are you going to do with him?" Greyson swung round on the broker suddenly. "You say you're going to pull these houses down. If he were out of there we could drive a hole through between the cellars, and see what's there."

"What's there?" Roy repeated the words quickly. "Do you think there a door between the collars?"

"I'm guessing there's something." Greyson was at the brick wall tapping with the butt of his automatic. "What are you going to do with that antique seller?"

"Get rid of him."

"What's his notice? When can you clear him out? I want to smash this wall down."

"I'll get rid of him as soon as possible." Roy looked inquiringly at the detective. "What are you suspecting Greyson?"

"I don't know. I don't understand this place. The sooner I see the housebreakers at work the better I'll be pleased. Unless this affair is cleared up beforehand, I'll be staying here night and day while they're on the job."

"And then?" Roy was thinking quickly. He did not wait for a reply but turned towards the door.

"There's telephone in the antique-shop. I'm going in there to ring up Compton Browne. There must be some way of getting authority to start the house-breaker pending the completion of the formalities of closing the Place and the transfer of the property."

"Good!" Greyson followed the broker on to the street. At the door of the antique shop he stopped and watched Roy speak to a boy seated in a small antique chair. The boy went into the back room and, after a fairly long interval, a slender, grey-haired man cam out and advanced towards Roy.

"You wish to use the telephone, sir?" The man spoke with a strong foreign accent. "I have not the public convenience, but—surely, it is the gentleman who went into the shop that used to be next door."

"I have purchased the Place," Roy felt some unaccountable repugnance in speaking to this man. His greyness, accentuated by the close-cropped hair and moustache, was relieved only by the hard, grey eyes. They were not honest eyes. The man was furtive in manner yet there were signs of strong arrogance badly concealed.

"You are—what the citizen say—my landlord! Yes? You are welcome! The telephone, Signor, is yours! It is not the custom the strangers shall—But, it is my landlord! The telephone, it is at your command!"

The man waved his hand to the shop where the instrument hung on the wall. As Roy stood before it, waiting for the solicitor to answer the call he turned and looked at the fan-light over the shop door. It was easy to read the big letters.

"Antonio Cavalli."

"Mr. Compton Browne?—Yes—Roy Onslay speaking—Put me through to Mr. Compton Brown please—Roy Onslay speaking—You have the deeds from Mr. Sam Kearney of the Peyton Place property?—Yes—Good—Will you arrange that I have full control of the houses at the earliest possible date—You have the letter from Mr. Allard regarding the new lease—Yes—Good!" There was long pause while Roy listened intently. Once he spoke, interjecting the word 'The Police', to some inquiry. At last he turned from the instrument, satisfied Antonio Cavalli was standing at his elbow, a look of keen questioning on his face.

"Mr. Onslay will pardon. The instrument is of a place where that which is spoken shall be overheard."

"I had nothing to conceal, Mr. Cavalli." Roy felt he was going to dislike this man intensely.

"It is a matter Mr. Onslay would soon have informed me—The house that I live in belongs to him. Yes? It is good. I shall hope that the good intent that lies between me and Mr. Kearney to whom I have belonged in the past will continue with Mr. Onslay."

"You have been here for some time, Mr. Cavalli?" Greyson spoke from the door, where he was lounging.

"I—"

Roy was surprised at the rapidity with which the man swung round to face the detective.

"Detective-sergeant Greyson." He spoke the words of introduction in a low voice.

"From the Srt?"

"You use the French term, Mr. Cavalli?" Roy thought the man flushed slightly as he asked the question.

"I have resided in Paris for many years. I have no quarrel with the police of that city, or of this."

"Mr. Greyson is investigating the murder of the girl found in the next shop," remarked the broker. "We have been in there for the past couple of hours."

"Then it is of you I have heard, that made me disquiet?" Cavalli bowed, half-ironically, to the detective. "I thought the men who destroy houses were at work."

"They will be soon." Roy was surprised to notice a slight frown on the detective's face. "I intend to pull down those houses as soon as possible."

"You will require my house—my shop—But, no—Monsieur will realize I have been in this house for much time. It has grown to be the heart of me. I cannot—"

"I am sorry, but I am afraid it is inevitable." Roy was now convinced that the man did not ring true. The use of the 'Monsieur' in place of the usual 'M'sieu' showed that the boasted Parisian residence was untrue.

"Perhaps Mr. Cavalli will inform you, Mr. Onslay, of the terms of his tenancy," suggested the detective.

"But that is impossible." The man was speaking excitedly. "There is no terms of—of what you say—occupy. There is no writing—I nothing have signed."

"You pay rent?" Greyson had advanced from the doorway and now stood towering over the slight foreign figure.

"But, of course. That is understood. At the times the Mr. Kearney comes to me and I pay—Yes, I pay."

"Once a week, I suppose."

"Non, non. It is uncertain. Sometime it is of the for'nigh', or maybe a mont'. Perhaps it is two mont's, or more. I know not when he comes, but when he arrives I pay."

"Weekly, I suppose?"

"What is that?" The man turned with a spreading gesture of his hands from the detective to Roy.

"If Mr. Kearney comes at the end of one week you pay him the rent for this week?" Roy felt the man well understood the detective's meaning, and was playing with them.

"But he come not at the finish of one a week. I have said. It maybe of for'nigh', or of one mont', or—"

"Yes, Yes." Greyson spoke impatiently. "If he comes at the end of the fortnight you pay a certain sum. If he comes at the end of a month you pay him twice as much, and so on. I suppose if he came at the end of a week you would only pay him half what you pay him at the end 'of the fortnight?"

"Maybe!" Cavalli waved his hands indefinitely.

"Then we will take it is a weekly tenancy." The detective spoke decisively. "In that case if Mr. Onslay gives you a week's notice—"

"But he will not do that." The slight grey figure seemed to expand in a frenzy of emotion. "It is that I am a good tenant. I pay my rent and—"

"But Mr. Onslay is going to pull down these houses." The detective seemed to be enjoying this bickering with the Italian. "You can't stay here when the road is blocked and no-one comes along—when your customers can't get down to your shop."

"But, Mr. Onslay," the man turned again to the broker, "It is that I have grown to the place. I cannot move it. If I must the more rent pay, I will pay, but already it is enough. Mr. Kearney made it some time ago, and so you—"

"It is not a question of rent, Mr. Cavalli." Roy tried to make, his words as simple as he could. "Within a few day the house-breakers will be at work on the unoccupied houses in the Place. It will be impossible for you to stay, it is better for you to look out for a new shop at once."

"Then you still tell me to move—and that within a week?" The Italian looked absolutely crushed.

"Not within a week." Roy smiled slightly. "I am warning you of the advisability of getting a new place as soon as possible. In due course, and when the transfer of the property is completed, you will receive formal notice of the termination of your tenancy from my collectors."

"What about the house, Cavalli?" Greyson broke in abruptly. "You live in the rooms upstairs?"

"Si!"

"What about the cellar."

"Ah, you mean the room under the shop. It is so? Yes. That I do not live in at all."

"Let's have a look at it." The detective strode past the man to the door under the stairs. Cavalli followed Roy and the detective without protest. The space under the stairs was littered with broken antiques. The trap-door leading to the cellars stood open, the flap reared against the wall. A rickety flight of steps led into the darkness underground.

Greyson let the light of the torch play on the steps. They looked old and fragile, and he was cautious in trusting his weight to them. Roy followed the detective, and the Italian brought up the rear. The cellar was also littered with a great deal of rubbish and many packing cases. At one end stood a well-fitted carpenter's bench, and beside it, a small gas-stove, very old and rusty, but connected to the mains. An electric lamp hung from the middle of the ceiling, and another over the carpenter's bench. Above the bench was a switch.

Cavalli passed the detective and threw on the lights. Greyson took no notice of the litter of rubbish; he passed immediately to the wall dividing the house from 7a. The wall was of brick and covered with a layer of thin plaster through which the bricks showed. A minute search failed to reveal any door connecting with the next cellar. With open disappointment expressed on his face, the detective turned and, without speaking, led the way up into the shop.

"How long have you been here, Cavalli?" Greyson swung round to face the Italian.

"Much time, yes."

"Five years?"

"Perhaps nine, perhaps ten mont's." The Italian shook his head, smiling broadly.

"Only that?" Roy was surprised. "Then you came here just before Mr. Kearney bought the property?"

"It is so. Yes. There was a man I rented the house from. He also sold antiques. Yes. I was here perhaps one mont', perhaps two mont's, then Mr. Kearney came to me for the rent."

"Humph!" For the moment the detective stood lost in thought; then, he turned to the door. "Well, take a tip from me, Mr. Cavalli. Mr. Onslay is pulling down this place, and it's up to you to get a move on and find a new shop."

Roy was passing the man with a nod of farewell when Cavalli stepped before him. There was a change in the man's manner. Before he had been smooth and servile; now his eyes blazed, and there was a challenge in his attitude.

"I do not go, so?" The words came little above a whisper. "It is that the price will, be arranged. Yes?"

"I'm afraid not, Mr. Cavalli." Roy tried to speak gently but firmly. "I am not alone in the matter of the rebuilding. I advise you to find a new shop as quickly as possible."

At the door Roy stood on one side to allow a young lady to pass in. Cavalli greeted her in a torrent of fluent Italian. The girl listened quietly and then turned to face the broker.

"You are Mr. Onslay?" She spoke in a quiet, pleasant voice. Her eyes were searching his face intently. "Mr. Cavalli tells me you propose to pull down the Place."

Roy was staring at the girl. In some ways she greatly resembled Rene Wesche. She was dark and slight, with large deep-brown eyes in which little specks of gold seemed to twinkle. But it was not on her face that the broker's eyes were fastened. She was wearing a pair of quaintly shaped green earrings, duplicates of those worn by the girl who had come to the shop-door of 7a Peyton Place on the night he had been locked in there with the dead girl. For some minutes he could only stare at those ear-rings. At last he managed to murmur something which she took for an answer to her question. She did not speak again, but as she turned to go into the shop Roy thought he read in her eyes something he took to be relief and gratitude.


CHAPTER XXI

ON the pavement Roy looked back. The girl had joined the Italian, who was talking with much gesticulation. Presently the man made some remark, and the girl turned suddenly. On seeing Roy still standing before the door she went quickly into the little room at the rear of the shop.

Who was this girl? It was not possible that she was a relative of the strange antique-seller, Cavalli. True, she was dark, and had all the litheness and grace of the southern European woman, but there could be no doubt but that she was of British birth.

Cavalli had protested at being forced to move out of the shop. The girl, evidently living with him, had given decided indication that Roy's determination to pull down Peyton Place was not disagreeable to her. She had looked at Roy and Greyson with some suspicion on discovering them in the place, but when Cavalli spoke of the demolition of Peyton Place she had shown relief. More, she had worn a pair of those strange ear-rings that Roy had seen on the girl who had come to the shop-door of 7a on that night of mystery.

The ear-rings constituted one of the most baffling points. Roy had seen them on four occasions. First, on the girl who had been framed in the shop-door window of 7a Peyton Place. On the second occasion he had seen them on the girl who had pushed past him at the entrance of the North Shore wharf on the same night. Then, Rene Wesche had worn them when she had come to his offices. Now, for the fourth time, he looked on them pendant to the ears of the girl who lived with the antique seller. What part did these strange ear-rings play in the mystery in which he was involved? The jewels were not beautiful—in fact, they were strangely ugly. Roy had never seen similar ornaments before, and did not believe any manufacturer would make them for general sale.

He stood on the pavement trying to throw his memory back to the night in that upper room in 7a and picture the dead girl as he had first seen her. Had she worn a pair of those ear-rings? He firmly believed he had noticed them on her.

Greyson was standing a few yards down the Place, before a grocery shop, tapping the pavement impatiently with his foot. Roy walked down and joined him. The detective turned and led the way into the grocer's without speaking. He purchased a packet of cigarettes, then found he was without matches. All the time he kept up a flow of small talk with a man behind the counter. Roy stood by, fidgeting impatiently. Gradually the officer came around to the subject of Peyton Place.

"Heard these houses were sold the other day?" he commenced. "Sold to—to—"

"To Mr. Roy Onslay." The grocer, a short, stout man with an open, jolly face looked round from the shelf on which he was arranging some tins of preserved meats. "Why, there he is! Mr. Onslay isn't it? Thought I recognized you."

"You have a better memory than I," Roy laughed. "Mr. Green, isn't it? Yes, I have bought these houses and mean to pull them down."

"Strange." Greyson looked up from the counter on which he was drawing some diagram with a pencil. "Fancy me talking about Mr. Onslay and him walking into the shop like that. I was with the police when they came to 7a along here the other night for that poor girl."

"I remember you quite well, Mr.—Mr.—" Roy hesitated, waiting for some lead from the detective.

"Michael. Constable Michael, Mr. Onslay. So you're going to pull the row of houses down. Well, I'll be sorry to see Mr. Green dispossessed, but the place won't come down before its time."

"Needn't be sorry for me, Mr. Michael." Green the grocer leaned his elbows on the counter, ready for a gossip. "I've made a bit of money out of this shop, but the trade is nearly dead now. It was good before that row of 'am and beef shops started along the Quay corner. They've took all my trade. But, I ain't complainin'."

"You've done well?" Greyson's voice held a note of envy.

"So, so!" Green laughed tolerantly. "I'll move out any time. Got another place to go to."

"Where's that?" Roy asked the question before the detective could speak.

"Up Darlinghurst way—or I should say, more like Paddington. Just on the border of the two districts. Quite a nice shop, and some nice people around, and not too much competition. I'm going out of the grocery line. Cooked goods, and all that, is my lay when I move. There's a lot of flat-dwellers around, there as are too lazy to cook for themselves. I'm going to do the cooking for them. Three course meals all in covered nests of dishes, piping hot, for eighteen pence a cover. There's a chap as I know of up near King's Cross is making a fortune at the game. He told me he was sending out nearly a 'undred dinners a night, and that's not counting the day trade in cold things, which is first-class. You'd be surprised if you knew what the profit was."

"Sounds good. It's a new lay, isn't it?" Greyson' spoke carelessly.

"There ain't many about." Green leaned further across the counter. "It's the trade for me. There's about two 'undred and fifty flat-couples within a quarter mile of my new shop, and if 'arf of them have two dinners a week from me—besides what they buy for ma's lunch in the daytime. I reckon I've got a little gold-mine. Believe me."

"A three course meal for eighteen pence, served in your own dining-room, all piping hot! That'll suit me, Mr. Onslay." Greyson smacked his lips audibly.

"Well, Mr. Michael, if you lives up my way it's yours, and what's more you shall have the first dinner I cook." Green had risen to his feet and stood with arms crossed over the line of his white waist apron.

"And where might that be, Mr. Green?"

"Warren Street, Darlinghurst. Number 89. Why, do you know it?"

Roy had started at the mention of the address, but Greyson did not move a muscle. The quiet smile on his face looked as if he had been expecting some such conclusions.

"Yes, I know it." Roy spoke hesitantly. He looked at the detective for a lead. "I believe it belongs to the Warbor Estates."

"You're right Mr. Onslay." Green turned to the small door at the end of the counter. "Where's that letter? Oh, here it is. Well, it happened that yesterday I read in the newspaper that Mr. Onslay had purchased this row of houses, I said to myself: 'He ain't doing that for the rents he'll get from the shops. There's something big behind all this.' So I skirmishes around last night and learns that the two houses in Macquarie Place as back this row of houses had been sold to Mr. Onslay. That set me thinking, and when I got up this morning there was a letter from Mr. Kelly Allard, which is the lawyer for the Warbor Estates. 'Oh,' I thinks when I picks it up. 'Here's notice to quit,' and I hadn't a notion where to go. Well, it's no good hesitating over bad news. I opens the letter an' you could have knocked me down with a feather. Mr. Allard writes as Miss Warbor wished him to say as she didn't went me to suffer by the Place coming down, and if I cared to take the Warren-street shop on the same terms as I 'old this, I was welcome. Off I goes, without 'ardly waiting to take off me apron, an' when I set eyes on th' place I ses, ses I: 'Frank, me boy, your fortune's made.' It all came clear an' sweet inter me mind."

The grocer was looking at Roy as he finished speaking, but the broker could not reply. His brain was in a turmoil. He had thought to have had considerable trouble in persuading Miss Warbor to extend the leases of the Peyton Place property. He had thought he would have to engage in a long hunt to locate her when he heard she had disappeared from her home. Yet, now he was finding this strange girl in hiding engaged in making his path smooth. She had granted the extension of the leases immediately she was asked to do so. Now, she was offering to one of the tenants, whom he would have dispossessed, the lease of a far superior shop at the same rental that he was paying for his shop in Peyton Place.

He was wondering if Judith Warbor had made a similar offer to Antonio Cavalli. He did not think so, for surely the man would not have battled so to retain his present house if he had had the offer of a superior place to go. He came out of his musings to hear the old grocer continue:

"The strange thing is that I'm not to say a word to my neighbours of this offer. Not as I'd say anything to that Italian. I don't like him, and I don't like his ways. It's crooked he is, and he has some of the strangest characters is Sydney a-callin' in at his shop. But I'm sorry for Betson, th' man as had th' newsagency along here. If I knew where to find Miss Judith I'd go and ask her to do something for him. That I would."

"You know her?" The detective was speaking carelessly, although his eyes were alert.

"Know Miss Judith? I should say I does!" Green seemed to swell with a sense of importance. "I've been in this sop for the last twenty-five years—longer than she's lived. Know 'er? Why, she's been in and out of this shop more 'times than I can count. Y'know, old man Warbor started his first library at the corner where the Library is now. It wasn't in that house, 'cos he pulled it down and built a fine place for his books. Knew 'im well, I did, an' went to his wedding. Married a Italian, or something like that. He used to bring his little girl up to the shop sometimes, an' then she'd run along here for lollies. Why, many's the time she's sat on this 'ere counter, a lolly in one 'and an' a biscuit or a banana in th' other."

"Who's the girl at the antiques-shop?" Roy asked suddenly.

"The girl at the antiques-shop?" Green spoke slowly. "Oh, her—they calls 'er Miss Cavalli, but she ain't been there long. Came here a few days ago. Cavalli says as she's 'is adopted daughter, an' that she 'elps in the shop. She's in and out at all times of the day, but when she's in she's at the back of the shop—not serving. Looks as if Miss Beatrice Cavalli is too big to take a 'and with the customers. Not as there's many of 'em."

Miss Beatrice Cavalli! Roy was prepared to swear that the girl had not a drop of Italian blood in her veins. There was no likeness between her and the antique-dealer. Cavalli had told them that the girl was helping him in his business, but Green said that she was never in the shop. Roy was certain that, when they got to the end of the trail, they would find this girl linked in some way with the dead girl. Was she, not Rene Wesche, the girl who had come to the shop-door of 7a and rung the bell?

Greyson was shaking hands with the grocer, promising to go to Darlinghurst and sample the famous dinners. With a muttered word of farewell Roy stepped from the shop, almost into the arms of Sam Kearney, who was striding along the narrow footpath with head bent in thought.

"Roy Onslay!" The big speculator hesitated. "What's this I hear about you going to pull down the Place?"

"Peyton Place will be part of Sydney's ancient history within the next month." Roy smiled slightly at the man's expression of suppressed dismay. "I am definitely promised the official closing of the thoroughfare at the next meeting of the City Council. Miss Warbor has granted me the leases I asked for, and soon you will see the skeleton of a big hotel rising on the ruins of these old houses."

"God!" The man uttered the ejaculation under his breath. "Are you mad, Onslay?"

"Mad to pull down a few old houses that should have come down many years ago?"

"Mad to risk the few pounds you have gathered together. Mark my words," The man's untutored wrath was rising quickly. "You're riding for a bad fall."

"That is my business, Mr. Kearney."

"Is it?" Sam Kearney thrust his big ruddy face close to Roy's. "I'm thinking it's the business of the community. Fools should be locked up where they can do no mischief."

Roy laughed but did not answer. He knew that Kearney was angry because he had refused the cancellation of the contract of sale. He knew that, for some reason, Kearney was furious that he had let the Peyton Place houses slip from his grasp. But he could not understand why a man who consistently preached the doctrine of progress in public, should be anxious to retain Peyton Place intact—one of the greatest eyesores in the city area.

For a full minute the big speculator stood and glared at the broker. Then, with a muttered word that sounded like a curse, he turned abruptly and moved off.

"Just a minute, Mr. Kearney." Roy was finding it difficult to keep his temper with the man. "I've just come from an interview with Antonio Cavalli. He is loath to vacate his shop, and I am in doubt as to what notice he is entitled to. Is he on a weekly or a monthly tenancy? He tells me you have been collecting the rents at odd times!"

"He told you that?" Kearney swung round quickly. "Damn his impudence! If you're going on with your insane plans get rid of him at once. He's due for a week's notice—and not a minute more."

"Thanks." Roy stood his ground, although the big speculator turned to go up the Place. "I should like to have some information regarding the late tenant of 7a?"

"The late tenant of 7a?" Kearney repeated the words as if he did not rightly understand them. "What's the late tenant of 7a to do with your leases?"

"I believe the place has been untenanted for years?"

"Has it!" The man's rage, appeared to shake his powerful frame. "Got that from Cavalli, too? Well, just to make things interesting I'm going to tell you that if you want rent for 7a Peyton Place you'd better apply to Antonio Cavalli."


CHAPTER XXII

BEFORE Roy could ask the questions that rose to his lips, Sam Kearney had swung on his heels and was striding off. The broker stood and looked after him, a quiet smile on his face. The big speculator certainly made mistakes. Antonio Cavalli was the tenant of 7a Peyton Place! Yet the shop and house had stood, apparently deserted, for some time. Roy remembered the dirt and litter about when he had first entered it. That accumulation could only have been the result of long idleness.

Why had Cavalli rented the shop and failed to make use of it? Roy believe Kearney's statement. There was no reason for the big speculator to deceive him, even if he was angry at his refusal to cancel the contract of sale. A simple question to the Italian would confirm or deny the statement.

If Cavalli was the tenant of 7a Peyton Place, why had he not come forward at the time the dead girl was found in the upper room. In the accounts of the mystery in the newspapers the statement had appeared that the house had stood empty for some time. The Italian had not come forward to deny that report. It looked as if he wished to conceal his tenancy.

Why had Cavalli wanted that house? Roy had passed through Peyton Place several times during the past few months. He had noted the antique-shop appeared to do little business. The stock was small and of little value. The man could not have required the additional space for the purpose of his trade. Kearney had spoken as if the Italian had been in possession of 7a for some time. Yet the man had said he had only been in his present shop for the past nine or ten months. The strange arrangement of levers working the secret door in the stairs was of recent construction. Roy believed that they had been erected by the Italian.

He knew now that, when he and Mansell had entered the house on that night of mystery, the murderers had been on the premises, hiding beneath the stairs. They had listened to him and Mansell discuss the bringing of the police to the house. They had planned the ringing of the bell to entice him from the room where the dead girl lay. When he had come down the stairs they had passed to the upstairs room, they had hidden in one of the upper rooms when he climbed the stairs and, while he stood amazed at the defacing of the corpse, they had passed down to their hiding-hole. They had been there when the police entered the house.

So far, Roy was certain that he had correctly reconstructed the events of that night. Yet, even now he could not guess the motives that lay behind those actions. Why had the girl been murdered? Why had her corpse been allowed to remain in that upper room for hours after her death? Why had the murderers returned to the house? Why had they robbed and defaced the body? How had they finally escaped from the house? These were questions the answers which he could not even guess at.

Antonio Cavalli was the tenant of 7a! Then he had constructed the secret door in the stairs, and the trap-door. He had sealed up the door in the partition. It was more than probable that he had been in the hiding-place when Roy and Mansell had entered the house. Was he the murderer? What was the connection between him and the dead girl? More, how had he entered and left the house?

He was tenant of 7a, yet there was no record of his being possessed of a key to the place. Roy walked back to 7a. He stopped at the shop front and carefully examined it and the surrounding woodwork. After a long search he found what he was looking for. Close to the flooring, the framework of the door appeared to have been broken and roughly repaired. It was loose. With his penknife he cut away part of the wood. At last the blade grated on metal. The piece of wood gave way and behind it he found the button of an electric bell.

It was not necessary to proceed further. The line of concealed wire must lead into the antique-shop. The opening of the door would warn Cavalli that someone had entered 7a. Supposing that Cavalli had not been concealed in the chamber under the stairs when he and Mansell entered the house; then the ringing of the electric bell had warned the Italian and brought him to the hole under the stairs by some door connecting the cellars.

"What's the game, Mr. Onslay?"

Roy looked up from where he knelt beside the door-frame at the quizzical smile of the detective. "Doing a bit of the housebreaking?"

"Look!" Roy moved to one side and pointed to the hole he had made in the woodwork. "What do you make of that?"

"Where does it go?" The detective was on his knees, fingering the little knob of the electric push.

"Get a screwdriver and we'll find out." Roy was working at the screw-heads with the blade of his knife. Almost as he spoke the brittle steel snapped. "This won't do."

"Won't it?" The detective took the broken pen-knife. "A broken blade is a good substitute for a screwdriver, so long as the screws haven't rusted into place. These haven't been here long."

A few minutes' work and the screws were out. The plate was still in position, but a strong pull dragged it a couple of inches from its seat, showing the electric wires at the back.

"Where do they go?" Greyson thrust the plate into place again.

"Into the next shop—the Italian's!" Roy spoke excitedly. "That's how those people got their knowledge that Mansell and I had entered the place the other night. The bell at the other end of those wires warned them that some one had entered the building. They knew the dead girl lay upstairs, and came through the secret door in the cellar."

"Hold on!" exclaimed Greyson, looking blank. "You've got to remember the secret door in the cellar is only a suspicion as yet. We've searched thoroughly and there's not a sign of a door."

"We'll find the door when we pull this house down." Roy was busy pushing the screws into their places and arranging the shield of wood as before. "We'll leave this as we found it, Greyson, until we have more facts to incriminate the Italian."

"Basil Holt, Sam Kearney, Mark Mansell, you, and now that Italian, Antonio Cavalli." Greyson leaned against the door-frame, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "It's got me bluffed."

"The list of suspects!" Roy laughed ruefully. "You still have your suspicions of me, Greyson?"

"You came into the picture first, Mr. Onslay. 'Tisn't as if I believed you had anything to do with the death of the girl. It's the fact that, at the present time, the whole mystery hangs around you."

"What's Mark Mansell doing in your list of suspects? He seems to be right out of it."

"That's the reason." Greyson was working the door to see that it closed easily. "Why haven't those wiseheads of the newspapers had a go at him. They've had a lot to say about you—in fact, they've said all they dare say without actually stating that you are the murderer. But I haven't seen one word about Mansell's complicity in the crime. Reading the newspapers, one wouldn't think he was within a mile of Peyton Place on the night you found the girl."

Greyson had spoken of one of the phrases of the newspaper campaign that had greatly puzzled the broker. Basil Holt had been the link that had led them to the side of the dead girl. He and Mansell had been closely associated that night, but beyond the bare fact that Mansell had brought the police to the house, his name had hardly been mentioned.

"Mark Mansell's a big advertiser," suggested Roy. "Perhaps that's the reason the newspapers don't want to mix him up in the mystery. All the world over, the man who pays has a lot to do with the tune played."

"But no pay can keep a man clear of a murder charge." Greyson frowned thoughtfully. "I'm telling you frankly that it's the attitude of the newspapers that's causing us concern at headquarters. I had a talk with the Commissioner yesterday, and found there's been a lot of influence used to have you arrested and put where you can do no harm. Of course, I pointed out that that would benefit some one at present unknown, who's taken a great dislike to your decision to pull down the Place."

"You think—"

"I'm not thinking, Mr. Onslay." Greyson turned to face the street. "Whew!"

Roy swung round at the detective's exclamation. Mark Mansell was striding up the Place from the direction of Pitt Street. When he came to the shop-door he paused and looked in curiously.

"Turning housebreaker, Roy?" The smile in Mansell's eyes did not look altogether friendly. "I went up to your offices this morning and your clerk suggested you might be down here. Why, what's that?"

The two men turned quickly. A crack had appeared in the line of the stairs, And as they watched, the secret door opened and fell slowly to the floor.


CHAPTER XXIII

GREYSON uttered an exclamation and dashed forward. He was under the stairs for some minutes, then the secret door lowered again and he stood in the opening, a puzzled frown on his face.

"What happened?" Roy asked eagerly.

"Don't know." Greyson walked over the treads into the shop. "There was no one there." The door was about to rise again into place when Mansell went quickly forward and held it down with his foot.

"What's this arrangement?" The estate agent bent down and peered into the darkness beneath the stairs. "There's a trap-door to the cellars?"

"We found it this morning," Roy answered. "We broke through the wooden partitions at the side of the stairs and found that door and a system of levers working it. I thought we had left it secure when we came out, but—"

"We did." Greyson spoke crossly. "I've been up and down the stairs a dozen times since we came out, and it's held my weight. I'll swear to that."

"Then some one came up from the cellars and worked the levers." The broker spoke impulsively. "I thought I saw—"

"Brilliant grey eyes! Eyes that glittered like hard stones!" Mark Mansell had lost his colour. His lips trembled so that his words came in a faint tremolo.

"Hard grey eyes!" Greyson looked from one man to the other. "I thought I saw something when the door fell, but—"

"Cavalli!" Roy spoke impulsively. "I noticed his eyes when we were talking to him this morning. They had a hard brilliant look."

"How did he get there? You are forgetting I was through the door almost before it came to rest." The detective showed signs of excitement. "How could he have got away?"

There appeared to be no explanation. Greyson had been through the opening before the flap had reached the floor. If the Italian had come up from the cellar to the secret door he would not have had time to get back before the detective reached the trapdoor. Yet, who had worked the levers? Greyson had been right when he said they had climbed the stairs several times since they had discovered the hiding-place.

"What are you doing here?" Greyson turned to the estate agent roughly.

"I thought I had explained." Mansell spoke quietly. He had recovered his colour, but his hands twitched nervously. "I wanted to see Mr. Onslay, and went to his offices. His clerk informed me that he believed he had come down to Peyton Place—and I followed."

"Yes?" asked Roy.

"You are not often in your offices now." Mansell spoke with almost an air of injury. "I think I informed you yesterday that I had a buyer for the property. I've been trying to get in touch with you to discuss terms."

"Mr. Onslay is not selling." Greyson spoke sharply.

"These houses are coming down, if I have to ask for a special act of Parliament to destroy them."

"Coming down?" There was bleak note in the estate agent's voice. Almost immediately he resumed his usual cordial tones. "Nonsense, man. They're good for a number of years yet. Why, if they are placed in my hands I'll make a steady income for the owner from renting them out. As I told you over the telephone, Roy, I have a client who will purchase 7a; that and perhaps another of the houses. The others only want a small sum spent in repairs. You've got a fifteen years' lease of the property. Paid Sam Kearney ten thousand pounds for the lot? One of the best bargains you'll ever make. Now, I'll make you an offer. My man will take two or the houses off your hands for the sum you gave for the lot. I'll undertake to let the remainder, if you don't want to sell, for, say, an average of ten pounds a week each house."

"The houses your client wishes to purchase are, I suppose, 7 and 7a?" The detective spoke quickly.

"Eh!" Mansell flushed red. "I didn't say a word about any."

