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Title: The Hidden Door
Author: Arthur Gask
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1201861h.html
Language: English
Date first posted:  May 2012
Most recent update: Feb 2021

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The Hidden Door


Arthur Gask

Cover Image

Published by
Herbert Jenkins Ltd., London, 1934
The Macaulay Company, New York, 1935

Serialized in:
The Advertiser, Adelaide, Australia, 14 Aug 1934 ff
The Courier Mail, Brisbane, Australia. 27 Aug 1934 ff
The Daily News, Perth, Australia, 9 Feb 1935 ff
The Advocate, Burnie, Tasmania, Dec 1938 ff

This e-book edition: Project Gutenberg Australia, 2020

Cover Image

"The Hidden Door," Macaulay Company, New York, 1935


During a few short weeks, four persons residing in adjoining towns and villages upon the coast of Suffolk had mysteriously disappeared from their homes, leaving no traces behind them. The local authorities were disinclined to move in the matter, but Scotland Yard was doubtful if all these disappearances could be merely coincidences, and despatched Gilbert Larose to determine if the country-side were not choking under the grip of an unknown and bloody assassin.

Another thrilling adventure of the great international detective.



GRIM and grey was Thralldom Castle. Eight hundred years and more its mighty walls had reared their heights to Heaven, scorched by the suns, buffeted by the tempests and fretted by the lashing rains.

Old, old was its story and many were the dark and sinister secrets that it held. Its dungeons had echoed to the groans of the dying and its vaults had witnessed many a hurried burial of the dead. All down the ages the tides of battle had beaten round it, cruel and devouring as the storm driven tides of the sea. Its great stones had been hewn and fashioned in the days of the lance, the battleaxe, and the arrow, and the turmoil and din of battle had been its cradle song and the anthem of its later years.

Generation upon generation of the fierce lords of Thralldom had been born there, and always the lust of strife and conflict had flowed strongly in their veins. Often, in the heyday of Merrie England they had fought for their kings, and often, again, they had fought against them, but always, the shadow of their might had loomed dark and chilling upon the country-side.

And now the last of the Thralldoms lived there, Roger, 27th lord of Thralldom, a frail, worn, and childless old man.

Grim and grey was Thralldom Castle.

THE well-dressed man spoke irritably, and with a frown upon his handsome, but rather dissipated-looking face.

"The telephone wires are all laid underground, there are burglar alarms to every door and window, and there is a bell in the belfry of the east tower that can be heard five miles away. There are four men-servants and at night they are all armed. The great door of the castle is locked and barred at ten and opened for no one after then. There is a strong steel grille cutting off the hall and, at the entrance to the picture gallery there is an even stronger one." He nodded emphatically. "I tell you the whole place is guarded like a prison and"—he flicked the ashes from his cigarette—"there are paintings there worth a hundred thousand pounds."

Four men were seated in a long oak-panelled room of an old house that stood close beside the sea-shore upon a lonely stretch of the Suffolk coast. It was late afternoon, the light was waning and the moan of the sea mingled with their low voices. From the windows, it could be seen that the sky was overcast with heavy clouds. A storm was working up from over the sea.

"And you can suggest then no way at all in which we can get in, Captain?" asked a tall, shrewd-looking man, with a small Vandyke beard, speaking with a slight American twang. He added sharply: "Surely, after all this time and with all the opportunities you have had, you must have formed some ideas."

"No satisfactory ones, Hudson," was the reply. "The place seems absolutely fool-proof to me."

"But with you staying right in the castle," went on the American, obviously in some annoyance, "could you not arrange for some door or window to be left unsecured one night?"

"Impossible," replied Captain Bonnett, "for directly it is dark, two of the men go round and bolt and lock every door and set the alarms, and as often as not, Lord Thralldom goes with them to see that it is properly done. He's a tottering old man, but he's fierce, and rules the castle with a rod of iron. As for the windows, they are barred outside with thick steel bars, and if you lift any of the sashes at night, the alarm rings instantly in the hall." He shook his head frowningly. "Besides, the only way in which you can approach the castle at all is through the big spiked doors on the drawbridge and they are locked at ten and an alarm switched on that would wake the dead."

"But we could avoid the drawbridge altogether," said Hudson, "by getting over across the moat."

"Ten feet deep," commented the captain dryly, "and a barbed wire fence on both banks." He shook his head again. "No, old Thralldom has thought of everything and we have a hard nut to crack."

"But I am certain, Captain Bonnett," said a third man with a high forehead, and the long and oval face of an artist, "that this secret passage under the moat exists. As I have told you, it is referred to most definitely three times in those 'Chronicles of East Anglia,' and the writer, from his perfectly confident tone, evidently knew what he was writing about."

The captain sighed. "But what good is that to us, Fenner," he replied, "if we don't know where the passage is?" He raised his voice a little. "But, mind you, I agree that the passage exists and I am certain Thralldom knows about it, too, for I brought up the matter casually at dinner last night, and he denied all knowledge of it in a way that made me suspicious at once. He seemed most annoyed that I had mentioned it, and pressed me as to where I had got the idea. But I just told him all old castles were supposed to have secret passages and tried to pass it off at that. Still, he was annoyed, as I say, and showed his annoyance plainly."

"Of course he'd know all about it," exclaimed Hudson testily. "It's not likely that a man whose ancestors have been at Thralldom Castle for all these hundreds of years would not know everything about his own place." He snapped his fingers disdainfully. "But he's not going to shout about it to all the world, especially now he's got that Rubens there."

"Well, anyhow we ought to be making more efforts than we are to find it," said Fenner warmly, "for its discovery would solve our greatest difficulty at once." He raised one long slim forefinger solemnly. "Remember, the information I have obtained about it is exclusive, for it must have been more than 300 years since anyone had touched that manuscript until I chanced upon it among the archives in the Cathedral Library at Norwich. As I have told you, it was dated 1586, and the writing was so faded that I could hardly read it." He looked round challengingly at the others. "I risked my whole career in taking it, and I say we ought to concentrate upon finding the opening to that passage."

The captain shook his head. "But it is not practical, Fenner, for if you went searching anywhere in the castle grounds you'd be seen and it would be reported to Lord Thralldom at once."

"But I've been searching at night," replied Fenner quickly, "and these last three nights I have located several likely spots and one particularly—the ruins of the Priory, for it was built about the same time as the castle and, although it is at least 300 yards away, still, the lie of the land would favour a passage there. I can only search, however, when there's a moon, for its dangerous crossing over the marshes in the dark."

Silas Hudson looked contemptuous. "Well, I don't think much of your secret passage and I never did." He turned sharply to the captain. "Have you made any attempt to look for it inside the castle?"

The captain seemed greatly amused. "Made any attempt!" he laughed. "Why,—although I've been his guest there for nearly three weeks now, and although he has known me since I was a boy and my father before me for nearly all his life—he would trust me little more than he would a perfect stranger and the walled-up part of the castle is barred to me, as to everyone else." His voice hardened in emphasis. "I tell you, now he's bought that Rubens, the safety of his paintings has become an obsession with him, a perfect mania, and since his friend, the Earl of Blair, lost those two Hogarths, night and day he is terrified that Thralldom Castle is going to be raided. He is crazed about it, and I hear him asking the servants a dozen times a day if they have noticed any suspicious strangers about." He shrugged his shoulders. "As to exploring any of the underground parts on my own—why, he's had a big iron door fitted at the top of the stairs leading to the dungeons and it's always kept locked."

A fourth man spoke gruffly. "Well, if a door can be locked, it can be unlocked, and I'd like to see the one that would trouble me for long."

The last speaker was quite different in appearance from any of the three men who had already spoken. He was obviously of the superior artisan class and dark and swarthy of complexion, and short and thick in stature, there was nothing attractive about him. His expression was a quarrelsome one, and he was now regarding his companions from scowling eyes under big and bushy eyebrows.

"All right, Kelly," said the captain in a careless, offhanded way, "we don't doubt that, of course, and if we could only put you alongside any door, I am sure that part of the business would be easy." He turned back to the others. "But I admit I'm quite at a dead-end now, and unless chance comes to our aid, I have little hope of our getting at any of those paintings." He added impatiently. "I've been there nearly three weeks already, and I can't stretch out the copying of that Turner for ever. If I hadn't been pretty competent with my brush, he'd have been suspicious of me long before now, but I'm really surprised at the colours I've managed to put in."

"Those burglar alarms could be knocked out of action, quick and lively," said Kelly, "and once in the castle, I'd soon make short work of them." He regarded the captain resentfully. "Surely they must go to sleep there sometime. They can't be keeping awake all night."

"That's true enough, Kelly," replied the captain, "but how to get you all into the castle when they are taking that sleep, and arrange for you to work undisturbed, is the difficulty."

"You may think the castle fool-proof," went on Kelly brusquely, "but if I could get a squint inside, I reckon I could soon find a weak place somewhere."

"Yes, that's it," exclaimed Hudson, quickly, "and that's been our mistake. Kelly's the practical man when it comes to breaking in anywhere, and he ought to have been given a chance to look round."

"Quite so, Hudson," commented the captain dryly, "and it's so simple that I only wonder we did not think of it before." He smiled sarcastically. "We might drop his lordship a line—'Mr. Kelly presents his compliments and would like to look over the castle, with a view to effecting a forcible entry later on. If his lordship has no objection, Mr. Kelly will leave his bag of tools, ready to hand, just outside the premises.'"

"You're funny," snarled Kelly, "but it's not funny business we want, and as for those armed men-servants, I'm not worrying about them. I met one of the footmen in the bar of the Westleton pub last week, and, although he's a big lout of a chap, there wouldn't be much fight in him, besides"—and he looked more unattractive than ever—"two could play at that game, couldn't they?"

"But no violence, Kelly," exclaimed the American quickly. "I would never countenance that. We want a peaceful acquisition of those paintings, and we must come and go in complete secrecy. No one must see or hear us, and we must leave no trails behind."

"That's all very well," growled Kelly, "but how are we going to do it?" He laughed coarsely. "As for violence—you were pretty ready with your knuckle-duster, weren't you, that afternoon in the Jew's shop in Houndsditch? I remember you——"

"That'll do," interrupted Hudson hastily. "Our hands were forced then, and we had to make a quick getaway at any cost." He shook his head and looked very stern. "But Thralldom is not Houndsditch, Kelly, and those methods won't do here."

Kelly scoffed contemptuously and then directed his black looks again upon the captain. "And you told us it was going to be an easy job directly you got into the castle," he said sourly, "and the boss put up the money and rigged you up to go visiting your flash friends, and now after all these weeks,"—he sneered—"you come here and tell us the time's been wasted and there's nothing doing."

The captain reddened angrily. "Well, you don't want to be told a pack of lies do you? I'm doing my part and shirking nothing." He thumped his fist upon the table. "I'm up to the neck in this as deep as any of you, and if the thing's going to be done at all, I'll see it's going to be done properly, and we'll attempt nothing unless there's a reasonable chance of success." He dropped his voice suddenly to a cold contemptuous tone. "You can't barge into Thralldom Castle, Mr. Kelly, like a bull crashing through a gate. It needs thought and preparation and a certain amount of intelligence as well." He spoke most politely. "So we'll decide what is best to be done, Mr. Kelly, and then when the purely mechanical part is required"—he bowed—"your services will be most handy, I am sure."

Kelly looked as black as thunder and was obviously about to make some furious retort when the American broke in quickly.

"All right, all right," he said, "we'll take it you are doing your best, but all the same, it's annoying with expenses mounting up every day and nothing to show for them." He turned the subject abruptly. "Why didn't Lord Thralldom answer Fenner's letter?"

"He never will let people in to view his paintings," replied Captain Bonnett, "and it's his craze now to keep everyone away from the castle."

"But Fenner wrote he was the curator of the Norwich Art Gallery," went on Hudson, "and that should have been a passport anywhere." He pursed up his lips as if he were very puzzled. "Fenner wrote a most courteous letter."

"Too courteous," laughed the captain, "and so he just threw it in the waste-paper basket in consequence." He nodded his head. "Now, if Fenner had written and called him a selfish old fool for keeping his paintings to himself, he'd have probably taken some notice of the letter and sent an angry reply. He's a fiery old fellow, his lordship."

The American whistled. "Oh! he's like that, is he? Well, I'll write and call him one," he exclaimed. "I'll string him on into starting a correspondence and then perhaps I may get a look into the castle that way." His voice rose excitedly. "Yes, I know what I'll do. I'll write and tell him that his precious Rubens is not genuine. I'll write and say it's only an early Van Dyck." He rubbed his hands together. "That'll rattle him. He's sure to have heard of me as a dealer of some standing, and if I give that as my considered opinion, he's bound to take notice." He beamed round at the others. "I know these crazy collectors, and if you can only manage them properly, you can draw them every time. What do you say. Captain?"

The captain looked thoughtful. "Not at all a bad idea," he said after a moment. "You write like that and when he gets your letter I'll boost you up and say you're the biggest noise in the picture world over in New York. I'll tell him——" He stopped suddenly and eyed the American intently. "But if he's heard of you, he may have heard some queer things, Hudson. You've been in the newspapers a few times, remember, and although no one's been successful in their actions against you, still there've been some nasty remarks published about you."

"And I could have sued those who made them, if I'd wanted to," replied Hudson quickly, "but it wasn't worth my while."

"No-o," agreed the captain slowly, "it wasn't worth your while, was it."

"But where do I come in?" asked Kelly, frowningly, of the American. "Your getting into the castle will be no more good to us than the captain, here."

"Oh! won't it?" exclaimed Hudson gleefully. "You just see. If old Thralldom says I can inspect his Rubens, then I'll take you in with me as my servant as a matter of course. I'll make out I'm crippled with rheumatism and can't walk without your help." He turned to the captain. "What do you say to that, Bonnett?"

Captain Bonnett nodded. "If you can screw Thralldom up to the point of agreeing to let you into his gallery, I don't suppose he'd mind Kelly coming too." He laughed spitefully. "But Kelly'll have to cultivate a slightly more agreeable look, or the whole business may fall through directly he sees him."

Kelly made no comment and contented himself with regarding the speaker contemptuously.

The captain went on. "And another thing strikes me. If ever we are successful at getting at those paintings, we shall have to be devilish careful afterwards." He spoke impressively. "None of you here can bolt away at once."

"We never intended doing so," replied Hudson smiling. "We shall just hide the canvases and remain on here as simple holiday-makers until things have blown over."

He laughed. "We've thought of somewhere to hide them, where no one would look in a thousand years."

"Well, that's all right," said the captain, "because apart from Fenner being a known authority in the Art world and you a dealer in pictures,"—he grinned—"friend Kelly's got a sort of reputation as being an artist in his profession, too, and the police would be interested in him at once."

"There's never been any conviction recorded against me," exclaimed Kelly quickly; "the police have nothing on me."

"That may be," commented the captain dryly, "but don't you forget, Kelly, you've been up for trial, and the old judge said then you were devilishly lucky to have been given the benefit of the doubt, also——"

"Well, well," interrupted the American, anxious to prevent any quarrelling, "there's no need to go into that. We've got plenty of other things to think about, and we must find a way of getting that Rubens. After all this trouble we're not going to be beaten by a dodderry old man."

"Oh! but he's not dodderry," said Captain Bonnett quickly, "and don't you go imagining it for a moment. The old boy's seventy-live, and weak and shaky in his legs, but in his mind he's as keen and alert as he ever was and, except in the matter of his paintings, he's a shrewd and capable old man."

"Well, I'll write that letter to him anyhow," commented Hudson, "and pitch it in hot and strong and we'll see what'll happen then." He stretched out his hand. "Now, pass over that plan you've made and it'll be hard luck if it doesn't come in useful some time."


IT was breakfast time at Thralldom Castle and four persons were seated at one end of a long table, in a very large room that at one time had formed part of the old banqueting hall.

The room was replete with every comfort and furnished in a modern fashion with a rich, thick carpet covering the huge floor.

The meal was proceeding with its usual ceremony, and three men servants were in attendance, a butler and two footmen, with the latter attired in the Thralldom livery of gold and green.

The owner of the castle was seated at the head of the table, and notwithstanding his general appearance of weakness and ill-health, his sunken cheeks and pallor of complexion, he looked every inch a great lord of Thralldom.

Tall and gaunt and of tremendous frame, it was evident that at one time he had been of great strength, and if now his body were yielding to the infirmities of age, there were yet all signs that the spirit in him was still unquenched.

His whole mien was one of authority. He held his head in the commanding poise of a man who was accustomed to be obeyed. The lines of his face were set and stern, and his big, fierce eyes glared out of their bony sockets with the same fire with which his ancestors had glared over the battlefields of Agincourt and Crecy.

That he was not in a particularly good humour that morning was evidenced by the silence of the others participating in the meal.

Lady Deering, his niece by marriage, made no attempt to start any conversation; her step-daughter, Ann Devenham, was pensive and thoughtful and his guest Marmaduke Bonnett, looked bored and as if he would be glad when the meal were over.

Presently Lord Thralldom spoke, and his voice was deep and vibrant and very different from what might have been expected from his frail appearance.

"And are you sure, Bevan," he asked frowningly of the butler, "that Rawlings had not arrived before I sat down?"

"Quite sure, my lord," replied the butler with great deference.

"But I ordered him to be here at a quarter to nine," went on Lord Thralldom, looking round impressively at the others, "and it's a nice thing when my bailiff does not condescend to obey my orders."

"But he's generally most punctual, Uncle," remarked Lady Deering, meekly, "and I never remember him being unpunctual before." She was a pretty but rather faded-looking woman in the middle forties and evidently stood in great awe of her lordly relation.

"Well, he's not punctual this morning," boomed Lord Thralldom, "and I shall have something to say about it when he arrives." His voice hardened. "Ring up at once, Bevan, and ascertain why he's late." He turned to his grand-niece and eyed her sternly. "You look tired this morning, Ann. Didn't you sleep well, last night?"

Ann Devenham had just turned twenty-one, and a charmingly pretty girl, she showed all signs of her aristocratic ancestry. She was slightly built but of a beautifully proportioned figure. Her features were finely chiselled and she had large, very dark, blue eyes. Ordinarily of a bright disposition, just now she looked quiet and rather sad.

"Yes, thank you, Uncle," she replied in a melodious voice. "I slept quite well."

"But you look tired," went on Lord Thralldom. "I expect you had too many late nights last week at Saxmundham."