"No occasion to," the detective laughed. "Those houses seem to be the ones in particular request. Shouldn't wonder but I couldn't name your client. He seemed very upset this morning at being asked to move his business to some other locality."

Roy was keenly watching the varying emotions pictured on the estate agent's face. "By the way, Greyson. While you were interviewing the newsagent just now, I had a few words with Sam Kearney about my present tenants. He tells me Mr. Cavalli is the tenant of 7a and has been for some time, in spite of its unoccupied appearance."

"The devil!" Greyson showed his surprise, openly. "Why—"

"Just so," continued Roy. "Mr. Kearney was sufficiently exasperated to bid me to tell Antonio Cavalli to go to the devil, and take a week's notice to vacate the place. I presume I may take that advice to apply to his tenancy of 7a also."

"Cavalli tenant of both these shops!" The detective spoke musingly. "That puts a queer construction on his story. Now, I wonder—"

"What's all the mystery?" Mansell interjected angrily. "I'd have thought, Greyson, by this time the police would have placed their hands on the man who committed the crime." Roy wondered if Mansell was looking at him with intent, as he spoke. He was about to make an angry retort when the detective interposed, amiably.

"There's lots of people who seem to have that impression, Mr. Mansell, and they've got the pull to get their views into print. Now if I followed the newspapers and their free-advice columns, I'd jug Mr. Onslay and then hand in my resignation to the Commissioner. But there are questions Mr. Onslay's lawyer would ask that I couldn't answer. For one thing, he might ask why I took Mr. Onslay for the murder of the girl and let Mr. Mansell go free, since they were together when the girl was found."

"That would be absurd," the estate agent replied quickly.

"So absurd that I'm going to place the full reasons for my actions before the newspaper reporters when they catch me again. I'm going to tell them of that secret door in the stairs. I'm going to bring them here and show them the cellars below with their strange furnishings. I'm going to show them the secret bell-push in the door-jamb just alongside your feet—a bell that warns Antonio Cavalli when anyone enters this shop. And, Mr. Mansell, I'm going to get from the newspapers, under threat of closing the department to them for news, the reason why they are hounding Mr. Onslay towards Long Bay, and haven't a word to say regarding his companion of the night, Mark Mansell.

"Good day to you, Mr. Mansell. Come along, Mr. Onslay. I want to go upstairs again and Mr. Mansell has important business that can't wait. He has to tell Antonio Cavalli that you're not selling, even if he offers ten times ten thousand pounds for the one house."

The detective turned on his heels and mounted the stairs, with Roy following him closely. At the head of the stairs Roy glanced back, bending down so as to obtain a view of the pavement outside. Framed in the shop-door he could see the lower portion of a pair of legs, the feet pointed towards the stairs. For the moment he thought Mark Mansell had remained watching them. Suddenly he remembered that Mansell was wearing a blue suit. These legs were encased in striped trouserings. He ran down a few steps, but the legs disappeared the moment he moved. Greyson was standing in the middle of the front room when Roy again mounted to the upper floor. As the broker entered the detective turned and grinned almost shamefacedly.

"'Fraid I almost lost my temper with that fellow," he said. "But he irritates me. He seems to be frightened of his own shadow."

"Who have we interviewed to-day wearing striped trouserings?" asked Roy.

"What? Let me see!" Greyson thought for a few moments. "There's Green, the grocer. I believe he had on a pair of striped trousers, but I couldn't see too plainly as his apron covered most of them. Cavalli wore a cut-away black coat and waistcoat, and striped trouserings."

"I thought so." Roy shrugged his shoulders. "I'm afraid we talked too openly at the shop-door. You remember when the stairs opened, Mansell and I thought we saw hard grey eyes looking out on us; well, Cavalli has hard grey eyes. Now, when I got to the top of the stairs I bent down and saw about a foot of striped trouserings over black shoes. You saw that the Italian was wearing striped trouserings. From the position of the feet, the man seemed very interested in our movements."

"Humph!" For a moment the detective stood undecided; then he walked quickly out of the front room and went to the room overlooking the yards of the rear houses. For a full minute he stood at the door, searching the room with eager eyes. At length, he turned to the broker.

"When can you get the housebreakers to work, Mr. Onslay? I'll have no rest until this place comes down. I'm going to camp on the spot when the men start and there's not a thing going from this site until I've fully examined it and am satisfied it's got nothing to do with the death of that girl."

"It takes time to call for tenders for housebreaking," Roy replied slowly. "Still, I'm interested in these places coming down quickly. I'll see if I can get in couple of men to work tomorrow. They can make a start here and get on to the places you think are most suspicious. It means—"

"It means you'll have to dip your hands into your pockets to humour my whim." Greyson's hard face lit with an almost soft smile. "Still, I don't think you'll be the loser by it in the long run."

The detective made a complete circuit of the room and came to a stop before the fire-place. The grate was still full of the burned paper ashes that they had searched on their previous visit. Grayson picked up the piece of stick and poked at the ashes. Suddenly, he looked up at Roy, who was standing by the window, watching him.

"Say, Mr. Onslay," The police officer spoke with subdued excitement, "When we were exploring here the other night we found a piece of glass in those ashes."

"Yes!" Roy's fingers sought his waistcoat pocket. "By Jove! I've left it at home! What of it?"

"Mr. Mansell wears glasses!"

"I believe so. Yes."

"Mr. Kearney, also?"

"Most men wear glasses of some sort, after they reach middle age," Roy said with a laugh. "I expect I shall have to join the multitude, sooner or later."

"Antonio Cavalli wears glasses. He had them on when we were in his shop."

"Yes?"

Greyson did not continue. He was sorting the brittle ash out on the hearthstone, carefully separating from it anything of a hard nature. The work completed, he stood up and turned to the broker.

"Mr. Onslay, I've been reading a lot about spectacles of late. Let me tell you this, and it's something that's not usually known. Say there's a million people in Sydney? Well, the opticians can divide them into three distinct classes. First, there's the class that don't want spectacles. We're not concerned with them in the search for the owner of the broken lens you found the other night. Next comes the people with long or short vision—I mean, people who suffer from a simple defect in the magnifying power of their eyes. Last, there a the big class of people who suffer from one or more of the serious defects of the eyes.

"Now, I want to know to which class that piece of glass you found belongs. If it has to be included as belonging to anyone in the second class, then it's of little value to us. But if that piece was ground to rectify some serious defect of the eye, then it's as distinctive to the owner as his fingerprints—and I want an interview with that man or woman, right badly."


CHAPTER XXIV

"I DON'T understand." Roy spoke thoughtfully. "Do you mean that ordinary spectacles differ so greatly that it is possible to identify a person by his glasses?"

"Just that." Greyson strode up and down the little room while speaking. "I'm not going to say they're as individual as finger-prints. They're not. But there are so many differences between prescriptions for the eyes that in many thousands of cases it is possible to identify a person by his glasses."

"Then, with that little piece of glass you expect to be able to identify the person who burned those papers?"

"If he belongs to the third class I mentioned—those who suffer from some serious defect of vision." The detective drew a piece of paper from his pocket and walked over to the window. "I had a talk with one of the leading opticians in Sydney yesterday. He says—I wrote it down at once so as to get it exact—'In cases where plus or minus corrections are combined with astigmatism, requiring not only a convex or concave lens but also a prism, there is but a very faint chance of any two prescriptions being exactly alike."

"You intend to search Sydney until you find the optician who made that lens? When you have found him you will obtain from him the name of his patient?"

"Something like that." Greyson grinned broadly. "You haven't a knowledge of our finger-print work, Mr. Onslay. At headquarters we have the finger-prints of every known criminal in Australasia, and those of a number of men wanted in other parts of the world. It's taken time to accumulate them, but the department's grown so fast that it's a rare thing for us to bring in a man who's been in trouble or suspected of having been in trouble, without being able to fit him with a photograph of his fingerprints."

"You haven't done that with spectacle-lenses, Greyson?"

"Not yet, but it's bound to come. Finger-prints took a lot of time to get started. Now, I don't know where we'd be without them." Again the detective paused. "From what I learned yesterday, it's possible that the man who lost those glasses may be the pioneer of a spectacle-prescription department at headquarters. At all events I'm going to follow this clue and see where it leads to. I'm guessing it leads mighty close to one or two people who're mixed up in this mystery."

"I don't understand." Roy hesitated. "You say that no two prescriptions for glasses are alike. Yet, in opticians' windows you see large numbers of glasses for sale all ready for wearing. How do you fit them in with your theory."

"I don't!" The detective referred to his notes again. "I've got a lot to learn about spectacles, yet; so I'll give you just what I took down yesterday. First, I'll tell you that most opticians don't trouble to save lenses when prescriptions are changed. They pitch them into a tin in the work-room, and they go to the dump, and that in spite of the fact that some of the really expensive blanks cost about fifteen shillings to a pound each."

"I've heard that."

"Well, the reason is that it's less trouble to grind the blank than to alter the angles of refraction in a lens already ground." The detective paused again to consult his notes. "Mr. Westhorpe put it this way. 'When it is necessary to fit a convex or concave lens with a prism the arc of reflection increases along certain meridians and decreases on others, thus spreading the rays of light on a line of the retinal surface.'"

"Which means?" Roy could not help smiling at the serious manner in which lie detective read the statement.

"It's just like this." Greyson dammed his notes into his pocket, with a sigh of relief. "Most people think that the lenses of a pair of spectacles are to draw the focus of the eyes to points. That isn't a case of what they call lines of meridian. I take it there's a series of prisms along lines. It's the difference between straight lines and points. Now, if it were points, we couldn't do much, but along straight lines, and perhaps a great number of them on one glass, it's possible that not two sets of prisms along the meridians coincide. Just the same as the lines of the finger-prints. It's the pattern that makes for identification. It's the lines along the meridians, differing in glasses, that makes for identification of the prescription, and fixes it to an individual."

"But it isn't everyone who wears glasses," objected the broker.

"That's so; and that's where identification by spectacles will never rank beside fingerprints. All the same, I'm guessing that spectacle identification will come one day. It won't supersede finger-prints, but it will aid them, and I can tell you, Mr. Onslay, the police today want all the help they can get to deal with the modern rogue."

"What are you going to do?"

"Take that piece of glass to Mr. Westhorpe and get him to read the prescription from it. Then, I'll send that prescription to all the opticians in Sydney and find out who made that lens. I'm guessing I won't have long to wait before I get results."

"Can the optician tell if the lens was made for a man or a woman?"

"Just the question I asked Mr. Westhorpe," the detective replied promptly. "He said there might be some difficulty. The size of the lens might help, but he was doubtful. If we had the bridge, or the frame, that would go a long way—but we've not got that. So far as I can make out, it's just the question of one or two certain defects. Very few young women wear glasses, and when they do, the trouble is nearly always myopia. We've got to leave that side of the question alone until we begin to get results to our queries. For the present, what want to know is, what's the prescription for that lens? If it's a case of astigmatism, then we're on velvet. The odds against any two prescriptions coinciding in that field, in the City of Sydney, are about one in the million."

"Then you want me to go home and get that piece of lens?" Roy looked at his watch. "I can get there and back in about an hour, or a little more."

"If you will, Mr. Onslay." Greyson led the way to the door. "Get me that glass and bring it to your offices. Then get your housebreakers on the job. I'll have a man here to watch every brick that comes down."

The two men left the house and walked down to Circular Quay. At the entrance of the Neutral Bay wharf, Greyson stopped.

"I'll expect you back in about an hour and a half," he said as he turned away. "We've missed lunch, but I guess we can stand that for once. Anyway, you'll have time for a cup of tea and a sandwich somewhere. But get me that piece of glass."

"Greyson." Roy caught the detective by the sleeve, lowering his voice to a whisper. "Do you think Judith Warbor wore the glasses?"

"Eh?" The detective halted, much startled.

"Just an idea!" The broker spoke rapidly. "I can't get it out of my head that Judith Warbor plays a big part in this mystery."

"You think that piece of glass belongs to her glasses?" The detective tugged thoughtfully at his chin. "In that case Judith Warbor might be the dead girl, or—No. It's no good theorizing, get me that piece of glass, Mr. Onslay, and we'll soon find out."

He swung on his heels and strode across the road to the paved square before the Customs House. The broker stood and watched him disappear in the crowd. Then he turned and made his way to the ferry, which was just drawing alongside the wharf.

Until Greyson had mentioned it in the house in Peyton Place, Roy had forgotten the little piece of glass he had picked from the ashes in the grate. Now that piece of glass was beginning to assume importance in the hunt for the murderer. He had an uneasy feeling that it would lead the trail in the direction of Judith Warbor. Why, he could not explain. Greyson had told him that few young women required glasses and that, when they did, the corrections were almost always myopic. Yet, he remembered with uneasiness, he had noticed around the city a large number of girls wearing glasses. It might be that most of these cases were of long or short sight.

Arriving at Neutral Bay, Roy went straight to his flat. The piece of glass was in the pocket of the waistcoat he had worn on the night of the discovery of the dead girl. He found it quickly and slipped it in his pocket, then hesitated. The glass had assumed a rare importance. He searched the room and found a small cardboard box and some cotton-wool. After packing the broken lens carefully, he stowed it in an inner pocket.

A ferry was on the point of departure when he came to the wharf. At Kirribilli he left the boat. Greyson would have to wait. He would walk to Kirri-end and speak to Rene Wesche. She would be able to tell him if Judith Warbor wore glasses.

Ten minutes fast walking and he was at the gates of the house on the shore of the bay. As he walked down the path he saw Rene in the gardens, sitting on the seat overlooking the waters. He branched down a side path and came to her from the rear.

"Miss Wesche!" The girl sprang to her feet suddenly, clasping her hands to her breast.

"Mr. Onslay!"

"I am sorry. I startled you."

"I—I—"

"I had to come come for—" Roy hesitated a moment. Was he permitted to reveal the importance of the piece of glass in the discovery of the murderer, without Greyson's permission? The detective had not warned him to keep the broken lens secret; but the police did not make their clues public until results had been achieved. The discoveries of that morning had cleared Rene from the suspicion of being a confederate of the murderer.

"Miss Wesche! Did Miss Warbor wear glasses?"

"Judith wear glasses?" Reno looked startled. "What do you mean, Mr. Onslay?"

"Surely my question is simple?" Roy was startled at the sudden pallor that whitened the girl's face.

"Judith wore glasses." The girl spoke hesitatingly. "Yes, she wore glasses, but I don't understand—"

"You would not know what kind of glasses she wore?" Roy felt that he was not shining as a diplomat. "Can you tell me who her opticians are?"

"Mr. Westhorpe," the girl answered promptly. She had recovered her composure. "Mr. Onslay, you don't think anything dreadful has happened to Judith?"

"I don't know." The broker spoke miserably. "We seem to be entangled in a maze of mysteries, without beginning or end. Why have you not asked the police to discover Miss Warbor. I know you are worrying over her absence."

"The police?" Again the girl paled.

"Mr. Greyson, the officer conducting the investigations into the Peyton Place affair is quite a decent fellow. Why don't you ask him to help you? If you will let me, I will."

Rene silenced him with a gesture. She pulled from her dress a scrap of paper and placed it in his hand. It contained but two lines of typing, unsigned:

'Do not try to find me, Rene. I may be away for a time. When the mystery is solved I will return.'

"The mystery?" Roy looked up quickly. "What mystery?"

"I do not know."

"You have a typewriter here?"

"Yes. But that was not written on my machine."

"This message was not typed here? How did you receive it?"

"The paper was stuck in the carriage of my machine. No, it could not have been written in this house. Oh, Mr. Onslay—Roy—help me!"

Somehow the girl was in his arms, weeping bitterly on his shoulder. Roy tried to soothe her, but it was some time before she could speak coherently.

"Help you, dear." Roy murmured the words into the dusky wilderness of her hair. He held her back so that he could look into her face. "Rene, trust me altogether. Tell me. Was it you who came to the door of 7a Peyton Place on the night I discovered the dead girl in the upper room?"

For a long moment the girl hesitated to reply. At length she lifted her head and looked into his eyes.

"Roy, dear, if only I could tell you everything; but I know so little. I want to trust you, and tell you everything, but I must say nothing—until I have seen Judith."


CHAPTER XXV

RENE would say no more, and Roy did not press her to speak. He believed she was telling him the truth and that some promise to the girl, who was both her employer and friend, bound her to silence.

Very reluctantly he left the peaceful garden by the bay's edge and went down to the ferry. He was wondering how much of the past hour's talk, with the girl he loved, he could confide to the detective. He had not told him of his suspicions that Rene Wesche was the girl who had looked in at the front door of 7a Peyton Place. He had not spoken of the strangely-shaped ear-rings.

Now, to the maze of mysteries with which he was surrounded, was added another—the disappearance of Judith Warbor and the unsigned typewritten letter purporting to have been written by her. That scrap of paper lay in his inner pocket against the little box containing the broken lens.

He had won from Rene a reluctant consent to seek Greyson's help, to discover where Judith Warbor was hiding, and to persuade her to return home. Rene was certain the message came from Judith, but Roy was doubtful. It had been typed on a machine differing materially from the only one at Kirri-end. He was not at all certain that it had been typed by the missing heiress. It seemed incredible that she should type the message outside her home and carry it to the room where Rene's machine stood.

Judith Warbor had visited the city some few days ago. Roy calculated that it was the day before he and Mansell had found the dead girl. She had told Rene she was going to Sam Kearney's office to try and persuade him to sell her the leases of the Peyton Place property. Kearney had met her request with a curt refusal, and she had returned home much distressed. Again at Kirri-end, she had refused to have the dinner-hour put back, declaring she did not want to eat. She had gone to her room and Rene had heard her restlessly pacing the floor. She would not let Rene in. The girl had thought her employer was suffering from a bad headache. Late in the evening Rene had become alarmed at Judith's continued absence. She had gone to her room to find the door unlocked and the heiress absent. The only things missing were the outdoor garments the girl had worn on her visit to the city that day.

Even then, Rene had not worried greatly. Judith Warbor had been her own mistress, and the mistress of her fortune, for so long that she had acquired habits of absolute independence. It was only on the following morning, when Rene discovered that Judith had not been home all night, that she commenced to worry. Later, when she went to the little room where she and her employer transacted the business of the estate and household matters, she discovered the slip of paper stuck in the type-writing machine. Immediately she had coupled the girl's flight with the discovery of the dead girl in Peyton Place—and had feared greatly.

Roy was certain Judith Warbor was not the girl he had found in 7a Peyton Place. The heiress was a dark girl, with some likeness to Rene Wesche. He had seen photographs of Judith at Kirri-end. Rene had shown them to him, declaring they had many times been taken for sisters. There was a strong resemblance, whereas the dead girl was blonde and physically larger.

From his pocket he took the description of the unknown girl, broadcast by the police. Although that description and photograph had been published in all the newspapers and placarded on the notice-boards of all police-stations, no-one had come forward to claim her. She appeared to be alone in the world.

No friends or relations in Australia. The words of the advertisement in the columns of the Mirror came back to the broker with strange insistence. Was this girl the "Lonely Lady?" who had advertised for companionship?

The ferry bumped the wharf, and Roy disembarked and hurried to the telephone. He had outstayed the time stated by the detective, and Greyson would be at his offices wondering where he had gone to. He believed the detective would consider he had spent his time well. He had certainly advanced another step through the maze of mystery. Once they were in communication with Judith Warbor, and had heard her story, they could not be far from the end of the long trail.

Outside the wharf Roy hailed a taxi and drove up to Westhorpe's optical parlours. He had to wait some minutes before the head of the firm was disengaged.

"Mr. Greyson is quite right." The optician, a quiet-spoken medium-built man with something of the manner of a medical consultant, turned the piece of glass over on his hand. "It is possible you may have a long search before, you get the information you require. If you will let me test this piece of lens, I may be able to give you come information that may help you."

Westhorpe went into his consulting rooms and was absent some time. When he came back there was a certain hesitancy in his manner. "I believe you told me that you had spoken to Miss Wesche on this matter, and that she advised you to consult me," he commenced, gravely. Accepting Roy's nod as an answer, he continued: "I am willing to give you a copy of Miss Warbor's prescription, if you wish."

"That piece of glass came from her glasses?" Roy asked the question with a strange sinking at his heart.

"I have not said that." Westhorpe spoke quickly. "I am prepared to give you Miss Warbor's prescription for glasses if you wish it, but that piece of glass did not belong to Miss Warbor."

"Can you identify that lens?" Roy spoke hastily. Now that he knew the lens did not belong to Judith Warbor he was keen on the trail.

"Are opticians able to identify glasses that come from their works? As a rule identification is usually made by cases, or by some mark on the frame or bridge." Westhorpe spoke cautiously. "Of course, in certain circumstances all opticians are able to identity their own work. There are little peculiarities of workmanship and—"

"Yes?" Roy asked the question as the man paused.

"In this case I am able to say that I recognize the lens as having been prepared in our workshops."

For some seconds the optician again paused. "I am afraid I kept you waiting for some time, but I was anxious that there should not be a mistake. One of my workmen identified this lens. I have examined my files and found the prescription to which it was made. Of course, you understand I am speaking with all reserve. If you had brought me the pair of glasses with the bridge I should have been more certain. In this case—"

"You say you believe you made this lens." Roy spoke impatiently at the man's continued hesitation. "Will you give me the name of your customer, Mr. Westhorpe?"

"You will understand, Mr. Onslay, there is a great chance of a mistake being made identifying this piece of glass alone." The optician resumed his sentence as if Roy had not interrupted. "I could have been more certain if you had brought me the whole glass. Thus, you must not take my statement as absolute, in fact, I can merely give an opinion."

"I quite understand." With a great effort Roy forced himself to speak calmly. "If you will give me the name of the person for whom you prepared this lens, and the prescription, I will use your information with the utmost caution, revealing it only to detective Greyson. That will satisfy your scruples, I believe."

"Quite so. Mr. Onslay." The optician took two cards lying at his elbow. "Here is the prescription for Miss Warbor's lenses. It is very different from the grinding of this piece of glass. Here is the prescription of the glasses for which we ground this particular lens. You will note, if you follow the figures attached to the lines of meridian, that there are many points of dissimilarity, although Miss Warbor suffered from astigmatism."

"And the name of the client for whom you prepared the lens, Mr. Westhorpe?"

"Is Mr. Sam Kearney." The man spoke in the same level tones. "I have prepared these charts so that you and detective Greyson may note the points of similarity. You will note that this chart of the piece of class you gave me is identical with the left optic of Mr. Sam Kearney's prescription. Another point is, this lens formed part of a rimless pair of glasses, and Mr. Kearney's prescription called for rimless lenses."

"Has Mr. Kearney been to you lately?" Roy asked the question eagerly. "I have reason to believe that this lens was broken quite recently. It is possible that if this lens belonged to Mr. Kearney's glasses, he came to you to replace it."

"If that lens belonged to Mr. Kearney, he did not come to us to replace it."

The optician turned to a larger ledger on the desk. "I find that Mr. Kearney telephoned me three days ago and asked me to make him a new pair of glasses. He stated that he had mislaid one of the pairs we supplied him with."

"Thanks." Roy picked up the broken lens and the charts. "I will use you information with discretion, Mr. Westhorpe."

Roy's taxi was waiting. He jumped in and gave his office address. In ten minutes he was in his private room, facing the detective.

"Don't growl at my delay, Greyson," Roy laughed triumphantly. "I've a got a pocket full of news and clues for you."

He dealt first with the optician story, and handed over the piece of lens and the charts. The detective listened in silence, and an ominous frown gathered on his brow at the mention of the big speculator. When Roy commenced the story of Judith Warbor's absence from home, and produced the typewritten sill of paper. Greyson became more alert. "How many machines have you. Mr. Onslay?"

"Only one. Why? You don't suspect me of typing it?" Roy was genuinely astonished.

"These people have wished so much on you that it wouldn't surprise me if they had wished this on you as well." The detective gave a crisp, bark-like laugh. "Your typist is in her chair. We'll ask her to test this."

He strode into the outer office, Roy following. For a few seconds he stood watching the girl's nimble fingers play over the keys of the machine. As she ended the sheet and placed it on the desk he picked it up and compared it with the slip of paper Roy had give him.

"Always use a black ribbon?" Greyson asked the question of the girl.

"Yes." Isobel Malim looked up at the man in surprise. "Mr. Onslay always gets black ribbons. He doesn't like coloured typing."

"Black ribbons and black carbon, Miss Malim?" The detective bent to examine the type-bars.

"Always." The girl spoke emphatically. "Letters look nicer in black, especially in Mr. Onslay's class of work."

"These types are not alike?" The detective placed the sheet he had taken from the machine, and the slip Roy had handed to him, before the girl.

"N-o." Miss Malim spoke thoughtfully. For a moment she bent over the two pieces of paper, studying them carefully. She rose from her seat and went to a filing cabinet and took out a folder. With it in her hand she went back to her seat.

"Have you noticed, Mr. Onslay," she said to her employer, ignoring the detective, "that only one of the firms we correspond with uses copying-ribbons. This slip of paper was typed through a copying-ribbon. You should remember."

"You mean—" Roy hesitated.

"You were with Mansell and Co., Mr. Onslay. When you commenced business for yourself I was in their employ. You asked me to come here with you and take charge of your offices."

"You mean to say that piece of paper was typed in Mansell and Co's. offices?" Greyson asked the question with some astonishment in his voice.

"I am certain of it." The girl spoke emphatically. "They use the L. C. Smith in that office, with a purple copying ribbon. I don't believe they have a piece of carbon in the place."


CHAPTER XXVI

IT was some minutes before Roy grasped the full significance of the girl's statement. He had thought the slip of paper that Rene had received from Judith Warbor would simplify matters. Instead it was only adding to the complexity of their problem. Judith Warbor had come into town the day before he had discovered the dead girl in the house in Peyton Place. She went to Sam Kearney to induce him to sell her the leases of Peyton Place. She failed in her object and returned home—to disappear some hours later. Had she taken the typewritten slip home with her? Rene knew nothing of Judith Warbor's visit to Mark Mansell. Yet the typewritten slip had been prepared in his offices. The only conclusion to be drawn from the facts, was that Judith had no intention of leaving her home until after her visit to Sam Kearney. She had then taken the sudden resolve to disappear for a time. She had walked up to Mansell's offices and typed the message to Rene.

Had Judith Warbor any business with Mansell and Co.? Roy remembered Mansell's persistence in trying to purchase the leases of 7 and 7a Peyton Place. Was Judith Warbor the unnamed client of Mark Mansell? Roy began to believe that the detective was wrong in claiming that Antonio Cavalli had instructed Mansell to purchase the leases. The man was not wealthy, and would not be able to obtain the very large sums Mansell had offered for the property. Judith Warbor could lay her hands, at any time and without difficulty, on a very large sum of money.

Greyson was examining the letters in the file Isobel Malim had opened on the desk. At length he stood up and looked down at the girl, a faint smile under the grizzled moustache.

"Well, young lady?" There was a hint of elation in the officer's voice. "What's your opinion?"

"That piece of paper was typed on the machine that wrote those letters." The girl placed her hand on the small pile of correspondence that the detective had placed on one side.

"And those letters came from Mansell and Co! Good! Looks like we're getting warm on the trail, Mr. Onslay."

"If you can see the end of the trail, or any way up to it, you're far ahead of me." Roy spoke irritably. "Westhorpe states that the piece of lens I found in the grate in Peyton Place was made by his firm for Sam Kearney. The typed message Judith Warbor left for Miss Wesche is now proved to have been typed in Mark Mansell's offices. Where's the connexion, and how do you fit these facts into others that we know?"

"Somehow, they don't fit." Greyson smiled again as he made the admission. "It's because they don't fit that I'm pleased. Do you remember me telling you some days ago that it's because of the mistakes criminals make that the Police get their hands on them?"

"Where's the mistake here?"

"In this." The detective paused a second. "I'm going back some years in my work in the police force. Just stop me if I'm wrong in details, but I don't think my memory's falling me. First, and I'm talking of the days when Stephen Warbor was alive—"

"Well?" Roy asked the question impatiently as the officer paused again.

"There was a burglary at Stephen Warbor's house at Kirribilli some fifteen years ago. I was stationed at North Shore at the time, and had the job of investigating the robbery. Now, you say this letter was found stuck in the carriage of the typewriter Miss Wesche uses. That machine I take it, stands in the little room opening out of the big library?"

"Yes."

"Good. Unless Miss Warbor's made changes, this is the plan of the library and the little room."

Greyson picked up a piece of paper and drew a rough plan. "Is that correct?"

"Looks like the place," Roy admitted reluctantly. "Remember I was only in the library for a few minutes. Yes, that is the little room."

"The door of the little room was open while you were in the library?"

"Yes."

"You could see into the room?"

"Yes. Get along, can't you."

"The library has long windows—French windows, some people call them. The little room has the same sort of windows?"

"I believe so. Yes."

"Then we can go on. Those long windows are known in the police force as burglars' friends. They're so easy to enter as the mouth of a cave."

"Well?"

"Wonder if Miss Wesche can remember going into the little room on the evening Miss Warbor disappeared? If she can—But, no matter. I'm staking that if she did, the piece of paper was not then in the typewriter carriage."

"What do you mean?" Roy asked the question. He and Isobel Malim were staring open-mouthed at the detective.

"Miss Warbor never wrote this." Greyson struck the paper with the back of his fingers. "She went to see Sam Kearney. He refused her request to sell her the leases. What happened then we don't know, but we do know that she suddenly made up her mind to leave home. She knew there was a typewriter at home, if she wanted to type any message. But why should she want to do that? Couldn't she speak, or even a lead pencil would have suited her purpose better. Remember, Miss Warbor is not a typist, and the typewriting machine is not a natural means of expression to her. Yet, with pencil and paper at home, and more than probable in her own room, she goes down to a typewriter in some strange office, and taps out a message. It isn't natural—not any way."

"Perhaps she turned into Mansell's for some other purpose and wrote the note there. She may have been intending to go into hiding without returning home, meaning to post the letter—"

"In that case the paper would show fold-marks. It doesn't, except the rough marks you put in it when you folded it to fit your pocket. No, Mr. Onslay, I'm guessing that Miss Warbor never saw the paper. It was put into the machine long after she had left the house."

"Then why—" Roy could not but recognise the strength of the detective's reasoning. The absence of signature to the few typed words; the difference in the characters of the type; the use of a ribbon that would be unlikely in the semi-private correspondence connected with the house at Kirribilli. All were points in favour of the detective's arguments.

"Then why the message, you're asking, Mr. Onslay?" Greyson swung his leg over the corner of the desk. "Let's reconstruct the girl's movements as far as we can. You know enough to check me. You, young lady—Miss Malim—stop me if I sketch anything a girl in Judith Warbor's position wouldn't do. Now.

"Judith Warbor desires to purchase the leases of the Peyton Place property. She passed them up when, six months previous, they were for sale. Why?"

Greyson drew a scribbling-pad towards him and, as he continued, made notes.

"There's been a lot of funny work about these leases. There's more than one person who's made up his mind to purchase this property, and then changed it. Sam Kearney used to have a mind of his own. Now he hasn't half a one—at least so far as these leases are concerned. Your late client Basil Holt's another. He still doesn't know whether he wants the property, or not. If he hadn't lost his nerve and hit you over the head with the water-bottle I'm guessing he'd still be around here, not knowing whether to purchase or not."

"Where do I come in on this theory?" asked Roy.