"But I didn't," replied the girl quickly. "The vicar would only allow me to go out twice." She smiled. "He said he had strict orders from you."

Lord Thralldom eyed her solemnly. "But your sleep was broken last night," he said. "You heard noises and were disturbed by the hooting of the owls."

"No, I was not," replied the girl. "I heard no noises at all and slept quite well, I tell you."

Lord Thralldom turned to one of the footmen. "You heard noises, you say, William? You heard the hooting of an owl?"

The footman addressed inclined his head in assent. "Several times, my lord," he replied. "It kept me awake."

Lord Thralldom frowned uneasily. "I don't like it," he remarked. "It was very disquieting. I heard it many times."

"But what's wrong in that, sir?" asked Captain Bonnett, looking very puzzled. "There are plenty of owls about here, and night is their time to hoot."

Lord Thralldom shook his head ominously. "But it wasn't an owl that hooted. It was a man."

Captain Bonnett put down the cup he was in the act of raising to his lips. "Good gracious!" he exclaimed, "but what was he hooting for?"

"That's what we want to know," replied his lordship sternly. "It was a signal of some sort. The castle is being watched." He turned to the footman whom he had addressed before. "It didn't sound like an owl, did it, William?"

"No, my lord," replied the footman instantly. "It didn't sound like one."

"It was someone trying to imitate an owl, wasn't it?" went on Lord Thralldom, and when William had at once acquiesced, he turned to the other footman. "And you heard it, too, didn't you, James?"

"Quite plainly, my lord," was the reply. "Several times."

His lordship looked satisfied. "Well, you always have your automatics ready, both of you?" he asked.

"Yes, my lord," instantly replied the two footmen together.

"Then don't hesitate to use them," said his lordship. "Shoot at once if you see any movement below the castle, at night."

"Oh Uncle! But it would be so very dreadful if anyone were killed," exclaimed Ann Devenham quickly. "It would be terrible—and they might be quite innocent people."

"Not they," returned Lord Thralldom brusquely. "They'd certainly be armed themselves, and at any rate, they'd be there for no good purpose. If they come round here spying at night and meet with any accident," he shrugged his shoulders, "then, that's their own look out."

"But it frightens me," went on the girl impulsively, "the very idea."

"Frightens you!" echoed Lord Thralldom. He laughed grimly. "Why, there's nothing in killing a man when he's out to kill you. It takes very little getting used to, and the novelty soon passes." He stirred his coffee slowly and continued reminiscently. "I was a young subaltern in India when I killed my first man, and I remember it was just as dawn was breaking in a deep valley between two high hills. I stabbed him in a hand-to-hand fight and I admit the look upon his face, as he fell, haunted me for quite a little while"—he frowned—"until I had had my breakfast, in fact, but after that I might never have thought of it again if I had not happened to have broken a good knife." He eyed Ann again very sternly. "But nothing ought to frighten you, Ann, for you have Thralldom blood in you and a Thralldom never knows fear."

"But I am frightened of lots of things," exclaimed the girl quickly, "and if I thought as you do, I should be afraid to be living here. Really, Uncle," she went on frowningly, "I am sure you must be imagining everything."

Lord Thralldom's eyes glowed like coals of fire. "I imagining!" he retorted angrily. "You don't know what you are talking about, girl." He clenched his bony hands together convulsively. "Why, since I bought that Rubens, six months ago, all eyes in the art world have been focused on this castle, and a thousand miscreants, if one, are scheming to obtain it." His voice rose in the intensity of his passion. "Night and day, if we only knew it, we are being watched, and only the utmost vigilance on our part can preserve my collection of paintings intact." He glared round at everyone. "Night after night, when you have all been sleeping, I have laboured up on to the battlements and seen figures flitting through the mist. Yes, it may be thought that I am mad and crazy in my precautions, but I realise, only too well, that I am not."

The footmen preserved the uninterested and impassive expressions of well-trained servants, but the others at the table glanced covertly at one another and then turned down their eyes.

Suddenly the door opened and the butler glided in. "Well," enquired Lord Thralldom irritably, but dropping his voice at once to a quieter tone, "why is not Rawlings here?"

The butler spoke very quickly and in some excitement, "He's not at his home, my lord. He went out just before eleven and has not been home all night. No one knows where he is, and Mrs. Rawlings is very anxious. She thinks he must have met with some accident."

A moment's silence followed and then Lord Thralldom exclaimed angrily, "Rubbish! What possible accident can he have met with?" He glared at the butler as if he were the offender. "More likely she's had a quarrel with him and is afraid to say, and he's absenting himself now to teach her a lesson." He looked round at the others at the table. "His wife's a nagger and he's sick of it. That's it." He waved to the butler. "At any rate, ring up again and say I'm most annoyed."

The butler left the room and Lady Deering gave an amused little laugh. "Really," she said, addressing herself to Captain Bonnett, "it's becoming quite the fashion for husbands about here to go off and leave their wives and now, if Rawlings has gone off, he'll be the third one who has done so in the last few weeks."

"You don't say so!" exclaimed Captain Bonnett politely. "That's very strange."

"Yes," went on Lady Deering, "first there was Mr. McHenty, from the bank in Saxmundham, who went off with a school-teacher from Leiston, then——"

"Oh! Mother, don't be so horrid," broke in her stepdaughter warmly. "You are only repeating the scandal of these little towns. It may not be true at all that he went off with Miss Pascoe. No one is sure of it. He may just have lost his memory, like many over-worked people do and not remember where he lives."

Lady Deering smiled indulgently. "Well, they both disappeared the same night, dear, didn't they? And it came out afterwards, too, that they were both upon unexpectedly friendly terms." She turned again to Captain Bonnett. "Now it looks suspicious, doesn't it? A middle-aged man and a young girl both missing at the same time?"

The captain hesitated a moment. "On the face of it," he replied judicially, "I am afraid it does. When did it happen?" he asked.

"About a month ago," replied Lady Deering, "and nothing's been heard of either of them since. Of course it created a great sensation, because they were both naturally well-known where they lived." She smiled again. "But really, as I say, this running away seems to be quite infectious, for not a week after they were missing, a man who keeps an inn at Yoxford, went off and left his wife in exactly the same way. Everyone said——"

"Nagging wives," interrupted Lord Thralldom sharply. "I tell you, men won't put up with what they did years ago, and Rawlings' wife must have tried his temper quite a lot."

"Oh! Uncle," reproved Ann Devenham reproachfully, "She's not a nagger. I'm sure of it. She's very quiet and good-tempered."

"Well, she never looks it to me," said Lord Thralldom coldly, "and I'm not likely to be mistaken in a woman at my time of life."

The butler brought in some letters upon a salver and handed them round. There were several for Lord Thralldom, two for Lady Deering and one for Ann. Ann did not open hers but, after one quick glance at the handwriting, laid the envelope, face-downwards, upon the table and turning to Captain Bonnett began talking to him in a subdued tone of voice.

The captain regarded her admiringly. She had beautiful, even, white teeth and a very pretty mouth and when she talked or smiled, an attractive dimple appeared upon her cheek. There was nothing in any way intimate in the nature of their conversation, and the girl was only apparently now indulging in it in order to give her relatives an opportunity of going through their correspondence undisturbed.

Presently rumbles of annoyance began to come from Lord Thralldom, and as usual with him when upset, he began talking to himself. He was reading a letter written in bold, big, handwriting, and his lips quivered and his face grew furious as his eyes travelled down the sheet.

"Impertinence!" he muttered, "insolence, a brazen piece of effrontery!" He looked up suddenly with blazing eyes. "Listen to this, Marmaduke," he said. "Can you conceive of greater impudence in all your life?"

"What is it, sir?" asked the captain with an appearance of great interest.

Lord Thralldom spoke in a tone of concentrated fury. "A man writes, a fellow writes"—he could hardly get his breath—"that my Rubens is not genuine and that it is only an early Van Dyck."

"Ha! ha!" laughed the captain, "quite a good joke." He scoffed. "Some jealous crank, probably, who just writes to annoy you."

"An early Van Dyck!" repeated Lord Thralldom breathlessly. "What colossal impertinence!" He scowled. "It certainly does annoy me. It annoys me a great deal."

"Well, tear it up," said the captain promptly, "and don't give it another thought." He shook his head. "I can never understand these anonymous letter-writers, wasting the price of a postage stamp."

"But it's not anonymous," frowned Lord Thralldom. "He signs his name and"—he scowled again at the sheet before him—"it looks like 'Hudson'."

"Hudson! Hudson!" repeated the captain. "Well, that's a very common name and I've never heard of any Hudson who knows anything about paintings except a Yank, and he's a Silas Hudson, of New York."

Lord Thralldom was glancing at the letter in his hand. "This signature," he said slowly, and there was just a little quiver in his voice, "looks like 'Silas Hudson,' 'Silas Q. Hudson,' I think."

The captain almost fell back in his chair in astonishment. "Silas Q. Hudson!" he exclaimed. "Why that is he. Silas Quaver Hudson, one of the greatest experts in the United States." He leant forward excitedly. "Good heavens! What does he say?"

Lord Thralldom was now coldly contemptuous. "He writes this," he replied,


"I consider it my duty to inform you that I have strong reasons for believing that 'The Man of Sorrows' you purchased last March from Mr. Claud Happer is not a genuine Rubens. I think I know the painting, and if so, it is one of the early works of Van Dyck! If you wish, I shall be agreeable to examine it and pronounce my opinion. I am approaching you, because I happen to be in your neighbourhood and upon a holiday.

"Yours faithfully,

"Silas Q. Hudson."

A few moments' silence followed and then Lord Thralldom burst out angrily. "The man's an imbecile, a perfect fool! How dare he suggest such a thing?" He turned sharply to the captain. "You say you know him?"

Captain Bonnett nodded. "Slightly," he replied. "I was introduced to him, a couple of years or so back, in New York. I just spoke to him and that was all, for, as usual, he was monopolising all the conversation."

Lord Thralldom glared. "Well, he's mad, isn't he, quite mad?"

The captain shook his head. "I wouldn't like to say that, sir, for"—he hesitated and then admitted as if with some reluctance—"he's supposed to be about the cutest dealer on the other side."

"The sharpest, perhaps, the most unscrupulous," sneered Lord Thralldom. He lifted his hand suddenly. "Ah! I remember now. I've heard of him. It was he who paid that poor widow in Denver two thousand dollars for her Botticelli last year and sold it the same week to Sir Charles Medway for more than ten times that amount."

"Well, two thousand dollars," commented the captain slowly, "was all the executors under the will asked, and Hudson was quite justified in accepting those terms upon the spot, besides "—and he smiled—"that widow was not in any way poor. Her husband left her over a hundred thousand—not in dollars, but in pounds."

"Well, Hudson's a rogue, anyhow," said Lord Thralldom, "and I'd never trust him a yard." Anger flared up into his eyes again. "But what does he know about my Rubens? He's never seen it?"

The captain looked very impartial. "Oh! I wouldn't like to say that, sir. He's supposed to have seen every painting of note that's come into the market during the last twenty years, and remember—your 'Man of Sorrows' has changed hands three times since Lord Molesbury died."

"Yes," sneered Lord Thralldom, "and in the salerooms the greatest art experts in the world have examined it and pronounced it genuine, so this Hudson's opinion is of no value and," he snapped his fingers together—"I'll ignore him."

"Yes, that's right," agreed the captain instantly. "Treat him with contempt and don't reply to his letter." An idea seemed to strike him suddenly and he shook his head slowly. "But the fellow's a great talker and of course he'd broadcast it all about that you don't dare to allow him to examine your painting."

"Don't dare?" sneered Lord Thralldom. "Don't condescend, you mean!"

"And it'll be disappointing in a way," went on the captain meditatively, "for I'd have loved to have watched him when you showed him the Rubens. He's such a cocksure beggar and it would have been such a slap in the face for him."

"Probably not," growled Lord Thralldom, "for whatever opinion he'd come to—to save his own face he'd still stick to it that he was right."

"No, no," exclaimed the captain most emphatically, "he'd never do that, for whatever his faults, Art is an obsession with him. His whole life is wrapped up in the works of the great masters and he thinks of nothing but them." He spoke with enthusiasm. "No, Silas Q. Hudson would grovel in abject humility before his worst enemy, if that enemy possessed a canvas of great beauty or note."

"Well, my 'Man of Sorrows' has great beauty," said Lord Thralldom slowly, "and it's one of the great paintings of the world," He was silent for a few moments and then went on hesitatingly, "Really, from what you tell me of the fellow, I'd like to humiliate him. I detest all Americans."

"Oh! you'd humiliate him right enough," laughed the captain. "In two minutes he'd be as limp as a rag."

"What's he like to look at?" asked Lord Thralldom thoughtfully.

"Well, you couldn't mistake him for anything else but an American," was the reply. "He's tall and skinny and has a sharp, hatchet face with hard, calculating eyes, and lips that are pressed up tight. He'd walk in here as if he owned the earth, with no respect for anyone, and as if he were better than you and, indeed, it would almost be an act of grace, I think, if he took off his hat."

Lord Thralldom regarded the letter again. "And he's on the telephone," he said slowly. "He's stopping at that old house on Minsmere Haven." He suddenly snarled savagely. "Gad! I'll have him up." He turned to the butler. "Ring up Minsmere House, Bevan. Ask for a man called Hudson, and instruct him to come up here at eleven this morning. Order him to be up at the exact time. And you, William and James," he went on, "see to it the whole time that this man is here, that you keep by him. Never leave his side unless I order you to."

The old man, with no further appetite for his breakfast, then rose shakily from his chair and with tottering steps, and leaning heavily upon Lady Deering's arm, passed out of the room.

A couple of minutes or so later the Captain and Ann Devenham were together in the music room. She had made a sign to him to follow her, and never loth to dance attendance upon a pretty girl, he had, with no demur, complied. But it was quickly apparent that it was for no sentimental reason that she wished to speak to him alone, for addressing him at once, she said sharply,

"Captain Bonnett, I am very angry with you. You know what uncle is and yet you deliberately egged him on to ask that American to come up to the castle. It'll only upset him and perhaps make him downright ill again." She stamped her foot. "I don't know what you did it for, but you ought to have had more sense."

Captain Bonnett's face flushed. The accusation was so direct and so unexpected that, for the moment, he was not ready with any reply.

"Yes," went on the girl with her eyes flashing, "it was very clever the way you did it, and you may have thought no one would have seen through it, but I did."

The captain had quite recovered himself now, and smiled as if he were amused. "But you are really too clever, Miss Devenham, and like so many of your charming sex, too quick in jumping at conclusions." His voice hardened resentfully. "I never tried to influence your uncle in the slightest and am not in the least bit interested in this man, Hudson, coming up."

"Well, it looked like it," said Ann Devenham, "and at any rate, you might have influenced him the other way."

Captain Bonnett shrugged his shoulders. "But does it matter?" he asked. "Besides, if you want my candid opinion, it'll do him good. He wants to throw off this nonsensical idea that everybody is trying to rob him." He lowered his voice to gentleness. "But look here, Miss Devenham, you've not been at all nice to me these last few days, in fact ever since you came back from Saxmundham. I've noticed it in many ways. You're different from what you were before you went away."

It was now the girl's turn to flush, but she answered quickly enough. "I am sure I don't know what you mean. I am no different from what I have ever been." She regarded him, as cold as ice. "I was never particularly nice to you at any time, was I?"

"But you let me kiss you that night in the chapel," he retorted, stung to anger by the contemptuous look she was now giving him.

"Let you!" she exclaimed indignantly. "It was done before I could prevent it. You kissed my arm when I was playing at the organ, and if the matter had been worth mentioning I should have spoken to my uncle about it." She inclined her head, and added cuttingly, "But it was after dinner, Captain Bonnett."

"Bah! a woman always knows when a man is wanting to kiss her," scoffed the captain, "and you deliberately put temptation in my way. You were quite——" but the girl had turned quickly and was leaving the room.

"Pretty little vixen," he remarked after she had gone. "She wants a good slapping, and I'd like to be the one to give it to her." He nodded his head smilingly. "But I'd make love to her well, first."

At eleven o'clock, when Lord Thralldom was reading in the great library of the castle, the door opened and the butler announced, "That Mr. Hudson has arrived, my lord."

His lordship looked up sharply from his book. "Oh! he has, has he?" he frowned. "Well, tell Captain Bonnett to come here and then bring the man in."

Captain Bonnett was quickly on the spot, and a couple of minutes or so later, Silas Hudson was ushered into the room. He was accompanied by Kelly and was leaning heavily upon the latter's arm. Kelly, dressed decorously in sober black and with his hair well plastered down, was trying hard to assume what he believed to be the correct appearance of a gentleman's servant.

As Captain Bonnett had prophesied, there were certainly no indications of any feelings of awe about the American, and the moment he was within speaking distance of Lord Thralldom, and almost, indeed, before he had crossed the threshold, of the library door, he called out loudly,

"Good day, my lord. I'm up to time, you see."

Lord Thralldom regarded him intently but in chilling silence, and Captain Bonnett, standing close beside his lordship with difficulty repressed a smile, for he was intrigued with the spectacle of the truculent Kelly endeavouring to mask his pugnacious features with lines of respectful servility.

Silas Hudson went on as if he were well content to be doing all the greetings, "Nice little place you've got here—this castle, and I reckon if you carried it across the water, I could guarantee you a quarter of a million dollars for it, easy." He looked round the walls of the room. "Pretty old, I should say."

Lord Thralldom turned to Captain Bonnett. "This is Mr. Hudson?" he asked quietly.

Captain Bonnett nodded. "Yes, he's Silas Q. Hudson, of New York."

The American looked quickly at the captain. "I don't know you, sir," he remarked, frowningly, "and I don't reckon I've seen you before, but you've got me all right, and I'm Silas Q. Hudson and no one else."

"And this other gentleman," asked Lord Thralldom sharply, indicating Kelly, "who is he?"

"My body-servant and my masseur," replied Hudson promptly. "It's my bad luck to have become rheumatic since I came over here and I can't walk well without him." He patted Kelly on the shoulder. "He's a capable fellow."

Lord Thralldom regarded Hudson with contempt. "And you say you have reason to believe"—he spoke with an effort—"that a certain painting in my possession is not what it purports to be; in other words, that it is a forgery."