"Just in the right place." The detective did not hesitate for an answer. "You developed a mind that got seriously in the way of a crowd of people who didn't know theirs. You butted in and purchased the property."

"That doesn't explain the two envelopes and the enclosures?" objected the broker.

"And just those two separate items are the clues will lead to the detection of the murderer. You're confusing facts, Mr. Onslay. Cut away from everything that happened before you said 'done' to Sam Kearney's offer of the properly. Look at the later series of incidents as separate from the mystery of the girl's death, and you'll see more than a glimmer of light down the track. But you've taken me off the right line. Where was I?"

"Judith Warbor and the leases." Isobel Malim spoke suddenly. Her pale blue eyes were glittering with excitement.

"Yes." Greyson hesitated before proceeding. "Miss Warbor found that Mr. Kearney would not let go his bargain. That worried her—"

"For what reason?" asked Roy quickly.

"Tell me that and I'll slap the murderer on the shoulder within twenty-four hours." The detective spoke abruptly. "Listen, Judith Warbor came out of Sam Kearney's offices greatly puzzled and worried. She had failed in her object, and she believed that the failure to obtain the leases held serious consequences for her. She determined to disappear for a time—until things developed. She went home, and after making some arrangements walked out of the house and was lost among Sydney's millions."

"Why go home?" asked Roy. "If she had intended to disappear, she could do that better from Pitt-street, than from Kirribilli."

"My guess is that she had something at home she dared not leave behind. Leave it at that. We'll say she had to go home for some purpose. Now, I'm guessing she was watched from the time she left Sam Kearney's offices. Her intention to disappear was forecast by the watchers, or the people behind them. That piece of paper was prepared for the purpose of covering her tracks, or of blinding her trail."

"Why? Why should those people opposed to her, be helpful to her in her attempt to go into hiding?"

"I'm not claiming they were." Greyson slipped from the desk and strode up and down the room. "You remember the piece of cord binding the handle of the dagger, that we found in the girl's breast. I'm not going back to the middle ages to explain that, as you did, Mr. Onslay, but I consider it a sign of some sort. Now, I'm guessing Judith Warbor acted just as the people opposed to her anticipated. They guessed she'd bolt, and waited for her. Immediately she got in a favourable position for them to act, they closed in and took her prisoner. Up to then they'd acted intelligently. Then they commenced to do just the things that give the police the opportunity to catch them. They thought they'd stopped Miss Warbor from putting the police wise to certain things that might connect them with the dead girl, by preparing that message and sticking it in Miss Wesche's typewriter. It acted all right with Miss Wesche. It you hadn't taken it into your head to go to Kirribilli when I asked you to hurry back, we'd still be guessing."

"Are you not presuming that some one of Mark Mansell's offices is interested in the Peyton Place property and the freeholder?" asked Roy.

"Just that." The defective nodded his head emphatically. "Did you ever find out who Mark Mansell's mysterious client was—the person who was prepared to go to any money to purchase a row of dilapidated houses?"

"No."

"Didn't try, I suppose." Greyson smiled wryly. "I'm not going to discount what you've done to help the police, Mr. Onslay, but there's lots of little points you've overlooked. That's one of them. I'm guessing that the mysterious client of Mark Mansell and Co. is—Mark Mansell."

"More likely, Sam Kearney. Mansell's done a lot of work for the speculator."

"Mark Mansell, Sam Kearney, and Basil Holt." Greyson spoke almost under his breath. "Two of them almost ripe to drop, but the third still hangs. Who is Basil Holt?"

"Sam Kearney broke his glasses in the Peyton Place house and left part of a lens behind him," remarked the broker.

"So he did." The detective spoke sarcastically. "And Basil Holt came to you to purchase the property, so that he could get legal hold on that little piece of glass. Yes, yes. Now, where's Herbert Thye?"

The detective did not ask the question of any particular person. Isobel Malim however, answered quickly.

"Mr. Thye went to headquarters just before you came in, Mr. Greyson."

"Did he?" Greyson turned quickly to the girl. "Do you know what took him there?"

"They telephoned for him to call for some instructions you had left for him."

"Ah, did I?" The detective hooked a chair towards him with his foot and sat down heavily. "Now it happens that Herbert Thye recently won the Metropolitan Police Boxing Championship—so I'm rather sorry for—well, who shall I name? Perhaps it'd better be Basil Holt."

"What do you mean?" The typist had seized Greyson's arm and was shaking it vigorously. "Do you think anything's happened—"

Something caught her speech. She gave a final shake at the arm she held and walked quickly across to the door.

"Going home my dear?" The detective was watching the girl curiously.

"No." She swung round to face him, her eyes glittering and her mouth set firm and hard.

"I'm going to do something while you men talk." Almost before she had finished speaking she had caught the telephone to her and had dialled a number. When she received an answer she pushed the instrument towards Roy.

"Mansell and Co. are on the line," her words were crisp and decisive. "Get Mr. Mansell and tell him you're prepared to sell 7a Peyton Place to his unknown client at a fair price, so long as he can prove he is a desirable leaseholder for the property."

Roy took the receiver and looked inquiringly at the detective. For a moment Greyson sat thoughtful, then nodded.

"Sometimes a woman will see farther into a dark corner than any man." he muttered. Then, he continued, louder: "Go ahead, Mr. Onslay. Can't do any damage to uncover another of the gang."

Roy turned to the instrument and asked for Mark Mansell. For a full minute he waited, with the receiver to his ear. At last he received some reply, and placed the received on the hook.

"Mark Mansell is out," he reported briefly. "I'll go on with the scheme when be returns."

Greyson looked at his watch. "Quarter to five. Leave it for the day." he replied. "Suppose you're looking to go home, young lady. Never mind about Bert Thye. I'll look after my own, believe me. Now, there's no going out of here in one's and two's. Get your things, Miss Malim. We'll leave this joint in a bunch."

In the entrance hall of the building, Isobel Malim turned to the door with a brief 'good night.' The detective looked after her as she stood on the pavement, a quiet smile hovering around his lips. He turned and faced the brass plate bearing Roy's name. "Roy E. Onslay, Estate Broker," he read aloud. "Hm! Looks as if my butting in has turned your place into some sort of a matrimonial agency—What's that?"

The cry of a newsboy attracted his attention. He darted out on to the street and purchased a paper. He returned to where Roy stood, the paper open, and a queer, strained look on his face. He held the news-sheet so that the broker could see the headings to the principal item on the front page:

SUICIDE OF BIG ESTATE AGENT
Mark Mansell jumps from Ferry-steamer into Harbour.


CHAPTER XXVII

FOR the moment the heavy black letters of the headlines danced before Roy's eyes. At length they steadied, and he read the few lines of narrative. Mark Mansell had been crossing from North Shore to Circular Quay when he jumped into the water from the upper deck of the boat. Although immediately rescued, he had been dead when brought back to the steamer.

Was Mark Mansell's death to be added to the long list of mysteries surrounding the finding of the unknown girl in the front, upper room of 7a Peyton Place? Roy remembered the drawn, worried look of the estate agent when he talked with him that morning; the grey shadow that seemed to pass over the man when he heard the declaration that Peyton Place was to be pulled down. Why had Mansell feared the destruction of that ill-fated thoroughfare? He had not appeared distressed when he had visited the house on the night of mystery. It was only after circumstances began to link Roy closely with the ill-fated girl, and Peyton Place, that the estate agent came to be troubled.

Greyson had declared that Mark Mansell was the unknown client for whom his firm was trying to purchase the two houses. It was possible. In the light of his mysterious suicide, it became almost probable. Mark had heard rumours that the Place was to be pulled down, and had come to Roy to discover whether the rumours were true. On Roy's confirmation he had turned away, worn and distressed.

Who had carried the story to Mark Mansell that Roy intended to pull down the Place? The broker reviewed the people who knew definitely of his intentions. Immediately his thoughts turned to the big speculator. He had taken the news of Roy's purchase to the newspapers. It was possible that he had carried the news of the proposed demolition of the Place to Mark Mansell. For what reason? Sam Kearney had been with him and Greyson in Peyton Place only a short time before Mark Mansell arrived. He had come to Roy on the same errand. He had questioned Roy regarding his intentions, and had left him filled with abortive fury. Had he immediately visited, or telephoned, the estate agent, urging him to try his influence with Roy to retain the buildings intact?

There were others who might have an interest in sending Mansell to Roy. In the Place that morning, Greyson had spoken of the Italian, Cavalli, as Mansell's undisclosed client, and the estate agent had not denied the statement. Cavalli had known of his determination to pull down the buildings, and had strongly protested. Green, the grocer, had also been warned of the demolition, but had accepted the decision with good humour.

Roy could not disassociate Sam Kearney from the carrying of his intentions to Mark Mansell. Only one other man had a similar interest. That was Antonio Cavalli. He had acted queerly when informed he would have to vacate his premises on short notice. He had offered increased rent. Immediately following his vociferous protests had come the news that he was the secret tenant of 7a. It was possible Cavalli was the unnamed client of Mark Mansell. In that case he would certainly telephone the estate agent of Roy's visit and intentions.

"Queer business." Greyson was leaning against one of the door-posts, reading the newspaper. "First, what's he doing over at North Shore during the afternoon? He doesn't live that side?"

"No." Roy turned at the detective's question. "Mark lived at Rose Bay."

"Looks like he went across the harbour soon after he left us in Peyton Place. What business did he have over there?"

Roy did not reply. He was trying to follow the detective's reasoning. It was evident Greyson saw in Mark Mansell's suicide something sinister. Was he suspecting Mansell of being concerned in the murder of the girl? That would be absurd! Roy was convinced that the estate agent knew nothing of the girl until he stood beside her dead body in the upper front room of 7a Peyton Place.

"He must have gone over to North Shore immediately after leaving Peyton Place." The detective was speaking to himself in a low tone. "According to the times in the newspaper he would have about an hour there before he caught the ferry back. Who did he go to see? He was worried when he left the Place, I could see that. What over? Did that worry, or what was said in the Place, cause that Journey?"

"That's only theory, Greyson." Roy spoke irritably. "All the facts you have at present are that Mark Mansell went to North Shore, and came back. Mansell had lots of interests on both sides of the harbour. For one thing, I happen to know that he had recently opened a big subdivision at Roseville. He may have gone up there."

"He may." Greyson stood, watch in hand. "The newspaper says he was in his offices at ten minutes to one o'clock, and went out, ostensibly to lunch. Let us say he missed lunch, as we did, and went immediately to the ferry. Ten minutes to Allison's Point—and he would be quick to do it in that—and half an hour to Roseville, if he managed an immediate connexion. That would make his arrival at Roseville about half-past one. I know Roseville quite a bit, and all the new subdivisions in that district are some way out. Even if he had a taxi he couldn't have reached his ground before two o'clock. Say he stayed there half an hour, and that's a short time for a man to go to Roseville on business. That means he's coming back to Roseville about two-thirty. Reckon up his journey again and he's not on the harbour before three—and mind, I've not allowed a minute for delays, catching trains, boats, and finding taxis. You've got to allow for that. Yet he walked over the side of the ferry just before two o'clock. Take my word for it, Mr. Onslay, Mark Mansell never went to Roseville."

"Then where did he go?" Roy spoke impatiently.

"He might have gone to Kirribilli." Isobel Malim spoke suddenly. She had turned back at the news of Mansell's death and had stood listening to the two men.

"What do you mean, Miss Malim?" Roy spoke crossly. "What reason have you for supposing that Mr. Mansell went to Kirribilli?"

"Because all the mystery seems to centre around Kirribilli," the girl answered with deliberation. "I am certain that if you trace up Judith Warbor you will not only solve the death of Mark Mansell, but also the mysteries surrounding the dead girl that Mr. Onslay found at 7a Peyton Place."

"What do you know of Judith Warbor?" Greyson asked the question quietly.

"Only what Mr. Onslay has said. She disappeared after she found that she could not purchase the leases of the Peyton Place property—and of all the persons concerned in this mystery, she's the only one to act before the dead girl's body was found. Trace up Judith Warbor and you'll soon learn who murdered the girl—and perhaps find Bert Thye."

She turned swiftly on her absurdly high Louis heels and walked up towards Elizabeth Street. At the corner of Bent-street she hesitated and looked back to spot where the men stood staring after her. Next moment she returned to them, confronting the detective with her head thrown back and glistening moist eyes.

"Oh, you men! You think you're so clever, and you let every sign pass you by. Can't you see that the solution of all the questions you're puzzling your brains about lies in what happened before the girl was murdered, and not after. Everything that's happened since Mr. Onslay found her body only serves to make the mystery more mysterious. Start at the beginning. Why did Judith Warbor want to purchase the leases of Peyton Place? Why did she run away from her home? Because she couldn't get those leases? Find Judith Warbor and make her answer those questions and you'll soon find answers to the others question that are worrying you."

"Judith Warbor disappeared about the time the dead girl met her end!" The detective spoke as if taking the girl's words to their logical conclusion. "By Jove, Miss Malim, you've hit it."

"Have I?" The girl tossed her bobbed head scornfully. "Then I've done more than you, with all your cleverness! Oh, you men!"

Roy could not help smiling at the expression on the detective's face as the girl walked away from them. The man's hat was thrust to the back of his head and his hands were deep in his trouser pockets. His eyes, fixed on the slight girlish figure walking up the street, had a smile of half-apologetic amusement.

"Struth!" the word come an a sigh. "It might have been my old woman talking! If it's Herbert Thye she's after, then the good lord help him. He's married and had his honeymoon, and he don't know it! But she'll make him. There'll be no holding him back with that bit of dynamite behind him. He'll put the Commissioner out of his bally seat and run the whole Department. What do you think of it, Mr. Onslay?"

"I'm not a married man, Greyson." Roy wanted to laugh outright. "Unless you want me further I'm off home. This day has been slightly strenuous."

"I'm going down to the morgue." The detective spoke quickly. "Come with me, Mr. Onslay. It won't delay you more than half an hour, and we may as well finish up the day's happenings. Tomorrow—"

He did not finish his sentence.

At a sign from him, a taxi drew up at the curb, and he held the door open for Roy to enter. He gave the address and seated himself beside the broker. In silence they drove down to the morgue. There wore no formalities to hamper the detective. In the offices he was immediately recognised and taken to where the body lay, silent and cold, and still showing signs of its immersion in the waters of the harbour. The detective turned back the covering and looked long and earnestly into the still face. The hands were crossed over the breast, the upper one open, the lower one, the left, tightly clenched.

"Anything in the clothing, Tom?" Greyson turned to the attendant. "Who examined it?"

"I did." The man spoke carelessly. "There's been no one here from headquarters yet. The Water Police as brought him here told me they were trying to get in touch with you, 'cos you'd had him under observation in the Peyton Place affair."

"What was in the pockets?"

"Usual things. Money, letters, keys, and that sort of junk."

"Nothing unusual?"

"No." The detective lifted the right hand exposing the tightly clenched left fist.

"What's he clutching? Tried to find out, Tom?"

"Left it to you fellows." The attendant bent down to examine the clenched fist more closely. "He's got something in there for a certainty. Be difficult to get it out now."

"Perhaps." Greyson lifted the hand gently. In a few minutes he had worked the fingers slightly loose. A full minute more and he let the hand fall to the cold breast. Tom, the attendant, restored the hands to their former position.

"What have you got, Greyson." Roy asked the question in an undertone. In the strong light of the electric arc Greyson opened his hand. On the palm lay a small green object, quaintly carved.

Roy started back, involuntarily. It was an exact duplicate of the ear-rings—the ear-rings Rene had worn when she came to his offices. The dull gold fastening, forming the ear-hook was missing: its place taken by a pin.

"You know it?" Greyson's sharp tone broke on Roy's amazement. "Have you seen this before, Mr. Onslay?"

"I have seen something like it." Roy knew there could be no further concealment. "The girl who looked into the shop of 7a Peyton Place, the night I found the dead girl, wore a pair of ear-rings very similar to this brooch."

"Humph!" The keen eyes of the detective bored on Roy as if trying to read his thoughts. "Why didn't you tell me that before?"

"It didn't appear material." Roy, self-confessed, was a miserable liar. "Some women are attracted to strange articles of jewellery. It was only when you drew that from Mark's hand I began to see any significance in the ear-rings."

For some minutes the detective stood looking from Roy's face to the quaint brooch. At length he put the jewel in his pocket and led the way out to the street. At the door of the morgue he waited some minutes, lost in thought.

"Make it a day, Mr. Onslay." A sweep of his hand tilted the hard hat to the back of his head. "Good night. See you at your offices tomorrow morning, ten sharp, please."

Roy had moved some distance down the street when he heard the detective hailing him. He stopped, and turned back. Greyson caught him up in a few strides.

"Say, Mr. Onslay." He spoke in a low a tone, but with peculiar earnestness. "I'd advise you to have a good think over matters tonight. When we meet tomorrow I'd like you to tell me those few things you've forgotten to mention so far. They might be interesting—and useful. The police department haven't played unfairly with you."

Before the broker could answer, the detective turned and was striding down the street.

For some moments Roy stood staring after him. Then he turned and walked down to Circular Quay. Had the detective's parting words held a threat? Roy felt that they could be so construed. Greyson believed that he was withholding information, vital to the hunt for the murderer of the dead girl.

He knew that if Greyson had accused him of that, he could not have denied it. He had been fully aware that the earrings were playing a big part in the mystery surrounding the death of the unknown girl. When Greyson first questioned him in the upper room of 7a Peyton Place he had withheld all mention of the earrings, because he felt that they might make the story unbelievable. Later, when he discovered that Rene Wesche possessed a pair of those ear-rings, he held his silence, hoping to be able to shield the girl from police inquisition. Now the same Jewel, but in the form of a brooch, had been found on Mark Mansell. The sight of the token in the detective's hand had taken him by surprise, and he had betrayed a prior knowledge.

On the morrow, the detective would tax him with his knowledge of the jewel, and demand his confidence. He would have to describe the ear-rings, and the wearer. That description would mean the questioning of Rene. Would the detective accept her statement that loyalty to her employer-friend forbade her to speak? Her refusal to explain the possession of the ear-rings might mean her arrest.


CHAPTER XXVIII

THE ferry-steamer slid alongside the wharf at Kirribilli, and Roy had the impulse to leave the boat and go up to Kirri-end—to find Rene and warn her that the police would demand from her the meaning of the strange ear-rings. He would have to tell her of the discovery of the jewel, clutched in Mark Mansell's dead hand. How Greyson had surprised from him an admission that he had seen the token before; that he had seen the ear-rings pendant from her ears when she first came to his offices.

For the first time in the days since he met Greyson in the room beside the body of the unknown girl, Roy was not certain of the detective. There had been suspicion in the man's eyes when he warned him that on the next morning he would require a full confession of the details he had attempted to conceal. It was possible Greyson had, on leaving him, communicated with the police department and that, on the boat, had journeyed some police watcher. If then, he disembarked and went up to Kirri-end, Greyson would be certain Rene was, in some way, connected with the jewels.

While he hesitated, the few passengers disembarked and the steamer drew away from the wharf. The boat sailed up the bay and, from the lower deck, Roy watched the peaceful gardens of Judith Warbor's home slip by. Some few minutes later it drew in to High-street wharf. Roy went back to his seat. He would go home and from there telephone to Rene. He could hint much over the wire and, if necessary, journey to Kirri-end later in the evening.

At Neutral Bay he was one of the first to disembark. There was not a great number of passengers, and he loitered up the long slope to the road, keenly watching for anyone who looked like a police officer. Suddenly he turned back. The wharf was empty. He was almost certain that he was not being followed.

Roy gave a sigh of relief as he closed the door of his flat behind him. For the first time that day he felt safe, and alone. The police could watch outside the building, but they could not pass that door without his permission. He went into his bedroom and changed. Later, he would go down to the restaurant or perhaps order his dinner to be sent up to his room. He had to have time to make up his mind how best to act.

First, he must warn Rene of the coming of the police. A suspicion that he might be too late came to him. Greyson, big, burly and slow in manner, could reveal a quickness of notion when he wished. It was possible that by some chance he had revealed Rene's knowledge of the ear-rings to the detective. Greyson, instead of having a watch out over his movements, might have gone to Kirri-end. His arrival would be a shock to the girl. She might, in the impulse, and bewilderment of the moment, strangely commit herself.

Roy went into his sitting-room to where the telephone stood on his desk. As he entered the room he switched on the lights. His glance fell on the table. On it lay a small cardboard box, and under it a sheet of paper.

The box had not been there when he left the flat that morning. For the moment he stood and stared at it—then he laughed. His nerves must be giving way. Surely it had been brought there by some servant! It was unofficial, for the tenants usually collected parcels from the office in the hall. Sometimes, however, one of the hall-porters would accept articles brought by hand and convey them direct to the destined flat.

He picked up the little box and turned it over in his hand. It was wrapped in plain paper and bore his name and address in typewritten characters. The lettering was purple, and for the moment he thought it had been typed on the same machine as the unsigned message from Judith Warbor. A smear of his wetted finger showed that in this case the ribbon had not carried copying ink.

Dropping the box on the table, he picked up the piece of paper on which it had been placed. It was plain except for the printed heading of the flats. There was a fair amount of the same notepaper on his desk. Possibly the porter had placed the little box on the white paper to call attention to it. If there was a message, it was inside the box. The string was thin and snapped under strain. Roy unwrapped the box and took off the lid.

The box was filled with cotton-wool and, folded into a small compass, on top of the wool was a piece of paper. He dropped it on the desk and separated the wool. On the soft nest lay a green brooch, similar to the one he had seen but an hour before, drawn from the death-clutch of Mark Mansell. With a catch in his throat, Roy placed the box on the table and picked up the folded paper. It contained two typewritten lines, unsigned:—

Wear this. Obey the commands of him who speaks.
In the name of the cord and dagger.

He was to wear this emblem in the city the next day and obey the orders of some stranger who should come to him. Roy laughed. The days for that sort of terrorism were past. If he wore the jewel, Greyson would certainly remark on it and observe the close resemblance to the one he had taken from Mark Mansell's hand. He would require explanations—and Roy could only tell of the cardboard box he had found on the table of his sitting-room.

Who had attempted to play this trick on him? Roy picked up the token and examined it again. The design was unique. He did not believe a similar ornament, ear-ring or brooch, could be purchased in any shop. Mark Mansell had taken a similar brooch into the waters of the harbour with him. Rene had worn ear-rings made to the same pattern. The girl who had come to the shop door of 7a Peyton Place on the night of mystery had also worn a pair. He had seen another pair, earlier that day, worn by the girl whom Green, the grocer, had named "Beatrice Cavalli."

The green token bore some relation to the girl he had found in Peyton Place. Roy was now certain that through this token the trail leading to the murderer would be found. Who was that man? Some quirk of thought led him to utter the name of Antonio Cavalli, aloud. Yes, of all people he knew connected with the mystery surrounding the dead girl, Antonio Cavalli, the Italian, would be the most likely to indulge in the childish play of secret tokens and cellar conspiracies.

Had Antonio Cavalli murdered the girl? Facts were fast pointing towards the Italian. He occupied the house next to the one in which Roy had found her. He was the secret tenant of 7a Peyton Place. The workmanship of the secret door in the stairs, and the trap-door and steps to the cellars, approximated to the tenancy of the Italian. Greyson had declared that the man was the unknown client for whom Mark Mansell was anxious to obtain the leases of the two houses in Peyton Place 'at any price.'

Roy repacked the cardboard box. He would take it to the city next day and hand it to Greyson. Only by the detective's expressed instructions would he near it. Now he must warn Rene of the coming of the police, and also tell her of the green token conveyed mysteriously to his flat. Perhaps, with that knowledge, she might change her mind and tell him the facts surrounding the disappearance of Judith Warbor, that she had refused to tell him earlier in the day.

Even as he gave the number of Judith Warbor's home, he repented his action. If Greyson had determined to go to Kirri-end he was already there, questioning the girl. The telephone message might make the man suspicious. He might use it to force from the girl the information that he was the caller. The detective might act within the wide powers he possessed. Rene might be arrested and spend the night in the bleak quarters of a police cell.

He placed the receiver on the hook and went down to the dining-room. After dinner he would walk around the bay to Kirri-end and watch for a chance to speak to Rene. He would be fairly safe, for if Greyson had placed a watcher outside his flat the man would, by the time Roy had finished his dinner, have become convinced that he was remaining at home for the night. Even if the man was still on watch, Roy was certain that on the journey to Kirribilli he could quickly lose him if he was not thoroughly acquainted with the haphazard arrangement of streets and byways in the district.

After leisurely finishing his dinner, Roy went up to his flat and changed into a lounge suit. In the hall of the building he suddenly remembered that there was a back way leading out into a little-known lane. It was possible the watcher was not aware of this exit. In fact, there were people in the house who did not know it. Turning, he made his way through the lower passage to the back exit.

A detour, comprising many turns, and Roy came out on the main road some little distance from the block of flats. He walked back a few yards to see if he could distinguish anyone on watch before the main door, but there was no one in sight. Confident that he had shaken off any follower, he set out on his walk around the bay.

There was a full moon shining, and he thoroughly enjoyed the stroll along the side of the heights overlooking the waters. At the head of the bay he passed from the high ground down a flight of steps on to the well-kept park at the head of Neutral Bay. The bandstand in the gardens was vacant, but the electric lights glowed brilliantly. At the other side of the gardens he came to the old whaling station, now a boat-builder's yards. Here he entered the road fronting Kirri-end.

Roy was almost within sight of the gates when he saw a woman approaching from the ferry-wharf end of the road. He checked his pace, for at the rate they were approaching they would meet before the gates of Kirri-end, and he did not want to be seen entering the grounds. The woman did not seem to be aware of his presence, for she came on quickly. Roy was a bare twenty yards from the gates when she reached them and turned in, pulling the gates shut behind her.

Roy quickened his pace and came to the stone pillars supporting the gates. The woman's figure was familiar, but he could not place her. He had thought it was Rene at first, but there was something different about her walk. Half hidden by the pillar, he watched her walk down towards the house. She did not go to the main entrance, but continued past it and disappeared round the corner of the house, in the direction of the library windows.

Who was the woman? Keeping in the shadows, Roy pushed open the gates and entered the grounds. He went down to the corner of the house and peered round. The woman had disappeared. He went on until he had a view of the library windows. They were closed. She could not have gone in that way. He went to the next comer of the house. The windows of the little room were open, and he could hear the soft murmur of voices.

The woman was in the little room with Rene. Roy thought he could distinguish Rene's voice. Leaving the house, he went out on the lawns and came to where a thick clump of bushes offered shelter. From there he could see into the room.

Rene was sitting with her back half turned to the windows. Opposite her was the strange girl he had seen entering the gates. By her side crouched a great boar-hound, continually lifting its head to sniff at her caressing fingers. The pose of the animal showed that the woman was known and at home in the house. Could she be Judith Warbor, creeping into her house under cover of night to consult with Rene!

Roy could not see the girl's face. He dared not go closer to the window, for fear the dog would smell him and give the alarm. For a long time he remained motionless, watching the girls in the room. At length the strange girl gave signs that she was about to leave. Roy left his position of concealment and went to the big gates on the roadway. He remembered that he had seen a large clump of trees in which he could hide. It was possible that if he followed the girl down to the wharf he might be to get a glimpse of her face.

In the shadows of the trees he would be safe, unless she brought the boarhound to the gate with her. Well concealed in the shadows he crept to a position where he could watch the pathway from the house to the gates. Almost immediately the girl came in sight. The dog accompanied her! There would be no safety for him in that clump of trees if the dog came up to the gates. He was almost on the point of leaving the shadows when the girl stopped and ordered the dog to return. The animal obeyed reluctantly, turning its head every few steps, watching her walk up to the gates.

The girl approached slowly. She had her handkerchief in her hand and continually dabbed it at her eyes. Moving with the utmost caution, Roy found a spot from which he would be able to see her face, as the light from the lamp outside the gate would fall fully on her. He waited, his heart in his mouth. Roy was acting without any considered plan. Should he step out of the darkness and speak to this girl? If she was indeed Judith Warbor, what should he say? Should he tell her to go back to her home and face the consequences? That he and Rene would do everything possible to protect her from the unknown menace she feared. Should he tell her that she was causing pain to Rene, that within a few days the police must find her and uncover her secret?

If she was Judith Warbor! He was not certain. The girl had appeared to be at home in the little room at Kirri-end. The dog accepted her as someone well known and loved.

The light footfalls of the girl sounded on the gravel path. Roy crouched low. He could think of no plan that did not contain some flaw. He would watch and wait, obtaining by some means a sight of her face. Very slowly she came up towards the gates. Once, she stopped and looked back at the house, set amid the peaceful gardens, under the light of the moon. At length, she raised her head defiantly and quickened her pace. The light from the road standard fell on her figure, but her face was turned away from Roy. Some movement he made in his impatience must have carried sound to her, for she stopped suddenly and faced the clump of trees.

Roy drew back into the covering darkness. The girl was Beatrice Cavalli, the adopted daughter of the Italian he was coming to suspect of the murder of the unknown girl.


CHAPTER XXIX

FOR some seconds the girl stood on the gravel path, staring at the clump of trees. Roy crouched in the darkness, hardly daring to breathe. If the girl came over to him he would have to step out and confront her. What explanation could be give for watching her?

At length she moved on out of the gates, and turned in the direction of the Kirribilli wharf. Roy waited until the 'tap-tap' of her heels died away in the distance, then he came out onto the path. In the lonely streets of Kirribilli he would be able to keep the girl in sight, from a long distance in the rear. For a moment the impulse to turn back to the house and question Rene came to him. He should warn her that the police might come to her to demand some explanation of the strange earrings she had worn in his office.

Then he remembered. He had not yet informed the detective of his knowledge of the ear-rings. The only fact Greyson had to work on for the present was his involuntary recognition of the strange token found in the clenched hand of Mark Mansell. Next day he would have to tell Greyson of the ear-rings he had seen on Rene and Beatrice Cavalli. He would be forced to connect them with the girl who had come to the door of 7a Peyton Place while the unknown woman lay in the upper room. He would have to acknowledge that the description he could give of the girl at the door might fit both Rene and the Italian girl. He might be able to convince the detective that Rene had no part in the mystery but of that he was doubtful. She might have seen the ear-rings exposed for sale in some city shop, and attracted by their strange ugliness, innocently purchased them.

Outside the gates Roy could distinguish the form of Beatrice Cavalli walking quickly down the road in the direction of the wharf. She crossed the road and turned into Peel Street. Roy hurried on. Again, in Carrabella Street, he gained sight of the girl. She was turning into the small street that ended on the passage leading to the ferry-wharf. Standing in the shadow of the blocks of flats, at the head of the stairs down to the wharf, Roy watched the girl slowly pacing up and down on the pontoon. At length the boat came alongside and she went on board.

Roy waited, watching the boat until it reached Kirribilli Point on its way to Circular Quay. Beatrice Cavalli was going back to Peyton Place—to the antique-shop where she lived with the Italian, Antonio Cavalli. It was improbable that she would make any stop on her journey home, and there would be no object served in tracing her to the door.

The next day he would persuade Greyson to visit the girl at the Italian's and wring from her some explanation of her connexion with the dead girl, and also the meaning of the strange ear-rings. He was almost convinced that she was the girl who had looked in at the door of 7a Peyton Place on the fateful night.

Who was Beatrice Cavalli? Was she Judith Warbor? Roy could not decide. His night's adventures had seemed to show that Beatrice Cavalli was Judith Warbor, in hiding. Against that, he had to place the assertion of Green, the grocer, that she was the Italian's adopted daughter. Green claimed to be well acquainted with Judith Warbor. If she had assumed the identity of Beatrice Cavalli, surely the grocer would have instantly detected the impersonation.

A ferry-boat from the city came in and Roy boarded it. He was going home.

THE DULL THUD of letters falling in the box of his flat awoke Roy next morning. It was late and he would have to hurry to meet Greyson at his offices at ten o'clock. Rolling out of bed, he hurried to the bathroom. He opened the letter box on his way down to the restaurant. There was one letter for him. He vaguely recognised the handwriting, but could not name the writer. He slipped the letter in his pocket and went to the elevators.

At the breakfast table he slit the envelope and pulled out a bulky letter. It was written on unheaded notepaper, bearing only the date at the top right-hand corner. The letter commenced:

"Dear Roy."

He turned to the signature. It was signed,

"Mark Mansell."

Now he understood why the writing had appeared familiar. Since the night of the discovery of the unknown girl, he had seen little of the estate agent. They had always been good friends, despite the difference in their ages. Before he commenced business on his own account, Roy had been in Mansell's employ. Mark had never treated him as an employee. He had been grieved when Roy bluntly informed him that he was commencing business in his own account, but promised his help and support. He had kept that promise, and only since the spectre of 7a Peyton Place had shadowed them, had their friendship been broken.

Mansell had met his death in the waters of the harbour. Murdered, Roy firmly believed, although he could not guess the name of the murderer or the cause for the deed. Greyson, in a few words on the previous afternoon, had shown the improbability of suicide. Mark had been lured on to the waters at a time of the day when the ferry-boats to and from North Shore were almost empty. Possibly it had been in the mind of the murderer that the man's fall into the water would pass unnoticed. Mark Mansell would then have passed out of existence without the cause of his death being guessed at. Sydney Harbour, with its colony of sharks, rarely returned its dead.

Yesterday Roy had stood by Greyson's side and viewed the body of his friend. Today, but a few hours after, came this last word from the man. It was possible that, after the short interview in Peyton Place, Mansell had gone back to his offices and written this letter. If so, Greyson's query regarding Mansell's business at North Shore, and his estimate of the improbability of him having gone to the subdivision at Roseville, were to be fully answered.

Dear Roy,—The broker turned to the commencement of the long letter.

I have had a visit from Judith Warbor this morning—a visit that has caused me considerable pain and anxiety. Judith is in trouble and has appealed to me for help. I shall do what I can, but I believe you, with your fuller knowledge of the Peyton Place affair, can give greater help than I. I have told Judith this and have advised her to go to you, but she will not. However, she has allowed me to place certain facts before you and to ask your advice, if you cannot give more material help.

You may think it strange that I have chosen to write to you instead of meeting you personally on the matter. The reason for this you will find later in this letter. I ask you now, after reading thus far, to decide whether you will help Judith or not. If you will help, will you telephone me at my offices the morning you receive this and make an appointment to see me. If you decide that you cannot help the girl, I trust to your honour that you will burn this letter, unread.

You will wonder why Judith Warbor came to me in her difficulties. Many years past, Stephen Warbor, her father, and I were firm friends. He died a comparatively young man, leaving Judith in sole control of his large fortune. He asked me to help her, and sometimes she comes to me for advice and assistance, although she is a clever business woman and capable of handling her large interests unassisted.

Judith is in fear of a great danger. I believe it has some close connexion with the story of Peyton Place, commencing before the time of your discovery of the dead girl in the front upper room. I do not believe she has any guilty knowledge of the manner of the girl's death, but she will tell me little. Circumstances and the impetuousness of youth may have led her into difficulties that she has alarmingly magnified. I believe that with the knowledge you have of the inner story of that mystery, a short talk between Judith, you, and myself may clear up much and give her a more cheerful outlook on the future. Perhaps you may be able to show her the way out of her troubles. You have a stronger and more direct brain than I, and will dare where I falter.

In some manner, Sam Kearney is one of Judith's troubles. I know that at the present time he is an embarrassment to you. It has been my sorrow that I have been forced to stand aside and allow you to face that man's cunning underground schemings alone. My actions were dictated by unavoidable necessity. I could not act otherwise, except by involving innocent people in ruin and trouble.

Be careful of Sam Kearney. He is your enemy. It is his big influence in Sydney that has definitely connected you with the Peyton Place murder. I may say that, immediately I found out what was being rumoured and published against you, I went to Kearney and protested. He ignored my protests; he knew I dared not side against him.

Sam Kearney is Judith Warbor's enemy—and lover. She tells me he has pestered her for years, almost since she has grown to an age to understand what woman's love means. He has threatened her, and tried to command.

Judith tells me that on the morning of the day before you and I found the girl in 7a Peyton Place, she went to Kearney and asked him to sell her the leases of the houses. She offered him his own terms, and he refused. He told her that if she so greatly desired the property, he would give her the leases on the day she married him.

Why Judith desires to possess those leases, I do not understand. I have asked her, but she will not tell me. So greatly is she seized with the idea that she must control them at once, instead of waiting until the property reverts to her through the expiration of time, that she has almost made up her mind to agree to Kearney's terms and marry him. I have argued with her, pointing out that she will ruin her life by the act. I do not know if I have moved her from her purpose, but I believe I have persuaded her to wait, before giving Kearney the immediate answer he insists on. Your possession of the property safeguards Judith. So long as you hold the leases, Kearney cannot complete his bargain, and Judith will not marry him. I ask you on no account to part with that property until the mystery surrounding Peyton Place, and overshadowing Judith's life, is solved.

Judith tells me that Kearney boasts of what he is going to do to you for thwarting his schemes and plans. The last time I saw the man he acted in a similar way. I believe he is insane. I know he suffers from bad rages—bouts of temper almost inhuman.

Kearney has threatened that he will hand Antonio Cavalli over to the police. What charge he could lay against Cavalli I do not know. I know the Italian was mixed up in political plotting in Italy, and for that reason came to Australia. But that is no crime in this country, even if he is still carrying on political intrigue among the Italian colonies of Sydney. The threat terrified Judith. It was one of the causes of her determination to leave home. She thought, poor girl, that if she disappeared for a time something might loosen Kearney's hold on herself and Cavalli. I have advised her to return home.

Judith tells me that she believes you are concealing her absence from home, from the police. That is good of you, and encourages me to believe that you will help her to clear herself from the entanglements in which Kearney, in his mad lust, has involved her. But Roy, you cannot stand between Judith and the police for long. To attempt to do so will involve you in trouble with the authorities, for I firmly believe she holds the clue that will lead to the murderer of the unknown girl.

Shortly after you receive this letter, Judith will return home. She has just telephoned me this promise. If you will telephone me and make an appointment to call at my offices, I will get her here to meet you. I believe your strong common sense will help her. Perhaps you will be able to persuade her to tell you the whole sad story. If so, then I am assured you will find a quick way for her out of her difficulties, and possibly out of your own. I believe Judith can give you the weapon with which to fight Kearney successfully.

I have read this letter again. I fear it is hopelessly confused, and in places almost without meaning. Will you bear with it, Roy, and accede to the one definite request I have included in it—to telephone your promise to help the daughter of the man who was my firm friend when I first battled along in the Sydney business world?

—Mark Mansell.

Along the margin or the last sheet was a postscript that Roy read with amazement.

PS.—I have referred in the letter to Judith and Cavalli as if you were already aware of the connexion. In case you are not, I must inform you that Judith's mother was Cavalli's sister—or rather, I should say, half-sister.—M.


CHAPTER XXX

TWICE Roy read the strange letter that Mark Mansell had written him, but a short hour before he embarked on the fateful journey that ended in his death. Mansell had written the letter in his own hand-writing. That was significant. It showed that he suspected that he was surrounded by the criminal gang Kearney was using for his purposes. Probably Mansell had taken the letter from his offices and posted it on his way to North Shore.

It had been his last appeal for help in the fight. He had come to recognize that Judith and he must have assistance to combat Kearney, and he turned to the man whom he was beginning to believe was hampering the big speculator. One fact stood out from the rest of the letter. Cavalli was a connexion by marriage with Judith. Isobel Malim had declared, with the unreasoned instinct of women, that with Judith Warbor lay the solution of the mystery. With Judith a connexion of the Italian, it was possible the trail lay from the heiress of the Warbor Estates to Cavalli.

Roy turned from his neglected breakfast and went to his rooms. From there he telephoned Rene asking her to come immediately to his offices and bring with her the strange green ear-rings. The girl at first refused, but Roy was emphatic. He told her of the letter he had received that morning from Mark Mansell, and of the cloud of suspicion that was enveloping Sam Kearney and the Italian. Judith Warbor would become involved unless they took immediate steps to protect her.

Greyson was awaiting Roy in his offices. Without comment, the broker placed Mansell's last letter before him. The officer read it through slowly and made no comment. Then Roy produced the cardboard box containing the token he had received on the previous evening. When Roy had completed his tale the detective looked up with almost a quizzical smile on his face.

"That's all?"

"No." Roy coloured slightly. "After I found the box in my rooms I went to Kirribilli."

"You went to see Miss Wesche? What for?"

"To inform her that you were inquiring about the strange ear-rings that she wore when she came to my offices. I meant to tell her of their similarity to those worn by the girl who came to the door of 7a Peyton place on the night Mansell and I found the dead girl."

"The girl who came to the door of 7a." Greyson spoke thoughtfully. "Then you don't now suspect Miss Wesche of being that girl?"

"No."

"Since when?"

"Since I read Mark's letter. There is no doubt in my mind now. The girl who looked in at the door that night was—"

"Judith Warbor, the step-niece of Antonio Cavalli," completed the detective.

"Yes. That's reasonable. Lor'! If he had only lived!" Greyson was again referring to Mansell's long letter. He read it through again and again, some parts aloud, sometimes going back over paragraphs for the second time.

If Mark Mansell had only lived! Roy tried to imagine what would have happened that morning. He would have gone to Mansell, leaving the detective to await results in his office. He would have won Mansell over, and between them they would have persuaded Judith Warbor to tell her story, fully and freely. With the information the heiress undoubtedly possessed they would soon have penetrated the mystery surrounding the death of the unknown girl in Peyton Place.

"Greyson!" Roy exclaimed suddenly. "Do you believe Mark Mansell committed—"

"Committed suicide." The detective completed the sentence as Roy hesitated. "If you think that, will you tell me why he had that queer token clutched in his hand?"

Roy did not answer.

The detective took from hip pocket a small envelope. From it he removed the brooch, and held it out to the broker.

"Mark Mansell held that tight in his hand—not between his fingers." Greyson spoke slowly. "If he was committing suicide why did he have that in his hand? I know of a case where a man jumped into the harbour clutching an iron bar, but that was to pull him under. The weight of that brooch wouldn't drown a sparrow. No. Now have a look at the pin on that brooch. You'll see it's fastened, and around it there's some threads of cloth. If you knew anything of our work you'd not be long in coming to the conclusion that Mark Mansell snatched that brooch from someone's coat just as he went off the steamer."

"From some one's coat!" Roy was examining the brooch and the threads, eagerly.

"And not his own coat. That's whole and blue, and the threads around that pin are from some mixture cloth. Believe me, Mark Mansell went into the water a stunned, if not a dead man. He—"

"Mr. Onslay." Isobel Malim was holding the door half open. "Miss Wesche to see you."

The two men rose to their feet as Rene entered the room. She looked strained and worried, but smiled as she met Roy's anxious eyes.

"Here are the ear-rings, Mr. Onslay." She held the pair of strangely shaped jewels towards the broker on the palm of her hand. The detective stepped forward and took them.

"Good!" With but a cursory glance at the jewels Greyson laid them on the desk. "Now, I'm going to ask you a straight question, young lady. Did you go to the door of 7a Peyton Place on the night Mr. Onslay found that girl's body, and ring the bell?"

"No." Rene spoke quickly. She turned to the broker. "Roy, I could not answer you yesterday. It was not my secret. But, last night—"

"Miss Judith Warbor came home." The other finished her sentence with a light laugh. "Seems like people are becoming sane once more. If we all sit in together and tell what we know there'll be soon no unknown girl at Peyton Place to investigate."

"You think Judith can tell you who murdered the girl?"

Rene turned to the detective. "Oh, no, no. I can't believe that. I—"

"Why did you wear the ear-rings the day you came to this office?"

"I had never worn them before." Rene spoke soberly. "That morning I found that I had mislaid a pair of green ear-rings I intended to wear with the dress I had on. I went to Judith's room to see if she had a pair that would do. I found those ear-rings, and wore them."

"I saw you go into the North Shore wharf that night," exclaimed Roy.

"You saw Judith. I was not in the city that night." Rene turned to him impulsively. "Late at night, unless one of the motors meets us at Kirribilli, we always cross to Milson's Point. We can get a taxi from there home. You know, it's a long dark walk from Kirribilli to Kirri-end."

"Then you only wore the ear-rings the time you called on Mr. Onslay! Have yon worn them on any previous or subsequent occasion?"

"No."

"Do you know if Miss Warbor regards those ear-rings with any special interest?" asked Greyson.

"What do you mean?"

"Do you know if they have any special significance for her? Do you know where she obtained them from? Are they some sign of remembrance of—of—"

"I believe Judith hated them." Rene spoke almost in a whisper. "I believe those ear-rings cast some shadow over her life. She had never mentioned them to me, but—"

"Miss Warbor's mother was Italian?" said the officer quickly.

"You know that?" Rene was startled. Without replying Greyson took Mansell's letter from the desk and handed it to the girl. The two men watched her while she read the last words of the estate agent.

"Poor Mark!" Rene gently laid the letter on the desk. "I think he guessed much that Judith tried to keep secret. Yes, Mr. Greyson, that letter tells the truth. Mr. Kearney has been the evil influence in Judith's life. I have asked her not to see him when he calls at the house. I have wanted to face him and tell him he is causing her pain and trouble, but she would not let me. And always, when he comes, I can see the look of suffering in her eyes."

The girl spoke under great stress. For some seconds the three sat silent. Suddenly Greyson rose to his feet and walked impatiently up and down the room. At length, he halted before the girl. "There is no Italian blood in you, Miss Wesche."

"What do you mean? Oh, you know Judith and I are cousins?"

"I thought you were Miss Warbor's secretary-companion!" exclaimed Roy.

"Stephen Warbor was my uncle; his sister was my mother. When my parents died Judith asked me to go and live with her. I have always acted as her secretary, conducting the business undertaken at Kirri-end.

"Then—" The shrill bell of the telephone cut Roy's question. He reached around the desk and drew the instrument to him. A moment later he motioned the detective towards the bracket. Greyson spoke a few words into the mouthpiece, and listened. Slowly a look of amazement spread over his face.

"Who's there—Chamberlain—? He'll do—Send the fellow up here in his charge—I can't leave here at present—Yes—I think we've got to the bottom of it, but this is stupendous luck, if it's true—Seems straight?—Well, we'll soon test it."

He was laughing quietly as he replaced the receiver on the hook. For a long moment he stood lost in thought, then turned to his companions with a look of triumph on his face.

"There's luck coming our way at last. There's a man called at headquarters who says he saw Mark Mansell on the ferry in company with another man, less than two minutes before he went overboard!"


CHAPTER XXXI

THEY were coming to the end of the long trail. Bit by bit the story was unfolding; in many places disjointed, but each piece of evidence added something to its continuity. It was possible that this new witness, of Mark Mansell and an unknown man on the ferry-steamer, would twist the slender threads into a cord strong enough to lead them to the murderer.

The information that Mansell had been seen on the deck of the ferry in conversation with an unknown man, a few minutes before he went into the water, held a grave significance. The detective had never believed Mansell had committed suicide. The strange brooch token, clutched in his hand, indicated that there had been a struggle. The theory of suicide would have been hard to disprove, even with the evidence of the brooch, if this new witness had not come forward.

The harbour ferries, during the middle of the day, are very sparsely patronised. Mansell could have found a boat with few people on board. He might have discovered some lonely spot on the decks from which to dive into the harbour. Without this witness the probabilities in favour of suicide were particularly strong. The possibility of Mansell's being accompanied on his trip over the harbour had not occurred to Roy until Greyson drew his attention to the threads of cloth on the pin of the brooch. The man who had gone to headquarters had apparently identified the estate agent. He had declared he had seen Mansell on the ferry in conversation with another man. It was possible that the man had boarded the boat with Mansell, for there were no calling-places for the ferry on the five-minutes run from Milson's Point to Circular Quay.

The unknown man had not come forward to give his account of Mansell's death. Here, again, was evidence supporting Greyson's theory of murder. Mansell had been a man of retiring disposition, not likely, except under stress, to enter into casual conversation with a stranger. Roy believed the man knew Mansell well. If so, then Mansell's murder fitted into the puzzle surrounding the death of the girl in 7a Peyton Place. Mansell had a story to tell, hearing of the death of the unknown girl. He had admitted as much in his letter to Roy. It was possible that the gang implicated in the girl's death had known of that letter and had planned to get the estate agent out of the way.

So engrossed was Roy in pondering the various bearings of this new evidence on the problem they were investigating, that he did not hear the opening of the door and the entry of a constable, preceded by a roughly-dressed man of semi-nautical appearance. The first words of the detective brought him back with a start.

"Well, my man. You say your name is Paul Weston. What's your trade?"

"Deck-hand on the Kirrimba." The man looked dubiously at the detective. "Say, are you the Inspector who's got charge of the murdered girl's case?"

"I'm Detective-sergeant Greyson, and I have charge of the Peyton Place murder case." Greyson smiled slightly at the higher rank bestowed on him by Weston. "Why did you ask for me? Do you think Mr. Mansell's death is connected with that case?"

"Perhaps it is." The man drawled his word's slightly. "Y'see it was me as pulled him out of the water. Someone on the boat said how it was Mr. Mansell, the estate agent, and I remembered as how he was mixed up in the Peyton Place affair. So I ses to myself, I'll see the man who's in charge of that case and perhaps what I've got to say may be of use to him."

"Did you see Mr. Mansell on board the ferry—that is, before you pulled him out of the harbour?" Roy asked.

The man looked meditatively at him, then turned to the detective.

"Well?" questioned Greyson shortly.

"I'm answering your questions, Mr. Greyson."

"Why not answer Mr. Onslay's?" countered the detective. "I should have asked the same question in a minute."

"Mr. Onslay!" The man turned and looked at the broker. "You're the man as the newspapers say murdered the girl."

"Do you believe that?" Rene slipped her hand impulsively into Roy's quivering palm. "You know Mr. Mansell had as much to do with the finding of the girl as Mr. Onslay?"

"Maybe!" Weston looked undecided. "The newspapers make a lot of fuss about Mr. Onslay finding her, but they say little about Mr. Mansell being on the job."

"So much for the press of Sydney, Mr. Onslay," Greyson laughed gruffly. "Now, who was the man with Mr. Mansell, on the boat?"

"A tall, ruddy-faced man, big-made big-faced, big hands and feet, and a way of talking as looked as if he was trying to bully you into something you didn't want to do." The man spoke thoughtfully: "If I adds, as he is well-dressed and wore a big diamond on the little finger of his left hand, would you recognise him?"

"Yes." The detective leaned forward impulsively. "Who did you see him trying to bully?"

"That comes in my tale, Mister Detective." Weston grinned broadly. "I saw Mr. Mansell get on the ferry at Milson's Point. He was one of the first to board her when we got alongside. There wasn't more'n a dozen as got on board, and all except two of 'em stayed on the lower deck."

"Then Mr. Mansell and the other man had the upper deck to themselves?"

"That's so, except for the skipper. He's up there, for'ard in the wheel-house. As I ses, Mr. Mansell comes on board first, and goes up to the upper deck. Less'n a minute after, along comes the other bloke and sits down on the lower deck, just alongside the engines. Look like to me as he'd been running, for he had his 'at in his hand and was wiping his head with his han'kerchief. Just as we pulls out from the wharf, he finds it's 'ot where he's sitting and climbs up the steps to the top deck. I follows soon after and sees him and Mr. Mansell away towards the stern, talking."

"There was no one but the two men and the skipper on the upper deck, an he was well away for'ard." Greyson nodded his head understandingly.

"That's what I said." The man paused for a moment. "I went up to the skipper with a mug of tea as th' engineer had just made. I stayed there for a minute or two, having a word with him and then I comes out of the wheel-house to go below. We had just passed over the bridge-site and was well out on the harbour. I sees as the two men had gone out into the open space at the stern, an' didn't blame 'em. It was a cruel hot day. I stood at th' head of the gangway watching them, for the big man was carrying on something cruel. I thought he was going to hit Mr. Mansell and waited to interfere, but as he was acting quiet, I let it go. Didn't see an harm so long as one of the pair was acting quiet-like—an' the little chap would not have stood a earthly, in a dust up with the big chap."

"So you went down to the lower deck and left them arguing," suggested the detective.

"An' sorry I am, I did." The man spoke emphatically. "I hadn't more'n got down to the lower deck, an' we was just abreast of Bennelong Point, a-coming inter Sydney Cove, when I heard a splash. I looked astern an saw wot looked like a man a-bobbin' in the water. I yells to the engineer an' he shuts down. Then I seizes a life-belt an' chucks it as far as I could to where the man fell, but I couldn't see no sign of him then."

"So you got out of the boat and went after him?" suggested Roy.

"Not afore Bill Marks has his go. He was down th' stern an' saw Mr. Mansell fall from the upper deck. He jumps on the bulwark at th' stern and takes a header right over th' screw. Awful thing to do, but th' old tub had some way on her an' he got clear of the blades. I sees his head a-bobbing up astern as he strikes out for where the bloke was. If Bill 'adn't gone I suppose I'd have risked it, but I was awkwardly placed for a dive. Y'see, however far I'd jumped out I'd have had to pass the screws and more'n likely I'd have been pulled in. Anyway, when Bill goes in, I runs up and gets the boat lowered with Harry. We jumps in and pulls out to where Bill was. He was swimming round and not a sign of Mr. Mansell on the waters.

"Well? What then?" questioned Greyson impatiently.

"Well," Weston turned an appreciative eye on his audience. "Well, when Bill sees we was near him and there wasn't much chance of his being picked up by some hungry shark cruising round the harbour, he dives. He didn't get 'im the second or the third time, but he keeps on and presently he pulls him up and we rows up an' takes 'em on board. But he was done for. Looked to me as if he was dead before he struck the water."

"What killed him?" asked Roy curiously.

"Ask the doctor. Looked to me as he was strangled-like. He came orf the top deck and went straight down. Never tried to swim a stroke."

"Heart disease." Greyson made the statement in a low voice. "I had the report this morning. There was a terrific bruise on the base of the neck. The man who struck him must have been a powerful brute."

"Then—" Roy turned to pile of journals on the table. He searched for some minutes and then went to Weston with a copy of a journal, opened at an illustrated page. "Do you see your man on this page, Weston?"

"That's the bloke as was arguing with Mr. Mansell on the upper deck."

Weston jabbed a finger at one of the portraits. "I'll swear to him anywhere."

Roy handed a pencil to the man and told him to mark the illustration. He then handed the journal to the detective. Greyson tore the page out of the journal and, without speaking, placed it in his pocket.

"You're willing to swear the man who's photograph you've marked on that page is the man you saw arguing with Mr. Mansell on the upper deck of the Kirrimba?" The detective spoke after some thought. "Are you willing to go with me to this man's offices and identify him?"

"Tain't a nice job, mister." Weston spoke after some hesitation. "But I guess I've got to go through with it. He ain't ought to have hit th' little bloke. Yes, I'll go with you and tell him to his face what I thinks of him. If he tries to 'it me—well, something'll happen."

"There will be no hitting." Greyson spoke decisively. "I'll give you the chance of seeing this man quietly, and studying him. I don't want you to talk except to answer questions I ask you, and when I ask a question let 'yes' or 'no' serve, if possible. Don't say either if you've the slightest doubt. We're dealing with a hanging matter."

"How is this going to affect the Peyton Place business?" Roy asked the detective in a low voice.

"Ask the angel Gabriel!" Greyson beckoned to the constable. "Chamberlain, take Mr. Weston down to Aiken House in Pitt Street, and wait about the entrance for me. I shan't be long behind you. Don't talk, and don't let him talk either."

"Roy, who is it?" Rene asked the question as the two men moved to the door.

"Sam Kearney." The broker barely whispered the words.

"How dreadful!" The girl shuddered slightly "Poor Judith! Do you know, Roy, I believe she has promised to marry him."

Roy did not answer. If Judith Warbor had been enticed or bullied by Kearney into a promise of marriage with him, fate had intervened on her behalf in a terrible guise. He firmly believed the deck-hand's tale. Step by step he had followed the graphic recital of the happenings on the ferry-boat. Had fate brought the two men together on the ferry, or had Kearney lured the estate agent there—to a premeditated death?

How the men met might always remain a mystery. It was probable that Mansell had commenced the argument. His letter to Roy indicated that he felt deeply the speculator's ruthless pursuit of his old friend's daughter. Without realising that Sam Kearney, with his unbridled temper, was a dangerous man to baulk, Mansell had taxed him with his underhand work. Perhaps the estate agent felt that he had information that would compel Kearney to relax his hold on the girl. His letter to Roy might indicate that. The speculator had struck in the heat of his unbridled passions, and the blow had stopped the estate agent's weak heart.

"Come on, Mr. Onslay." Greyson spoke abruptly. He was on his way to the door when he stopped and looked at Rene.

"I am going back to Judith."

Rene guessed the thought behind the sudden hesitation of the detective. "Roy, will you come to Kirri-end when—when—I shall have to tell Judith of this."

Greyson turned on his heel and led the way to the outer office. As he reached for the handle of the door to the corridor it was swung open and Herbert Thye entered.

"All right, Sergeant." The man spoke quietly, yet beaming with pride. "He can't get away now."

"Who?" Roy asked the question as the detective did not speak.

"Basil Holt." Thye laughed slightly, "I picked up his trail yesterday and hung in. One of our fellows came and relieved me, so I came to report to the sergeant."

"You've not arrested him?"

"No," Greyson answered brusquely. "I want the bigger birds first. Basil Holt will fall into our hands, directly we open them for him."


CHAPTER XXXII

"HERBERT!" Isobel Malim pushed past the detective and faced the young constable. "Where on earth have you been to?"

For a moment there was an awkward pause. Thye tried to preserve his official manner, but a sidelong glance at Greyson's face made him blush scarlet. The detective looked from the man to the girl, and then back to the man. A short gruff laugh, quickly suppressed, broke the silence.

Isobel Malim immediately turned to him.

"Some more of your funny business, I suppose," she snapped, sarcastically. "I suppose you well knew where he was, when I was worrying yesterday?"

"Constable Thye was on duty." The detective tried to speak severely, but the sight of Roy's grinning face, over the girl's head, broke down his gravity. He turned swiftly and walked up the room, choking with laughter.

"Finding Basil Holt! Looking for him in all the Sydney bars! Roaming round the Central Station, when he should have been at Circular Quay! Oh, you men!"

"Circular Quay?" Greyson swung round quickly. "What do you know of Basil Holt, young lady?"

"Just enough to pick him up in an hour, if I wanted him, which I don't!" Isobel turned on her high heels to face Thye. "I suppose you hunted all the hotel bars and finished up with a night at the Ambassadors? Waste of good time, you—you men! Now, Herbert, I'll take one guess and tell you where you picked him up. Within fifty paces of Aiken House. That's right, isn't it?"

Thye looked across at the detective's questioning eyes, and nodded slightly. The girl caught the look and laughed triumphantly.

"A whole day's work for a man's eyes and feet, against one minute's work of a woman's brain!" she crowed. "Oh, you men! You'd look for a tram-driver in a taxi."

"More'n likely, if some woman had him in tow," murmured the detective. He shook himself slightly and turned to the door. "You'd better come with us, Thye. There may be some little difficulty where we are going."

"Go with you?" Isobel stepped between Greyson and the door. "Mr. Onslay told me Mr. Thye was to take charge of these offices. How do you expect him to do that when you send him to the Central Station for a man he was more likely to find on Circular Quay? Then he no sooner returns from your goose hunt, than you want him to go joy-walking again?"

"Oh!" The smile on the detective's face broadened. "Obstructing an officer of the law in the execution of his duty, are you? Well, we'll look into that. So Mr. Onslay put Herbert Thye in charge of the office. Now, who put you in charge of Herbert Thye? Eh?"

For a moment man and girl stared into each other's eyes. Suddenly the girl caught Greyson by the lapel of his coat and, standing on tiptoe kissed him lightly on the big, greying moustache. Almost with the same movement she held up her left hand and flourished it under his nose.

"That, daddy Greyson. You're married, so you ought to know."

"Two days!" Greyson looked at the dumb-stricken constable and shook his head sadly. "Gee, the modern girl's some rapid worker!"

"And you ain't so slow." The girl beamed up at the man she had routed in the verbal battle. "Now you're not going to take my boy away from me, just when I've got him back again?"

"No." Greyson stepped back to the side of Rene Wesche. "Still, he's on duty and I've got a job for him. You too, if you're going to marry into the Department, young lady. Miss Wesche is going to remain here when we go out. She's in your charge. Don't forget, she's had rather a bad time of late. You're to look after her, and your Herbie is to act under your orders. Got her morning tea, or whatever other contraption you girls take instead of a honest-to-God drink. Then, when you think she's ready to travel, and you've quite settled the trousseau and what I'm to contribute for a wedding-present, get Constable Thye to escort her down to the wharf and put her on the Neutral Bay ferry. Understand, lady-officer Isobel Malim?"

"Right sir." The girl swung round with a saucy salute and went to Rene's side. "Come on, Miss Wesche, we'll go into Mr. Onslay's room. Herbert can have the outer office, and when we're ready he can run the errands."

At the door, Greyson looked back at the girls passing into the inner room. He gripped Roy's elbow and turned him partly round.

"There goes the fate of man, and watching 'em you'll see what was once a man. I know. I'm married. I promised to love and cherish. My old woman, like the rest of the girls, sees I do the loving and the cherishing—but it's done in her way. I told you yesterday Herbert Thye's likely to become Commissioner of Police before he's retired out of the Department. He will, but it won't be because of influence or through what his teachers managed to stuff into his head when he wasn't playing truant from school. It'll be because he's married to the latest thing in girls, and she'll drive him there—if something more modern doesn't happen along and counter her fresh tricks, with jokes that make them look worse than a last year's frock. Mark my word for it. I'm married—but my wife's like me, old-fashioned. She can't fight the latest thing in Australian flapperhood."

Roy followed the detective down to the street. For a few seconds, Greyson stood on the edge of the pavement, tugging at his moustache. At length, he turned and went down to Pitt-street. At the entrance to Aiken House they found Chamberlain and Weston awaiting them. At sight of the detective the constable straightened and stepped forward.

"He's up there." The man spoke in a low voice, jerking his finger towards the upper floors. "Came in a few minutes ago. Weston saw him and gave me the office."

"Good! We'll go up."

Greyson led the way to the lifts. In the corridor outside Kearney's offices, he stopped and turned to the broker.

"Say as little as possible, Mr. Onslay. Kearney's likely to get a down on you and talk to irritate you. Keep a still tongue and let me do the talking. You, Chamberlain, keep with Weston and look out for squalls. The man's got a brute of a temper and may run riot when he knows what we're after."