"Not at all, not at all," exclaimed the American loudly. "I never used the word forgery. I believe your 'Man of Sorrows' may be a true and very great painting but, from what I know of its history, it was never suggested by anyone until within the last fifty years that it was the work of P. P. Rubens."

He plunged headlong in the matter and went on glibly. "You bought it from Happer, Happer bought it when Kreutz sent it up for sale seven years ago, and we know everyone who has possessed it since 1893. Prior to 1893, however, and back to the end of the eighteenth century, we cannot trace any of its places of domicile and my belief that it is purely a Van Dyke is based on the fact that in 1797 it was sold by the heirs of Otto Hansen, of Stuttgart, and Hansen was a known collector, almost exclusively, of the paintings of that artist." He paused a moment to take breath. "And that is why, my lord, I have consideredly formed the opinion that your 'Man of Sorrows' is no work of Rubens at all."

Lord Thralldom's face had paled a little, and it was evident that he was perturbed to some extent by the confident assurance of the American dealer. He kept opening and shutting his mouth, and moistening his lips with his tongue.

"But it is nonsense," he burst out angrily. "Not one—but a hundred experts have examined my Rubens and pronounced it genuine."

"Well, I haven't done so," asserted Hudson truculently, "and until I've looked it over, I keep to my opinion that it is not a Rubens." He looked contemptuously in his turn at Lord Thralldom. "But I'll tell you in one glance, if it's a Rubens or not. That's my life's work and I've got paintings in my blood."

Lord Thralldom composed himself with a strong effort. "Follow me, then," he said haughtily. "I'll teach you a lesson."

"And I'm willing to learn one," almost shouted back Hudson. "I'll take any lesson you can give me and thank you for it."

Followed by Captain Bonnett and his two visitors and with the footmen pressing close behind, Lord Thralldom moved with slow and shaking steps along a richly-carpeted passage to the picture gallery of the castle.

The gallery was some distance away and was a long oblong chamber, obtaining its natural light from above, and from long windows, the whole length of one side. To all of these windows there were stout steel bars, and the door was a heavy, closely-meshed, steel grille. There was a number of deeply-cushioned arm-chairs along the middle of the gallery with their backs turned towards the windows.

Lord Thralldom advanced to about half-way along the entire length of the gallery, until he came to a large painting hanging alone and separated by many feet from any other. A stout brass rail waist-high, prevented a too near approach to this painting.

He stretched out his arm. "'The Man of Sorrows'," he exclaimed, with a deep note of challenge in his voice, "painted by Peter Paul Rubens, year 1621."

Silas Hudson, supported by Kelly, limped forward and with a swift backward glance over his shoulder at the light, took up a position above half a dozen paces from the canvas, facing it exactly in the middle.

A long minute's silence then ensued, everyone in the gallery standing perfectly still, their eyes fastened intently upon Hudson, while the latter stared at the painting.

The American stood as immovable as a rock, with the exception of his eyes, which shut and opened several times. Then he sighed, a deep, intense sigh that everyone there heard. Then he swallowed hard and, at last, he spoke, but hardly louder than a whisper. It seemed as though he were quite oblivious to the others standing round him and were talking to himself.

"Wonderful! wonderful!" he ejaculated. He seemed to hardly breathe. "The most beautiful thing on earth. Wonderful," he repeated. "A miracle of colour and design! One of the greatest masterpieces in the world of art!" His voice trailed away to silence and, head bowed and hands clasped, his attitude was one of awed reverence.

"And it is a forgery?" sneered Lord Thralldom who had endured the American's silence with great impatience. "It is not the work of Rubens you say?"

Hudson awoke from his reverie with a start. "No! no!" he exclaimed passionately. "It is all Rubens and perhaps"—his voice was harsh in its earnestness—"the greatest of all his works!" and then, obviously with great reluctance, he withdrew his eyes from the canvas and faced Lord Thralldom.

"My lord," he said humbly, now a very different person from the arrogant picture dealer of a few minutes ago, "I owe you no apology, for a sincere and honest man should never need to apologise for anything he has said when he believed he was speaking the truth, but"—he bowed most respectfully—"I am most devoutly sorry that I wrote you that letter. No,"—he corrected himself quickly, and with something of his former spirit appearing to return—"selfishly speaking, I am not sorry at all, for it has been the means of enabling me to stand before one of the most beautiful paintings I have ever seen."

He went on in sharp and businesslike tones—"It did not take me that long time before I spoke to determine it was a Rubens. It did not, indeed, take me five seconds to discern the truth, for with my lifelong experience of the works of the great masters, one glance only, was sufficient to convince me that no other brush save that of Rubens has touched this canvas." He bowed again. "I congratulate you, my lord, from the bottom of my heart upon its possession."

The expression upon Lord Thralldom's face had been gradually softening whilst the American was speaking, for the heart of no collector could remain for long hardened against such unstinted praise. His face now became suffused with pride and pleasure and, indeed, he was so gratified with the abject capitulations of the dealer, that the taunts and sneers he had prepared for him, died still-born.

"And you don't want to examine the signature?" he asked with a smile. "Surely, you have brought a magnifying glass with you?"

Silas Hudson smiled back. "No need, my lord. That rich colouring and bold design, that superb mastery of detail, and that glorious portrayal of the fullness of life can only be Rubens and Rubens alone." He nodded his head. "And I have had some experience, you know."

"And you admire the painting then?" asked Lord Thraldom, thirsting to hear, again and again, such words of praise.

"Admire it!" queried Hudson. "Why, I could spend days before it and then not have absorbed one tenth of the beauty of its detail. Three weeks ago, I viewed what I consider now may perhaps be its companion picture 'The Descent from the Cross' in Antwerp Cathedral and"—he nodded his head solemnly—"it lacks something of the mastery of this."

Lord Thralldom could hardly contain himself in his delight. "And I have other paintings here that you may perhaps admire," he exclaimed, rubbing his hands together, "if you would care to inspect them."

"I shall be delighted, if I may," returned Hudson warmly, and his eyes ranged quickly round the gallery. "Ah! a Botticelli, I see; an Andrea del Sarto, a Titian, a Paul Veronese, a Rembrandt. Good Heavens!" he exclaimed in astonishment. "What a priceless collection! I had no idea you possessed all these."

Lord Thralldom chuckled like a pleased child. "And there's a Hogarth over there," he said, "a Gainsborough, a Constable, an M. W. Turner and lots of others."

The American appeared most astonished and then, suddenly, his expression altered. He frowned and looked apprehensively round. He limped a few paces from Kelly, and close up to Lord Thralldom, lowered his voice to an intense whisper.

"But, my lord," he breathed softly and with his eyes as round as saucers, "do you realise that, in a lonely spot like this, you are running a great risk in gathering together so many valuable paintings?" He raised a warning finger. "Have you taken all precautions against burglars?"

Lord Thralldom nodded, but at the same time looked rather uneasy. "Every precaution," he replied. "It is quite impossible, I think, for anyone to break in and, more impossible still, to take my Rubens."

Silas Hudson seemed greatly relieved. "Well, that's good," he said, "for, in the interests of Art, it would be a calamity if any of your pictures were stolen."

"And you think I am wise," asked Lord Thralldom anxiously, "in being prepared for any such attempt?"

"Sure," replied the American emphatically, "for if it's generally known that you have got all these paintings here," he nodded his head significantly—"you can bet your life the castle is being watched."

"That's what I say," exclaimed Lord Thralldom excitedly, "and yet all the others here think that I am alarming myself unnecessarily. It is quite a bone of contention between us." He became most friendly. "Sit down, Mr. Hudson. I'd like to have a good chat with you." He raised his voice. "James, take Mr. Hudson's man into the servants' hall and give him some refreshment." He turned back to the American. "And you'll have something, too, sir, presently, or perhaps you will do me the favour of staying to lunch? No, it will be a great treat to me, I assure you, for I don't often get someone I can talk paintings to."

"It's very good of you and I shall be most pleased," replied Hudson. "My time is quite free for I'm on holiday, as I told you."

Lord Thralldom turned to Captain Bonnett. "You needn't wait, Marmaduke," he said dryly. "You can join the ladies. I know you're wanting to. No, I shan't require anyone to remain. Mr. Hudson and I shall be staying here until lunch-time," he smiled at the American, "talking shop."

Captain Bonnett and the footmen at once left the gallery and for two hours Lord Thralldom and the American enjoyed the benefit of each other's society. The former was delighted with his visitor, for the American was unstinting in his praise of all the paintings, and was moreover, able to point out their merits with the knowledge and experience of a man who had travelled all over Europe in the pursuit of his calling.

Then at lunch, Silas Hudson gathered yet further laurels from Lady Deering and Ann Devenham. The latter had at first been minded to be very cool and distant, but the frank yet respectful admiration with which he regarded her and the beneficial effect that she could not help seeing he was exerting over her grand-uncle, very quickly disarmed her, and in the end, she was smiling at him as much as was Lord Thralldom himself.

Hudson was a good talker and not only had he, as Captain Bonnett had said, actually seen most of the great paintings of the world, but he was able to describe his travels and adventures in pursuit of them in a most interesting way, and grip the attention of his hearers with everything he said.

Indeed, the only one at the meal who did not appear to be enjoying the presence of their visitor to the full was Captain Bonnett, and his annoyance sprang from two sources. He did not like it that Hudson was so lavish with his compliments to Ann and evidently meant them, and also he was really angry because the American chaffed him so unmercifully about the unfinished copy of the Turner upon the easel in the picture gallery.

"Gosh!" Hudson had exclaimed with a merry glance round at the others, "but I can see, Captain, you're dangerous. If you go on copying paintings like that, no one in the art world will be safe. One day you'll make a copy of his lordship's Rubens here, and then he'll wake up one morning and see two canvases and not know which is which." And he had laughed so merrily at his wit that Bonnett would have liked to have slapped his face.

In the meantime, Kelly was all eyes and ears in the servants' hall and, never at any time averse from female society, was soon enjoying himself quite a lot.

None of the maids was bad looking and indeed, two of them were distinctly pretty, and all five of them did their best to make their visitor feel at ease. Then too, the chef turned out to be a most obliging man, and in addition to the really dainty meal that he had provided for the staff, for Kelly's special benefit he produced a most delicious sweet omelette.

The lunch in the dining-room over, it was the turn of James, the under-footman, to be off duty, and in the men-servants' special little room over a renewed supply of good sound ale, he opened out and gave his guest quite a lot of information about the castle and its inhabitants.

Old Thralldom was a bit trying with his cranky ways, he told the American's servant, but the wages were very good and the food could not be better.

No, there wasn't much freedom for the staff, for everyone had to be indoors by ten o'clock and then the castle was sealed up like a tomb. There were locks and bolts and bars everywhere, as if the place were a blooming prison, and they had to keep wicked-looking pistols—one of which was exhibited in proof of the assertion—in case burglars should attempt to break in.

Old Thralldom thought of nothing but his pictures and he would sit for hours and hours at a time staring at them, for all the world as if they were a row of pretty girls.

Lady Deering was uppish but Ann was sweet. She was a deuced pretty bit, but her uncle took darned good care that she should not get a boy. She had recently, however, been stopping for a week in Saxmundham and there were rumours that she had at last met someone whom she liked. At any rate, she had had five dances with a young chap in a bank there, at the Shire Ball. He, James, had heard it, with his own ears from a gent, a friend of his, who had been in charge of the cloakroom at the Assembly Hall upon the night of the ball.

Ann was a wonderful musician, too, and once when she had been playing upon the organ in the castle chapel, Bert Bevan, the butler, who privately was a bit of a Bolshevist, had stated openly that he felt inclined to sing a hymn or say his blooming prayers.

Oh! Captain Bonnett! Well, they knew more about the captain than he dreamed, for Bertha, one of the girls he, Mr. Kelly, had just seen, had once been in service in a family in London when Bonnett had been visiting there. The captain didn't remember her but she remembered him right enough. He was a gay bird—a darned gay bird, and he had been bankrupt twice and was always hard up. He had been divorced from his wife and there were lots of tales going about him; in fact his reputation was none too good, but old Thralldom lived in a world of his own, and never heard anything about anyone, and as Bonnett was some distant connection of Lady Deering, he was allowed to visit the castle. He thought he could paint but he, James, and the butler were in complete agreement that he daubed on rotten stuff.

About the castle? Yes, half of it had been walled off and a devilish good thing too, for horrible murders had been done in it and ghosts walked at night. Yes, of course there were secret passages all over the place and twice he had caught the chef tapping the walls to try and find them. The chef was a poor specimen of a man, but a darned good cook, and was always making sweets for the girls.

For a solid two hours and more Kelly was entertained by the loquacious and friendly footman, and then returning once again to the kitchen, he topped down the four glasses of ale he had imbibed with two cups of strong tea. By that time he had come definitely to four conclusions.

The first—he would like to take Bertha, the under-parlourmaid out for a walk one evening and, preferably, he would choose a night when there was no moon.

The second—although the elaborate system of locks and bolts and bars that existed in the castle might be most perfect, still, the human element behind it—he did not put it to himself in quite that way—was weak and could be easily dealt with.

The third—the panes of glass in the windows appeared to be of an unusual size everywhere, and if they were cut, it would be quite possible for a full sized man to pass through, without in any way interfering with the window sashes to which the alarms were fixed.

The fourth—he didn't like the dandy-looking chef, for the chap was by no means the softy the other servants took him to be. His eyes were everywhere and nothing escaped him.

A summons came for Kelly at last and he was called to assist his master back into the car, and into such esteem had the latter leapt, that a little group were assembled round the big entrance door to bid him good-bye. Kelly noted, with distinct approval, the aristocratic beauty of Ann Devenham.

"Mind you come again on Friday," said Lord Thralldom, "and we'll have another long talk together."

"Sure, I will," replied the American heartily, "and I'll be greatly pleased." He screwed up his face into a grimace. "But I realise I made one great mistake, my lord. I thought this morning that your Rubens was the most beautiful thing in the castle but now"—and he made a gallant bow in the direction of Ann Devenham—"I see I must modify that opinion."

"And perhaps you're right, sir," laughed back Lord Thralldom. He made the pretence of nodding his head doubtfully. "But at any rate, it's a close call."

The two drove away with Hudson at the wheel, and for two hundred yards, at least, neither of them made any remark. Then the American leant back in his seat and gave vent to a long, intense chuckle of laughter.

"Gad!" he exclaimed delightedly, "but sure, I'm some actor. It was a miracle the way I did it, and things couldn't be going better."

"Oh! you pugged up the old fool, right enough," growled Kelly, "but it was child's play. He's a darned fool about his pictures."

"And I'm to go up on Friday again," chuckled Hudson, "and you"—he could hardly speak for laughing—"are to go up to-morrow and massage his niece."

"Massage!" snarled Kelly. "What do you mean?"

"You've—got—to—give—her massage for—her back," jerked out Hudson in an ecstasy of merriment. "I—have arranged—it—for—you."

He sobered down at the fury in the other's face. "It was like this," he explained. "I told them you were my body-servant and my masseur, didn't I? Well it came out after lunch that his niece was suffering from lumbago and her doctor had said she must have a course of massage. Then Lord Thralldom hopped in with the suggestion that as there was no masseur, nearer than Norwich, perhaps I'd oblige by lending you." His eyes twinkled again. "So what could I do?"

"Well, it was damned foolery," exclaimed Kelly. "I don't know anything about massage."

"But you soon will," replied Hudson quickly, "for between now and to-morrow at eleven when you've got to go up to the castle, I'll give you some lessons and you shall learn on Fenner. I know something about it, for, two years ago, I had to have fifty dollars' worth in Chicago." He was most enthusiastic. "Why, man! It's a wonderful chance of spying out inside the castle, for you're to go up every day for a fortnight, and it's quite the luck of our lives."

"But I don't look like a man who gives massage, do I?" snarled Kelly.

"Perhaps not," agreed Hudson with a covert smile, "but as she says she's never had any massage before, she mayn't notice it." He spoke sharply. "Now, no nonsense. You've got to massage that female's back, and you'll have to wear rubber gloves to cover those dreadful paws of yours. Oh!" he went on quickly, "I was forgetting. Did you find out much to-day?"

"Of course I did," replied Kelly in a surly tone. "I'm not a fool like that dandy Bonnett. I found out quite a lot." He jerked his head. "The place'll be quite easy to get into, but I'll talk about it when we're out of this rotten old car. The bumping makes me sick."

A long silence followed and they drove on quite half a mile before either of them spoke again. Then Kelly said meditatively, "And the niece is that girl, Ann?"

"No," grinned Hudson, "it's her mother," and Kelly just ejaculated "Ah!"


"AND it is an entirely mistaken idea, as no one will of course know better than yourself, Mr. Larose," said the Chief Commissioner of Scotland Yard, "that crime, as we understand it, finds its most fertile soil in great cities, and where people are gathered together in large numbers." He shook his head slowly. "The lonely places of the land, in proportion to the dwellers there, have just as many dark and sinister secrets to hide." He smiled sadly. "The little, sleepy village tucked away in some quiet corner of the country-side, the almost desolate coast about some lonely stretch of sea, or the moor that shelters only some isolated shepherd's hut, may all hug, if we only knew it, their secrets of dark and undiscovered crime."

Gilbert Larose nodded. He was a boyish-looking man, still under thirty, and no one would have imagined, from a cursory glance at his frank and open features, that he was a detective of international reputation, and in his own country was responsible for many an unmarked grave within the prison walls of the cities of the great Commonwealth of Australia.

"Individual crimes, sir," he said respectfully, "particularly those of violence are, I think, always more prone to occur where people live much by themselves. They seem to become morbid then, and brood over little things. I have often noticed that in the lonely parts of Australia."

"Exactly," said the Commissioner, "for they lose the right perspective of things." He smiled. "Now, leading up from these conclusions, I have a nice little problem to place before you. No," he corrected himself quickly, "I am not sure whether it is a problem at all but to determine it, one way or the other, is why I have summoned you here."

He motioned Larose to bring his chair nearer, and unfolding a large ordnance map, spread it out upon the desk before him.

"Now, this is a map of Suffolk," he went on, "and there is a small corner here that just now is very interesting." He pointed with his pencil. "It is this part adjacent to the coast that embraces the towns of Saxmundham, Leiston and Yoxford, and the little village of Westleton."

He leant back in his chair and regarded the detective very thoughtfully.

"To put it in a nutshell, Mr. Larose, within the last few weeks, or to be exact, thirty-five days, four people in this district, all unrelated to one another and of varying ages and differing conditions of life have just walked out of their homes and disappeared, and we are wondering"—he paused a moment—"we are wondering if their several disappearances are just merely coincidences, or if, on the other hand, they are all linked up together by happenings of which we have no knowledge and the significance of which we do not understand."

"Very interesting," commented the detective, "and did all these disappearances take place on different dates?"

"No," replied the Commissioner reaching for a paper that lay upon the desk. "On the night of Sunday, August 13th, the manager of one of the banks in Saxmundham and a school teacher from the neighbouring town of Leiston, about three miles away, disappeared. On the night of Tuesday, August 29th, an innkeeper from Yoxford went, and on Friday, September 15th, just two weeks ago, the bailiff of Lord Thralldom, of Thralldom Castle, walked out into the night and has not been heard of since."

"They all disappeared at night, then?" commented Larose.

"Yes, the bank manager, and the school teacher left their respective homes just before 9.30, but the innkeeper and the bailiff left later. The innkeeper just after ten and the bailiff at a quarter to eleven."

"And were the bank manager and the school teacher acquainted with one another?" asked the detective.

The Commissioner of Police laughed, and raised one hand in mock reproof. "Ah! I knew you'd ask that. That was, of course, the first thought that came into everybody's mind, and it must have been a nice tit-bit of scandal for the two towns. Yes, they were acquainted, and, added to that, the school teacher, although, as I have said, a resident in Leiston, had an account in the Saxmundham bank." He shook his head. "Yes, that made people talk."

"And what is the general view then that people take of these disappearances?" asked Larose.

"Oh!" replied the Commissioner, "that the two of them eloped, of course; that the innkeeper went off with another woman, unknown; and that the bailiff fell over the cliffs in the dark and was drowned."

"Then what made the Suffolk police come to us?" asked Larose. "There would seem to be no particular need unless they are in the possession of more facts than you have outlined to me."

"Well," replied the Commissioner, "there are wheels within wheels." He nodded his head. "It so happens that Mrs. Rawlings, the wife of the missing bailiff, was at one time a cook in the service of the present member of Parliament for the Borough of Ipswich, and, dissatisfied with the efforts of the local police, and angry, so she said, that they were taking no more interest in her husband's disappearance than they had taken in the cases of the others, she went to her one-time master for help. He is an influential supporter of the Government and approached the Home Office direct. They got in touch with me and upon my suggestion, the Chief Constable of Suffolk then forwarded copies of the police reports." He smiled. "That's how it is we come to be drawn in."

"And the local police are not much impressed then? asked Larose.

"No," smiled the Commissioner, "in fact they are inclined to be very annoyed that we have been applied to, but the Chief Constable of Suffolk is a particular friend of mine and, in the course of some conversation over the phone yesterday, he suggested jokingly that as we had got the celebrated Gilbert Larose here, then he ought to be sent down." The Commissioner shrugged his shoulders and laughed. "So, here am I, obliging a friend."

"And what do you think of it yourself, sir?" asked the detective, laughing back.

The smile immediately left the Commissioner's face, and he hesitated some moments before replying. Then he said very slowly, "Frankly, Mr. Larose, I do not know, for taking the reports singly, the four disappearances seem trivial and of no importance except to those intimately concerned." He spoke sharply. "Taken singly, I say, but"—and he looked troubled—"taken all four together, there are features about them that I do not like and I am now wondering if that pretty little corner of Suffolk"—he pointed to the outstretched map upon the desk—"usually so given up to holiday-makers and happiness, is not now choking under the grip of some unknown and bloody assassin."

He picked up a bundle of papers lying before him and in a quick movement handed them across to the detective.

"Here, take these," he said, "and go down into Suffolk, the first thing to-morrow." He was smiling again now. "You will come back looking rather foolish or else"—he nodded his head grimly—"I shall expect you to be giving evidence, in the near future, at the Ipswich Assizes."

For a long time then, when alone in his room that night, Larose considered the reports that the Chief Commissioner had handed over, but it was the photographs of the missing persons that first engaged his attention. They were all of fairly recent dates.

The school teacher was a plain-looking brunette of an unattractive type. She had a grave, thoughtful face, with oval, rather dreamy-looking, dark eyes.

The bank manager was a plain, matter-of-fact looking man, with closely cut hair over a square forehead. He had a shrewd face, and a chin that spoke of resolution and self-control.

The innkeeper looked jovial and merry. His face was round and chubby and his lips were parted in a smile.

The bailiff's face was long and taciturn-looking. Its expression was grave and he had the appearance of a man with no imagination but with a strong sense of duty.

"Well, certainly this bailiff was no gay Don Juan," muttered the detective, "nor the banker, either, I should say. The innkeeper, however, would appreciate the good things of life, for he looks a bit of a sport. As for the girl"—he hesitated—"well, I can't think of anyone eloping with her and certainly not a man of the type of the bank manager. Indeed, I can hardly imagine either of them inspiring romance in anyone."

He unfolded the reports. They had been drawn up by the local constables, and amplified later by the enquiries of special plain-clothes officers who had been sent down from Ipswich. He carefully and methodically proceeded to pick out the main facts.

Rita Ethelton, single, lived with her parents at Leiston. She was twenty-seven years of age and had taught in the town for upwards of three years. She was well-thought of by her superiors. She was not keeping company with anyone. She was grave, studious, and of a quiet disposition. Her only out-door recreation was walking, and she often went for long walks by herself.

On the night of her disappearance, she had announced to her parents that she would go out for some fresh air, and had left her home about 9.30. No one in the town seemed to have noticed her, and consequently it was not known in which direction she had gone. It was a moonlight night, but clouds were threatening and she had taken her macintosh with her. It was certain she was carrying no money, for her bag with her purse in it had been left behind in her bedroom.

She had not been missed until the next morning, for her parents, accustomed to her roaming expeditions, had retired to rest as usual at 10 o'clock, leaving the front door unlocked.

There were no circumstances that could suggest to them any reason for their daughter going away. She was their only child, she had no troubles that they were aware of, and was in perfect health.

She was quite well-off for she had more than £30 in the Post Office Savings Bank, and £200 on fixed deposit, in the Saxmundham branch of the East Anglian bank.

The plain-clothes officer, sent down from Ipswich, was of the opinion that if the going off were a premeditated one, then most elaborate precautions had been taken to prevent it being established as such.

Augustus Andrew Holden was forty-two years of age and had been the manager of the East Anglian bank in Saxmundham, where he had two assistants under him, for upwards of five years. He was married and had three children, two boys, aged eight and eleven, and a girl, six. He was apparently living on happy terms with his wife, who was five years his junior. He resided over the bank premises in the High Street, and there was a private entrance to his house at the side.

He enjoyed a good reputation in the town and was respected by everyone. He was a man of simple habits, golf being his only recreation. He was invariably in good health.

He was in no financial trouble, and had a good balance at the Ipswich branch of Lloyds bank. He had also £1,200 invested in Government securities.

He was regarded as a valuable and trusted servant of the head office of his bank in Norwich.

On the night of his disappearance, he had been writing after supper and then, just as Mrs. Holden was upon the point of going to bed, he had remarked that he was suffering from a slight headache, and would go for a brisk walk before turning in. He had taken a cap and stick from the hall and let himself out of the door, and that was the last that anyone had seen of him.

Mrs. Holden, retiring to bed, had at once fallen into a sound sleep, but awakening during the night and becoming aware that her husband was not beside her, she had switched on the light and found to her consternation that it was past three o'clock.

She had then immediately rung up the police station and, getting speech with the officer on night duty there, had explained what had happened and had insisted that a search should be made at once. But as she could furnish no idea as to in which direction her husband had gone, nothing, of course, had been done.

Later, she had stated that she had no idea how much money Mr. Holden had had upon him when he left the house, but it would not have been much, she was sure, for it was never his habit to carry more than a few shillings about with him at a time.

Samuel Baxter was 34 and had been the landlord of the Yoxford Arms for just over three years. He was married to a woman about his own age and there was one child of the marriage, a girl of six. He was apparently quite happy in his married life.

The inn was a small and unpretentious one, but he did a good trade and, keeping a good table, on market days had always as many customers as he could accommodate. He was one of the local bookmakers of the town and being of a happy, care-free disposition, was liked by everyone.

The night of his disappearance, it had been noted by those then present in the inn that he had closed the bar sharp to the very second of ten o'clock. Indeed there had been remonstrance upon the part of one customer that Baxter was turning them out before the legal time.

Then next, one of the two serving maids, an elderly woman, had heard him go into the back yard as she was getting into bed and she had told the police that it could not have been later than five minutes after ten.

Mrs. Baxter was out at the time, having gone to the talkies in the town. She had, however, returned home a few minutes after eleven and, not seeing her husband, she thought that he must have gone out, as he sometimes did, to have a chat with some friend. So she had gone to bed, and quickly falling asleep, had not awakened until the maid had brought in a cup of tea just before seven the next morning. Then she had been astonished to find that her husband was not in the bed alongside of her.

No information was then forthcoming in any direction as to what had happened to Baxter. He had visited none of his friends, no one had seen him after he had closed the inn, and no traces of any of his movements had been found anywhere.

It was remembered, however, by the Yoxford townspeople that once before, about eighteen months previously, Baxter had been missing for a week, and upon his return had given the information that he had been called suddenly to London upon important business.

Peter Rawlings was forty-five years of age and for twenty-two of those years had been in the service of the present Lord Thralldom. For the last nine he had been his bailiff and had had entire charge of the farms and lands attached to the castle. He resided at what was known as the Home Farm, and his house was about a mile distant from the castle. The land belonging to Lord Thralldom was roughly 3,000 acres, and comprised arable land, pastures, plantations, marshes and a stretch of the sea-shore, and as Lord Thralldom was old and an invalid, the bailiff had plenty to look after and was a busy man.

Rawlings was married and his wife was five years older than he was. They had no children and kept one maid, a young woman of twenty. They were supposed by everyone to be a happy and contented couple.

The bailiff had the reputation of being a quiet, sober, and industrious man, and financially he was in good circumstances. He had saved money. He lived a very uneventful life and had never been known to take a holiday. He was most zealous in looking after all his master's affairs, but his chief interest was supposed to be in the herd of pure-bred jersey cattle that Lord Thralldom possessed.

On the night of his disappearance, he and his wife had retired to bed, as usual, about 9.30, but Rawlings had been very restless and unable to get to sleep. Suddenly, just before eleven o-clock, so his wife judged to be the time, he had jumped out of bed, and huddling on some clothes, had muttered something about some matter he ought to have seen to before going to bed. His wife had been too sleepy to take much notice of what he had said, but she had heard him pull on his boots and then go out through the back door. Then she herself had been unable to get to sleep and finally, beginning to wonder what her husband had gone out for, and thinking that at any rate he had been gone long enough, she had struck a match and found it was half-past twelve.

Then she had not gone to sleep at all and the hours going by with no return of her husband, she had at first become frightened and then hysterical. She had awakened the maid and the two women had sat together, waiting for daylight to come.

And when it had come, they could find out nothing. Nothing had been heard or seen of the bailiff since.

As to what he had been wearing when he had left the house, he had been only partially dressed, for he had just put his trousers and jacket over his pyjamas. There might have been a few odd shillings in his pockets but certainly nothing more.

That concluded the four reports. There was a note added by the Chief Constable of Suffolk that the investigations in all four cases had been of a most exhaustive nature, but that in not any one of them had anything been discovered to furnish a satisfactory explanation for the disappearance.

Larose put down the reports with a frown. "Four very ordinary persons," he remarked, "and it is difficult to conceive of any of them leading a double life, still," and he shook his head slowly, "you never can tell." He looked musingly out of the window. "No one but our own selves can ever know the secrets of our own hearts and, if we are honest, we must admit that moments have come to us all when if we had followed our own inclinations, the law of the jungle would have been the only law we should have obeyed. We have thought things we have never dared to write down, we have had longings we should never dare to express, and we have"—he shook his head in annoyance—"but Gilbert, Gilbert, I believe you're a very bad man. All people are not like you."


THE following morning just after ten, the detective drove up in a small car to the house where Rita Ethelton had lived in the little town of Leiston in Suffolk, just over a hundred miles from London.

The girl's mother answered his ring, and learning he had come from Scotland Yard, admitted him at once and led him into the sitting-room.

"But what is the good of your coming?" she asked tearfully. "I am sure now that she is dead."

"But you would wish to know what had happened to her," said the detective gently, "and if, after all, it were an accident?"

"Oh! it was no accident!" she exclaimed passionately. "Someone killed her, and it's no good shirking the truth. I am sure of it because there is no place within miles of here where an accident could have occurred. I've gone over everything in my mind thousands and thousands of times."

"Well," persisted the detective, "if anyone did her any injury, you would like him punished for it, wouldn't you? No, no, I'm not going over all the old ground again," he said quickly, "but I just want to satisfy myself on one or two points."

"Then you don't think," said the woman with her face darkening, "that my daughter went off with Mr. McHenry?"

"Not for a moment," replied Larose emphatically. "That's only the idle gossip of these little towns, and I don't believe that any people really believe it themselves." He took the chair that she offered. "Now, Mrs. Ethelton," he went on in a sharp and business-like tone, "the great difficulty that has presented itself to everyone who has attempted to find out what happened to your daughter that night, has been that they had not known where to begin. They haven't had any idea in which direction your daughter went when she started for that walk."

"No," admitted the woman sadly, "there are so many ways she might have gone. There was no particular walk that I know of which was her favourite one. She was fond of them all."

"Well, Mrs. Ethelton," said the detective, "please listen to me very carefully and then perhaps we shall be able to pick up what the others missed." He spoke very slowly. "Now there is nothing that any of us do, in any moment of our lives, that is not the result of some previous thought or act." He shook his head. "We do nothing, as people call it, 'by chance.' Something always decides what we must do. Something we have thought or said or done, just before." His face brightened. "So let us put our heads together and try to guess something of what were your daughter's thoughts in the last minutes before she went out."

"I wish I could," sighed Mrs. Ethelton, "but Rita was always a very reserved girl and no one ever knew what she was thinking about."

"Well," went on Larose again, "in these dreadful weeks you must, of course, have recalled many, many times, every trifling little thing that happened that night."

"Everything," replied the woman, "over and over again."

"Then tell me exactly," said Larose, "what happened, say after eight o'clock."

"I can't tell from eight o'clock," said Mrs. Ethelton, "for Rita was in her own room until half past. She came in here then to listen to the wireless. There was 'An hour with Chopin' on and she had been waiting for it, because Chopin was her favourite composer."

"Go on," said the detective, because she had stopped speaking.

"Her father and I were reading, and she brought in a book herself. Then, I don't think any of us said a word for the whole hour until the music stopped. And then I remember Rita looking out of the window for a few moments—the blind was drawn—then she got up suddenly and said she was going for a walk. Then she came over and kissed Dad and me."

"That was meant to be good night?" suggested Larose.

"Yes, because Dad and I always go to bed directly the clock strikes ten, and I suppose she was thinking she mightn't be back before we had gone upstairs."

"And she went out of the room then," said the detective, speaking very softly, "and that was all?"

"Yes," replied the woman equally softly and with a catch in her voice, "that was all. We never saw her again."

"What book had she been reading?" asked Larose after a pause.

"Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe," was the reply. "It was a favourite book of hers and she had read it many times."

"And I understand," went on Larose, "from what you told the others who have been here, that she changed her indoor shoes for walking ones and went out in her mackintosh and a beret?"

Mrs. Ethelton nodded. She could not speak.

The detective rose briskly to his feet. "And now, just one more thing," he said. "I'd like to look over her room if I may."

The woman's woe-begone expression changed instantly into a frown and, for the moment, she hesitated.

"Well, I suppose you may," she said rather reluctantly, "although no one has asked to go in there before." She sighed. "It's just as she left it, except, of course, that its been dusted every day." Her voice choked. "I know she'll never return, but I hope against hope that she will."

She led the way into a daintily furnished little room at the back of the house and the detective stepped reverently over the threshold. Then, for a long minute, he let his eyes roam all round, over everything. He took in the small, narrow bed, with the counterpane of sky blue, the bright curtains draping the window, the pictures upon the walls, the tortoise-shell backed brushes upon the dressing table, and the little simple ornaments on the mantleshelf.

He looked thoughtfully at the pictures and apparently was particularly interested in three large, framed photographs that he saw. 'A Rough Sea at Aldeburgh' was printed under one, 'Dunwich Cliffs' under another, and 'Thralldom Castle in the Moonlight,' under the third.

Then he looked at the titles of the books in a small bookcase.

"So she was fond of poetry," he said gently. "Chaucer, Swinburne, Tennyson and Sea Music, and she liked history and novels of an historical kind. Now, where is that Ivanhoe she was reading when the music was on?"

Mrs. Ethelton indicated the book and Larose, picking it out from among the others, opened it where a bookmarker had been left in. Then, to the woman's astonishment he pulled a chair forward and sitting down, proceeded carefully to scan through the opened pages. It was quite a long time before he rose to his feet again and replaced the book.

"Thank you," he said quietly, "and now about that photograph, 'Thralldom Castle,' I see. How far is it from here?"

"About two miles and a half," replied Mrs. Ethelton, "or a little longer if you go round by the sea."

"And she might have gone in that direction?" suggested Larose.

The woman threw out her hands. "She might have gone anywhere," she exclaimed. "That is the dreadful part of it all."

The detective asked a few more questions and then, bidding her good-bye, in less than twenty minutes was interviewing the bank manager's wife in Saxmundham.

Mrs. Holden was still living in the bank house, as an act of grace, he learnt afterwards, of the bank authorities who were reluctant to accept as a fact that their trusted manager would never return.

He found her a very different type of woman from Mrs. Ethelton, and rather difficult to make any headway with. She seemed to be resenting his coming, and every second to be waiting for him to couple up her husband's name with that of the missing school-teacher from Leiston. Her answers to his questions added no further information to that he already had.

At his request, however, although certainly not without some reluctance, she took him into her husband's little private room and, under her watchful eyes, he proceeded to look round. He noticed a large old-fashioned telescope bracketed upon the wall, with the initials of "J.B.H." on its broad, brass end and at once asked Mrs. Holden if it had belonged to her husband's father.