He turned and opened the door into the speculator's offices. A clerk stepped to the opposite side of the counter.

"Mr. Kearney's in." The detective made the statement. "Tell him Detective-Sergeant Greyson of the New South Wales Police and Mr. Roy Onslay want to see him immediately, and on pressing business."

The clerk went to the door of the inner office and opened it. A few murmured words and he came back to the counter. "Mr. Kearney's engaged for the moment. If you will sit down he will see you presently."

"I see you didn't give my message right." The detective smiled genially. "Funny thing, there's lots of you chaps haven't yet learned the meaning of the word 'immediate.' That's why so many of you think your only road to fortune's through a ticket in Tatt's. Here, I'll give him my own message. Come on Mr. Onslay."

He lifted the flap of the counter and walked through. The clerk made as if to bar the way, but a muttered word from the police officer caused him to start back. At the door of Kearney's office Greyson turned and beckoned to Chamberlain and Weston.

"You two stay just here. Come in when I call. Now, Mr. Onslay!"

He swung open the door and walked in. Sam Kearney looked up in surprise from some papers he was reading. At the sight oft Roy his face darkened.

"I said I'd see you in a few minutes, Onslay," he snarled. "What do you mean by walking into my offices like that?"

"I brought Mr. Onslay here." The big voice of the police officer cut in quickly. "I did the walking-in—Detective-sergeant Greyson. Mr. Kearney, I've got to ask you some questions and they won't wait."

"Then they'll have to." The big speculator leaned back in his chair and took a cigar from his vest pocket. "You two can go back behind the counter in the outer office and sit down until I send for you. Understand?"

Without replying Greyson shifted a chair to the opposite side of the desk to the big man. As he sat down he nodded to Roy, pointing to a chair standing close to the door leading into the corridor.

"My questions won't take long." Greyson made himself comfortable and placed his hat on the desk. "All I want to know is: How did you spend yesterday afternoon?"

"Work, you fool!" Roy noticed that the man's eyes wore bloodshot and his face haggard. "Do you think I get my living given me to go round and ask damn-fool questions of busy people?"

"You didn't go to North Shore yesterday?"

For some minutes the big man stared at the detective, breathing heavily. His right hand dropped from the desk to the arm of his chair and moved slowly forward. Roy braced himself for a struggle, noticing that the police officer had grown suddenly very alert.

"There's no need to get excited—yet, Mr. Kearney." Greyson spoke in level tones. "I asked if you went to North Shore yesterday afternoon?"

"What if I did?"

"Did you meet—Oh, we'll leave that for the moment. S'pose you saw the papers yesterday afternoon, and this morning?"

"Well?"

"I'm referring to the death of Mr. Mark Mansell."

"That fool's suicide! 'Course I did. Gets his affairs in a muddle and jumps into the harbour."

"So you knew Mr. Mansell was practically a bankrupt?" Greyson spoke easily, although Roy could see he was keenly on the alert.

"Bankrupt?" Kearney laughed harshly. "He was bankrupt right enough. I'm putting in a big claim against his estate. I'm out for thousands."

"A big claim against Mark Mansell's estate!" The detective mused. "That's news! Wonder if Mark Mansell has a big claim against you, Mr. Kearney?"

"A claim against me?" The speculator leaned forward quickly. "That dolt! What claim could he have against me?"

"His life." The words were spoken almost under the detective's breath, but rang clearly through the room. "S'pose you and Mark Mansell met on the boat coming across from North Shore and discussed your claim?"

For a long moment Kearney stared at the police officer, his breath coming fast and hard. Suddenly he stretched out his hand and violently struck a table bell.

"That bell won't be answered." Greyson had risen to his feet and pushed back his chair. "You wouldn't care to tell me what you and Mark Mansell discussed on board the ferry-steamer Kirrimba yesterday afternoon, Mr. Kearney? Well, well! S'pose I'd better warn you that anything you may say may be used as evidence against you. There's just one other—"

"Who says I was on the ferry-boat yesterday afternoon?" Kearney was on his feet, glaring across the desk at the detective.

"Chamberlain!" The detective barely raised his voice. The door opened quickly, and the constable and Weston came into the room. A clerk tried to follow, but was pushed back by the constable who closed and locked the door.

"Know this man?" Greyson spoke to Kearney. When the big man did not answer he turned to the deck-hand.

"You recognise this man? Where did you see him yesterday afternoon?"

"On the ferry-steamer Kirrimba. That's him."

"You saw me?" Kearney was leaning half-way across the desk, glaring with savage eyes at the man. "I didn't see you."

"I saw you right enough." Weston had his hands stuffed in his trousers pockets and stared straight at the big man. "You were on the upper deck talking to the little chap who's lying in the morgue now."

"You fool!" For some seconds Kearney could not speak for the passion that choked his throat. "You did not see me."

"Tell him what you did see, Weston."

Greyson spoke quietly, but his eyes never left the big man. "Cut it short, too."

"The little fellow, Mr. Mansell, come on board as soon as the gangway was down at Milson's Point. After him comes this chap. He sits down on the lower deck, close to the engines until the boat starts Then he goes to the upper deck. I goes up with the skipper's tea and sees him and the little chap a-talking and a quarrelling. They go out to the stern open-way and I goes down to the lower deck. Hadn't hardly got down when I sees the little chap come over the side into the water. Bill goes in after him, and I and Tom got the boat into the water and pulls 'em both out. That short enough for you, c'pten?"

"Excellent!" Greyson smiled quietly. "Don't add a word more to it. Now, Mr. Kearney, do you want to talk? Remember, I've warned you."

"That means you're going to arrest me?" The speculator was holding his temper in check with difficulty. "What for? Because I had a few words with a man on a ferry-boat yesterday? Well, I did."

"The man being Mark Mansell. You wouldn't like to explain the subject matter of your quarrel?"

"I've told you. Mark Mansell was bankrupt. He owed me a lot of money. I wanted my own."

"Mark Mansell tells a different tale, Mr. Kearney." Roy could not resist making the interjection.


CHAPTER XXXIII

"MARK MANSELL says different!"

A look of terrified horror came on the florid face of the big speculator.

"Mark Mansell is not alive. I saw the account of his—his—"

"His murder." Greyson spoke abruptly. "Understand, Mr. Kearney, you are in custody on the charge of murdering Mark Mansell by throwing him into Sydney Harbour from the ferry-boat Kirrimba yesterday afternoon. I have already warned you that anything you say may be used against you."

"Who says I murdered him?" The man was standing upright, confident, and arrogant. "This man says he saw Mark Mansell and I on the ferry-boat. Did you see me murder Mr. Mansell? You! What's your name?"

"I saw you an' 'im quarrelling on the upper deck, and then I went to the lower deck." Weston was leaning against the wall, surveying the scene with detached interest.

"Well, I admit that," Kearney turned swiftly to the police officer. "We quarrelled. I wanted my money and I meant to have it. What's that to you, Mr. Detective-Sergeant Greyson, of the New South Wales police!"

"There's other evidence." Greyson spoke officially.

"What evidence?" The big man laughed scornfully. "The ignorance of an illiterate deck-hand who goes back on his statements to you directly I face him. Perhaps the high and mighty Roy Onslay has something to say? Spit it out, curse you!"

A warning glance from the detective checked the hot retort on Roy's lips. For a moment longer Kearney remained on his feet, glaring from one to the other; then, with almost a sigh he subsided into his seat.

"No use, Mr. Kearney." There was almost pity in the detective's tones. "Where's your hat? We'd better be getting along. Shall I have a taxi fetched?"

"You're going to arrest me?" Kearney's eyes sought Greyson's face in perplexity. "You'll want a warrant, and all that."

"The warrant's good enough. You can see it at headquarters if you want to. You're charged with throwing Mark Mansell into Sydney Harbour. That stands. There may be other charges later."

For some minutes Kearney sat behind his desk, staring straight before him. Roy thought the quiet calm in the detective's manner had driven the bluff out of the big speculator. His eyes wandered from the accused man to the impassive detective. Greyson was tense and alert. His eyes were fixed on his prisoner, concentrating on every movement of the big frame; on the stumpy fingers playing restlessly with the articles on the desk.

"You'll open the door, Mr. Greyson." Kearney spoke in quiet level tones. "If I'm to accompany you to police headquarters I shall have to leave instructions covering my absence with my head clerk. You wouldn't be fool enough to take me there for the afternoon. There's more behind all this."

"Glad you're taking it reasonable, Mr. Kearney."

Greyson turned his head and nodded to the constable. Chamberlain rose from his seat besides the door and unlocked it. Still Kearney sat without movement. At length, he spoke again.

"Going to make a procession of it, Greyson. You don't want that deck hand, and the constable in charge of him, tailing up Pitt Street after us."

"You want to speak to your clerk, Mr. Kearney," the detective reminded him.

"Yes. I'll have to speak to him, and to my solicitor. I'll do him first."

He turned to the telephone and dialled a number. "Coverton there—No, I want Jack Coverton—Yes—Say, Jack, some damn-fool detective's here—Arrested me for the murder of Mark Mansell—Taking me to headquarters at once—Yes—Meet me there?—Good on you. Jack—Oh, of course—I'll say nothing."

As Kearney replaced the receiver on the hook a knock came at the door of the room leading to the outer offices. Kearney looked up sharply.

"Door unlocked, Greyson?"

"Yes."

"Don't want that deck-hand any more. No."

The big man dipped his hand in his pocket and drew out a crumpled note. "Here, you. Take this, and get out. Get drunk, or go and drown yourself, I don't want you here, listening to my business." The note fluttered to the floor in the middle of the room.

Weston looked at it and hesitated. He caught Grayson's eye. The detective nodded, and smiled. Mumbling something that might be taken for thanks the man caught up the note and left the room. Chamberlain made to follow him, but at a sign from his superior officer, stopped. Kearney, who was watching around him, frowned slightly.

"Want a lot of assistance to arrest one man, Greyson," he sneered. "Let your constable wait in the passage. You and your—er—amateur sleuth, Onslay, should be able to hold me. Didn't know you encouraged amateurs in the police, Inspector."

Greyson did not answer. He caught the constable's eyes and nodded towards the door close by which Roy sat.

"That door's locked." The big man spoke quickly. "Try it, Onslay."

The broker rose from his seat and went to the door. It was fastened and the key was not in the lock. As he returned to his seat Greyson winked broadly.

"Get in the corridor, Chamberlain." Greyson nodded towards the constable. "You can watch both doors from there."

"Tell them out there, I want Doughty, Chamberlain." Kearney called to the constable, as the man opened the door leading to the outer offices. "Tell him I shall want the half-cash book, when I ring for it."

Again the detective nodded as the constable looked towards him. He was watching his prisoner closely. Something in the man's manner seemed at variance with his outward calmness. He sensed that he was going to have trouble. Yet it was not his policy to force his prisoner to some act of aggression. A clever lawyer, and Jack Coverton had the reputation of being one of the slickest and smartest solicitors practising in Sydney, would make much of the slightest lack of consideration shown to a man under arrest for a serious crime. Criminals, before they are caught and after conviction, are accounted the scum of the earth. During the time they are in the hands of the police, awaiting trial, they are spoilt darlings.

"What's the 'half-cash book,' Mr. Kearney!" asked the detective carelessly. "Sounds like a book with the leaves of bank notes and Morocco bound."

Kearney laughed, almost too good-naturedly. He was about to reply when the door opened and a slender elderly man entered.

"Mr. Timothy Doughty, my chief clerk." Kearney made the introduction gravely. "You know Mr. Onslay, Doughty. He devotes his spare time to police work nowadays. This is Detective-sergeant Greyson of the New South Wales police. There's some bother over Mark Mansell's death. You saw the story of his suicide in the newspapers, yes? I've got to go out with these gentlemen. There's nothing you want me for? I may not be back today. No. That's good. Did you bring me in the half-cash book?"

"I will send it in to you in a few minutes, Mr. Kearney."

The clerk looked nervous and worried.

"Do, Tim." Roy had never before heard the big speculator speak so quietly and evenly. "By the way, there's a fair amount of cash in that safe. Get it for me please. I may want quite a lot before I get back here."

The clerk went to the safe, close to where Roy was sitting, and swung the door open. From a drawer he took a big packet of notes bound with a rubber band, and placed them before his employer. Returning to the safe, he locked it and put the keys in his pocket. At the door he hesitated, and turned.

"I am to send the half-cash book in at once, Mr. Kearney?"

"Yes." The word was spoken on a rising inflection. Kearney pushed his chair back from the desk and rose to his feet, "I said, at once. Get to it!"

The speculator had commenced to walk round the desk. Greyson rose to give him a passage. Roy half-rose to his feet, but at a sign from the detective resumed his chair. Instead of walking to the outer door Kearney went to the front of the desk and leaned against it, facing the detective.

"Shan't keep you much longer, Greyson." There was a hint of confidence in the big voice. "Y'see, a man of my activities can't get away from business at a moment's notice; and it looks as if I'm going to be away from here quite a time. They don't allow bail in murder charges, do they, Mr. Officer?"

"I don't think I'd talk, Mr. Kearney." Greyson looked slightly uncomfortable. "The sooner we get away from here the better."

"Just what I'm thinking." The big man lifted the detective's hat from the table. "Your hat, Mr. Greyson."

"Thanks."

"Mine is on the stand in the corner." Kearney took a step in the direction he indicated. Roy followed his pointing finger anxiously, half-mesmerized by the man's manner. A cry from the detective brought him alert again. Kearney had led them into a trap.

As he had pointed to the corner where a hat hung he had swept out his huge arm and caught Greyson off his guard. The officer had been swept into a terrific grip against the speculator's chest, his neck enclosed by Kearney's forearm and wrist. Roy sprang to the rescue, to be stopped by a blow on the chest that threw him crashing against the door leading to the corridor. For a moment he lay dazed, the breath knocked out of him. Greyson, blinded and half-strangled in the vice-like hug, was seeking to disable his opponent by wild, blind body-blows.

As the broker came to his feet, the struggling men swept down on him with irresistible force. He just managed to dodge them and sprang on Kearney's back. His hands met, and slipped, on the stout, short throat. One of them held, and the other slipped forward. It was seized between the frenzied man's jaws. Roy almost screamed with pain. He drove his knees violently into the man's back, and with a grunt of agony Kearney subsided on the floor.

"God, he's strong!" Greyson, his collar torn from his neck and his coat in ribbons, struggled to his feet and stood looking down on his unconscious captive.

"I never expected that. What's he done to your hand, Mr. Onslay?"

"Bite." Roy was twisting his handkerchief round his hand. Luckily, the only hold Kearney had obtained with his teeth was through the fleshy muscles at the base of the thumb. "Damned painful, but I don't think there's much harm done. How's Kearney?"

"Looks as if you've knocked him out." The detective rolled the man over.

"Didn't think I had a chance of doing that." Roy spoke doubtfully. His kicking Kearney in the back had been involuntary, induced by the sudden pain in the bitten hand. He thought it strange that so slight a cause had brought the big man down and out.

"Well, he's asleep, sure enough." Greyson was feeling in his pockets. "Didn't bring any cuffs with me. Well, Chamberlain's sure to have a pair on him. He's just come from headquarters and knew there was an arrest in the air. Give him a call, please. Don't let anyone else into the room."

Roy finished tying up his wounded hand and went to the door to the outer office. As his hand was on the handle the door was flung violently open and a man stood in the frame. The lower part of his face was covered with a handkerchief. His hat was pulled down closely over his eyes; yet there was something in his build and air that looked familiar to the broker.

"Look out, Greyson!"

Roy flung himself forward, trying to grapple with the man. The newcomer put up his knee quickly, and Roy narrowly escaped being knocked out. As he rolled on the floor, gasping and dizzy, he heard two sharp explosions over his head. Something fell close beside him. He rolled over and sat up. Greyson was standing a few feet away, a smoking automatic in his hand.

Roy struggled to his feet. Close to the spot where he had fallen lay the masked man, bleeding from a wound on the head. For a second the broker stood looking Sown on the man, trying to gather his senses together.

"Get you, Mr. Onslay?" Greyson appeared cool and collected.

"What's up?" Chamberlain came into the room from the outer office.

"What did you let that man in for?" The detective turned on his subordinate angrily.

"He never came in through the door from the corridor." Chamberlain spoke emphatically. "There's not been a soul come in that way, although there's been quite a number go out. I've stood before the door all the time and examined all who came out."

"Who is he?" Roy asked the question. The detective dropped to his knees beside the masked man.

"We'll soon see that." With no gentle hand the detective swept back the hat and pulled down the masking handkerchief.

"Basil Holt!" Roy exclaimed in surprise.

"Basil Holt and Sam Kearney!" Greyson chuckled merrily. "Say, Mr. Onslay, do you remember what that girl in your office said—that we'd find Basil Holt not far from Circular Quay. Chamberlain, you look after that man and give me your cuffs. Mr. Onslay, I'll trouble you to speak to headquarters for me. Say I want a van, and want it quick—Hell! He's gone!"

Roy turned quickly at the detective's exclamation.

Greyson was staring at the floor where the insensible body of Sam Kearney had lain when Basil Holt entered the room. The speculator was no longer in the room, and the door opening on to the corridor stood ajar.


CHAPTER XXXIV

THE detective jumped for the door and swung it open. The corridor was empty at the moment. Almost immediately the lift came to rest at the floor and a number of passengers alighted. A couple of men walked down the stairs from the floor above. Various doors along the corridor gave exit and entrance to hurrying people. For more than a minute Greyson stood watching the scene. Once from the room Kearney, would be quickly lost in the passing throng. Within the building, and on the street at the lower end of Pitt Street, the fugitive would pass unnoticed without a hat. Among the many offices crowding the buildings at that end of the city it was not uncommon for men to pass from office to office bareheaded.

Farther up, towards the heart of the city, a man without a hat would be more noticeable. There was the shopping district with its daily surge of woman-life. There were tower offices—and more attention paid to matters of convention. Sam Kearney would not linger around Aiken House. He was too well known in that part of the city. He would get away into the farther suburbs, where he would be but one of the crowd. More than probable, on emerging from the building he had jumped into a cruising taxi, driving southwards. In the shopping district beyond the Central railway-station he would find a hat shop and remove the dangerous sign of individuality. Then—Greyson shrugged his shoulders. Time would deal with that phase of the question. If Kearney had escaped from the neighbourhood of Aiken House in a taxi, a few hours would discover the driver and disclose where he had dropped his passenger. From there the real hunt would commence. The detective ruefully remembered that he had allowed the man to supply himself with ample funds. For the moment the detective was more concerned with the methods that the big man had employed in his escape.

He stepped back into the room and examined the door. The bolt had been shot back, and the door held only by the latch. Yet he well remembered Roy turning the handle, and tugging at it. "Thought you said a while ago that this door was locked." Greyson turned to the broker.

"The door was locked." Roy spoke decisively. "You remember I turned the handle and pulled hard."

"It isn't now." Greyson swung the door shut and opened it, again and again, turning the handle both ways. It opened quite easily. "The thing doesn't stick. It was locked, but—" The detective's eyes wandered round the room. On the wall, near the window, hung a solitary key. He took it down and tried it in the lock. It fitted and turned with ease.

"Queer." The police officer replaced the key on the nail. "Now, he couldn't have got over to that key, taken it down, opened the door, and replaced it while we were engaged with Basil Holt. How did he manage the trick?"

A call from Chamberlain brought him to the side of the prisoner. Holt was showing signs of returning to consciousness.

Greyson bent over him, fingering the wound at the top of his head. "Creased him." Greyson took the handkerchief from the man's pocket and wetted it at the water-jar on the side table. "Bind that over the cut, Chamberlain. Mr. Onslay, will you please ring headquarters. I want that van and a couple of men here as soon as possible. Keep your eyes on Basil Holt as well. I don't want him to disappear, also—and insensible men in this office are a damned sight too frisky."

The detective left the office by the door to the corridor. He was absent a couple of minutes. When he returned he entered by the door from the outer offices. For some time he stood in the entrance, looking thoughtfully about the room.

"Headquarters promises the men and van in ten minutes, Greyson." Roy looked up from the telephone.

"Thanks." There was a long pause. "Chamberlain, while you were in the corridor where did you stand?"

"Back to the office door."

"Thought so. You could see this door!" Greyson pointed to the private-room door connecting with the corridor.

"Most of the time. There's a lot of people passing up and down the building."

"You watched this door, and the door on the other side of the main door of this suite?"

"Watched up and down the passage." The constable appeared puzzled. "Not in any particular way. Y'see—" he hesitated. "I thought you had your prisoner safe and was only expecting your call to take him down."

"I thought I had him safe, too." The detective smiled wryly. "Taught me a lesson. You say this man never entered by the office-door. Did be enter the door next down the passage? Nearer down towards the lift?"

The man frowned thoughtfully. "Y'see, Mr. Greyson, there was a lot of people about, and—"

"Don't apologise." Greyson smiled for the first time since Kearney escaped. "You're not a fiction detective yet, you haven't an Isobel Malim to guess things for you. Still, that's how he did enter. There's a door in the outer office to the next room. It's locked and looks as if it was never used, but—"

He paused and again looked thoughtfully around him. Basil Holt had regained consciousness and the constable was helping him to a seat. The man looked dazed and ill, and stared almost uncomprehendingly at the steel hand-cuffs binding his wrists.

Greyson walked across and stood in front of him. "S'pose you can explain how you and your employer manage to open locked doors without keys?" He paused and a quick light came into his eyes. "Yes. That might be it—turn out his pockets, Chamberlain. I'm after a bunch of fair sized keys."

A short search and the constable produced a bunch of keys. Greyson seized them and left the room. Almost immediately he returned, a satisfied expression lighting his face.

"That's the trick!" He threw the keys in the air and caught them.

"Basil Holt was in that room, or entered it after you took up your post at the door of the public office. I rather think the latter, but I can't give the explanation, yet. You wouldn't like to save me trouble, Mr. Holt?"

The man did not answer; he did even raise his head to look at the detective. Greyson had not waited for a reply, he had walked to the corridor door and was fumbling with the lock.

"You were quite, right, Mr. Onslay," he observed at length. "That door was locked when you tried it. Some one unlocked it from the outside, and if I'm not mistaken, that some one was Basil Holt. Say, Chamberlain, while you were watching in the corridor did you see a bunch of men come down the stairs opposite this door and stand arguing in the corridor?"

"Believe they did." The man answered after some moments thought. "Yes. Four men came down from upstairs. They had a big argument on, over something, and stood just against that door—away from the foot of the stairs—while they talked it out."

"Clever! And while they were covering him, Basil Holt unlocked that door! You notice how well the lock works, Mr. Onslay. The wards turn almost without a sound."

"But how did Sam Kearney communicate with Basil Holt?" objected the broker. "His name was never mentioned."

"But the half-cash book was." The officer wan now smiling cheerfully. "I'm guessing that was a private signal to Basil Holt to get in touch with Kearney. Now, how was that worked?"

He walked round the desk and sat in the big speculator's chair. For some time he was silent, his fingers drumming on the blotting-pad. Then he commenced a systematic search of the desk and its surroundings.

"Until he got up and came round the desk, just before he attacked me, he never left this chair." The detective was talking to himself. "When he moved he had already given instructions to Basil Holt and had his plans for escape—he had been told Holt was ready to act—when he was. Now, how?" The stubby fingers were working round the desk and its fittings. After a long silence the officer gave a quiet cry of satisfaction.

"Humph! Telegraphic! Basil Holt came from upstairs. I'm guessing Sam Kearney owns the office over this. That's it. When I told him he was under arrest he tapped out a message to Holt to unlock this door and then hold us up while he got away. Quick thinker, that man. Yes. Chamberlain sees Holt and some other man come downstairs. They're holding a fake argument, and stop against this door to finish it. Under that cover Holt unlocks the door. Good! No, it isn't. Chamberlain may not have been on guard then. Doesn't matter. Holt unlocked the door from the outside and then went along the corridor to the room on the other side of the public office. While Chamberlain was out in the corridor Holt got rid of the clerks. There were clerks in the outer offices when we went through. Chamberlain?"

"Three. One followed me out, and the other two came along much later. One said he was going a message, for Kearney; the other said he was going to the bank."

"That left the office free for Mr. Holt to work in." Greyson continued his musings. "Now, I'm guessing Basil Holt never knew Chamberlain was on guard in the corridor. If he had, he'd never have left him in his rear. It was just that overlook that put the crimp in his plans. He walks in on us, and during the confusion Kearney crawls to the door and makes his getaway. Clever! Damned clever! I had Kearney for murder, and only wanted Holt for the assault on Mr. Onslay. That meant I would risk losing Holt to get at Kearney again. What did you get for risking the charge of assault, Holt? Not much risk. Kearney thought you were the only one armed in here and could hold us up until he was clear. Then you had your chance to fade out. Ah, umph!"

"I didn't know that." For the first time Holt spoke.

"You didn't know you were to interview Mr. Onslay and myself?" Greyson turned on the man, swiftly. "No, I guess not. Kearney's not altogether a fool. He wouldn't tell you that for fear you'd funk the job. Say, Holt, if Mr. Onslay withdraws that warrant for assault and I forget about it—"

"What do you want?" Holt gave the first signs of interest that he had displayed since Greyson shot him.

"I want the story—the story you can tell—and I'm guessing it's a good one. Let me tell you this, my man, Kearney's in for murder, and this getaway don't serve him. I'll have him, if I have to follow to the other end of the earth."

"There's no story, so far as I know."

"No?" Greyson drew up a chair before the handcuffed man and seated himself. "Now, that's strange. I had quite an impression you could tell a real interesting story about banking accounts, land speculations, and—and a certain Italian who lives in Peyton Place."

"How much do you know?" The man lifted his eyes for a quick glance at the detective's face. He lowered them immediately as if he feared Greyson could read his thoughts.

"Know?" The detective leaned forward, his hands on his knees. "I'm not saying what I know. I'm simply stating that I'm interested in a certain Italian, Antonio Cavalli, and—Know him, don't you. Holt?"

"Yes."

"Thought so! What do you know of that secret door through the stairs and the furnished cellar beneath the trapdoor. Been down there, Holt?"

The man did not reply, but his ruddy face paled visibly. He tried to turn in his chair, so that he would not directly face the detective, but Chamberlain restrained the movement.

"Yes." Greyson spoke in a careless, level tone. "And the front room over the shop—ever been up there. Holt?"

"What are you driving at?" In spite of the defiant frown on the man's face there was a hint of fear in his voice.

"Just asking if you'd been in the upper room over the shop at 7a Peyton Place—at night time, Holt." Suddenly the detective's voice changed. "By the way, Holt, what's your nationality?"

"I'm Australian. Why?"

"Heard of the kittens born in the sardine box? No one called them tinned fish, except a certain Prime Minister of Australia. Father a pommy I take it?"

"Yes. I was born out here."

"Dinkum Aussie!" Greyson laughed somewhat unpleasantly. "No war badge. Not sixty yet, are you?"

"Forty-two."

"Less twelve, makes you thirty. Humph. Conscientious objector! Any conscientious objections against going a journey to Long Bay, Holt, while I work up a—a conscientious case against you for—murder?"

"That's all talk." Holt spoke rapidly, trying to get to his feet. "All you've got on me is Kearney's escape and that assault when he," he nodded to Roy,"tried to lock me up in his office."

"Certain?" The detective's big hand caught Holt on the chest and forced him back on his seat. "You'll get to your feet when I tell you, and not before. Now then. I'll show you what I have on you. Remember a cheque-book you were careless enough to leave in Mr. Onslay's office. Yes?"

The man nodded.

"Now we're getting along." Greyson put his hand in his breast-pocket and pulled out a bunch of papers. From them he extracted a photograph and held it before Holt's eye.

"Know that?" Roy stepped to the prisoner's side and bent down to examine the photograph. It showed a long slender stiletto of Italian workmanship, and round the hilt was twisted a piece of cord.

With an exclamation of surprise Roy turned to question the detective. Greyson held up his hand, a warning frown on his brow.

"Look at it well, Holt." The detective was speaking in a low clear voice. "You have seen this dagger before, I know that. But you never received these, I'll bet, although you carry them about with you all day."

From among the papers came two more photographs—this time of fingerprints, indistinct and badly smudged. The detective balanced one on each of the prisoner's knees.

"Have a good look at them Holt. They are interesting. This one represents the work of our expert, on the cheque book you so kindly left in Mr. Onslay's offices. I'm taking it you're not going to deny they're your finger-prints. Anyway, we'll make certain on that point when we get to headquarters. Now, the second lot of prints came from the handle of the dagger we found sticking in the breast of the dead girl who Mr. Onslay found in the front upper room of 7a Peyton Place. There's a gentleman at headquarters who's willing to swear both sets of finger-prints are from the same hand. What have you to answer to that, Mr. Basil Holt?"


CHAPTER XXXV

A LONG, painful silence followed the detective's accusation. Greyson was staring at his prisoner, a grim smile of triumph on his lips. For the time he had no more to say. It was for Holt to refute his statements, or to stand charged with the murder.

"Made a mess of it, haven't I?" Holt raised his head, smiling rather weakly. "Suppose you're going to charge me with the murder of the girl?"

"Who was she?" Greyson asked the question quickly.

"Bianca Cavalli. I don't mind telling you that."

Holt was again silent. At last he continued, "Say Sergeant, isn't it the thing to warn arrested parties not to talk?"

"You're not under arrest for that. I'm holding you for the assault on Mr. Onslay."

"Quick, isn't he?" The man looked toward Roy and laughed. "So you swore out a warrant for that? Well, any stick's good enough to beat a dead horse with, and I—"

"What does Cavalli know of the death of the girl?"

"Possibly more than I do." The man paused a moment. "Say, Greyson. What if I tell my side of the story? How do I stand then?"

"It may be used against you." the detective spoke reluctantly. "I've got to warn you of that. Still, there may be something behind the matter that I haven't got at yet."

"You can take my word for it, there's a lot—a lot that I don't know."

"Who was Bianca Cavalli."

"Antonio's adopted daughter."

"How did she die?"

"I don't know. You'd better ask Cavalli that."

The detective went to the desk and scribbled a few lines on a sheet of paper.

"Find out if the van's here yet. If it is, send one of the men to headquarters with that note. You can wait downstairs with the other men. I'll not have any more trouble here."

Greyson handed the note to Chamberlain, then turned to Roy.

"I've asked that Antonio Cavalli be arrested at once and brought here. It's unusual, but I think the Superintendent will agree. You understand, Holt. I'm bringing Cavalli here. Are you still prepared to talk? Remember, at present I'm only holding you under arrest for assault. If there's no serious charge against you in the Bianca Cavalli matter I'll do my best to see you go free, or get only a short sentence. If you won't talk—well, you'll be arrested again for what we want."

"Re-arrested?" Holt looked up quickly. "Then there'll be an interval of freedom between the discharge of the warrant for assault and the other one."

"About ten seconds." Greyson's face relaxed into a smile. "There's nothing to worry you in that—although I don't understand your remark."

"Cavalli's a hard nut."

"Is he? In what way?"

"He's the head of the Italian Sons of Freedom, in Australia."

"What have you to do with them?"

"My mother was Italian. Besides—"

"There was the graft, eh?" The detective paused. "So we get on to that? There's been a lot of blackmailing in the Italian colony of late. Is that it?"