"No," replied Mrs. Holden, "to his grandfather, Captain John Holden. My husband's ancestors were all sea-faring people," she added, "and his own father was a captain in the P. & 0. Company. My husband, too, would have gone to sea, if it had not been for his eyes. He was very short-sighted as a young man, and it was a great disappointment that they wouldn't pass him."

"Where was Mr. Holden born?" asked the detective thoughtfully.

"At Tynemouth," she replied. "The Holdens are a very old Tynemouth family."

"And you have not the very faintest idea in which direction your husband started for his walk, upon that night?" asked Larose, following upon some further questioning.

"Not the very faintest," was the reply. "My husband was always fond of walking, and knowing every road in the country for miles round, he may have gone anywhere."

The detective next went into the bank and obtained a brief interview with the clerk who had been the second in command under Mr. Holden's managership. He was a good-looking young fellow, John Harden by name, with a clear-cut profile and frank, open, blue eyes. He was quite polite but very firm in his assertion that he could not help the detective in any way.

"And if you want to put it to me," he said warmly, "that there is the slightest truth in the rumour that there was anything on between that girl in Leiston and Mr. Holden, then I'll tell you straight, it's a lie. Mr. Holden was not that type of man and Miss Ethelton simply did her banking here, in preference to her own town because"—he looked very disdainful—"in these little country places everyone likes to poke their noses into other people's business and I suppose, naturally, she did not want hers known."

Larose visited the local police station and made a few enquiries in the town but, the disappearance of the bank-manager being now five weeks old, almost all the interest seemed to have died down and he got nothing for his pains.

But one thing struck him as peculiar. All that morning, not one single person he approached made any reference at all, either to the disappearance of the inn-keeper at Yoxford or to that of the bailiff of Lord Thralldom. Indeed, it seemed that they had not heard about them.

The afternoon found him in the pretty little town of Yoxford, and calling at the Yoxford Arms, he came upon Mrs. Baxter in the bar, which happened to be empty at the time.

She was a handsome woman of a rather florid type but her eyes, he thought, were rather hard. Directly she learnt who he was, to his surprise, she gave him an annoyed and frowning look.

"I'm sick of you police," she said bluntly, "and I don't know what you want by coming bothering me any more. I've told everything I know, and all of you round here are an incompetent lot. You've found out nothing and I don't want to have anything more to do with you."

"But, Mrs. Baxter," exclaimed the detective, very astonished, "surely you want to know what has become of your husband?"

"All in good time," snapped the woman, "and when I do know, I'm sure from your methods, that it won't come through any of you." She tossed her head angrily. "So, I'm not going to answer any more questions, and if you want to know anything, you can just go off to the police station here." She sniffed contemptuously. "They've got all my answers written down."

The detective eyed her very sternly. "But you'll have to give me an answer to every question that I put," he replied sharply. "I've come down expressly from London and I want, too, to look over the inn."

"Want to look over the inn!" gasped the woman in great astonishment. "Why, do you think Sam's in hiding here?"

"Certainly not," replied Larose in matter-of-fact, business-like tones, "but I've come all the way down from Scotland Yard and I have to make a full report." He spoke most politely. "I'd like to go over the place straightaway, please."

The woman hesitated and looked as if she were going to refuse but then, shrugging her shoulders in contempt, she called for one of the maids to attend to the bar in her absence and led the way into the living parts of the inn.

The detective looked into every room, and noted from the guns and fishing tackle upon the walls in one of them that Sam Baxter's activities ran in more than one direction of sport. He asked Mrs. Baxter several questions, but she replied in curt monosyllables whenever possible, or else made her answers snappy and short.

In their common bedroom he came upon a large framed photograph of a group of cricketers, and approaching it closely, he recognised the round, smiling face of the innkeeper amongst them.

"Alfreton Cricket Club, August, 1923," he read.

He made no comment but out again in the hall, asked suddenly, "And for what reason, in your opinion, did your husband go into the back-yard that night? Can you think of anything he might have been wanting there?"

"Yes, lots of things," replied Mrs. Baxter flippantly. "Pigs, dogs, cats, fowls or even ducks down by the ponds."

She smiled coldly. "He was always wanting one thing or another."

Larose gave her up at last and proceeding to the police station in the town, the sergeant-in-charge there showed him in neat handwriting, upon many pages of foolscap, all the information that had been gathered together and the detective went through it carefully.

"And why," he asked presently, "was Mrs. Baxter so antagonistic towards me? She was as uncommunicative and unpleasant as possible."

"I don't know, sir," replied the sergeant, shaking his head. "She's only been like that lately. I think she's been upset by so many outsiders pestering her with questions. Not that I've ever quite understood her," he added thoughtfully, "for she's been a bit queer all the time. At first, as you have read, she never said a word about Baxter's disappearance to anyone, and for a few days everybody was told he was away on business. Then she came here crying and said she was sure someone had murdered him and then, this last week, she's shut up like an oyster, and been rude to everyone."

"What reason did she give for thinking he'd been murdered?" asked Larose.

"No reason at all," smiled the sergeant. "Just a woman's intuition, she said." He shook his head. "But we didn't think much of it, for Baxter had gone off for a week once before." He smiled again. "Sam is a good publican and when he does go on the booze, he boozes away from home."

"But his wife is keeping back something now," said Larose sharply, "and there must be some reason for her not wanting the enquiry to go on. It wasn't mere annoyance that made her so evasive with me just now. She was fencing the whole time." He looked intently at the sergeant. "Was she supposed to be fond of her husband?"

"Oh! yes, and she was!" was the reply. "She was very proud of him, too, for he was a popular chap. She bossed him about and kept him in order, but she was fond of him right enough, and only as late as yesterday, I saw her with her eyes heavy and swollen from crying."

"Anything known about him before he came here?" asked Larose.

"Nothing much," replied the sergeant. "The references he had to put in when he applied for the transfer of the licence of this inn both came from London, where he'd been a barman for three years."

"Anything known about him before that?" asked Larose.

The sergeant shook his head. "No, I never heard tell where he'd lived before."

"Well, ring up a place called Alfreton," said the detective sharply, "and get me the police station there. Baxter was in the Alfreton Cricket Club in 1923, and we're sure to learn something from them. Be quick please, because I'm in a hurry."

"Alfreton's in Nottinghamshire," said the sergeant, "and it may take a bit of a while to get through."

However, in less than ten minutes Larose was speaking to the Alfreton police, and was soon in possession of some interesting information about the missing inn-keeper.

Yes, they remembered Sam Baxter quite well. He had kept the 'Wheatsheaf' public-house there six years ago, but the licence had been taken away from him because he had been sentenced to two months' imprisonment for poaching. He had been known to be an inveterate poacher for a long time, but he had been very artful and they had not been able to catch him. No, beyond that there had been nothing against him. He had been a good fellow and very popular in the town. He had married a London girl, Sally Matters.

Larose hung up the receiver and passed the information to the sergeant. "Now," he asked, "was Baxter given to poaching here?"

The sergeant frowned. "Not that I know of," he replied, "for he would of course have lost his licence here, as well, if he'd been caught." He reflected. "He might have been, for when I come to think of it, he kept a very good table at his inn, and either rabbit pie or jugged hare were often on the bill of fare. Not that he'd have had to poach for the rabbits though, for there'd have always been plenty of farmers who'd have given him a day's rabbiting whenever he wanted it, but hares"—and the sergeant shook his head—"hares are a different matter, for they belong to the gentry and the big landowners."

"But he kept dogs that would have coursed hares," said Larose. "I saw a greyhound in the yard just now."

"It's not a pure greyhound," remarked the sergeant. "It's a bit of a mongrel, but still it would run down hares right enough."

"And if he wanted to get a hare," asked Larose, "where would he go for it?"

"Sefton Park, or on the meadows adjoining Thralldom marshes," was the prompt reply. "There are plenty of hares in both those places. But it'd have been a bit risky taking a dog near Thralldom Castle just now for, of late, there have been a number of them poisoned there. Someone has been laying down strychnine baits."

"Who's laid them down?" asked the detective.

The sergeant laughed grimly. "That's what we'd like to know. The Thralldom people say they know nothing about it." He looked very stem. "It's against the law, you know."

The detective asked a few more questions and then left, to make his last enquiries, at the home of Lord Thralldom's bailiff.

After a couple of miles or so, he arrived at the top of a hill. A wide view of the surrounding country spread itself before his admiring eyes and, almost involuntarily, he drew up to the side of the road, and switching off his engine, sat silent and enthralled, to drink in the beauty of the scene.

Only about five miles distant from the sea, between the hill and the glistening waters, rolled a wide and slightly undulating plain, dotted here and there with farm buildings and little groups of cottages, and with a narrow river winding in and out among the pasture lands.

But it was Thralldom Castle that dominated everything, and its majesty and beauty gripped him with delight.

It stood alone, in a wide clearing of its own, and like some great over-lord of the country-side, its massive heights were a landmark in every direction.

"What a glorious old pile!" he ejaculated, "and what a view one would get from those battlements!" He sighed. "We have nothing like that in Australia and never shall have. Those days are gone."

He soon found the bailiff's home, and directly she knew from where he came, was welcomed thankfully by Mrs. Rawlings. She took him into what was obviously the best room, but the carpet there was folded up and all the pictures and furniture stacked in one corner.

"I'm moving," she explained with a choke in her voice, "and the new bailiff is coming in to-morrow."

"But it's very sudden, isn't it," queried Larose, "with your husband——" he hesitated.

"Only gone a fortnight to-morrow," supplemented the woman quickly. "And it's very unkind of his lordship, and I don't understand it, for"—her voice broke again—"we can't be certain yet that my husband is dead." She wiped away a tear. "It's so unsympathetic."

"Is Lord Thralldom a hard man then?" asked the detective.

"No, usually not at all so," was the quick reply. "He spoke very kindly to me when I went up to the castle last week, but since then he's got to hear that I went to my old master, Colonel Edis, who's a member of parliament, and he's very angry about it. He told me not to go to the police for they couldn't get me back my husband if he'd walked over the cliffs and got drowned which, he was sure, had happened, and he said any publicity would attract attention to the Castle and then people would come and rob him of his pictures." She began to cry. "Of course he's very old and ill, and can think of nothing but his pictures now." She clasped her hands together. "Oh! do you think, sir, that my poor husband is really dead?"

"Sit down and tell me all that happened," said Larose soothingly, "and then, we'll see what we can find out."

For upwards of an hour the detective questioned her, but at the end of that time he had reluctantly to admit to himself that, once again, he had added little to the knowledge he already possessed.

"You see, Mrs. Rawlings," he said at last, "if you could only give me some idea where your husband was going that night, then we should be able to start our search in some definite direction."

"But as I say, I can't tell you," she replied tearfully. "My husband never talked to me about any of the business of the estate. He was a very reserved man and spoke very little at any time and he had the idea, too, that all a woman's interests should be in the home. But he was a devoted husband to me and all our married life we have been very happy together. He never, however, brought his business worries to me at any time."

The detective thought for a moment. "And you don't know, then, what particular work your husband had been doing during the day previous to the night when he disappeared?"

Mrs. Rawlings shook her head. "No, he was busy the whole day," she replied, "and I only saw him at meals, and then he was writing all the evening."

"He kept a diary?" asked Larose.

The woman's face brightened. "Oh! yes, and I believe he put down the minutest things that happened."

"Show me the diary, then," said the detective, and she at once led him into another room and began looking among a number of books and ledgers piled upon the table.

"Here it is," she said and Larose pulled up a chair, and sitting down, began turning over the leaves of the book she had handed to him. The scrutiny, however, was very short before he spoke to her again.

"What does that mean?" he asked, pointing to an entry under the date of Saturday, September 16th. The entry consisted of two words only, "Queen Guinivere," upon an otherwise entirely blank page.

The woman smiled a wan smile. "We have a herd of Jersey cattle," she replied, "and Queen Guinivere is one of the cows. She was due to have her calf on that day. She is the matron of the whole herd and a valuable animal. She has taken lots of prizes."

"And did she have her calf on that date?" asked the detective. "Remember, it would be the day after your husband disappeared."

"Oh! no," replied Mrs. Rawlings, "not until the day before yesterday. Look, you can see them, if you want to. They are both in the meadow there."

Larose walked over to the window. "And do you think it is likely," he asked, "that your husband went out that night to see if she was all right?"

For a few moments, the woman stood silent. "It might be," she replied, speaking very slowly. "Yes, it might be, for I know he was rather anxious about her. She's getting old and nearly died with her last calf." She bit her lip in vexation. "I never thought of that."

"And where would she have been that night?" asked the detective, "if he had gone to her."

"In the same meadow where she is now," replied Mrs. Rawlings, "somewhere between here and the castle. The Home meadow, we call it."

"Now, another thing," went on Larose. "Poison baits are said to have been laid about here. Do you know anything about that."

"They've been laid," she replied slowly, "because several dogs have died and now no one dares to keep one on the estate." She shook her head. "But no one knows who lays them and it's been a mystery to everyone for some time. It's very queer."

The detective made no comment. "And you have a lot of hares here, I understand," he said after a moment. "Now whereabouts would you find them?"

"Oh! all round," she replied. "They come to feed in the clover fields at night."

A long silence followed, and then Larose got up to bid her good-bye. "I shan't be far away," he said, "for I'm going to stop for a few days at that inn, there by the beach. Oh! I was forgetting," he exclaimed. "Where will you be if I want to ask you any more questions?"

Her face brightened. "At Westleton," she replied, "and it's only a mile from here. Lord Thralldom has been very kind about that and has given me a cottage and two pounds a week for as long as I live."

"Well, that's good," nodded Larose. "Good-bye," he said smilingly, "I'm sure to be seeing you again soon."

But the smile dropped from his face directly he was outside.

That night, as upon every night when he was engaged upon a case, Larose went very carefully over everything that had happened during the day and with a map of Suffolk spread out before him, began talking softly to himself.

"Well, I'll sort out all my cards," he said, "and just see what sort of a hand I have. Now what does it all mean?" He spoke very solemnly. "Within the space of a few short weeks these four persons, all residing within a few miles of one another and all in happy and comfortable circumstances have all disappeared off the face of the earth, and I ask myself, from what I have learnt to-day, am I dealing with four separate happenings, having no connection or relation to one another, or am I faced with one main problem, of which each of these four disappearances form only a part?"

He punctuated every word slowly with his hand. "Is it reasonable to suppose that the same unaccountable urge came to each of these four persons—to break all in an instant from the peaceful and settled order of their lives, to forsake kith and kin, father, mother, wife and children with no word or message of regret and no goodbye? To leave those who loved them, to be night and day, and day and night, torturing their brains as to what calamity could possibly have overtaken them?"

He shook his head emphatically. "No, no, I can rule that out at once. Upon the face of it, I can be sure the disappearances of all these people were not voluntary. They were forced upon them. Something happened to keep them from returning to their homes and that something"—he spoke in a whisper that was almost inaudible—"can surely only mean that they are dead."

He paused for a long time here before going on. "Yes, that is the only way I must account for their silence, for their silence can only be the silence of the grave." His tone became much more brisk. "Well, what happened? Did they then all meet with some such accident that their bodies as a natural consequence have been hidden ever since from the gaze of human eyes?" He shook his head again. "No, impossible. The coincidences would be too strained. They were killed somehow. Yes, they were killed and the fact that no traces of any one of them have been found, suggests that they all came to their deaths in the same manner and by the striking of the same hand."

He paused again as if to check up his thoughts. "Then, if that were so, surely the killer did not seek them all out individually in the vicinity of their own homes. He was not waiting at Leiston for the school-teacher, at Saxmundham for the bank-manager, at Yoxford for the innkeeper and here at Thralldom for the bailiff. No, no, they came to him, and it was upon some single, common meeting-ground that they encountered him and passed into eternity. Each of them upon the night when they disappeared, by chance, came within reach of that uplifted arm, and it remains for me to find out when they set out upon their journeys; where their paths eventually converged; and at which particular place they all met with their mysterious ends." He was quite convinced. "Yes, I am dealing with one main problem, and the four disappearances are part of a whole."

He considered for a moment. "So, I'll try and put myself in the minds of some of those people upon the nights when they disappeared, and see where their thoughts will lead me if, in my subsequent actions, there be anything in common with them at all."

He settled himself back in his chair. "First, I am that school-teacher, and I am twenty-seven, and well among the years when, if any lover were coming to me, he should have come by now. But I am plain and uninteresting-looking and no man has arrived to give me those mad moments for which I crave. Oh, yes, I want them. I want them badly, for I am very romantic. I love all the beauty in life. I love the sea, I love flowers and I love scenery. I love poetry, too, of the romantic kind." He nodded; "I could see how often that Tennyson of hers had been opened at 'Idylls of the King.' In effect, I am a girl who must be finding my unfulfilled womanhood very hard.

"Well, that night I am sitting with my parents and there is no conversation. I am reading, but the soft, sensuous music of the divine Chopin is filtering through into my brain. I am reading Ivanhoe and I have just come to that part,"—he frowned—"now what were those lines in particular that caught my eye when I opened the book? Ah! I remember—'they hurl the defenders from the battlements, they throw them into the moat'."

He shook his head and sighed. "But I close the book there and, for a little while sit thinking. Then what are my thoughts? Surely I am thinking of gay ladies and gallant knights, of battle-axes and shining armour, of a mighty castle with high towers and towering battlements, and—Thralldom Castle at once leaps up before my eyes."

His own eyes sparkled. "Of course it would, for all my life I have known Thralldom Castle, and night and morning in that large photograph its grim walls have been always under my gaze. So the castle in Ivanhoe becomes real to me and I picture it as Thralldom is, and see them hurling defenders over battlements that are familiar to me, and into a moat that I know quite well."

"Then I look out of the window and see the moon is shining." The detective made a muttered aside here. "There was some moon shining on each of the nights when those poor souls disappeared." He went on. "So all on the instant, I make up my mind to take a walk and then, what is more natural than that, with these thoughts in my mind, I should turn my steps in the direction of Thralldom Castle?" He paused for a long moment. "Surely I should have gone that way."

He leant back in his chair and sighed. "Guess-work, Gilbert, just guesswork and nothing more," he nodded his head grimly, "but for all that you may not be very far astray."

His voice took on a sharp and business-like tone. "Now, for disappearance number two, and I am the bank manager in Saxmundham. It is after supper and I have a headache. I have been writing all the evening and am not unnaturally tired. I think I will go for a walk. It will do me good and clear the cobwebs from my brain. Well, where shall I go? It is just a walk that I want, and therefore, I suppose all directions will be the same to me. Ah! but will they? I was born by the sea and all my boyhood's recollections are associated with the shore, the sands, the waves and the breezes of the sea. My father was a sailor and his father before him and his father before that. So, I have the very salt of the sea in my blood, and what is more natural then than that I should turn to the sea when I am feeling tired—as a tired child turns to his mother in any distress? Yes, I'd take my walk in the direction of the sea."

He looked down at the map before him and went on. "And if I take my walk towards the sea, by where will it lead me?" He spoke very slowly and deliberately now. "I shall pass Thralldom Castle"—his voice trailed away to nothing—"Thralldom Castle again!"

There was a long pause and then he shook his head. "A guess in the dark, Gilbert, just a guess and yet"—he nodded—"for all that, you may be dead on the spot again."

He smiled. "Now, for disappearance number three, and I am Sam Baxter, a merry-hearted publican and I shut up my bar sharper than usual to-night. Punctual to the tick of ten, for I have something to do and I am in a hurry to get on with it. I put on my cap and let myself out into the yard."

He screwed up his eyes and looked very puzzled. "Now what do I go into the yard for? What could I be wanting there at that time of night? I have gone there to get something and I am afterwards going for a walk or upon an expedition of some kind for I have taken my cap from the hall. Well, what am I wanting from the yard? There is no car, nor horse there. Nothing but sheds, with fowls, ducks, pigs and a dog. Ah! a dog."

His thoughts ran on. "Yes, I was a poacher six years ago, an inveterate poacher, so the Alfreton police said, and I suppose once a poacher, always a poacher. So perhaps, I am going out poaching to-night, and I have gone into the yard to get the dog. Well then, if I am going poaching, what am I going poaching for? Not rabbits—the sergeant ruled that out—and certainly not partridges or pheasants, for they are out of season, and could not be put on the public table, and again, I should not be wanting a dog to get them. Then, I must be thinking about hares, and that means that I am going either to Sefton Park or Thralldom. Sefton Park or Thralldom," he repeated slowly, "and I shall most probably choose Thralldom because it is a moonlight night, and my inn is on the Thralldom side of the town, and so by going in that direction there will be less chance of anyone seeing me with my dog."

The detective nodded. "And that brings me to Thralldom again—always Thralldom." He looked very grave. "It may be that I am only guessing again, but now the startling fact is emerging from my guesses that by deductions that are perfectly reasonable, and by no undue stretching of the imagination, I am leading each of these three persons, the school-teacher, from Leiston, the bank-manager from Saxmundham and the inn-keeper from Yoxford, all to the very spot where we know for certain that the bailiff himself disappeared. Yes, Thralldom lures them all to their destruction; Rita Ethelton, because she is thinking of the castle by moonlight; Augustus Andrew Holden because he and his forebears have been all born by the sea, and Samuel Baxter because it is there he must go poaching for his hares."

He nodded his head again. "Yes, and if anyone had deliberately planned a common meeting place for these three, where they would have to travel the least distances from their several homes, he would have chosen Thralldom, for Thralldom is the centre of that circle from the circumference of which they would have all started upon their journeys."

He went on. "So, I come finally to the case of Rawlings, and, in a way, his last movements present the smallest difficulty of all, for if I cannot with certainty say he was going to visit that much-prized matron of the Jersey herd, I can at least assume from his half-dressed condition that he was not going far away from his home." He pursed up his lips. "But I can be pretty certain he was going after that cow in the meadow there, for if he considered the matter that was worrying him after he had retired to rest, to be of such urgency that he felt compelled to get out of his bed almost in the middle of the night, then it undoubtedly suggests that he was going to attend to some living creature, and the fact that he took no lantern with him indicates that he was content with the light of the moon for whatever he had to do"—he nodded for the third time—"which brings in the meadow where the cow was again."

He leant back once more. "And if these four poor creatures have met with some untimely and violent form of death, who but a madman could have inflicted it upon them, for what reason other than the sheer lust of blood could have urged him upon his path of murder? It could not have been for money that they were killed, for they practically carried none, and it could not have been for any feelings of personal animosity, for they all came from widely separated places and there was nothing that one can conceive, except pure chance, that could have brought them one after another, within reach of the wretch who assassinated them."

He rose up from his chair and began taking off his clothes.

"Yes, Gilbert," he said, "to-morrow, it's a madman you've got to start looking for, and you'll have all your work cut out to find him. You have, however, two things in your favour. You know the exact date when this nice gentleman first started business"—his eyes glinted—"and you know the place about where he takes his walks at night." He fished his pyjamas out of his portmanteau. "So, to-morrow after supper you'll go out to try and meet him and say 'how-do-you-do.' You can be very nice and polite and all that, but I think first you had better shoot him in the legs."

And he put out the light and composed himself placidly to sleep.


THE next morning Larose was early abroad and driving into the adjoining village of Westleton, proceeded to interview the village policeman.

Police Constable Plummer was fat and comfortable-looking and from his general appearance might easily, with no make-up at all, have just stepped off the stage from taking part in some old-time blood and thunder melodrama.

He was heavy and ponderous in manner, with a big and rather stupid face and very round blue eyes, but it was evident that he regarded with becoming gravity the responsibilities of his position as village constable, and so answerable to the Crown for all the crimes and misdemeanors of the one hundred and fifty and more souls under his charge.

His uniform fitted him closely, and although the weather was far from being warm, he perspired freely. He lived in a small house and seemed himself to fill the greater part of the little room in which he interviewed the detective.

He was duly impressed when he learnt who his visitor was, and regarded him stolidly, breathing hard.

Without disclosing in any way what his mission was, Larose began at once to enquire about the people in the district.

"Now," he said briskly, "what I want to know, Constable, is this. Is there anyone in this neighbourhood who has the reputation of not being quite right; who is eccentric in his ways, amongst other things, is known to be in the habit of roaming about alone, late at night?"

The policeman looked very solemn for a moment and then suddenly a gleam of intelligence stirred in his face. "Yes," he nodded, "I know the man you want," and the detective's heart gave a bound at the apparently so easy termination of his quest.

"The Reverend Finch answers to all these descriptions," went on the policeman. "His mind is failing and he mutters a lot to himself. He will preach for longer than an hour on Sundays until the people begin to walk out, and sometimes he is missing from the Rectory for hours at night."

The face of the detective fell. A clergyman did not seem very promising, but still—still, he thought, one never can tell.

"He goes out at night!" he ejaculated. "For how long is he away?"

"A couple of hours and more," replied the policeman, "and quite half a dozen times lately, I've been fetched by Miss Finch at one and two in the morning to go and look for him."

"And where does he go to?" asked Larose quickly. "Do you know?"

"Oh! not very far," was the reply. "Never more than two or three hundred yards. He's ninety-three next birthday and not too steady on his pins."

The detective muttered a bad word, but his face betrayed no sign of his disappointment.

"Anyone else?" he asked.

The policeman thought hard. "Young Pidgeon," he said, "but you'd hardly call him a man. He's fifteen and mazed on fishing. He'd sit all night on Minsmere Jetty if his mother would let him, and his father often has to bicycle over and fetch him home."

The detective realised there was evidently going to be no corn in this mill, so he rose to his feet. "Well, Constable," he asked, "which doctor has the largest practice in this neighbourhood?"

"Dr. Steven, of Halesworth," was the reply. "He's my doctor and if it's for rheumatism——"

"How far is Halesworth from here?" interrupted the detective.

"About eight miles," said the policeman. His eyes brightened. "But if you want to see Dr. Steven you can catch him in the village now." He pointed through the window. "There's his car just outside old Mrs. Rumbleton's. He's attending her for lumbago, but her sister died of cancer a couple of years or so back and everyone believes——"

But Larose bade him a quick good morning and hurrying out into the street, was just in time to catch the doctor as the latter was getting into his car.

"Can I speak to you for one minute, please, Dr. Steven?" he asked and the doctor, after one hard scrutiny of his interrogator, nodded a quick assent. The doctor was a keen, intelligent-looking man in the middle fifties, cleanshaven, with a good chin and a pair of very shrewd grey eyes. He looked exactly what he was, a busy country doctor, sharp and businesslike and with no time to waste.

Larose told him who he was and showed him his badge. "I am very sorry to trouble you, Doctor," he said, "but you may be able to do me a great service. I need not mention," he added, "that I am speaking to you in the strictest confidence."

"Of course, of course," nodded the doctor frowningly, "that is understood."

"I am down here on a special mission," went on Larose, "and, in a sentence, I am looking for a man of deranged mind with homicidal tendencies. Now, do you happen to know of anyone about here who answers to that description?"

The doctor regarded Larose with a grim smile. "If I did," he replied, "I should get him put away at once, for I am a magistrate as well as a doctor." He shook his head. "No, I know of no one like that."

"You have been practising here for some time?" asked the detective.

"Thirty years," was the reply, with a deep sigh. "Thirty out of my fifty-four."

"Then you know everyone in the neighbourhood?"

"Nearly everyone. Two thirds of those under thirty I have brought into the world and for half of them"—another deep sigh—"I have not yet been paid."

"And you can think of no one," went on the detective, "who, although outwardly normal in appearance, may yet be the man I want?"

The doctor shook his head again. "No, I can think of no one."

"Are there any drug-addicts about?" was Larose's next question.

"A few," was the reply, "but quite harmless."

"Well, are there any private asylums in the neighbourhood, or any doctors who have charge of private lunatics?"

"There is a private asylum at Beccles, about eighteen miles away, and a practitioner in Framlingham has two certified cases under his care." Dr. Steven smiled. "But these latter are both old ladies, so I am afraid there will be nothing to interest you there."

A short silence followed and then Larose asked. "Well one more question. Doctor, and then I am afraid I shall have finished. Now, is there anyone at present living in the neighbourhood who, to your knowledge, has at one time been in an asylum for the insane."

Instantly then, the doctor's face hardened and looking very sternly at the detective, he replied quickly—"Now there, sir, you are asking a question I am not prepared to answer. I say neither yes nor no to that for there are some things a medical man may not divulge."

A great exultation thrilled through the detective's heart. Was he upon the trail at last?

"But, Doctor," he went on impressively, "what I am asking you may be a matter of life or death, and if you refuse to tell me, you may be condemning yet another poor soul to a ghastly and bloody end."

The doctor opened his eyes wide in astonishment. "Then has some murder been already committed in this neighbourhood?" he asked sharply. "I have heard of none."

Larose picked his words very carefully. "That for the moment, sir, is impossible to answer with any certainty, but I assure you there are strong suspicions that more than one has been already done." He spoke very solemnly. "We are looking for a man whose mental condition is such that he might be a murderer, and it is only by lighting upon such an individual and setting a watch upon him, that we can determine whether or not he has already taken life, not once, but several times."

The doctor looked very puzzled. "I would help you if I could," he said slowly, "but to put it bluntly I don't feel justified in exposing to your attentions anyone whom I, as a medical man, consider to be perfectly harmless."

"But, Doctor," persisted Larose eagerly, "it is exactly a man whom everyone considers as perfectly harmless that I am looking for. A man who by day is perhaps just an ordinary respectable member of the community, but who, by night, is a maniac and prowling about the country, as dangerous to all he meets as the angel of death. He may have bouts of mania, too, that only come on at intervals, and in his sane moments may be quite ignorant of all he does at other times." He spoke very sternly. "I am not appealing to you as an officer of the forces of law and order only, but in the name of a humanity common to us all."

A troubled expression came over the doctor's face. "You are quite eloquent, sir," he said, "and almost I feel inclined——No, no, I'll not tell you." He smiled pleasantly. "But at any rate I'll give you some good advice although you need not mention to anyone that it was I who gave it to you." He started his engine and let in the dutch. "Go and see Inspector Ferguson, in Halesworth. He may be able to help you when I can't." And away he drove with a friendly wave of his hand.

"Good!" remarked the detective as he climbed into his own car. "Now, my instinct tells me I'm going to get something out of this." His face fell. "But I hope they don't put me on to anyone who lives in Halesworth, for Halesworth is a good nine miles from Thralldom."

Inspector Ferguson, of Halesworth, proved to be a smart, intelligent officer and there was no hesitation about his answer when after due formalities of introduction had been effected, Larose put to him the question.

"Yes," he said, regarding his visitor interestedly, "I do know of a man living here who, at one time, has been confined to a lunatic asylum. The information, however, came to me quite by accident and not in my official capacity, and I believe only one other person in the town is aware of the fact. The man is Ridgeway Turnbull and he is a butcher here."

The detective suppressed the excitement that he felt. "Well, tell me everything you know about him," he said sharply.

Inspector Ferguson had been well trained and, in the presence of one of the reputation of Larose, asked no preliminary questions, but proceeded at once and with no appearance of curiosity, to impart all the knowledge he possessed.

"It happens I am well acquainted with him," he said, "for I come from Saxmundham, near here, and we were boys together. Ridgeway Turnbull is forty-five years of age and was born in the village of Westleton, eight miles from here. His father was a labourer in the employ of the then Lord Thralldom, the uncle of the present one, and Ridgeway, as a boy, worked on the Thralldom lands too. He was a wild youth and gave his parents a lot of trouble. At seventeen he ran away and went to sea and we heard nothing of him for six or seven years. Then he came home on a visit, with a girl whom he married. He had given up the sea and was working for a butcher in London. Then we lost sight of him for about ten years until he came to this town, and obtained employment as an assistant to one of the butchers here. He is prosperous now and a well-to-do man. He is a widower, having lost his wife the year before last. He has no children."

Larose listened with an intense thrill to the Inspector's recital. Here might be the very man he wanted. One who had an intimate acquaintance with the Thralldom lands and whose occupation would have hardened him to the shedding of blood, and tended to make him callous to the suffering he was inflicting.

"And when was he in an asylum?" he asked.

The Inspector hesitated. "I cannot tell you that with any certainty," he replied, "but it was not long before he came here, which would make it about thirteen or fourteen years ago. He was in an asylum for more than two years and the information reached me in a very curious manner. I play bowls, and so does he, and four years ago I won the trophy and he was the runner-up. I sent a copy of the local paper with all the details in about the match, to an uncle of mine who is also interested in the game, and in acknowledging the receipt of the paper, my uncle asked who the R. Turnbull was, because, he said, a butcher's assistant in Forest Gate, of that name, and with that initial, had once been put into an asylum after attempting to cut his wife's throat, and the description he gave coincided exactly with the appearance of Turnbull here."

"And who else knows about it in this town?" asked Larose. "You said a second person had heard about it."

"Yes, Dr. Steven here," replied the Inspector. "Turnbull's wife told him about it, once when the doctor was called in after one of her husband's heavy drinking bouts. I had taken Ridgeway home that night and heard her telling him."

"Then he drinks!" said the detective.

"Yes, he breaks out every few months and we've had to gaol him several times. He's been up before the magistrates twice this year."

"What's he like to look at?" asked Larose.

"He passed you just as you were getting out of your car to come in here," was the reply. "I was standing at the window and saw you both in the same glance. He's a tall, gaunt man, with a big nose and a rather distinguished-looking face." The Inspector smiled for the first time and lowered his voice to a whisper. "In fact there's a little bit of scandal about his father's parentage, for his father was supposed to be an illegitimate son of the Lord Thralldom of that time, and there may be something in it, for Ridge is not unlike the present lord."

"Good gracious!" ejaculated Larose. "Do you really think it's true?"

"Well," said the Inspector judicially, "his grandmother was a maid once up at the castle and she left hurriedly and—Ridge's father was born. At any rate, she had an allowance from some source she would never disclose, and when Ridge gets drunk he boasts he is a cousin of the present Lord Thralldom."

The detective smiled. "And does Lord Thralldom know about it?" he asked.

The Inspector looked amused. "You bet he does," he replied, "for I heard Ridge tell him so once openly to his face. Lord Thralldom was presiding on the bench that day, and Ridge was up as usual for being drunk, and when his lordship gave him ten days without the option of a fine. Ridge shouted out that if a priest had only mumbled a few words over his grandmother, he'd have been the Lord Thralldom now, instead of only a blanky butcher selling chops and steaks."

They both enjoyed a good laugh, and then Larose asked. "And what about the man's mental condition now? Does he show any signs of not being in his right mind?"

"No," replied the inspector, "he seems quite all right to me."

"And except for getting drunk then," went on the detective, "you have nothing against him?"

"No, he's quite a good member of the community and very good company."

A short silence followed and then Larose asked sharply, "Does he go out by himself at night on a bicycle or in a car?"

The Inspector looked embarrassed and almost as if he had been found out in some misdemeanour himself.

"Yes, he does," he frowned, "in his car, and I've caught him twice lately coming home without any lights."

"Oh! oh!" exclaimed the detective, "and when was that?"

The Inspector considered. "I can't tell you exactly," he replied, "but the last time was about midnight, three weeks ago. No, it's no good. I'm sorry I can't give you the exact date."

"Well, does he often go out at night in his car?" asked Larose.

The Inspector hesitated. "I really can't tell you that either, although we live almost opposite to one another. It's like this. His shop and my house are both about half-way up this hill running through the town, and if he wants to go out on the quiet after dark, he can just push his car out on to the road, and then free-wheel down and not start his engine until he's out of hearing. Then, he can return home by another way and come into the road at the top of the hill this time, so that by shutting off the engine again, he can just glide down into the yard without a sound."

"What does he go out at night after, do you know?"

The Inspector raised his eyebrows. "Oh! after some woman, I suppose, and if he's of Thralldom descent that would be the natural thing, for they've always been a gay lot," he nodded his head, "and half mad too."

"Is he bitter against the present Lord Thralldom?" asked Larose.

"Very," was the reply, "for his lordship always makes it hot for him if Ridge comes up when he's on the bench, and when Ridge is drunk he talks a lot about having his revenge."

A short silence followed and then the detective remarked: "Well, Inspector, I've no doubt you are wondering why I'm interested in the man."

"Naturally," smiled the Inspector, and he bowed, "for we don't often get anyone of your reputation coining down into these parts."

"It's about that bailiff of Lord Thralldom's I've come," said Larose. "We are not satisfied up at the Yard with the explanation, or rather the want of explanation, relating to his disappearance."

"And I should think not," said the Inspector decisively, "for it's most mysterious." He looked sharply at Larose. "What about those other disappearances? Have you heard of them?"