"The Sons of Freedom make a bit." The man sat considering for some seconds. "Look here, Greyson. Tell me what you want to know, and I'll—"

"You tell your story from the beginning. Give me anything I can't believe and—Well, there's been a warrant out against you for the murder of the unknown girl ever since I received the finger-print photographs. I didn't make a song about it. Murder against some person, or persons, unknown, as the juries put it, suited me. Now, you're an 'unknown person.' See?"

"Well, I can't tell you who murdered the girl." Holt hesitated. "I'm going to admit I stuck the dagger in her, but the girl was dead long before I saw her. It was—"

"Start at the beginning," interrupted the detective. "You can come to the height of your beastliness in its proper place. I guess there's enough in your story to properly prepare us. You say that Cavalli is the head of the Sons of Freedom, and that you are a member of the organisation. Was the dead girl also a member?"

"Yes."

"Then now comes it you were working for Sam Kearney, when you had that graft stunt to keep you?"

"I've been working for Sam Kearney for years. Land searches, and all that. You'd be surprised how profitable it is. I say I'm the best searcher in Australia on land titles, and there's a pile of them as dead as the rats in the Registrar-General's vaults."

"That means?"

"It's like this." Holt bent forward interestedly. "In the old days of Australia a lot of queer work went on in the granting of land. Some of the grants weren't legal. Some of them have flaws sufficient to burst them right open. There's people to-day who think they have a clear title to the land they own. Well, they haven't."

"So it is your business to search out the flaws, and Sam Kearney puts the hold on the supposed owners." Greyson turned to Roy. "I suppose you're a bit surprised at that, but the Department's been smelling something of the sort for a long time. I can tell you of Government land in the heart of Sydney which, if the real heirs of certain people could be found, would cost the Government a pretty penny to get out of."

"Well, that's that, for the time. I'll have a talk with you about your land activities later, Holt. Just now I'm interested in the murdered girl—Bianca Cavalli, you called her. You and she were members of the Sons of Freedom, and Antonio Cavalli is the head. Were you there when the girl died?"

"No. First I knew about it was when Kearney sent me to Cavalli on the morning of the day Mr. Onslay found her in 7a Peyton Place."

"Kearney sent you to Cavalli?" Greyson showed surprise. "Do you mean to tell me Sam Kearney was—"

"He was." Holt nodded vigorously.

"But he's got no Italian blood in him. He can't care a curse whether Mussolini or the Communists rule Italy."

"He's got the blood of a grafter in his veins," Holt spat venomously. "A low down, bleeding grafter. Letting me in for this to save his own dirty hide! Do you think I'd have barged in on you like that if he'd told me what I was facing? Not on your pretty life!"

"That's not in the story." The detective spoke sharply. "You say Kearney—a member of the Sons of Freedom—sent you to Cavalli! Where? His shop?"

"Yes. I'd been to Melbourne on a land case and got back the day before. Took the afternoon off for a holiday. The next morning early I went down to report to Sam. He looked worried. Said Cavalli was in a bit of a hole. I was to go down and give him a hand. When I got there Cavalli showed me Bianca, dead."

"Well?"

"From what I gathered, Kearney had been down there that morning already and had told him the police must find the girl, otherwise there was a chance of him being pulled for murder. They had it all worked out." Holt paused. "Suppose you know that Cavalli was renting 7a."

"We heard something of that. But don't shorten your story for fear any of it is stale to us. I want all that's in your brain."

"What I'm telling you now, is what I learned from Cavalli." Holt appeared reluctant to continue. "I'm not going to swear it's true—you've got to take it as it was given me."

"Got ahead, can't you?" Greyson spoke irritably.

"Well, as I said, Cavalli and Kearney had worked out a scheme for someone to find the girl in 7a. All Cavalli wanted me for, was to help him get the girl there. It was a beastly job. Half-past nine in the morning, and broad daylight. I thought a 'busy' would come along any minute, but we had luck. We took her to the front upper room, where you found her—" The man broke off and nodded to Roy— "and Cavalli brought in the rugs and things and rolled her up. Just as we were going, Sam walked in."

"The girl was dressed as if she had just come in from the streets. She had all her jewellery on, and a hand-bag," objected Roy.

"That's so, and there was a darned sight more in that bag than you found. Mr. Onslay." Holt grinned. "God, how Sam roared. First thing he asked was why Cavalli had left the things on the girl. Cavalli said he had thought it best; that if he'd taken the things the police might believe she had come from somewhere near. If she wore her outdoor things, the police might believe she had wandered in there and died."

"Something in that." Greyson mused for a few seconds. "Well, get on with your tale."

"Sam searched the bag and took out quite a pile of paper the girl had there. Enough to damn Sam and the rest of us. Lor! How he roared. He carried the lot into the back room and shoved them into the grate. Then he found he hadn't a match, and that made him wilder. He shouted for me to bring him one, and when I took it to him he snatched at it, and sent his glasses flying. Of course they broke, and Sam nearly lost his head entirely. I got out. I thought he was going to 'go' the lot of us. So that's how the ash and the piece of glass got into the grate! The explanations are simple, Mr. Onslay."

"But what of the two letters I found in the handbag?" asked Roy curiously.

"They were put there later." Holt turned to Greyson. "Cavalli put them there, although the idea was Kearney's."

"Why?"

"Same reason as putting the girl dressed in all her finery in the empty house. Bit of eyewash for the police—and it acted, too."

"Well, what came next?"

"When Sam had burned the papers he went out, telling us to follow him to his offices. I was to go in ten minutes, and Cavalli half an hour later. When I got there I found Sam had a great stunt all worked out."

For some minutes the man sat back in his chair, apparently deep in thought. Twice Greyson spoke to him, and Holt motioned him to silence. At length the gangster stirred and sat upright.

"It's not easy to tell the tale straight off," he commenced. "I've got to go a long way back. You remember that Parramatta land deal you put through for Mansell and Co., when you were with them, Mr. Onslay? That subdivision. 'Surprise Estates,' I think you called it. Well, you found a lot of trouble in getting a clear title, didn't you?"

Roy looked his surprise, but at a glance from the detective merely nodded.

"Well, your trouble was that Sam wanted that land. Mansell and Co. got it because you were so darned persistent. Mark would have wavered and let go, then Sam would have come forward with some proposition that would have put the deal through. Mark would have done the work and spent the money, and Sam would have made a fine pile out of it without a stroke of work or spending a penny. That was his way. You blocked his plans. Sam never forgave you for it."

"Do you mean to say that Sam Kearney tried to fasten a suspicion of murder on Mr. Onslay because he beat him in a business deal?" asked the detective in surprise.

"Just that." Holt nodded confirmation. "Touch Sam's pride; beat him in anything he's set his heart on, and he goes mad—stark raving mad. 'Course he didn't believe he could fasten the girl's death on to you so that they would hang you for it, but he thought he could keep the secret of the girl's death by pointing suspicion at you. Then he had a lot of pull with the newspapers, and he believed that if they went for you hard enough, the matter would become so involved that it would be set amongst the unsolved mysteries of the police department."

"The brute!" Roy shuddered at the revealed animosity of the man.

Holt now spoke faster. "This is how he worked it. First, he sent me to the Central Bank with a wad of notes. I was to open an account in the name of Basil Holt, and get a cheque-book. After that I was to go to Mr. Onslay and send him to Sam with the idea of purchasing 7a Peyton Place. When Mr. Onslay went to Sam he was going to work him is such a manner that he would be curious about the house. Sam's idea was that Mr. Onslay was to go there and find the dead girl. He would then call up the police, and the play would commence."

"Which he did," commented Greyson. "Got ahead, Holt. You're decidedly interesting."

"There's better stuff to come," the man replied grimly. "I'm saying this—if Sam hadn't been in such a hole that I couldn't pull him out without leaving more than a bit of my skin behind, I'd have seen him in the hottest hell before I did what I did."

"You can make your excuses later." Greyson spoke sharply. "What was Cavalli's share in the scheme?"

"Cavalli told me his part that night. Sam sent him to the Central Bank to open an account in Mr. Onslay's name. He had it all ready, specimen signatures, and all that. Cavalli could imitate any handwriting you showed him."

"So that's how the trick was worked," Roy exclaimed in surprise. "But what of the two envelopes I found in the girl's hand-bag?"

"That'll keep." The detective interrupted quickly. "Holt, who murdered the girl? Cavalli or Kearney?"

"Wasn't Sam." The man spoke doubtfully. "She didn't interest him whatever. Although she wasn't a bad-looker by any means."

"That leaves Cavalli," commented Greyson. "Now, tell me—why was Sam Kearney so anxious to help Cavalli?"

"That's easy." Holt raised his manacled hands. "Cavalli is Judith Warbor's uncle. Sam thought that if he got some hold on Cavalli he would be able to force Judith Warbor to marry him. He was raving-crazy over the girl—was when her father was alive. The old man forbade him the house because of the way he danced after Judith—and her then only a schoolgirl."


CHAPTER XXXVI

"NOW we'll go back to the envelopes." Greyson turned with a swift smile to Roy. "Sorry to cut in on your question like that, Mr. Onslay, but we've got to get this thing in something like order. So far as I can see, at present, we're still lacking a motive for the murder, as well as any definite knowledge of the murderer."

"The envelopes!" Holt gave a short, dry laugh. "Sam has a head; he has that. If we'd left the plan as he arranged it, I wouldn't be here now. It was Cavalli, however, who started to mess things up."

"What about the envelopes?" Greyson repeated the question.

"Sam explained his plan to me when I returned from seeing Mr. Onslay. He had the Mirror spread out on the desk, and was tearing the 'Personal' column out of it. 'This'll puzzle 'em, Fred,' he said, and he picked up a blue pencil and ringed round Cavalli's advertisement about 'Lonely Lady.'"

"Two things there," interrupted Greyson. "Why did Kearney call you 'Fred?' Thought your name was Basil Holt?"

"That's the name I've used in Sam's stunts." The man grinned impudently. "My name's Fred Allan."

"Alias something else, I'm guessing." Greyson mused a moment. "We'll continue to call you Basil Holt, otherwise there may be some confusion. Now, what about these 'Lonely Lady' advertisements?"

"Cavalli's notices of meetings to the gang." Holt laughed loudly. "Cute, weren't they. No one 'ud suspect them, just one of the darn-fool advertisements always appearing in the newspapers. Take a tip from me, Mr. Greyson, some of them advertisements want watching. I've known dozens of 'em as have been put in by crooks."

"Why the various addresses?" interjected Roy. "There was one some days previous to the Peyton Place advertisement, from Warren Street, Darlinghurst."

"And there's others from other parts of Sydney," Holt turned quickly to the broker. "If you look around you'll see that every district mentioned in the advertisement has an Italian colony. The only connexion between the Warren street address and the Peyton Place one is that they refer to suburban branches of the Sons of Freedom."

"Get on with the envelopes," ordered Greyson abruptly.

"Well, as I said, when I got to his offices, Sam was tearing out the 'Lonely Lady' advertisement for the meeting at Peyton Place that night. He had a couple of envelopes on his desk, dirty and creased up. He slipped the advertisement in one of the envelopes, but didn't seal it."

"'Hold on,' said I. 'Bianca was dead before the paper was sold.'

"'All the better,' he replied. 'Those damn-fool police will be all the more puzzled. Now where's that cheque-book?' I gave it to him."

"I want a talk with Sam Kearney—and I want it bad," growled the detective, as Holt paused.

"He took the cheque-book I'd got from the Central Bank when I opened the account. For a time he sat with it in his hand, smiling unpleasantly. At length he gives it me back and opened a drawer of his desk and took out another book. 'This is better,' he said. 'When the police go to the bank to find out who had this account, they'll got friend Onslay's name. Then they won't believe there's any Basil Holt at all—and they'll have it in bigger for our dear Roy.' He tore out a form and told me to fill it in for Roy Onslay, the same as the cheque I'd given Mr. Onslay in his office."

"Slick!" Greyson's smile was decidedly twisted. "I nearly fell for it. If there hadn't been other things that looked too good, I'd have gone all the way Sam Kearney intended. As it was, the bunch of you over-reached yourselves. Get along, Holt. There's a carriage on the street waiting for you.

"Sam slipped the cheque in the other envelope and gave the two of them to me to give to Cavalli, telling me the dago knew what to do with them. I was then to keep watch on Mr. Onslay. I didn't have far to go—" He turned towards Roy. "—I hadn't got further than the corridor when I saw you coming out of the lift to go to Sam's offices. I ducked for cover, and when you went in to Sam I went down to Cavalli with the envelopes. Then I came back and watched you leave Sam's. You led me up to Mansell's, and—well, you know the rest of your movements as well as I do."

"You say Cavalli had arranged for a meeting of the gang for that evening, at 7a Peyton Place," said Greyson. "Were you going to have Mr. Onslay walk in on the gang?"

"Not on your life." Holt paused for some seconds. "Cavalli had sent the notice to the newspaper before Bianca was killed. He though if he tried to get it back it might form some clue for the police, so he left it."

"Did Kearney plan to implicate Mr. Mansell in his plot?" asked the detective.

"Not that I know of. 'Course I told him that Mr. Onslay had come to see Mansell, and he managed to get hold of what happened. In fact, when I saw Sam later he seemed certain that Mr. Onslay would go to Peyton Place that night, and he told me to warn Cavalli."

"You watched Mr. Onslay al day?"

"Off and on. Some of the watching was done by a dago that Cavalli put on, but they told me everything that had happened. Say, Mr. Onslay," Holt turned to Roy, "do you remember that waiter who served you at dinner that night? Well, he listened to all you and Mr. Mansell said, and relayed it over the telephone to Cavalli."

"You were in 7a when Mr. Onslay and Mr. Mansell arrived?" asked the detective.

"Not quite! We'd been round to one of the clubs for a drink and were on our way back when we saw them walking into Peyton Place. There was no time to get ahead of them, so we hung about and watched them enter the house. We gave them a bit of time and then followed. Y'see, it was quite safe for us to be about there. Cavalli lived next door. When he thought it safe we went to 7a and found the door unlocked and them upstairs. We went in and hid under the stairs."

"You and Cavalli were in the house all the time we were there?" asked Roy.

"Right through, and after the police arrived," answered the crook. "We heard you and Mr. Mansell talking upstairs, and watched him come down and go out, padlocking the door behind him."

"So you were caught in the house!" the detective smiled. "If I'd found that rat-hole under the stairs I'd have collared you!"

"You would that, but only because we'd chosen to stay there." Holt spoke emphatically. "Do you think Cavalli had had that place all that time without taking means to come and go without disturbing that padlock? You'd be mistaken. Cavalli wouldn't think he was doing the conspirator stunt unless he had a lot of queer doors, locks and bells about. There's a part of the shop-door frame that works on secret hinges. You can open the door, padlock and all, if you know the trick. Those dagos are damned queer. I never thought much of Cavalli's stunts until that night. They were sure good then."

"You'd got the plan all set, then," commented Greyson. "The envelopes were in the bag, to implicate Mr. Onslay, and got him interested in the house. When did you do the stabbing stunt, and the robbery?"

"Listen, and don't get too far ahead." Holt appeared to be enjoying the recital of his misdeeds. "Mr. Onslay and Mr. Mansell were upstairs, when we got into the space under the stairs. Almost at once, Cavalli commenced to growl and say we hadn't done all that was necessary to fog the police. He said that Sam was clever, but wasn't thorough. I said nothing. It was bad enough to squat there listening to the dago's growling, without arguing with him. Besides, Cavalli always had that dagger thing with him."

"Then Cavalli stabbed the dead girl's body?" cried Roy.

"I didn't say that!" Holt looked half-ashamed. "I'm telling you how things occurred. Well, Cavalli got more and more excited, and I thought of that dagger. It wasn't difficult for me to collar it. I had it safe in my belt and without him missing it, ten minutes after I remembered it. Then I thought it safe to answer him back. He wanted to go up to the girl and take her jewellery and things."

"After Mr. Onslay and Mr. Mansell had seen them on her?" asked the detective.

"Certainly, it'd be more mysterious when the police came and saw her. I didn't like interfering with Sam's plans, but at last I agreed. Didn't think it would do any harm, but it would keep the dago satisfied. We lay there and listened until Mr. Mansell came down and went out of the shop, locking the door behind him."

"You knew that Mr. Onslay remained behind?"

"That was the thing that nearly queered us. We thought the two of them would go for the police. We never expected Mr. Onslay to remain behind. That set Cavalli off again. If we were going to carry out his plan, we'd have to get Mr. Onslay out of the way—at least for a time."

"You knew it was Mr. Onslay that stayed behind?"

"Of course. We'd seen Mr. Mansell go out of the house. There's a place under the stairs where anyone can see all that goes on at the door. With Mr. Onslay upstairs, there wasn't a chance of doing anything. Cavalli was raving, and I was beginning to think about getting out of the house, and far from Peyton Place for the time."

"Well?" The detective spoke sharply, as Holt hesitated.

"Just as I was telling Cavalli to get out of the place, a ring come at the bell. Cavalli popped out and saw it was Judith Warbor. He lay back again, swearing filthy Italian oaths. I had a look out and just then Mr. Onslay came down the stairs in his stockinged feet, right over our heads. Judith must have seen him, for she got away. Mr. Onslay stopped at the door and looked out, but there wasn't anyone there then. He went to the back of the shop. Cavalli thought he had a chance, then, and worked the spring. I didn't like it, but there wasn't any sense in letting him go by himself, so I followed. He crept up the stairs to where Bianca lay. While he was taking the jewellery and the hand-bag I noticed Mr. Onslay had opened the bag and taken out the two envelopes. That made it mighty serious, for I didn't know how far it would queer Sam's plans."

"Why not have left the hand-bag?" asked Roy.

"What was the good of that, when you had the envelopes in your pocket? I was wondering what to do, when the shop bell rang the second time. That finished Cavalli. He bolted downstairs and saw Judith at the door. He went under the stairs and then Mr. Onslay passed upstairs, opened the door and followed her. I believe he bolted because he thought his dirty neck was in danger. Anyway, he left me in the soup."

"Why didn't you follow him?" asked Greyson. "There was nothing for you to remain up there for."

"Too much of a Jack-in-the-box business. I don't think as quick as those dagos. I stopped to see that it was all safe, and when I got to the top of the stairs I could see Mr. Onslay at the shop-door below. That cut me from the hiding-place and I dodged back—of course, like an ass, into the room where poor Bianca lay. Then I thought I heard him coming up, and felt for my gun. You can guess how pleased I would have been for Mr. Onslay to have caught me there! Me, who'd been to him only that day wanting to buy the beastly place. Why, it gave me cold shivers right round my neck."

"Go on shivering!" Greyson spoke with cold dislike.

"Course, the gun wasn't there." Holt ignored the detective's interjection. "The thing that was there was the dagger I'd taken from Cavalli in the dark, under the stairs. Lor', wasn't he in a sweat about the thing when he heard where it had been found. Anyway, I stood there with that thing in my hand, waiting for Mr. Onslay to come up the stairs—but I couldn't use a knife. It's too dirty—a beastly low kind of weapon only fit for dagos. I turned to place it on the mantelpiece, then saw the girl. Then came the thought that I could do something to puzzle the police and stop them wondering, while I got away. For the moment I hesitated, and then I heard Mr. Onslay's steps on the stairs. It was a beastly thing to do, and—well, it didn't hurt her, and it might have meant my life."

"Ugh!" Greyson rose from his chair and walked to the table. He poured out a tumbler of water and drank it at a gulp. "Of all the—!"


CHAPTER XXXVII

ROY leaned back in his chair, shading his face with his hand. Holt had rolled back the curtain veiling much that had happened in the upper room, following on the discovery of the body of Bianca Cavalli. There was still more to be explained. Not one word the crook had spoken led towards the identification of the murderer, or the cause of the crime. Throughout that awful half-hour, while Mark Mansell was seeking the police, he had played hide-and-seek with the two criminals in the Peyton Place house—his life had been at stake. He shuddered.

"Well. You were standing in the room by Bianca's body, listening to Mr. Onslay coming up the stairs." Greyson spoke in dry, official tones. "You had conceived a new idea for baffling the police, and had—Ugh! I can't go over that again. Get on with your story, Holt."

"I was outside the room when Mr. Onslay commenced the ascent of the stairs." The crook spoke sulkily. "There wasn't time to find a secure hiding-place. I just had to take my chance. I thought of trying for the back room and breaking through the window into the yard below while Mr. Onslay was in the front room, but he would have heard me and raised the alarm. I slipped into the little room next the front room and hid behind the door."

"But I went into that room! I pushed the door right back and searched it by the light of my torch! You couldn't have been there!" Roy spoke in great surprise.

"Just like a lot of you people!" Holt sneered. "Of course you didn't realise that the door jamb was well out from the corner of the room. That meant there was a fair angle for me to stand in when you swung the door back. All you did was to hide me in the corner. If you had come into the room and shut the door—well, I wouldn't have had a chance. But I staked on what I thought you would do—and on what you did. You shoved the door back, looked round, and called the room empty!"

"And then—" The detective spoke impatiently.

"When Mr. Onslay went into the back room, I thought I had my chance to get down to the space under the stairs, but he came out again before I could got away and went to the foot of the stairs. That cut me off from the hiding-place. You didn't think, Mr. Onslay, that if Cavalli hadn't funked it and gone from the house instead of remaining in the space under the stairs, he could have let you down on your back through the secret door and captured you? Why, but for his cowardice, we'd have had you sweet, and you'd have been as completely gone when the police came as Bianca's jewels. Just his running away prevented us making the thing a real dinkum mystery."

"And queering your plans a bit more than you did." Greyson spoke with irritation. "You crooks will never understand one thing. Babbling on, patching, mending, adding, and all that, to a good plan is just turning it into a bad one. Well."

I shan't forget those few minutes in a hurry. I thought my number was up." Holt smiled broadly. "There was I crouching on the landing, the dead girl just behind me, and Mr. Onslay quietly seated at the foot of the stairs, cutting off my escape. For the time, I really thought he had seen me behind the door and was playing possum with me. I began to get a real respect for him. He'd played me for a sucker, and I'd fallen to it. I squatted up there and cursed, good and strong. Suddenly, I saw something."

"What?" asked the detective.

"I could see he hadn't seen, or heard me. Why, if he had me bottled up there, did he want to sit at the foot of the stairs so that I could drop something good and heavy on his head? That showed me that he didn't know that I was in the house.

"Struth, Mr. Onslay. It's lucky for you there wasn't a damned thing in the whole top story that'd more'n give you a bad headache. Even my gun, that might have helped, wasn't there."

"Then I came on the scene," said Greyson. "What then? Did you light the candle then?"

"Not likely! That candle was lit before you set foot in the shop." Holt laughed again. "I was wondering how to give Mr. Onslay a jolt and shift him from the stairs, and let me go to the hiding-place, when I heard someone fumbling with the padlock on the door. 'That's the police.' said I to myself. 'Now if I can give them something to discuss, that Mr. Onslay doesn't know of, I may manage to get somewhere safe.' It was just like being in a dream. I hadn't thought of the candle before. I don't believe I remembered I'd seen it when I helped carry the girl up there earlier in the day. Yet I suddenly knew all about it. Why, Mr. Greyson, you'd hardy stepped inside the shop when I was in the room and had the candle alight. Then I slipped into the back room and waited for you all to come upstairs."

"Why the hell didn't I leave someone at the shop-door?" grumbled Greyson under his breath.

"You didn't, and I don't think it would have mattered if you had." Holt spoke thoughtfully. "It might have made it a bit more risky, and perhaps I'd have had to wait up there a bit longer. I reckoned, you see, that when Mr. Onslay saw the candle burning in the room he'd cry out, and you'd all come tumbling up to have a look. It worked, as I thought. He cried out, and you all crowded around him to see what had happened. I slid downstairs, walked out of the front door and ducked into Cavelli's place. Y'see, if you'd left a man at the door, all I'd have had to do was to walk down on him as if I had been in the house with Mr. Onslay all the time. He'd have let me through, sure enough. Or I could have sent him up to you, on some pretext. Anyway, it was 'good bye' for me."

The man raised his manacled hands to his face and blew a kiss from his fingertips. Roy leaned back in his chair and looked at the detective. Greyson rose to his feet and paced up and down the room. As he turned he caught Roy's eyes and burst out laughing.

"You say Miss Judith Warbor came to the door of the shop while Mr. Onslay was upstairs, and rang the bell. Do you know what for?" asked Greyson, stopping suddenly before his prisoner.

"Remember Sam Kearney, sending for you the next day and offering to sell the place to you, lock, stock and barrel?" Holt turned to the broker. "Did you find out his reason?"

"No."

"Well, anyway you know he did, and you bought. Directly you'd gone out of his offices he rang up the newspapers and told them of the deal, making them believe you'd bullied him into it. It was that, and little things I picked up later that told me the whole story. I've told you that Sam Kearney had a big crush on Judith Warbor?"

"We've got a letter from Mark Mansell telling us about Kearney's persecution of Miss Warbor," said Roy quickly.

"All the same, we'll have Holt's version." The detective frowned at the broker.

"Miss Warbor saw Sam the morning Bianca Cavalli died," continued the crook. "I don't know what happened, but Sam had a grouch you couldn't help treading on. When he'd had a talk to Cavalli, after he'd planned out the Peyton Place mystery to suit himself, he was much happier. From what Cavalli said to me, I had the opinion that Sam had the goods on Cavalli and Judith, and soon the wedding-bells would be ringing over him."

"So you think Miss Warbor went to Cavalli for help, or to hide from Sam Kearney? Did Cavalli tell you that, or did you guess it?"

"Cavalli told me a lot." Holt spoke hesitatingly. "I suppose Mr. Onslay, you'd look at things different from me. I was working for Sam, and taking his money. He didn't pay bad at all, but he's got a foul tongue, blast him. I'd had the length and width of it, and I know. Now, what Cavalli told me didn't refer to any job I had in hand for Sam. About that work, I keep my own counsel. See?"

Roy nodded. He was heart-sick of the world of crime and violence he was now glimpsing. He was learning that there is no honour among rogues and murderers. Kearney had betrayed Holt, and the crook was answering back with a full list of the speculator's misdeeds. He was learning that men looked up to in the commercial world of the city, were sometimes no better than the crooks who thronged the underworld of Surry Hills and Darlinghurst.

"Well, I'm telling the tale as I pieced it together, not as I picked it up. Seems like after Bianca had been found and Sam had raised the hue and cry after Mr. Onslay, he thought he had all the trumps in his hand. He had planned to induce Mr. Onslay to try and purchase the Place—to get him to discover Bianca's body. Now he thought if he made it a real sale he would have Cavalli eating out of his hand for fear of the Sons of Freedom use of 7a being discovered. That meant that, at any time Sam, could switch suspicion on to Cavalli—and he believed Judith would do a bit to save her uncle. To save himself and his activities at 7a, Cavalli would bring pressure to force Judith to comply with Sam's wishes. It nearly worked out as he planned. Now, you see, Mr. Onslay, all that you did, played right into Sam's hands. The only thing you did that wasn't according to plan, was when you refused to sell the Place back again to Sam when he had Judith and Cavalli willing to go to any lengths he wished."

Roy nodded. He had thought he had taken an independent line. He had prided himself that he was controlling events—compelling others to dance to the tune he called, and all the time he had been a marionette, dancing to the strings pulled by a master crook.

"When Judith Warbor left Sam the day Bianca died, having declined his hand and heart again, both much damaged, I'd say," continued the crook, "she seemed to have an idea that Sam had not placed all his cards on the table. So she quietly disappeared, and even that girl who lives with her swore she didn't know where she was. Where she went to, for the first few hours after leaving Kirri-end I don't know. One thing I do know—she went to Cavalli's the night you first went to 7a Peyton Place."

"Drop that until you have finished with Sam Kearney and his scheming, over the Peyton Place property," commanded the detective.

"Can't." Holt turned truculently towards the detective. "If you want my tale you'll have to take it my way. I say that on that night Judith Warbor came to Cavalli's shop and found him in 7a."

"She remained with Cavalli and Beatrice Cavalli, altering her appearance slightly, but enough to deceive anyone who only saw her occasionally, unless they came face to face with her," suggested Roy.

"That's so," agreed Holt. "It was some time before Sam found her out, and then he started another persecution of the poor girl. He'd tricked Mr. Onslay into purchasing the Place, and offered Judith and Cavalli he would get it back if she would marry him. I believe she did promise that, when he placed the leases of the Place in her hands, she would marry him, but there Mr. Onslay stood in the road. Sam couldn't force him to sell. He went about in such a stinking rage that it wasn't safe to be near him."

"But Miss Warbor was in favour of my purchase of the Place and my proposal to pull it down. I got a message from her to that effect." exclaimed Roy.

"Did you?" Holt looked puzzled for a moment. "Oh, I see. That girl's damned clever. She'd told Sam she'd marry him when he got back the leases and handed them to her. At the same time she was encouraging you to pull down the Place! She was playing you off one against the other. She wouldn't marry Sam until he got the leases and she was strengthening you not to sell. My opinion is that she was damned sick of Sam and Cavalli. Perhaps she thought the dago would bolt, and she could defy Sam. Perhaps that's why Cavalli went to Mark Mansell."

"Cavalli went to Mansell?" Greyson was standing in the centre of the room, very alert.

"Yes." Holt spoke slowly. "He went to him, to try and buy 7a Peyton Place. He was going to take the cash out of the Sons of Freedom funds. Eh?"

"Go on talking, you two." Greyson whispered so low that they could scarcely catch his words. "There's some one in the outer office. Play my game, Holt, and I'll make it as easy for you as I can. Go against me, and I'll—"

The detective slipped off his shoes as he spoke, and stood listening for a few moments and he passed out of the room into the corridor. Roy followed him to the door and locked it, leaving the key in the lock. He returned to his chair before the crook, and tried to talk, but the words would not come freely. His senses were alert to try and fathom the silence in the outer office.

"God!" Holt had risen to his feet.

"Can't you get these off, Mr. Onslay. Let me free and I'll help you and the 'dick' all I can. If it's Sam, and he's heard me telling the tale, he'll—God!"

The door between the offices suddenly burst open and two men tumbled into the room, a squirming, writhing mass of whirling arms and legs.


CHAPTER XXXVIII

THE struggle was quickly over. Greyson had the advantage of surprise, and tumbled into the room on top of his captive. Before Roy could go to his help, he had his man pinned to the floor and looked up, nodding to the door leading to the corridor.

"Locked." The broker replied to the unspoken question. "Let him up, Greyson. He can't get away."

The detective rose to his feet, and turning to the door between the offices, locked it and put the key into his pocket. The man he had thrown into the room lay still, breathing heavily. Roy bent down and turned him on his back. He was hardly surprised when he saw the face of the Italian, Antonio Cavalli.

"Heard someone breathing heavily outside that door for quite a while." The detective was standing, looking down on his new prisoner. "It didn't suit me to disturb him for a time. Better to let him get thoroughly interested in what was going on, before tackling him. Got him easily, then!"

"Cavalli!" Roy looked inquiringly at the police officer. "When you spoke I guessed it was Sam Kearney."

"Him, or Cavalli, and I guessed the latter." Greyson jerked the man to his feet. "Pity I haven't another pair of cuffs here, but it doesn't matter. We can handle him, and in a few minutes we'll run the two of them down to the van. My men will be wondering what has become of me. Still, I'd like a little information from this fellow first!"

"It is an outrage." The Italian shrugged his shoulders. "I come to see my friend, Mister Sam Kearney, and you attack me and throw me to the floor. You have damaged my collar. See, it is bent."

"Look out you don't wear a different kind of cravat." The detective thrust the man roughly into a seat facing him and surveyed his prisoners with much satisfaction.

"Now, if your friend Sam Kearney would only walk in on us the picture would he complete; but I've no hope of that. Now, there's two charges of murder and three charges of being accessory to the murders, to divide between you. How's it to be done?"

"Murder?" The Italian swung round quickly on the chair and made to rise. The detective suppressed him with a heavy hand. "What murder is it that you make?"

"The murder of your adopted daughter, Bianca Cavalli." Greyson spoke brutally. "What's your part in the game? Speak up!"

"Bianca! She is—! You have to say to me—! No, no! It is not possible! Bianca is—!"

"That's enough of that!" Greyson drew his chair so that he sat almost between the prisoners. "We know that you carried the dead body of your adopted daughter, Bianca, to the upper front room of 7a Peyton Place on the morning of twenty-seventh of February, and left her there to be found by Mr. Onslay. We know that—in fact, we know the whole beastly story. Now, I want to hear what you have to say?"

"If you know the story there is for me to keep the silence." The Italian shrugged his shoulders and turned in his chair to face the police officer. "So?"

Greyson's heavy hand swung the man round to face his fellow prisoner.

"That's the line you propose to take? Well, as you won't talk, I will. You can contradict me if you want to, Cavalli, but I'm going to remind you that you will probably stand your trial for the murder of your adopted daughter. That means that anything you say to me will be used against you, if necessary."

"Stand trial?" The man's eyes blazed with almost a fanatic light. "You mean you will put me in prison for that you say! For that you say I killed Bianca? It is—it is ridiculous; she, the girl I love; that I—"

"There's you, and Holt, and Sam Kearney." The detective took no heed of the man's voluble talk. "It's one of the three of you, and I want to know which. So far as I can judge, it may be any one of you. Sam's got another change of murder over his head, and Holt's told a story. You talk—but there is nothing in it to listen to. So, just hold your tongue until the van comes. We'll take you for a short ride, and at the end of it you'll have a cool month or two to consider what you're going to hang on. Savee?"

"Basil Holt has spoken?" Cavalli stared at the crook with malignant eye. "And the story he has told is that I killed Bianca?"

"No—" Holt broke in suddenly, before the detective could speak. "I didn't say that. I told what happened around Peyton Place, since Sam Kearney sent me to you to get you out of some trouble you'd got into."

"Did he?" Greyson leaned forward interestedly. "Some trouble Cavalli had got into! Interesting! Now, I wonder if that trouble was murder?"

"It is not true." Cavalli burst into a flow of fluent Italian. Greyson did not interrupt him, although he did not understand a word. At length Cavalli quieted and changed into English.

"The girl is dead. You have seen how it happened. There in the dagger. It is in her breast. What more is there to say? He stabbed her."

"Quite so." Greyson laid a heavy restraining hand over Holt's bound wrists. "He admits it. Trouble is that the girl had been dead some hours before he stabbed her."

"Dead?" Cavalli's simulation of surprise was perfect.

"Yes. Dead, Cavalli." There was a steely glint in the hard eyes of the police officer. "Dead. And you know it. Bianca Cavalli was poisoned, not stabbed."

For a long minute there was absolute silence in the office! Greyson was watching the two men closely. Holt was looking down at his manacled hands. The eyes of the Italian were boring into his confederate's face, trying to read his thoughts.

"Yes! Poisoned!" Greyson spoke again, breaking a silence that was becoming oppressive. "Remember, I can't force you to talk. I've got to take you anyhow, and hold you for trial on the charge of being concerned in the girl's death. But I can give you one chance. I'm free to acknowledge that I can't decide who is the murderer. As I said, its either you. Holt, or Kearney. I'm willing to swear it's one of the three of you, but for the life of me I can't decide which. I'm charging all three of you, leaving it to time and the prosecution to sort out which it is. Holt says he stabbed the girl after she was dead. You say he stabbed the girl, but you deliberately inferred she was alive when he drove the dagger in her breast. That looks to me as if you wanted to put Holt away for the murder. To be candid. I believe a whole lot of what Holt's told me. It fits in with what I know—but he hasn't told me all. I try to be fair, Cavalli. If you've got a story to tell that will help you, and if you put it to me to examine, I will rake it over and do the best I can for you. I can't say more. You've five minutes to make up your mind—and that isn't long."

The detective rose to his feet and walked to the window. He stood there for some minutes looking down on the street below. The prisoners sat silent, Cavalli glaring at the man opposite with deadly hate in his fiery southern eyes. Roy wandered restlessly around the room. So far as he could judge Greyson had come up against a blank wall in his investigations.

Holt had told a straight story, and one that fitted in with the facts known to the broker. He had explained most of the mystery surrounding the death of Bianca Cavalli. But his story was not complete. So far as it went, it freed him from complicity in the actual charge of murder that had hung over his head for days. It had explained the plans of the band of crooks, who had schemed to make him suffer in their stead. It had revealed the crooked paths Sam Kearney had trod. But not one word of Holt's story went to show how the girl had come by her death, and who had murdered her. Not one of the facts unearthed led to a reason for the crime. Now, almost at the end of the long trail, suspicion fastened on three men, and not one fact showed to discriminate between them.

"Look here, Cavalli." Greyson had come back to his prisoners. "I'm open to believe you didn't murder your adopted daughter. More, along the lines of evidence I've obtained, I'm willing to believe Sam Kearney knows a lot about the murder, even if he didn't commit the crime himself. I'm going to ask you a few questions that may clear the ground a bit. Answer them if they don't commit you to anything serious."

For a space he stood looking down on the men whom he believed to be at the centre of the mystery that he was trying to penetrate. Roy could see that the detective was at a loss. He was castling round for some clue that would lead him to the final truth.

"Kearney's up for murder, anyway." Greyson spoke as if communing with his own thoughts. "There doesn't seem a doubt but that he knocked or threw Mark Mansell into the harbour. I've direct evidence of that. A bit of a search and I'll support that evidence with other facts. Now, a man who's committed one murder is likely to commit another, if he thinks by doing so he can get away with both crimes. I can't but believe that Mark Mansell knew a lot more than he said in his letter to Mr. Onslay. In fact he states that, in the letter. Had he lived until today, it's more than probable we'd have had the whole affair cleared up by this time. Well it can't be helped. Say, Cavalli, Miss Warbor is your niece?"

"Si!" The man looked up, startled. Greyson had asked the question suddenly at the end of what sounded like a dreary monologue.

"And Bianca Cavalli was also a relation?"

"No, no." The man spoke quickly. "Bianca was but my adopted daughter. She was the child of a friend who suffered—who died under—Italian political tragedy."

Greyson interrupted quickly. "We'll leave that for a time. Now, Miss Warbor is the daughter of your half-sister?"

"Si!"

"When you made Italy too hot for yourself you came to Australia and got in touch with Miss Warbor. I suppose your half-sister was dead before you arrived in New South Wales?"

"She and her husband." Cavalli crossed himself. "Yes. I came and asked help of my niece."

"And she refused?"

"No, no! She would have me live at the big house across the water. I would not. I would have—have—"

"One bit of decency in you that you didn't take your grafting politics into her home. So you got her to let you take the Peyton Place shop?"

"She did recommend me to Mr. Sommers, who, at the time did own it. Yes." Cavalli was talking easily.

"Sommers?" Greyson looked puzzled. "Oh, that was before Sam Kearney bought the leases?"

"In time Mr. Kearney became the owner of the shop," Cavalli assented. "It was after then, and—"

"When did you first drag Miss Warbor into your beastly Italian political plots?" Greyson was bending down, his face almost touching the man's.

"What you know?" The words came as a sibilant hiss, after a long pause.

"I know that you mixed up that girl in your grafting politics, under the pretext of working for her mother's country." The detective's tone was merciless. "You can't deny it. Now how did you manage to drag Sam Kearney into your underground schemes and plans?"

"What you know?" The small eyes had become crafty and secretive. "Who told you?"

"Told me of the Sons of Freedom and their blackmailing stunts?" Greyson leaned bark in his chair and laughed. "Well, your friend Holt seems to know a lot."

"T-r-raitor! Spy!" Cavalli's lean body shot forward at the handcuffed man, fingers twitching, his face working with passion. "You die, t-r-raitor! You die!"

Before Greyson could interfere the Italian had Holt by the throat. For a moment the two fought, linked together over the falling chairs. Greyson got a hold of the Italian and pulled him back from the crook. Holt rose to his feet, his bound hands clutching at his torn throat. For a few seconds he gurgled and choked. Then, lifting his handcuffed hands on high he brought them down with crushing force on the Italian's head. The metal caught the man on the temple and he collapsed, bleeding from a ghastly wound.


CHAPTER XXXIX

"THAT'S the end of that!" Greyson stood with Roy on the pavement outside Aiken House, watching the police van drive towards Hunter Street. "We got something out of that pair of crooks, but we'll have to pick up Sam Kearney before we get to the bottom of the muddle."

"Where's he gone to?" Roy asked the question curiously. He had been trying to work out in his mind, Kearney's line of flight.

"If Cavalli hadn't come to Kearney's offices I'd have been inclined to think he'd gone to earth in Peyton Place," replied the detective. "Anyhow I'm going to have the Place searched this afternoon. No need for you to be there. I shan't go myself. The men who make the search will be instructed to detain everyone they find in the houses who can't give a complete account of themselves. No, Kearney's not gone there. He's not the sort of man to skulk in a cellar. We've interfered too badly in his plans for him to rest hidden. He'll be out for revenge, or to get right away with what loot he can gather."

"Who murdered Bianca Cavalli?" Roy asked the question as the detective was walking away.

Greyson came to a sudden halt.

"Ask me that, and I'll give you the complete story from the moment you and Mr. Mansell entered Peyton Place to the time the murderer stands on the scaffold, with motives and everything complete. As it is, I'm feeling my way along a track with my eyes blindfolded. Cavalli could tell us a lot, but he won't talk at present. Maybe, when he's had a few days in the cooler he'll be more talkative, especially if I pick up Sam Kearney in the meantime."

"Did Cavalli murder the girl?"

"What do you think?"

"I can't make up my mind." Roy tilted his hat to the back or his head and rubbed his forehead thoughtfully. "At first I thought he had; but the evidence is just as complete against Holt and Kearney. If only I could see the motive—"

That's where I'm at fault," Greyson said ruefully. "In most murder cases the motive becomes apparent soon after the trail is picked up, if it isn't sticking out over the murdered party. Oh, why scratch your head. I've been doing it that night and day for the past week. I wake up in the nights, finding myself trying to stir the grey matter into activity, but it's no use. Tell me who murdered the girl and I'll find the motive immediately. Tell me the motive and I'll have my hand on the murderer's shoulder before you sneeze twice."

"Cavalli didn't." Roy spoke with some assurance. "I was watching him upstairs, and he showed that the death of that girl had cut him up badly. He was just itching to have a go at someone when Holt's statement, or rather your outline of Holt's statement, sent him off at the deep end. I don't know which the Italian hates the most, Kearney or Holt!"

"And Holt's certain that Kearney hadn't enough interest in the girl to cause her harm. Well, well! The solution lies between Holt, Cavalli and Kearney. When I collect the last of my chickens, I'll have the tangled skein wholly in my hands, and can unravel it at my leisure. What are you going to do now?"

Roy did not reply immediately. He felt himself at a loss, after the swift happenings of the past days. So far as he was concerned, the Peyton Place mystery had been solved. The arrest of Basil Holt and Cavalli and the flight of Sam Kearney would effectually put an end to the newspaper persecution that he had been subjected to. When Kearney fell into the hands of the police, the final details would be settled. In all probability he would read the name of Bianca Cavalli's murderer and the motive for the crime in the newspapers—unless Greyson, as a matter of courtesy, first informed him of those things over the telephone.

"He would have to pick up the threads of his former life. For the moment, he experienced a revulsion of feeling at having to go back to the hum-drum days of the average citizen, after the excitement of the man-hunt. Yet, it would not be quite the same. He had added interests. Into his life had come the one woman, Rene Wesche. At his darkest hour she had come to him, given him strength and courage to strive onwards and upwards, against the powers of evil that seemed overwhelmingly strong. She was his promise for the future. They—

"That Peyton Place wants attending to." Greyson spoke without looking at the broker, yet with intent. "I'll see that nothing at our end interferes with you. In fact, I'll have a word with the commissioner this afternoon and get him to wise up some of those birds at City Hall. This affair's a fine lever to bring the Place down with. Cavalli's been using it for foreign conspiracies and even City Aldermen are too good Australians to allow the beastly mess of European underground polities to get a footing here. By the way, Mr. Onslay, I'm taking Herbert Thye out of your offices directly I can get a telephone—but I don't think that will be the last of him there. When he goes finally, you'll be busy searching for another typist."

"All right." Roy spoke casually. "I'll go up to the office and have a look around. Don't feel much like work for the remainder of the day, but there may be some matters needing my attention. To-morrow, I'll—"

He did not finish his sentence. Greyson bad darted into the road and was boarding a passing tram. Slowly and dispiritedly, Roy walked down to Peyton Place corner and stood watching the few people passing up and down that squalid thoroughfare.

An impulse to have another look at the antique-shop came to him. A young boy lounged at the door-post. He spoke to the boy and was informed that Cavalli was absent for the time, but would return later. The youngster spoke with a sense of deep injury at being left alone in the shop. Cavalli had been gone a long time—

Roy stepped into the porch of 7a and peered into the shop. He had the keys in his pocket, but did not unfasten the padlock. For a few seconds he carefully examined the door frame. He believed he could trace the outline of the secret door that the Italian had ingeniously constructed around the real door.

He passed on and out into Macquarie Place. The two corner houses belonged to him. In his mail that morning, had been a letter from his solicitors informing him that it was now safe to commence the work of demolition. He was certain of obtaining the consent of the City Council to the closing of the thoroughfare. Sir Matthew Hyston was seriously engaged in the preparations of the plans for the new hotel. A building company was being formed, in which he had a large holding. In a few days the Place would be included in the past history of the ever-growing city of the south.

He walked across the Macquarie Place gardens to the corner of Bent Street and up to his offices. Isobel Malim was at work in the outer office. She looked up with a bright-smile as he came round the counter. He opened the door of his room. It was empty.

"Mr. Thye left, Miss Malim?" Roy smiled at the instant flush that rose to her cheeks.

"Just gone, Mr. Onslay. Did you want him?" She made a little significant pause. "He didn't say when he was coming back."

"No?" Roy laughed slightly. "I believe I may have a chance of seeing him about one o'clock, don't you think so?"

Again the swift colour rose to the girl's cheeks. Roy passed into his room and closed the door. He could not help wondering whether a girl on the other side of the harbour flushed when his name was mentioned to her. It would be great to think so, to—

With a shrug of his shoulders he tried to concentrate on the little business that awaited him. A few minutes and he had finished. Picking up his notes and his hat he went into the outer office. When he had dictated a couple of letters he looked at his watch. It was just four o'clock.

"I'm off, Miss Malim."

Roy came to a sudden resolution. To-morrow he would start a new day, putting from his mind all thought of the Peyton Place mystery. "For the next half hour you may get me at Sir Matthew Hyston's. After that I shall go over to Kirribilli, and then home. There's nothing to detain you now, but tomorrow things are going to hum."

"Five o'clock will suit me very well, Mr. Onslay." There was a quaint primness in the girl's tones. At the door Roy turned and looked back at the bobbed head bent to the typewriter. Some instinct caused the girl to suddenly look round and catch the glint of amusement in his eyes. Then, because happiness had come to them both, and they were still young, they laughed immoderately.

Again on the street, Roy hesitated. He had said he would go to Sir. Matthew Hyston's offices. He had turned in the direction of Pitt Street and was just on the point of crossing to the Hunter-street corner when he had to spring back to the pavement to avoid a furiously-driven taxi. He looked round at the driver, and the frown on his face changed to open wonder. Sam Kearney was in that taxi. Roy was certain he had not been mistaken. The man had been sitting forward, staring out of the window. He had grinned wickedly when he noticed that his taxi had almost run Roy down.

Then, suddenly, he sat back, as if remembering he must not be seen.

Where was Kearney going to? His taxi was heading down towards Circular Quay. Around Sydney Cove lay the wharves, for the Islands and American boats. On the shores of Miller's Point, and away towards Balmain, lay hosts of steamers loading for various ports of the world. Far to the east was Woolloomooloo, and more wharves. To get to them would mean a big detour through the Outer and Inner Domain.

To board a boat to any place outside of Australia, Sam Kearney must obtain a passport. He had not had time to comply with the many formalities. Already the authorities would have been informed by the police that the speculator was wanted for murder. His description would be in their hands. No, Roy was convinced that the man was not planning to leave the country. The gates of the continent were shut and barred against him. Kearney was not now trying to escape. The fleeting glance Roy had caught of the big man's face had shown it inflamed with hate and the lust for revenge. On whom? Greyson, the police officer, did not count. Kearney would acknowledge him as but part of the machinery of the law he had defied.

Roy? The man had not stopped his taxi when he saw him in the street. Circular Quay held, on its right-hand point, the vehicular ferry to the North Shore, and Judith Warbor had gone to her home at Kirri-end.

A wandering taxi came close to where Roy was standing. He seized the door and wrenched it open.

"Quick! The vehicular punt at Bennelong Point."

Roy was already on the seat before the driver had touched his gears.

"Double fare if you catch the next punt."

The words galvanised the man to action. Roy was thrown violently against the hard cushions as the machine jumped forward. In fewer seconds than he believed possible they were speeding down the long hill to the Quay. At the tram bend the car shot across the road and rapidly passed the lines of low wooden sheds—the first wharves Sydney possessed.

"Keep your place in the line and go on board the next punt." Roy stepped from the car and pressed a note into the driver's hand when they drew up behind the waiting vehicles. "Watch out for me, if I miss you before you get on board, but I'll be there when the punt sails. Keep a still tongue in your head. You're on police business."

The man nodded briefly and sat stolidly, looking along the long line of vehicles. Roy walked round to the back of the car and noted the number. He strolled forward up the line, carefully examining the many taxies drawn up. Kearney had occupied a 'Blue and White' taxi. The near mudguard had been badly crumpled in a recent accident, and only roughly straightened.

Roy believed he could pick out the car again, although he had but a fleeting glimpse of it. A "Blue and White" taxi stood a long distance ahead of Roy's car. Keeping well out of range of the windows, Roy carefully examined it. He noted the crumpled mudguard. He was certain it was the car, but he dared not go forward in search of Kearney. If the big man saw him he would know he had been recognised and followed. He might continue in the taxi, possibly dropping Roy's car, for the "Blue and White" were high-powered and mainly used for running long distances. Roy's taxi would have no chance of keeping it in sight, in anything like a long chase.

Roy went hack to his car. For the moment he did not know how to act. He could follow Kearney, and so long as the cars kept to the well-frequented thoroughfares, track the man down. But that would serve but little purpose. At some time he would have to leave the trail to get in touch with the police. It would be well to communicate with Greyson as quickly as possible. On the other side of the harbour the opportunities of telephoning police headquarters would be fewer. The line of cars might wait at the punt gates for some minutes. It was the best opportunity he might have for some time to get to the telephone.

The open doors of the big wharf-shed caught his eyes. A man was lounging in the doorway, smoking a cigarette, despite a notice directly over his head which prohibited smoking. Roy crossed the road to him. "Where can I get the use of a telephone? Urgent business!" he asked, pressing a coin into the man's ready palm.

"Through the iron gates." The man pointed to the iron railings at the head of the Point. "Small hut, just past the gates to the left. Go round on to the wharf and in at the door there. Mr. Smith'll let you use the telephone. Thank you, sir."

A line of vehicles were coming from the punt dock. In a few minutes the ferry would finish discharging the vehicles it had brought from the North Shore and would load for the return journey. Roy hesitated. Could he make it before the punt left the dock. He believed he could, and raced for the iron gates.

"Telephone!" Roy burst into the little office in a whirlwind of commotion. "Quick man! Where is it? A matter of life and death!"

"Through the door. Up against the woodwork." The man at the desk looked up startled.

"Steady! Don't knock the place down. It isn't very strong."

The instrument hung on the wall just inside the doorway. Roy seized the receiver and dialled "information." He could not remember police headquarters' number, and dared, not waste the time searching the ponderous telephone directory. The Exchange did not answer, immediately, and Roy impatiently jiggled the hook. At length, a girl's slow voice expressed strong disapproval of his behaviour and threatened to report him to the Superintendent.

"Never mind that." Roy cut in impatiently. "Get me police headquarters. Quick! Quick! It's important."

He turned from the instrument. Behind him was a small window, and through it he could see the line of vehicles moving slowly towards the punt dock. Unless he got police headquarters immediately he would fail to catch his taxi on the punt. Already the tail of the waiting line was passing out of sight, behind the low wooden shed at the head of the dock.

"Police headquarters." A calm male voice spoke over the wire. "Roy Onslay speaking. Tell Greyson I'm trailing Sam Kearney, wanted for murder. Now at Bennelong Point. Going on punt for North Shore. Got that, man? For heaven's sake, make haste. I've got to catch this boat or lose track or him—"

"Yep." The man's voice was slow and assured. "Greyson's somewhere about the place. I'll get the message to him at once. Say, where do you think he's going? Can you follow and communicate later?"

"Try!" Roy was thinking rapidly. "He's got a high-powered car, but I don't think he knows I'm on his trail."

"No idea where he's bound for?"

"Yes!" Roy became suddenly very certain. "Tell Greyson to come at once to Kirri-end—Miss Judith Warbor's home. Kearney is making for there."

He jabbed the receiver on the hook without waiting for a reply and dashed for the door. The line of vehicles was still moving towards the punt. A sharp sprint and he jumped over the drawbridge as the barrier rose from the edge of the dock.


CHAPTER XL

ROY found his taxi, one of the last to board the punt, and spoke to the driver. He then climbed to the upper-deck of the queer superstructure, built around the engines and smokestack. From there he could overlook the vehicle deck, and probably pick up some trace of his quarry. There were several taxies on the punt, almost lost in a welter or private cars and nondescript vehicles.

Roy soon identified his taxi, right at the rear of the punt, and then looked forward for Kearney's car. There were five "Blue and White" taxies and for a time he was unable to decide which car held the speculator. He descended to the main deck and wandered idly forward, examining each car carefully before passing it.

Almost at the bows stood a "Blue and White" taxi with a crumpled mudguard. It bore the same number as the car he had identified in the waiting line at the Point. He had an impulse to go forward beside the car and look in at the window. Kearney would see him if he did so, but there was no chance of his escaping from the boat, now well out on the harbour. If the big man lost his temper and became violent there were plenty of people on board to control him. Roy could appeal to the skipper of the boat, claiming that a warrant was in existence for Kearney's arrest, on a charge of murder. There was a big element of risk. Kearney might manage to escape from the punt.

Roy fell that Greyson would prefer him to continue on the track of the man, unsuspected by him. The detective was, no doubt, already on the trail. Possibly the vehicular punt then going into Bennelong Point dock would bring the police officer to North Shore. Even if Kearney did not go to Kirri-end Roy might find an opportunity to get in touch with the house. The detective would certainly wait there for some message. Roy went back to his car. The driver was dozing in his seat, a cigar hanging from his lips. Roy shook him by the shoulder. The man opened his eyes with a start.

"There?" The man looked over the side of the punt. "No. What's the hurry, guv'nor. We'll be one of the last off the punt. I can't drive over the tops of the cars in front or me, even it they'd let me try."

"There will be plenty or time to hurry later on." Roy tried to speak coolly. "Do you remember what I told you when I left you over the other side?"

"Police business!" The man looked at Roy sharply. "I don't want to be mixed up in that sort of thing. Don't do a man of my standing any good. Surely there's enough of the 'dicks' to look after their own business. I don't owe them anything."

"Nothing to hurt you in this." Roy recognised the man as one of the growing class who prefer to stand aside from the continual battle between the law and criminals. "Listen. There's a man in a taxi ahead who's wanted for the Peyton Place murder. I want to find out where he goes."

"You're not a 'busy?'" The man looked at Roy curiously.

"No. But I'm very greatly interested in the affair." The broker hesitated, not quite knowing how much he dared to reveal. "The police officer in charge of the case is trailing on after us. I saw the man in Sydney and am keeping on his track."

"Every one to his trade." The man shrugged his shoulders. "Which is his car?"

"A 'Blue and White' right ahead. Crumpled mudguard on rear side. Should be a big beefy man in the car. Hefty man with clean-shaven, very florid face. Hair well back from his forehead. Wears glasses, smokes cigars and continually twitches them from one side of his mouth to the other—nervous trick of the lips. Think you would recognise him from that description?"

"Try!" The man slipped from his seat to the deck of the punt. "Want me to have a look and see if he's there? I suppose he'd recognise you?"

"He knows me well, and saw me in Bent Street just before you came along. If he saw me again—"

"All right." The driver tossed the butt of his cigarette over the side of the vessel and strolled forward. He was absent about five minutes. Roy saw him pass along the rows of vehicles and come to the taxi in which he believed Kearney to be seated. For a time the man leaned against the car talking to the driver. At length, he turned and sauntered back to his car.

"He's there, all right." The man reported. "Sitting back in the car and chewing on a cigar. Pulling at his left ear in an uncanny sort of manner. Lor' and ain't he wild. Glared at me for even speaking to his driver. What d'you say he's done?"

Roy glanced at the man quickly. He was honest, in a careless haphazard, way. The dishonesty of other people would not distress him. He would be a friend to a crook as well as to an honest man. He might prefer the society of a crook, but he would not become a crook, himself—unless life went very hard with him. There was no moral consideration for, or against, a life of crime. His actions were 'ruled' and, ordered by expediency.

"Remember the story of the man who fell in the harbour from the ferry boat, yesterday afternoon?" asked Roy suddenly. He made up his mind to play on this man's sympathies. "Well, this morning a deck-hand on the ferry came to the detective in charge of the case and reported he had reason to believe the man in the taxi ahead deliberately threw Mr. Mansell into the water. The detective was in my offices at the time. That's how I came to know of it."

"What does he say?" The man jerked his thumb towards the forepart of the boat.

"When asked to account for his movements yesterday afternoon he declined to answer. When faced with the man who made the statement he went all to pieces for a time. Later, by a trick, he managed to escape."

"Guilty, right enough." The driver spat over the side of the boat, disgustedly. "Thought you said something about the Peyton Place affair?"

"There's a warrant out for him in connection with that murder also."

"You're not thinking of tackling him?" The man spoke with some appreciation of Kearney's bulk.

"No." Roy smiled at the idea of him attempting to cope with the speculator. "All I have to do is to keep track of him until the police catch up to us. Then I'm out of it. I believe he is making for ii certain house in Kirribilli."

"Yep?"

"Do you know Kirri-end, in Elamong Avenue?"

"Yes. Miss Warbor's place. I used ter—" The man hesitated a moment, then continued: "Say, the bloke up front is Sam Kearney, isn't he?"

Roy nodded. The man was looking keen and inquisitive.

"Miss Judith Warbor! I knew her, too." The man spoke meditatively. "Used ter drive her a lot when I 'ad a 'Golden Eagle.' the likes of 'er don't use a 'Yeller and Green.' They likes a toffy car."

"What did you give up the 'Golden Eagle' for?" asked Roy.

"Gave me up! I went shy on one of the Company's rules. Turned up at the yard lost to the world. That was the end of it. Couldn't got anything better than this, and on the wagon, too. God! It ain't punishment, not 'arf!"

"You said you knew Sam Kearney?" prompted Roy.

"Yes. He's not a bad sort. Driven 'im for years. Driven 'im and 'er together, too. An' I've driven 'im when 'e didn't care whether a Aussie, or th' devil was at th' wheel."

"When was that?"

"When 'e'd got th' devil from the juice-bottle inside 'im. Say, what's 'e done with that blonde' tart he knocked about with for a time. Lor', she was a looker. Real smart, an' 'air as fine as silk. She wasn't Aussie either, although I never 'eard' 'er name. E uster pick 'er 'up outside 'is offices. Wait there wit' 'is foot on th' fender ov th' car, until she'd come along. She'd just glance round an' then 'op inside. 'E'd follow 'er, an' they'd, be orf. It was a long job, an' I uster look for 'em. Pity a decent chap like 'im 's going ter kick air."

So Sam Kearney had known Bianca Cavalli in spite of Holt's statement that he hardly knew her! The crook's words of the afternoon came to Roy's memory. He had called Kearney "damaged goods." Now this man was telling of one of the women the speculator had taken for his plaything.

"Night after night 'e'd go out wi' 'er," the man rambled on. "Sometimes 'e'd tell me at th' end ov th' night as 'e'll want me th' next night. If 'e didn't 'e'd pay me off, then and there. If 'e didn't, I said nothin'. I'd call at 'is offices th' next day an' 'e'd tell me then. Queer trick! But 'e could pass th' word to me that way an' no one be th' wiser."

"You must have seen the portraits of the dead girl found in Peyton Place, in the newspapers?" said Roy, quickly. "Did you never connect your blonde girl with her?"

"Struth!" The man looked at Roy inquiringly. "I never thought of that! So 'e choked 'er orf, did 'e, the brute. Now I comes to think ov it, I did think I'd seen 'er somewhere. Still, what could I 'ave sed? I never knew 'er name. 'E uster call 'er 'Vi' or something like that. Always I'd pick 'im up outside Aiken 'Ouse an' we'd wait until she came along. When th' night was old, an' they'd finished wi' th' bright lights I'd drive down to Aiken 'Ouse. She'd get out an' Sam'd 'ave me drive 'im 'ome.

"I never 'ad a chance ter see where she went, or find out who she was. Sam was somethin' ov a trickster—but 'e paid well, that 'e did. Y'see, I'd nothin' ter tell th' Police, not even a name, much less a address. An' it wasn't as if it'd 'appened yesterday. I'm talkin' of some months back, when I uster 'old th' wheel ov a 'Golden Eagle'."

The punt slipped into the North Shore dock, and the drawbridge fell heavily to place. The stream of cars crawled out on the street to gain speed as they climbed the steep hill to North Sydney. A sharp curve in the road just off the punt gave Roy the chance to catch sight of Kearney's car well up the long hill. Roy leaned out of the window, leaning forward in the hope of keeping the 'Blue and White' in sight.

"Second to the right—Fitzroy Street," he called, as the taxi gathered speed. The man waved his hand without speaking.

Roy could see he that had settled down to get the best out of his car. They swung round the corner into Fitzroy Street, with a jerk that nearly threw Roy to the floor, and climbed the steep hill. At the top Roy looked eagerly down the long slope to Carabella Street, but the "Blue and White" was not in sight. Still, they were not much over half a mile from Kirri-end, and there they would catch up with the big speculator, if he was going to Judith Warbor. If Sam Kearney had not come to Kirri-end, it would be useless to hunt through the maze of twisting streets on the North Shore for the "Blue and White." He must wait there for Greyson. He had the number of the taxi, and with the wide police-net over the metropolitan district, the detective would soon get on the trail again.