The detective nodded. "Yes, and I don't like the look of them either."

Inspector Ferguson frowned. "I knew that Mr. Holden, of Saxmundham, well, and he was a good fellow. I met him one evening only the week before he disappeared. He was going down to have a bathe at Minsmere Haven, and he was making a short cut across Lord Thralldom's land."

Larose pricked up his ears. "Oh! now tell me exactly where you met him?"

"Just by the Thralldom marshes," replied the Inspector, "and close near a little plantation of larches where the ground begins to rise. About 300 yards from the ruins of the old Priory. He was trespassing of course." He smiled. "But we all trespass when we go near Thralldom Castle. It ought to belong to the nation, and public opinion is dead against all the notice boards that his lordship has put everywhere. People do no harm in crossing over his meadows."

"Well," said Larose sharply, "I'm looking for a madman who prowls round Thralldom at night and who attacks anyone he comes across. That's the only theory I can form to account for all these disappearances, and if I am right, I am pretty sure, for reasons that would take too long to tell you now, that they have all occurred near Thralldom Castle itself."

The Inspector whistled. "What an idea!" he exclaimed. "I'd have never dreamed of such a thing." He thought for a moment. "But what about the bodies? No traces of any bodies have been found."

"All in good time," nodded the detective. He spoke sharply. "Now about this Turnbull here. I want to go over his house. How can I manage it?"

"A search warrant!" suggested the Inspector.

"No, no, the last thing in the world," exclaimed Larose. "I must go over it without anyone knowing. Not a soul must know I'm interested in the man. Now how can it be arranged?"

The Inspector snapped his fingers together. "You couldn't have come at a better time. It's early closing to-day and Turnbull is playing bowls this afternoon. There'll only be his housekeeper in the house, and she will be going out to visit her sister who's in hospital with a bad leg. All you've got to do is to come over to my place, wait until the coast is clear, and get into the house through the back door. I don't suppose for a moment that it will be locked." He laughed. "Turnbull's a careless man, and besides, we are all supposed to be honest people about here." He shook his head. "But of course this is going to be done unofficially. I must know nothing about it."

"No, of course not," agreed Larose. He rose to his feet. "And now I'll go and have a close-up view of this descendant of the Thralldom's. I suppose he'll be in his shop."

"Most probably," replied the Inspector. "He was going that way."

Larose parked his car behind the police station and proceeding to the butcher's shop, walked in and for want of something cheaper, ordered a pound of chops. He recognised Turnbull instantly from the description the Inspector had given him. The man was alone in his shop.

The butcher had a proud and not unhandsome face. His eyes were big and fierce under bushy eyebrows and he had a high forehead and a large mouth, with very tightly-closed lips. He was clean shaven, his appearance being not unlike that of a priest. He gave his customer a hard scrutiny as he came in.

"Nice weather," said Larose, and the butcher looked up from cutting the chops and nodded. "Yes, very nice," he replied.

"We could do with some rain though," went on Larose, and the butcher looked up and nodded again.

"How far is it to Thralldom Castle?" asked the detective next, and this time the butcher did not look up as he replied quietly,

"About six miles, I should say."

Larose left the shop in two minds. In one, he was disappointed that the butcher looked so normal and matter-of-fact, and in the other, he was elated that the man had not stated correctly the distance to the castle.

"Of course he would know," ran his exultant thoughts, "but he mis-stated it deliberately because he wanted to make out he took no particular interest in anything about Thralldom. He evidently noticed me, a stranger to the town, going into the police station, and is prepared to be careful about anyone whom he knows has been speaking to the police." He smiled to himself. "Therefore he has something to hide, and things look quite hopeful."

He had lunch at the Inspector's home, and then watched behind the curtain of one of the front rooms for the butcher to go out.

"The bowling green is only just up the road," the Inspector informed him, "so Turnbull won't be taking his car."

Just after two, the butcher, dressed in a smart navy-blue suit, came out and proceeded up the road, to be followed half an hour later by an elderly woman in a mackintosh, carrying a bunch of flowers.

"And that means," said the Inspector, "that she won't be away long. She's not dressed herself up as she usually does, and has only just slipped the mackintosh over her ordinary clothes. Now, off you go, Mr. Larose, and if you find the back door locked, which is not very likely, you are sure to find one of the windows unlatched."

Waiting until the woman was well up the road, Larose strolled across and slipped into the butcher's yard. The back door was not fastened and he was soon inside the house.

There were four rooms at the back of the shop and he at once picked out the two that belonged to the butcher. They were not over clean and very untidy. He soon finished with the bedroom, but in the other room there was more to interest him. It was evidently used partly as an office and partly as a sitting-room and in one corner there was a big desk with three good-sized drawers down upon each side.

"Now, what am I looking for?" he asked himself as he rapidly surveyed the contents of the room. He made a grimace. "I really don't know."

There were a number of books upon a long shelf and they were all piled anyhow, with no regard to shapes or sizes, one upon the top of another; novels with highly coloured jackets, books on history and travel, Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Carlyle's French Revolution, books on popular science and a ten year's old edition of Burke's Peerage.

"Not an uneducated man by any means," commented the detective, "and that class of criminal is always the more dangerous." He picked up the Burke's Peerage and it opened, as if of its own accord, at the Barony of Thralldom. "So, so," he smiled, "then our friend is evidently seriously of opinion that he comes of the Thralldom stock."

He turned to the desk and began pulling out the drawers. They were crammed untidily with bills, receipts and stock reports. Five of them he glanced through hurriedly and then, coming to the sixth, he found that it was locked.

"Ah! now what's in this?" he remarked, and he took a small bunch of keys out of his pocket and, one by one, tried to fit them into the lock. But they were none of them of any use, so after one quick glance round to see if there were anything more of interest in the room, he ran out into the yard to the garage. The garage door was pulled to but not fastened in any way, and as he slid it open, wide enough to pass in, a clucking fowl darted through his legs into the yard. He searched quickly for a pair of pliers and a piece of stout wire.

"Waste of time, probably," he muttered, as when back in the sitting-room again he was kneeling before the locked drawer, "but it's curious that only this one drawer of the six should be locked."

The lock was a common one and he had soon dealt with it to expose to view, as in the other drawers, a mass of untidy papers pushed in anyhow.

"Still," he nodded, "there was probably purpose in the man's mind when he locked this drawer, and as a matter of routine, I'd like to know what that purpose was," and he thrust his hand down among the papers to feel round at the sides and bottom of the drawer.

Instantly then the expression on his face became more intent and he drew out a small, flat packet from under all the papers and at the very back of the drawer. Its covering was just ordinary newspaper folded several times, and dirty with traces of oil upon it. Unfolding it quickly, he was staring at the number plates of a car, with the inscription on them "AN-17151."

The figures had been evidently home-painted for they were straggling and uneven and slovenly. They were well splattered over with dried mud.

"Now, that's funny," he remarked, and after a few moments' thought, he laid them upon the floor and ran into the garage again. There were two cars there. A meat delivery one and a Ford tourer. Their number plates were RF-2709 and RF-8421 respectively.

"Whew!" he whistled, "then those are false number plates he is hiding in that drawer." He bent down and examined the fastenings of the plates. "And it's the tourer that he uses them upon."

He spent five minutes in the garage and then returning into the house, replaced the number plates where he had found them, and left everything as before. He next proceeded to the police station and informed the Inspector of his discoveries.

"And the piece of newspaper they are wrapped in is a sheet from the Ipswich Guardian," he said, "and it is dated August the 5th. That would be eight days before Mrs. Holden and the school-teacher disappeared. From the look of the paper, the plates have been wrapped and unwrapped many times since it was first brought into use, for it fits them now almost like a case, and folds of its own accord into their shape. The plates are muddied, too, which shows that when he has been using them he has been driving the car off the bitumen and in by-lanes."

"It looks fishy," commented the Inspector, "very. He's up to something right enough."

"And it's the tourer he's been using them on," continued Larose, "for the nuts of the plates on the delivery van are well rusted whereas those of the tourer have been oiled recently and unscrew easily, which explains the oily finger-marks on the paper. There's another thing, too, that wants some explanation. I lifted the piece of carpet upon the floor of the back of the car,"—he looked impressively at the inspector—"and saw unmistakable stains of blood upon the floor-boards there."

The Inspector shook his head. "But I shouldn't bank much on that," he said, "for two or three times lately his van has broken down, and the meat has been delivered in the tourer."

"No matter," said Larose, rather disappointedly, "at any rate we've got enough to go on to make it desirable—if not in my interests in yours—to set a watch upon him and find out what he's after."

"Certainly," agreed the Inspector, "but he's a sharp man, and will be difficult to trail."

"Yes," said Larose, "for up to a certain point the more insane a man is, the more cunning he is." He took a map of Suffolk out of his pocket and spread it out upon the desk. "Now, we'll take it for granted that he's not finished with those false number-plates of his, but will go on using them for the same purpose he's been employing them up to now, and we must trail him to find out what that purpose is. Well, of course, it's no good our trying to start following him anywhere near the town. We must pick him up when he's a good distance from here, so that he will have no idea anyone is interested in his movements and that being so, if he is going to Thralldom, when is it likely he will first turn off from the main road?"

"At one of those by-roads there," pointed the Inspector, "after he's got on to the Norwich-London road. About half a mile this side of Darsham, perhaps."

"Well, you have a man ready at Darsham, with a bicycle say every night for the next week, starting with to-night. Let him be waiting where you can phone him and you keep watch this end and ring up if Turnbull leaves his house. If he does leave, it should not be later than ten o'clock and when there's a moon shining. Ten to eleven is the critical time when all these people have disappeared, also, the maniac I have in my imagination never works in complete darkness. Then, if your chap gets a ring, he can bicycle up this way and meet Turnbull, and he'll be a poor fellow if he doesn't find out which way Turnbull goes. Myself, I'll be on the look-out on the Thralldom lands every night, and I ought to hear his car if he comes anywhere near." He held out his hand to the Inspector. "But now I think I'll be getting back, for I want to take a walk round the castle lands before it gets dark. I am staying at the inn on Minsmere Haven and let me have a ring at once if the butcher starts out to-night. I'll wait at home on the chance."

When the butcher came home for his tea that evening, his housekeeper met him with some very disquieting news. "I found that white hen shut out of the garage when I got back," she said. "I was rather late because I had met some friends at the hospital, and all her eggs were stone cold. Someone must have been to the garage and let her out, when I was away."

Her master was in the act of taking off his coat, but at her words he stopped, with one arm out, and opened his mouth very wide. Then he went into the garage, and for a long while stood staring thoughtfully round.

"What's happening?" he whispered at last. "A man with a London registration plate on his car, goes into the police-station and then comes round to me for a pound of chops. He stares at me so hard that he forgets to pick up his change. Then someone comes in and lets the fowl out of the garage when we are both away." He frowned, "Yes, what's up?"

The detective had bad luck that afternoon, for he was delayed at Yoxford with a broken spring, and in consequence did not get back to Minsmere in time to make a survey of the land round the castle as he had told the Inspector he was intending to do, before dark.


THE following morning Larose, leaving his car in the garage of the inn, went for a three hours' tramp, circling round Thralldom Castle in every direction, but never going much farther than a mile away from it. Once, he approached to within a few hundred yards, and only desisted from a very close inspection, because of the many warning notices he saw displayed everywhere, that trespassers would be prosecuted.

"A most exclusive old gentleman," was his comment upon the lord of the castle, "and perhaps it is a good thing that his line is dying out. Surely a castle like this should belong to the nation and not to any particular individual."

Still, he had a pair of good binoculars with him and taking up a comfortable position against a fence, he sat back and, for a long time, took in the beautiful proportions of the castle. The longer he regarded it, the more he was inclined to appreciate its loveliness. "Yet, upon what violence, what cruelties and what bloodiness has it looked down," he murmured, "and who dare say it is not now looking down upon more bloodiness, still?"

He returned to the inn in good time for the midday meal, and proceeding first into the bar for a glass of ale, found a couple of fishermen likewise intent upon refreshing themselves. He nodded good-day to them and then, taking his tankard with him, moved off to a long wooden form by the window, leaving the fishermen to continue their conversation with the landlord.

Presently the door of the bar was pushed open and a fourth customer appeared. He was a tall, thin man with a meditative, gloomy face, but upon every stitch of his attire was written 'holiday-maker.' Thick woollen stockings covered his lanky legs, and he wore baggy trousers and a short jacket. A big tweed golfing cap was pulled down low upon his forehead and he carried a thick, hefty-looking walking stick.

He was standing at the counter of the bar with his back turned toward the detective when Larose first happened to catch sight of him.

The latter thoughtfully regarded the lanky figure for a few moments and then frowned in a puzzled way, for some chord of memory had subconsciously been stirred in him.

The man received his tankard and turning round, walked up to the bench where Larose was, and seated himself at the other end. In the act of sitting down he nodded a casual good-day, following it up at once, however, with a slow and solemn wink.

"Naughton Jones!" gasped Larose. "The greatest private detective of the age! The cleverest and yet the most conceited worker in the trade! Now what on earth is he doing down here, got up like that?"

But it was evidently not the desire of the great Jones that he should be spoken to, for he now turned his face away and puffed steadily at a big pipe.

"Dinner is ready, sir," called out the landlord a minute or two later, and Larose, rising leisurely to his feet, proceeded to pass out of the bar. When, however, he was just level with Naughton Jones, he stooped, and bending down to adjust a bootlace, at once received a communication as he had expected he would.

"I'll be outside in half an hour," came from the half-closed lips of Naughton Jones. "Follow me, at a distance. It's important."

And so, accordingly, half an hour later, Larose was following in the wake of the lanky holiday-maker who walked about a hundred yards in advance.

Jones led the way round a corner of the cliffs and when they had gone about a quarter of a mile and had lost sight of the inn, he sat down upon the beach and beckoned to the detective to come up to him.

"Good-day, Mr. Larose," he said with a dry smile. "I'm pleased to meet you again. I had my eye on you the day before yesterday."

"Oh! you had, had you?" exclaimed Larose, looking rather taken aback.

"Yes," went on Jones carelessly. "I saw you pull up at Mrs. Rawlings'. I was in the small plantation near there, watching the house." He laughed slily. "I thought there was just the chance that Gilbert Larose would be turning up, for it has been shouted all round the country that she had applied to Scotland Yard." He looked hard at the detective. "You've been sent down on a special mission, have you?"

Larose nodded. "Yes," he replied quietly. "I've come down to try and find out what happened to the bailiff."

"And I'd like to know too," commented Jones dryly. "I'd like very much to have a little talk with that gentleman."

"So you're interested too, are you?" said Larose. He spoke as if with great respect. "May I ask how it happened you have come down?"

"You may ask," replied Jones curtly. He appeared to consider for a moment and then added, "And I see no reason why I should not tell you. In fact," and he smiled quite genially now, "I have been thinking that you might, perhaps, be of some help to me. I don't forget you proved very useful when we were hounding down the racketeers of Ephraim Smith."

Larose suppressed a smile. "I always try to do my best, Mr. Jones," he replied, "but of course I have not had your experience."

"No," commented Jones grandly, "for you're younger than I am and experience can only come with age." He went on a quick crisp tone. "Now, I'll tell you what I am down here for. I am acting on behalf of a Mrs. Baxter, whose husband kept the Oxford Arms, four miles away." He looked sharply at Larose. "You have heard, perhaps, that he disappeared three weeks ago?"

The detective drew in a deep breath, and it was with a great effort only that he managed to suppress an exclamation of surprise. He composed his features, however, to a calm and casual expression.

"Yes," he nodded, "I heard that he could not be found." He put up one hand to cover a yawn. "Do you know anything about him?"

"Only that he's dead," snapped Jones. "Murdered on these meadows here and within a mile of where we are sitting now."

This time Larose made no effort to suppress his surprise. "Dead!" he exclaimed incredulously. "Murdered! Good God! Are you sure?"

"Well, I found his cap," replied Jones, smiling grimly at the consternation in the detective's face, "and it had been full of blood. It had a great slit in it and sticking to the edges of the slit were scalp, brain tissue and sandy-coloured hairs. Baxter's hair was sandy and he had undoubtedly been killed with a chopper, or an axe of some kind."

Accustomed as he was, by his life's work, to horrors of all kinds, the detective nevertheless experienced a feeling of nausea at the words so glibly spoken, and he swallowed hard, several times.

"Tell me about it, will you," he said after a few seconds.

Naughton Jones settled himself comfortably back upon the beach. "Well, I'll begin from when I first took up the case. I had——"

"One moment, please," interrupted Larose. "Does his wife know?"

A cloud passed over the face of the great investigator. "No," he admitted reluctantly. "I have not thought it wise to inform her yet." His expression brightened a little. "In fact I am waiting by express purpose, for I am hoping to present both heads upon the same charger, her husband's and that of his assassin."

Larose made no comment, and after an impressive pause, Jones went on. "Eight days ago, I had a call from this Mrs. Baxter to find her husband for her, but I should not have thought of taking up the case, for I am very busy, had she not reminded me that last year I was instrumental in getting a cousin of hers five years for burglary, and she seemed to think that gave her a certain claim on me. So, upon consideration, I complied with her request."

He looked very stern. "I told her, however, straightaway, to have no further dealings with the official police, and on no account to mention to anyone that I was investigating the matter. If she did, I warned her, I should return to London immediately. I also enjoined her that if any of the police called again, she was to refuse to answer any of their questions."

Larose frowned and seemed upon the point of making some sharp comment, but he thought better of it, and with a half smile turned away his eyes.

"Now," continued Jones in sonorous tones, and as if he were a schoolmaster addressing a class, "when I take up a case I always insist upon no half confidences. I demand entire confidence from the party calling me in, and with Mrs. Baxter it was particularly fortunate that I did so, for I learnt at once that she had let four days pass before informing anyone that her husband was missing, and I at once wanted to know the reason why. She was reluctant to tell me at first, but at length I dragged from her that he was given to poaching, and had indeed once served a term of imprisonment for that offence and it was her belief that he was out again upon such an expedition the night he disappeared."

Naughton Jones paused a few moments to rekindle his pipe and then went on.