If Sam Kearney had not come to North Shore to see Judith Warbor what was his object? Roy was certain the big speculator would not attempt to leave Sydney until he had communicated with the girl, on whom he had centred his violent passions. The car swung into Peel Street and turned, almost immediately, into Elamong Avenue. The driver did not slacken pace until he was almost up to the big gates. Roy was out of the car before it stopped.

"Look ahead!" The driver spoke without turning his head. A few yards past the gates, drawn to the curb, was a 'Blue and White' taxi. The driver was standing on the pavement rolling a cigarette.

"I'll look after 'im." The 'Yellow and Green' man had thoroughly entered into the spirit of the man-hunt. "Hang round 'arf a mo. I'll find out 'ow long they've been 'ere."

Roy told the man to wait, speaking loudly. He stood beside the car busied with a cigarette that apparently refused to light. The 'Yellow and Green' driver strolled forward to the other car.

"You was on th' same punt wi' me, mate. Gotta light?"

The 'Blue and White' man looked condescendingly at the 'Yellow and Green' man as he allowed him second use of the match he had just struck.

"Recognized you agen by that crumpled mudguard." The 'Yellow and Green' man did not wait for answers to his questions. "'Corse you was right up ahead on th' punt, an' I wos at th' back. All the same I'm open ter bet I wasn't more'n three minutes behind yer in gettin' 'ere?"

"You'd lose. I've been here a good five minutes." The man sneered openly as he surveyed the 'Yellow and Green' car. "You'd better drive a car next time—not that!"


Roy turned towards the gates. Sam Kearney had been at Kirri-end for five minutes and more. With an uneasy feeling of trouble ahead he hurried down the path to the house.


CHAPTER XLI

SAM KEARNEY, a fugitive from justice, had come through the heart of Sydney to see Judith Warbor! What did he want from the girl?

Sam Kearney, a fugitive from justice, had come through the heart of Sydney, to see Judith Warbor! What did he want, from the girl?

Before the wide porch of the house, Roy came to a sudden halt. It would be useless to go up to the door and ask for Judith Warbor, or Rene. If Sam Kearney was now with them, he would be told they were engaged and asked to wait in one of the reception rooms. Penned there he would be useless and impotent—

While he was standing, undecided about how to act, the big speculator was with the girl he had pursued for years with his evil desires. He was urging her to some action, something that would make for his safety. What was in the man's mind? Roy tried to imagine himself in Kearney's place. What would he ask of this girl. Money? Surely, it could be only that.

Judith Warbor was ignorant of what had happened in Sam Kearney's offices that afternoon. She knew nothing of the man's remarkable escape from the hands of the police. She was unaware that throughout the State the hunt for the fugitive murderer had already started—that before nightfall the newspapers would blazon the news, that Sam Kearney had silently confessed to the murder of Mark Mansell, by his forcible escape from arrest.

Rene Wesche had been in Roy's offices when Paul Weston, the deck-hand, had told the story of Kearney and Mansell quarrelling on the ferry. They had left her there when they went with the man to Kearney's offices. Rene knew, that if the identification was complete, the detective would arrest Kearney for the murder of Mansell. When Kearney came to Kirri-end, apparently free and undisturbed in mind, she would conclude that the identification had failed. If she spoke of the matter to the big man, he would quickly invent some tale to allay her suspicions. The man's forceful personality would overawe the girls, forcing acquiescence, if not belief.

Roy now recognised that he had made a big mistake by holding so closely to Kearney's trail. Once he guessed where the plan was heading, he should have taken time to inform the police of the district. He should have telephone Rene, and warned her and Judith to leave the house until the police had surrounded and captured the scoundrel. Now, through his fault, Kearney was with Judith, and he fretted impotently before the closed door.

Why had the man come to Kirri-end? He must realize that his pursuit of Judith was ended. He could not marry her, even if she was willing. The mention of his name to any stranger would cause the revelation that he was a fugitive from justice—and Judith would not link herself with him under any alias he might assume—

The taxi-driver's story of Kearney's night life destroyed any theory that the big man was possessed of an uncontrollable love for the girl. Roy knew now that the man had for years devoted his leisure to the satisfaction of his gross desires. He knew now a definite motive for the murder of Bianca Cavalli. She had been Sam Kearney's mistress, and he had tired of her. Perhaps she had discovered his pursuit of Judith, and had threatened to betray her connexion with him. To a man of Kearney's untutored desires the Italian girl's threat would be an incentive to obtain her silence at any cost.

What did Sam Kearney want from Judith Warbor? There was only one answer now—money. Judith Warbor was a very rich woman. She had been left heiress of a large fortune, when but little more than a schoolgirl. Sam Kearney had, for many years, lived on his personality and the reputation that he was a rich man. He had asserted that Mark Mansell was a bankrupt, and that Mansell owed him large sums of money. Roy had a suspicion that when the men's estates were adjusted it would he found that Kearney was the bankrupt, and that Mansell's firm was deeply involved through its dealings with the big speculator.

If Sam Kearney had come to Judith for money, would that alone satisfy him? The man's passionate nature would demand revenge on all who had hindered or denied him. Ostensibly free, and holding Judith in his power, through some secret knowledge, he might seek to involve the girl in his ruin.

Roy looked round the gardens. There was no one in sight. He turned from the porch and walked down to the corner of the house. From there he could see the long sweep of lawn reaching down to the water's edge. The gardeners were not at work in that portion of the grounds.

Keeping along the edge of the grass, to deaden his footsteps, he went on until he came to the first window of the library. There was no one in the room, and the broker slowly advanced. Some instinct told him that Sam Kearney was in the little room beyond the library, with Judith Warbor. With, or somewhere near them, he believed he would find Rene.

He came to the corner of the house and peered towards the opened windows of the little room. Believing that he could hear voices, he softly approached the edge of the verandah. Here it was about three feet above ground, and the steps were round the corner, opposite the windows of the little room. The boards of the verandah creaked loudly as he lightly vaulted up on to them. He gained his feet and stood for a moment steadying himself. Between him and the windows of the room were a scatter of grass-chairs and tables and, stretched across the verandah, a large hammock filled with wraps. Against the wall of the house, close to the first window of the little room, was a deep grass-armchair. If he could gain that, he would be hidden, yet able to overhear anything happening in the room. It would not be a nice task, but he had to be where he could immediately counter Sam Kearney's tricks or violence.

Close to the chair, he ducked to avoid the rope of the hammock. As he straightened again, a light hand fell on his shoulder. He swung round to see Rene sitting up in the hammock, her finger to her lips.

"Roy! You have come at last! You know who is here?"

"I followed him from town." Roy hardly breathed the words.

The girl nodded and swung lightly from the hammock to the verandah. With her finger on her lips, she led the way found the corner of the house, and out in to the lawns.

"Sam Kearney came here nearly a quarter of an hour ago and demanded to see Judith. He looked awful. Judith would not see him at first, but he insisted. I was frightened and came round here to—to help her, if I could."

"He passed me in a taxi, in Bent Street, and I followed—to help her if I could." Unconsciously Roy echoed the girl's phrase. "I didn't know what to do—It was useless to go up to the door and ask for her. I came round here, thinking perhaps—"

"What does he want? What can we do?" The girl caught his fingers in a tight grip. "Roy, tell me. He—He means evil—to Judith!"

"He is evil!" Roy hesitated a moment. "Rene, he is flying from justice. There are warrants out against him. He threw Mark Mansell from the ferry-boat and killed him. Grayson told me today he has a warrant for Kearney's arrest, on the charge of complicity in the murder of Bianca Ca—"

"He murdered Bianca Cavalli?"

"I don't know. Either he or Cavalli. I am certain he knows who murdered the girl. The police are looking for him everywhere. If Greyson had been with me when I saw him in the taxi he would have been arrested on the punt. I managed to get a telephone message to Greyson, bidding him follow here. If—"

"And he came to Judith!" The girl shuddered in horror. "What does he want, Roy?"

"God knows!" There was a short silence before the broker spoke again. "I thought it must be money, but he has plenty to get away with. He managed to obtain a big sum from his safe, by a trick."

"Money?" Rene was puzzled. "But he is rich—very rich—"

"Is he?" Roy now believed that Sam Kearney's reputation for wealth had a very insecure foundation. The man must have spent enormous sums on his secret pleasures. "I can only think he wants money. I have tried to find some other reason, but—but there seems to be nothing else."

"No." Rene moved slowly towards the front of the house. "No. Sam Kearney is not like that. Somehow he would know, and would be prepared. Judith had come home and I thought all the trouble and worry had passed, and we could be happy again! Why, oh why, has he come here?"

"Little girl," Roy's arm was around her shoulders, holding her to him, "we must not remain here talking—we must do something."

For some moments they stood side by side, looking out over the silver waters of the bay. Roy was trying to plan some action to foil the big rogue. All he could decide was that he must prevent Kearney and Judith from leaving that house before the arrival of Greyson.

Presently Rene, moved away from him.

"Come!" The girl started towards the house. "We will go into the library."

For some minutes they stood in the dim light of the library, watching the scene through the half-opened door of the little room. Judith was seated with her back to the open windows, her attitude one of deep dejection. Facing her, his arm leaning on the mantelpiece, stood Sam Kearney. His fingers were clenched on the edge of the cold marble, the veins standing out like tautened wire strands. He was bending forward, every nerve tensed to impose his will on the woman.

"It's the only way, Judy." There was deadly earnestness in Kearney's voice. "You've got to come away—to stay here is madness!"

"I do not think so, Mr. Kearney." Rene had advanced into the room and faced the big man defiantly. "Judith will have nothing to do with you. She—"

"Rene! For God's sake!" The woman's voice shook with terror. "Please go away. I—I—You can do nothing. I must decide this for myself."

"You must make no decision until you know the full facts. Mr. Kearney has been careful to keep them from you." The girl turned scornfully on the big man. "Have you told her that only this afternoon you escaped arrest in your offices? Have you told her that a man of the crew of the ferry-boat, on which you and Mark Mansell crossed from North Shore yesterday afternoon, went to the police today, and identified you? That you are accused of murdering Mark Mansell, by throwing him into the harbour? Have you told her that there is a warrant for your arrest on the charge of murdering Bianca."

"By God!" The man swung round, his hand upraised as if to strike the girl behind him. "That's some more of your cursed Roy Onslay's work! Well, it won't serve you, and it won't save Judy, what's it to be, girl? Trust me, and I'll see you go free. Make your choice quick. Send me away and I'll clear myself of his Mansell affair, and then—"

"And then?" Rene's voice was mockingly sarcastic. "You save Judith! From what? You, a fugitive with the police hot on your track! You—"

"Rene! What do you mean?" Judith had risen from her chair and was looking at her cousin with horrified eyes.

"I mean that Mr. Kearney was arrested this afternoon for the murder of Mark Mansell, by throwing him into the harbour from a ferry-steamer. He confessed to the crime by forcibly escaping from the police, by the aid of his accomplice, Basil Holt. I was in Mr. Onslay's office when the man from the ferry steamer identified Mr. Kearney, by his photograph. I saw the police go down to his offices to arrest him!"

"Well, they didn't!" The big man strode forward and caught Judith by the shoulder. "What's the good of listening to her? Mark Mansell has nothing to do with you. I can clear myself—"

"By making your escape as quickly as possible, for the police are already on their way here." Rene laughed confidently. "Perhaps, Mr. Kearney! But, even if you put up a successful defence to the charge of murdering Mark Mansell, you will have to answer for the death of Bianca Cavalli."

"Oh, no, no!" Judith sprang forward and clasped the hands of her cousin imploringly. "He didn't do that! I—"

"What should I want to murder the girl for?" Kearney swung in triumphant challenge on the girl. "She was nothing to me! She was—"

"Merely the companion of your secret nights, Sam Kearney!"

Roy had moved into the room and stood by Rene's side.

"There's a man at the gates of this house who can prove you were Bianca Cavalli's lover for many months prior to her death!"

"So you're in this?" Kearney swung viciously on the broker. "Well, you've told me something. Now I know how and why Bianca was killed."

"You poisoned her to smooth your path to Miss Warbor's fortune," Roy answered contemptuously.

"She poisoned Bianca Cavalli!" The gross figure of the man, standing in the half-lights, looked grotesque as he pointed an accusing finger at the shrinking figure of the heiress.

"She poisoned her, because she was jealous!"

"Ridiculous!" Instinctively Roy moved before the girls.

"You're lying, for—"

"Ask her, if you don't believe me." The deep laugh rang through the room. "Look at her? Is that innocence? Do you know what you're doing, Roy Onslay? You're forcing that girl to the scaffold. You're fitting the rope around her neck. I tell you she murdered Bianca Cavalli and she can't deny it. I was there—in the room when Bianca died. She was there. Just us two and the dead girl. She can tell you. It wasn't me, for I only entered the room in time to catch Bianca as she fell. Bianca and Judy were alone, and Bianca died! What do you make of that, you—you clever amateur sleuth? What—"

"You cur! You—"

"Cut out the heroics, Onslay." The big man dominated the room. "You've had your answer. She's heard what I've said, and she doesn't deny it. She poisoned Bianca, and I saw her do it. Get that straight in your head; then stand aside and let me act. I can save her, but she's got to do as I tell her. If she comes with me we're both safe. But, by God! I'm not going to stay here and swing for the death of a girl I never harmed!"

"You'll hang for Mark Mansell's death!" Roy faced the man defiantly. "There's not a word of truth in what you say. You're making this up to persuade Miss Warbor to go away with you—a murderer with a price on your head!"

"Ask her?" Kearney's big hand swept Roy to one side. "Tell him, Judy! Can you prove you didn't poison Bianca Cavalli?"

"Can you prove she did?" Rene interposed between Kearney and her cousin. "Judith, speak! Tell this man he is lying! Tell him you have nothing to fear. That he murdered Bianca Cavalli, his mistress, as well as Mark Mansell!"

"Oh, Rene, stop, stop!" Judith sank into a chair and covered her face with her handkerchief. "I cannot deny it! It is true that I was there with Bianca. It is true that he had nothing to do with it, but—but—"

"True!" Roy stepped forward impulsively. "Judith Warbor, do you realise what you are saying? Think, girl! Think!"

"He—Mr. Kearney was not there." The girl strove hard to conquer her emotion and speak calmly. "Bianca and I were alone in the room behind the shop. She had just come in, and—she asked me if she could have it—and—and I said 'yes.' But I didn't know—I didn't know—He came in as she fell—and he said—he said Bianca died because I had—He said Bianca died by my hand. But—but—"

"But the brain that planned the crime that resulted in the death of Bianca Cavalli was Antonio Cavalli's!"

Greyson's deep voice rang through the room. A moment later he stepped through the long window, from the verandah, and faced the big speculator.

"Stand still, Samuel Kearney, and keep your hands before you. I arrest you for the murder of Mark Mansell."


CHAPTER XLII

FOR the moment there was silence in the room. A couple of men had appeared in the doorway, leading to the library. On the verandah a little knot of men were gathered, peering curiously into the room. Greyson advanced slowly towards his prisoner. Sam Kearney was standing before the fire-place, keen and alert. He had drawn himself up to his full height, his arms folded across his chest. As the police officer advanced, a look of defiance came into his ruddy face.

"Stop there, Greyson!" The deep voice held a staccato command. "I've had one showing of your interfering bungling this afternoon, and I'm not a very even-tempered man. What do you want?"

"I hold a warrant for your arrest, Samuel Kearney, on the charge of murdering Mark Mansell, yesterday afternoon, by throwing him into Sydney harbour from the ferry-steamer Kirrimba. Resistance won't serve you. I've sufficient force with me this time to hold you."

"That all?"

"There's a warrant for your arrest as accessory to the murder of Bianca Cavalli on the morning of the twenty fifth of February last." Greyson spoke almost reluctantly. "That warrant will not be proceeded with, unless—"

"Unless I clear myself from the charge of murdering that blundering fool, Mansell." The big man laughed harshly. "I told you to stand back, Detective-sergeant Greyson. Ah; Would you?"

Greyson had moved forward in an attempt to clap the handcuffs on the big man's wrists. Kearney hardly moved. One of his hands shot out and the police officer went staggering back across the room. He recovered immediately, and again advanced. The men from the verandah were entering the room and gathering behind their chief, glowering ominously at the big speculator.

Roy caught at the girls and drew them back. When the police closed in on the man there would be a terrific struggle.

"What's the good of making a fuss, Kearney?" Greyson, after a glance round at his men, spoke almost persuasively to his prisoner. "There's no Basil Holt in the corridor to help your get away. He's in the cooler, and has spilt all he held. I've got—"

"Have you got the murderess of Bianca Cavalli?" The big man spoke quietly, but the standing veins on his forehead showed the efforts he was making to control himself. "Well, if you haven't, I'll help you to that. There she is—Judith Warbor! She tried to poison me, and Bianca got it instead."

"Jumping to conclusions." Greyson shook his head. "I've got the murderer of Bianca Cavalli, all right. It's a 'he,' not a 'she,' and I think you've had more than a suspicion of the truth from the beginning, but you wouldn't own it, even to yourself. Perhaps it didn't suit your purpose. The other idea gave you a better hold over Miss Warbor. Now drop that foolishness and put out your hands. I'm standing no nonsense, understand?"

"What do you mean, Greyson?" Roy stepped forward. "Do you mean that Basil Holt has—"

"Choose the other bird of the pair we captured this afternoon and you'll not be wrong." The detective paused and glanced questioningly at his prisoner. He shook his head and stepped back a couple of paces. "We've got to the end of the long trail at last. I was just getting the rest of the story from Cavalli, when your message that you were trailing Kearney came through. Funny thing, there's really some excuse for Kearney thinking Miss Warbor poisoned Bianca. Cavalli won't say so, but I believe there was a show-down in the antique shop after the—er—accident. More than probably Cavalli, in mortal terror of this man, told him Miss Warbor poisoned Bianca. That would be like him—he's one of the slimiest scoundrels I've ever laid hands on."

"Cavalli murdered Bianca!" Rene went quickly to the detective. "I knew Judith never murdered anyone!"

"Oh, you girls!" Greyson murmured the words under his breath, as he caught Roy's eye and grinned. Then louder: "Miss Warbor's been guilty of just one thing, and that's not using her brains. Sam Kearney's guilty of that—and a lot more serious things. Once I got on the track of what happened in 7—not 7a—Peyton Place on the morning of the day before Mr. Onslay found Bianca in that upper front room, I soon had the puzzle worked out. It's like this!"

Again Greyson glanced round the room. His men had gathered in two groups on either side of the big speculator but just out of arm's reach, and escape for the man was impossible. He gave a nod of satisfaction and turned again to Roy and the girls.

"You know all about Cavalli and his Sons of Freedom stunt. Cavalli came to Australia and went to his half-sister's home. That's here. He lived in this house for some time, and then he decided the place cramped his style. He persuaded Miss Warbor to lend him the money in purchase the antique-shop in Peyton Place.

"Here we bring Sam Kearney into the story," Greyson resumed after a slight pause. "Soon after Cavalli went to Peyton Place, Sam Kearney got hold of the leases of the houses. There's a story in that, and not a very sweet one, but all matters now is that Kearney managed to sneak in before Miss Warbor and obtain the leases."

"Kearney had in his employ the man we know as David Holt. He told us that his mother was an Italian. In some way he got in touch with Cavalli and helped him to form the Sons of Freedom organisation. I've an opinion it was mainly political at first, and that Kearney was instrumental in developing its blackmailing activities. Still, I don't suppose Cavalli wanted much persuading.

"Cavalli seems to have obtained a big influence over Holt. He got out of him the story of Kearney's land-grab activities. That was just what Cavalli wanted. He went to Kearney and offered silence—at a price. Possibly help, also.

"Kearney's got plenty of pluck," resumed the detective with a sidelong glance at his prisoner. "I can just imagine how he laughed at the Italian's attempt to blackmail him. There was a conversation that Cavalli did not enjoy, but the upshot of the matter was that an alliance was arranged between Kearney and the Sons of Freedom.

"When Cavalli admitted Kearney into his organisation he took in a master, not a partner. The change wasn't gradual, either. Right from the first Kearney took charge of the blackmailing operations. Cavalli was ostensibly the head of the gang, but he took his orders from Kearney and passed them on. Although that struck at the Italian's dignity he stood it for, under Kearney's guidance, the money rolled in fast.

"Cavalli wasn't content to follow out the plans Kearney made. He tried to improve on them, but didn't. When several good blackmailing stunts had fallen through and the police were close on the trail of the Sons of Freedom, Kearney got sore and called for a showdown. From that time on, Kearney came out us the real leader of the gang, giving his orders direct and pulling down Cavalli to the position of an ordinary member. Cavalli came to hate Kearney, as only a southern Italian can hate.

"Cavalli had other scores against Kearney. He seems to have greatly felt the speculator's unprincipled pursuit of Miss Warbor. When Kearney, to forward his own ends, insisted that Cavalli make Miss Warbor join the Sons of Freedom, the Italian put up quite a scrap, but again he was beaten. Still, he had enough decency in him to keep her out of the grafting side of the organisation. He realised she wouldn't stand for that. He saw to it that she was just a member of the organisation—like a good many others—and only at attended the meetings when Italian politics were under discussion.

"That's how matters stood on the twenty-fourth of February last." Greyson's voice took a deeper, graver tone. "Holt told me of the system of waiter-spies Cavalli had established throughout the State. Well, one of these spies got on to the story of the intrigue between Sam Kearney and Bianca Cavalli. It made a spicy tale, and Cavalli was sore. He went raving mad when he taxed the girl with the tale and learned that things were worse than he thought, that the girl was in trouble—through Sam Kearney.

"Matters were now at a head. Cavalli, conspirator, his head full of secret doors and cellar conspiracies, determined on revenge. Kearney was marked down to die. The Italian determined on poison. The knife and the gun were too open. They gave the other fellow a chance, however sudden the attack, and Kearney was no infant. In a few hours Cavalli had quite a nice little plot working.

"I'm going to stress that Miss Warbor knew nothing of Cavalli's intentions regarding Sam Kearney, nor of the intrigue between the speculator and Bianca," continued Greyson, after a long pause. "Cavalli knew that Miss Warbor was after the leases of the Peyton Place property. He knew that Sam Kearney was holding on to them in spite of Miss Warbor's offers. He had more than a suspicion that Miss Warbor's determination to acquire the leases was out of a desire to clear the Sons of Freedom from her property. He was secretly backing Kearney in his determination to hold on to the leases, while stiffening the girl in her resistance to Kearney's matrimonial advances. Now determined on Kearney's death, he planned to use the question of these leases to lure the speculator to his death.

"First, he sent a message to Miss Warbor, telling her to come to his shop on the morning of the twenty-fifth. He held out the hope that he had a plan to persuade Kearney to relinquish the leases. Then he communicated with Kearney, and informed him that Miss Warbor would be at his shop that morning, and that, if he came there, an arrangement might possibly be arrived at. Why he went to work in this elaborate manner I don't quite understand. Maybe it was his nature. On the other hand, matters were so strained between Cavalli and Kearney that the latter was usually on his guard—and Cavalli wanted his sense of possible danger lulled.

"The meeting was duly held, but no compromise was arrived at—not that Cavalli wanted one. Kearney made another formal offer of his hand and heart, holding out the inducement of a wedding present of the Peyton Place leases. Miss Warbor wasn't having any, and sprang the surprise of the day. She had been investigating Cavalli and the Sons of freedom, and had a remarkably good line on the blackmailing business. Peculiarly, she did not know of Kearney's connection with the gang. That was too much for the Italian. He turned round and denounced Kearney. Then there was a real dust-up.

"A truce was patched up, and, to seal it, Cavalli offered to make some real Turkish coffee. Kearney had tasted it before and was keen on it. He and Miss Warbor sat talking at the table, while Cavalli went to the stove in the corner of the room.

"Cavalli made the coffee and gave a cup of it to Miss Warbor. That was pure. He wasn't going to poison his niece, although he didn't mind her witnessing the death-agony of the man who aspired to be her husband. He poured out another cup, and right under Kearney's nose, he put in a big dose of aconite. He passed this cup to Kearney. Then he went into the shop to attend to one or his rare customers.

"The coffee was hot. Miss Warbor and Kearney sat at the table in the back room talking and waiting for the coffee to cool. Then the telephone bell rang. It was a call for Kearney, and he went to the instrument.

"Fate plays incomprehensible games. Cavalli was with his customer. Kearney was engaged in the telephone. Just at that moment Bianca came in from the street. She was hot and thirsty. On the stove she could see the remainder of the coffee. With the innate instinct of women to look after the comfort of their menfolk she, herself, took the cup of coffee, cooling for Kearney. The men could have the fresh, hot coffee when they finished their business.

"Bianca Cavalli drank the poisoned coffee and fell dying, into Kearney's arms, as he re-entered the room. What happened then may never be known. Cavalli will not tell. I imagine there was some sort of a show-down, after they had got rid of Miss Warbor. Maybe Cavalli, to escape Kearney's vengeance, suggested that Miss Warbor placed the poison in Kearney's coffee. On the other hand, Kearney might have thought of that himself, and used it to force Miss Warbor to accompany him on his flight from Australia. I know now, that he had all arrangements for a getaway made for some time. He was on the verge of bankruptcy, and an official assignee's examination of the books would have led to charges of fraud. Mark Mansell knew that, and suspected more, I believe. On the boat he threatened Kearney with the exposure of his business methods and his connection with Bianca Cavalli, unless he ceased his persecution of Miss Warbor. That's all."

Greyson spoke again, after a long pause.

"Simple when you get at the basic story, but the devil of a mystery when you start, as we did, at the last chapter. Any questions. Kearney? If so you'd better ask them now, for I can't talk when we get to headquarters. No? Then I suggest we get along."

Again he went towards the big man, the handcuffs dangling from his fingers. Kearney stepped quickly aside.

"Not that, Greyson." His face had a queer, bleak look. "No, I'm not going to make a fuss—here. There's my taxi at the gates."

"I'll attend to that." Greyson handed the handcuffs to one of his men. "You realise there's no chance for you in a struggle. Kearney, so I suppose you'll act sensible. I don't want to be hard. You walk out amid my men and I'm satisfied. You can't fight the bunch of us."

He motioned towards the windows, and the big speculator moved forward, obediently. The plain-clothes men closed in around him, and without a word he passed across the verandah, out on to the lawns.

"That's the end of the story, Mr. Onslay." Greyson turned to the broker. "It's been a rough one for you, but I think it's had its compensations. If it hasn't, you're at fault—or as blind as a bat. But I don't think that—"

His eyes went to Rene with a quaint twinkle of understanding.

A sound from the grounds attracted his attention and, with an exclamation of anger he ran out of the window.

On the lawn Kearney had halted, and turned to look back at the house. One of the police touched him on the arm, motioning him to walk up to the gates. Kearney, with a sweeping gesture, caught the man in his large hands and tossed him aside, as if he had been a child. A sudden spring and he broke through the circle of police—to freedom.

Greyson was running to the place where the group of surprised constables stood, undecided how to act. Kearney was moving steadily backwards, towards the edge of the bay.

At the detective's shout, some of the men advanced on the speculator, to be swept aside easily, almost contemptuously.

"What's he going to do, Roy?" The girl had followed the broker out on the verandah. "He can't escape?"

Roy shook his head. There was no escape for the big man, although for the moment he stood free. For the time he might withstand the continued charge of the police, but once they obtained a grip on him he would be quickly pulled down and fettered.

He guessed what was in the big man's mind. There was only one way of escape. Continually giving ground, Kearney was backing down to the small rocky knoll on the edge of the bay. Greyson, becoming aware of the man's objective, called to two of his men to run and cut him off.

And all the time Kearney was giving ground and skilfully evading coming to grips with any of his attackers. Roy knew the man was strong, but he had never imagined that he possessed the almost supernatural strength he now showed. He was almost at the foot of the bluff, and the two men who had gone ahead were creeping round to close in on him.

As the man behind him sprang forward, Kearney charged, scattering the main body of the police like chaff. He whirled round again, but now the constables were grouped between him and the bluff-head. For a few seconds he stood, breathing heavily, and measuring his opponents for the final trial of his strength. Suddenly he charged again, straight for the headland, his great arms beating down all who dared to oppose him.

Roy saw Greyson stoop and spring straight for the big man's throat. For moments it seemed as if the detective had obtained the grip he sought. If he could hold on, his men would close in and their combined weight would bring the big man a captive to the ground.

For three seconds the men were locked together; then, with a mighty effort, Kearney lifted his opponent completely off the ground and flung him straight at the charging police. More than half the attackers went down before the helpless body of the detective, and over their bodies the big man charged—to halt unhappily on the extreme edge of the cliff.

For some minutes the opposing men stood and watched each other. Kearney had drawn an automatic from his pocket and was menacing the group of police. The retreat to the land was cut off, but from his first attempt at escape Roy had realised that the speculator was working to a definitive objective, and that the head of the bluff played a big part in his plans.

Now he had gained his objective and paused for a brief moment, before taking the final decisive step. Leisurely Kearney turned until he faced the white house overlooking the peaceful waters of the bay. Slowly his right arm came up, as in a last salutation. For a full minute he held it above his head, the bright moonlight glittering on the silvered automatic clasped in his hand. Then, deliberately, it was lowered and, as it came on a level with the man's head, Roy turned and stepped before the fascinated girl at his side.

The sharp crack of an automatic came over the still air, followed by the excited cries of men. For some minutes Roy stood with the weeping girl in his arms. When he turned again. the bluff lay silent and deserted. under the light of the moon.

"It it—" Rene raised her head as she asked the question. "Roy, what has happened?"

"I think Kearney has escaped!" He spoke the words quietly, but with sad emphasis. "It was the only way for him, dear!"

From the low lands under the bluff, the figure of a man struggled up towards the house. As he approached, Roy recognized Greyson and with his arm around Rene, advanced to meet him.

"Well?"

"He—But you heard?" The detective glanced from the man to the girl.

"I have sent a couple of men up to the boatyard for a punt. He—" The detective shrugged his shoulders and made some attempt to get his clothing in order, which was torn to ribbons in the few seconds final struggle with the big man.

"So passes Sam Kearney, speculator!" Roy uttered the words almost under his breath. "It was the only way—a man's way."

"Roy, I must go back to Judith—I shall have to tell her!" Very gently the girl released herself from her lover's clasp, and walked across the lawns towards the house. In silence the men watched her, until her slender figure blended with the shadows in the gardens.

"And so ends the trail that started in the squalid house in Peyton Place." Greyson spoke the words in a low voice. After a minute he shrugged his shoulders and assumed his official, dry manner.

"Well, I'll say good night, Mr. Onslay. We've shared a queer experience together, and I hope it won't be the last we shall see of each other—not in my official capacity, though. It's brought me experience, and that's a thing a police officer can't have too much of. It's brought peace to a little lady up at the house—and I'm guessing there's roses now budding to bloom for her. To you it's brought—" He hesitated, a slight catch breaking his voice. He gripped Roy's hand and shook it warmly.

"Roy! Roy!" The call came, soft and sweet from under the deep shadows of the verandah. "There's no need now to state just what it's brought to you."

A whimsical grin spread on the detective's face.

"Some people name it trouble. Well, I'm married, and have been married for nigh thirty years, and trouble'll do me. Take my tip, Mr. Onslay. There's peace, and peace; but I wouldn't trade all the peace in the world for one single bit of the trouble that's said to lurk around the right woman's skirts!"


THE END

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