"You must understand, of course, Mr. Larose, that poaching is a serious offence with anyone in Great Britain, but doubly so in the case of a publican, for to hold a license of a hotel or public-house in this country a man must be of exemplary character and with no history of any bad conduct against him. So we can quite understand why Mrs. Baxter had not dared to broadcast her suspicions at the time, even though they might materially have helped the authorities in their investigations. She was hoping, too, on the other hand, that her husband might possibly have gone off upon a drinking bout—he had done that several times in the nine years of their married life—and there again, she wanted to hush things up as much as possible."

"Well, having got this far, I probed for the reason why she thought her husband had gone poaching, and learnt she was of that opinion, because firstly, she had noticed him mending an old dog leash in the afternoon, and it was no longer to be found upon the premises, and secondly, because the greyhound or lurcher, or whatever kind of breed the animal is, had been found unchained in his kennel the following morning, which was most unusual, and moreover, he had been very tired and stiff all the succeeding day, as if he had had a hard night's work. Added to that, the beast had refused all food as if he had recently had a surfeit."

Jones nodded solemnly. "I thought over everything well, and came to the conclusion that the deductions were quite sound and that therefore, the next matter for me to consider was where the poaching had been done. I was of opinion pretty soon that Baxter could have only been going after hares, because he had taken the lurcher with him, obviously with the intention of running them down, and I straightaway started upon discreet enquiries in the town as to where most hares were to be found."

He paused for a moment again and Larose asked curiously, "And you picked upon Thralldom at once, Mr. Jones?"

Jones looked very pleased with himself. "No, no," he smiled, "and there, Mr. Larose, I flatter myself upon a very pretty little piece of reasoning." He lifted one long forefinger. "There are several places around Yoxford where hares can be found, but I was emphatically warned by a richly-complexioned individual, to whom I supplied certain forms of liquid refreshment, and who was undoubtedly of opinion that I was going to indulge in a little poaching myself, above all places to avoid Thralldom for there, he averred, poison baits had been extensively laid down."

"Go on," said Larose, for the great master was tantalisingly making a long pause.

"Well," smiled Jones, "I at once thought of that dog-leash and hurried back to Mrs. Baxter to question her about the dog. It was a most obedient animal, I learnt, and would follow and always come to heel. Then where was the necessity for the leash? I asked myself, unless——" and he nodded his head significantly—"it were needed to keep the dog close to his owner's side so that no poison baits should be picked up on the journeys to and fro? In effect, so that the animal should only have his head free when in actual pursuit of a hare."

"A most sound piece of reasoning, Mr. Jones," commented Larose, "and it seems so simple when you explain it."

Naughton Jones smiled with appreciation at the compliment and went on briskly, "So to Thralldom I came, and I spent four hard days among these meadows, these plantations, and these marshes going carefully almost yard by yard, over the ground." He frowned. "I received several rebuffs, and three times was warned away by different employees of Lord Thralldom, but I invariably returned from another direction a few minutes later, and in the end, I obtained my reward. I found the cap by the end of a small plantation of larch trees, about a quarter of a mile from the castle itself."

"You are sure it had belonged to Baxter?" rapped out Larose sharply.

Naughton Jones smiled again. "Quite sure," he replied. "His wife had given me the description of the only cap that was missing, and besides, it had his initials 'S.B.' in the lining, in indelible blue pencil. It had evidently been blown under the bush when I discovered it."

"But you have found no traces of the body?" asked Larose.

"None whatever, and there was nothing to show that Baxter had been killed within a hundred yards of the plantation. From the bloody condition of the cap, a lot of blood must have been spilt, but I could see no sign of it anywhere about." Jones shook his head. "But that is not to be wondered at for it was exactly three weeks to the day after Baxter disappeared that I found the cap and there had been several rainy days in between."

"But the body!" exclaimed Larose. "If Baxter were killed as you say, it must surely have been hidden somewhere near?"

"Not necessarily," smiled Jones. "It may have been carried a long way, with the cap falling off at any moment of the journey."

"But who would have gone to the trouble of carrying the body a long way?" asked Larose bluntly. "Once the man was dead, surely the murderer would have cleared off and left the body where it was?" He looked with hard intentness at Jones as he put the question and almost as if he had no belief in his own suggestion, but were only desirous of learning what the other's opinion might be.

"No, no," replied Jones quickly, "and that is just my point." His face grew very stern and he spoke in a slow and solemn tone. "Whoever killed Sam Baxter was not content only that he had killed him but he also held that it was necessary that nothing that had happened should be known. He was killing upon ground to which he desired no suspicion should be drawn, for"—and here Jones paused dramatically—"it was in his mind that it might be necessary for him to kill there again."

The heart of the detective was beating rapidly, and once more he had to mask from his face all indication of what was passing in his mind. So, this pompous and long-winded pedant, with his petty and laughable conceits, was nevertheless trailing unerringly upon the very path that he, Larose, had been imagining he, alone, had picked up!

"Yes," went on Jones calmly, "and in my opinion we have a madman here and I know who he is."

"Who?" burst out Larose quickly.

"James Augustus Rawlings," was the instant reply. "He came upon Baxter poaching, but thought Baxter was there to injure his blessed cows. That's the whole thing in a nutshell."

A long silence followed and then Jones dropped into sonorous academic tones again. "The human mind, Mr. Larose, is at times the victim of its own marvellous evolution for its weakness lies in its very strength. Concentration in any particular and strictly definite direction is always prone to induce a condition of morbidity, a pathological——"

"But have you the very slightest evidence," broke in Larose sharply, "that Rawlings had anything to do with Baxter's murder even if it be, as you say, that Baxter is dead?"

Naughton Jones held up his hand. "Listen, Mr. Larose. It is now three days since I found that cap, and I have not been idle, indeed, I do not think I have ever worked harder in all my life. I have enquired into the private histories and dispositions of most of the responsible people about here, and this is what, amongst other things, I have found out." He spoke in natural tones now. "Rawlings is a quiet and taciturn man, and passionately devoted to all his duties. He is thorough in everything, but is not liked because he is hard, cold and unsympathetic in his dealings with everyone outside his home. Lord Thralldom, a weak old man, and thinking of little now except his paintings, leaves all the management of the estate to him and the bailiff does pretty well everything he likes. His word is law. Well, his one passion in life appears to be a herd of Jersey cows. It is his obsession and, to the exclusion of everything else, it is the only thing he loves. He has been very successful with them, and the Thralldom strain is spoken of wherever men talk of cattle, and at all the Agricultural Shows, when a beast is entered in his name, Lord Thralldom is invariably a prize-winner."

"Go on," said Larose, because Jones was exasperatingly stopping to fill his pipe again.

But Jones was not to be hurried, and not until the pipe was well alight would he condescend to continue.

"Now, Rawlings is quite aware he is not popular, and, of late, he has come to the idea that, to spite him, people are on the look-out to injure his cows. He has been heard to state that to several, and to prevent any dogs coming on to the estate, he has been laying strychnine about. He denies it, but his denial is not credited. Well, just now he has been very much on his toes because the pride of the herd, a beast known as Queen Guinivere, is calving and he is certain that many of his enemies would like to get at her. So, what does he do?"

"Well, what?" broke in Larose impatiently, because Jones had stopped again.

"He takes to roaming about at night. He stalks the meadows, the cliffs and the marshes. He——"

"How do you know this?" interrupted Larose, with his eyes opened very wide.

"Because several lots of people have seen him and it can be corroborated. Not single individuals, I tell you, but groups of people. Four men and a woman met him about three weeks ago towards midnight, when they were coming back to Dunwich from Saxmundham. Two couples met him last Sunday night, near Thebarton, and this week, no later than Tuesday, half a dozen glee-singers passed him as they were going to Darsham."

"This week!" ejaculated Larose. "Since he disappeared!"

"Certainly," replied Jones, "five nights ago, and they all recognised him."

The face of Larose was the very picture of astonishment. "Did they speak to him?" he gasped.

Jones shook his head. "No, they called out to him, but he did not answer."

"But his wife never mentioned to me," said Larose frowning, "that he ever went out at night."

"Did you ask her?" demanded Jones, and when Larose shook his head, the great investigator rapped out, "And perhaps she didn't know. Do they sleep in the same bed? Did you make sure of that?"

"No, I didn't," replied Larose, now beginning to look annoyed. "I never went into their bedroom, and it would have been of no use if I had. She was moving out late yesterday afternoon and the place was all upside down." He spoke very sharply. "But, good heavens! if the bailiff is still alive, then what on earth has he disappeared for?"

Jones looked very mysterious. "That's what I want to know," he replied. "My personal opinion is that he has gone mad and has just pretended to disappear, in the expectation of the more easily catching one of his enemies in the act of attacking his cows."

"Well, his master thinks he's dead," said Larose bluntly, "for he has appointed a successor to him." He rose to his feet. "Well, at any rate, I intend going up to the castle to see Lord Thralldom this afternoon and then I'll be able to tell you what his opinion is of his late bailiff, but I'll go and have another talk with Mrs. Rawlings first." He looked sharply at Jones. "But if Rawlings killed the innkeeper, what did he do with the body?"

"Buried it," replied Jones promptly. "I am now looking for a grave upon the ploughed land. I can find no trace of recently turned earth anywhere in any of the plantations." He nodded. "I was suspicious of the castle moat until I learnt that it is cleaned out periodically, and the last occasion was not three weeks ago. They open a sluice gate and the moat empties itself on to the marshes. Then it is filled again by water pumped from the river. It is one of the present Lord Thralldom's fads to keep the water always fresh, and a very good fad too. He had the pipes laid down some years ago."

They walked slowly back in the direction of the inn and then, suddenly, Naughton Jones swept his arm all round upon the lands of Thralldom.

"A beautiful scene, is it not, Mr. Larose?" he remarked. "All peace and quiet and the tranquillity of the smiling countryside," he shook his head frowningly, "and yet I am sure that at the present moment it shelters forces of evil that do not meet the eye." He lowered his voice. "There are some queer people about here, I tell you." He pointed with his hand to an old house, close down upon the shore. "Now there are three birds living there that are interesting. One is an American—I have heard him talk—and he is a purposeful, bustling type of man that looks quite out of place down here; a second is supposed to be his servant, but he has the cut about his jib of a house-breaker to me, and to the third I have given the time of day four or five times upon the marshes, and he always looks at me with a sort of look 'I am up to some fishy business and what are you here for?'" Naughton Jones sighed. "I listened under their window last night, but it was well shut down, and all I got for my pains was a torn stocking and some tar upon my clothes."

Larose smiled. "You are always so energetic, Mr. Jones. Do you never allow yourself any rest?"

"I have so trained my subconscious mind——" began Jones grandly, and then suddenly he clutched his companion by the arm, and pointed to a man coming towards them upon the sands. "Quick, quick," he exclaimed, "isn't it that fellow Croupin?"

"Yes, Raphael Croupin!" ejaculated Larose. "So it is. Our lively colleague from Paris!"

"Quick, down under this groyne," commanded Jones sternly. "He mayn't have seen us and may pass by," and almost dragging the detective with him, he darted behind a big, wooden groyne, one of the many erected there, to stem the inroads of the sea.

"Our lively colleague from Paris!" he went on sneeringly, as they were crouching upon the stones. He looked very sternly at the detective. "Do you know, Mr. Larose, I have thousands of times regretted my association with that man in the assistance I gave to Ephraim Smith last year? It detracts from my self-respect to think that I ever worked, side by side, with a thief."

"But he was a great help to us, Mr. Jones," said the detective gently, "and personally, he is a pleasant, likeable fellow."

"But a thief!" exclaimed Jones, "a self-admitted thief. A man who in his own Paris has his own organisation of crime." He laughed scornfully. "And just because he is good-looking in his simpering way, and comes from aristocratic forbears, and steals only from the very rich, and broadcasts his successful thievings from the housetops, and has amorous intrigues with silly women in Society," he shrugged his shoulders contemptuously, "he is the idol and joke of all France, and of that France I should say who would be great rogues themselves if they had the courage and the brains." He pressed hard on the detective's arm. "But look out, here he comes."

The man, whose demerits Naughton Jones had been so energetically discussing, reached to within a few paces of where they were crouching, and then stayed his steps and stood quite still, looking out over the sea.

As Naughton Jones had said, he was certainly good-looking. Of medium height and slight in build, he had wavy chestnut hair and nicely chiselled features. He had an aristocratic, aquiline nose and a sensitive, refined mouth. His dark eyes were large and dreamy, and shaded with long lashes. Indeed, he was as pretty as a woman except for the firmness and virility of his expression.

For quite a long while he stood gazing upon the sea, as if drinking in to the full the beauty of its rolling waves. Then he sighed and was about to continue upon his walk, when his eyes fell upon the two figures crouching under the groyne. He just gave a careless glance but suddenly, then, looked very puzzled, and finally his face broke into a radiant smile and he came forward quickly with outstretched arms.

"My friends!" he exclaimed in perfect English and speaking with only a very slight accent. "Gilbert Larose and the great Meester Naughton Jones! Oh! but I am pleased to meet you."

Naughton Jones rose up with a frown and Larose followed, looking very amused.

"How do you do, Monsieur Croupin?" said the detective, smiling, and he at once took the hand the Frenchman proffered and shook it warmly.

Jones, however, kept his arms close to his side and made no movement to shake hands. "Good day, Mr. Croupin," he said with marked disfavour in his voice. "I did not expect to meet you again in England." He eyed him quickly up and down and added rudely, "But I notice you are not attired after your usual fashion."

Croupin opened his eyes wide, as if very surprised, and then with a worried look proceeded to glance down over his clothes.

"But I am all right," he said wonderingly, "all good English clothes. Everything bought in London."

"But they are black," persisted Jones, with a sour smile. "Where is your cravat of peacock blue, your vest of rainbow colours and the buttonhole of the philanderer?" He laughed sneeringly. "Your whole get-up is less of the style of the seducer, Mr. Croupin."

"Oh! Meester Jones!" exclaimed Croupin reproachfully, "and I am thinking of joining the Young Men's Christian Association. I have been pressed by several clergymen to do so."

"Well, what are you doing here?" asked Jones truculently and as if it were his right to know. "Up to no good, I am sure."

The Frenchman looked aggrieved. "I am on holiday, just on holiday in your beautiful country." He grinned confidingly. "I am too popular just at present over the sea, and my company is too much desired in my beloved Paris." An idea seemed suddenly to strike him, and he looked with interest at the great Jones. "But you, Meester Jones, what has happened to you? You are dressed differently now"—he spread out his hands—"and you look less like a bloodhound. You——"

"Where were you staying?" broke in Jones angrily.

"Oh! staying!" ejaculated Croupin apparently in no wise aggrieved at being so unceremoniously interrupted. "I am staying at Southwold, ah! and that reminds me." He glanced at his wrist watch and then whistled in dismay. "Oh! I have to be back at four o'clock. There is a Mission Service on the sands then and I am to lead the singing of the hymns." He raised his hat hurriedly, with a grand flourish and then, with the suspicion of a wink in the direction of Larose, called out "Good-bye, good-bye," and turning upon his heels made off as quickly as he could.

"A natural rogue!" remarked Jones with a scowl following the retreating figure with his eyes, "and upon another thieving expedition, without doubt." He nodded his head viciously. "At any rate, I'll make some enquiries in Southwold to-night."

The two parted a few minutes later, with Jones enjoining upon the detective to meet him on the morrow at the same place, and inform him as to the result of his interview with Lord Thralldom.

Returning to the inn, Larose took out his car and drove into Thebarton to have a few words with Mrs. Rawlings. He was very perplexed about the discovery Naughton Jones had imparted to him. "But if Rawlings be still alive," he argued to himself, "and if he is the madman I am looking for, then where does that Halesworth butcher come in?" He shook his head. "But it does not seem feasible to me that the bailiff could have been leading that double life without his wife having had some suspicion about it, and she is certainly in the dark, for her distress is genuine, and she is not a woman who could play her part in a conspiracy like this. She is genuinely grieved, too, at being turned out of her house." He tossed his head contemptuously. "And if she knows her husband to be still alive, why was she at such pains to obtain the intervention of the Yard."

He found Mrs. Rawlings in her new home, and asking her at once if her husband were in the habit of going out at night, she replied most emphatically, "No." She admitted, however, that they had always occupied separate beds, and indeed that she was not a light sleeper, but she scoffed altogether at the idea that Rawlings could have gone out more than once or twice without her hearing him.

"Besides," she said in conclusion, "I know every pair of boots he's got, and clean them all, so if he had been going out at night, I should have noticed it, at once." And the detective parted from her, more puzzled than ever.


JOHN HARDEN was certainly no laggard in love. He had seen Ann Devenham often at the bank, had met her twice outside, had danced with her seven times, and was convinced that she was the most beautiful and wonderful creature in all the world. Also, he was certain that she had not resented that last final pressure of the hand that he had given her upon the night of the Shire Ball, and almost, he thought, and his heart beat tumultuously at the idea, she had in a gentle way returned it.

He was in no wise deterred by the knowledge that she was a relation of the great Lord Thralldom and he only a bank clerk upon a salary of £5 a week, with his father a struggling doctor in the East End of London. It was sufficient to him that she was a woman and would one day, he knew, be he rich or poor, noble or otherwise, respond to the advances of a lover.

So that bright afternoon found him tramping over the Thralldom marshes to the castle, to obtain speech with her again, his excuse being that he was bringing up some books they had been discussing at the last dance. He had written her that he might be passing, one day, and would leave them for her.

He was striding along full of his own thoughts, wondering if she would be at the castle, how she would meet him, what she would say, and what sort of reception he would get for his enterprise from Lady Deering and the great Lord of Thralldom, when gradually he became aware that a motor car was coming up behind him and, turning round, recognised in the driver, the detective from Scotland Yard who had called at the bank the previous day.

Larose recognising him at the same moment, pulled up, and asked if he would like a lift.

"You are going to the castle, of course," he said as the young fellow jumped up beside him, "I understand this road leads only to there."

John Harden nodded and then asked smilingly, "Found anything yet to help you about Mr. Holden?"

Larose looked sideways at him. He was quite a handsome boy, with good chin and mouth and nice honest eyes. He saw he was being well scrutinised, and noticed, too, the hesitation of the detective in replying to his question.

"But I suppose I ought not to have asked you that," he added. "All detectives, I understand are very secretive."

"On the contrary," laughed Larose, "for we often obtain vital information by imparting information ourselves, first. No, I haven't found out anything for certain yet, but I am staying for a few days at the inn on Minsmere Haven and may pick up something any time. But tell me," he added, "did Mr. Holden know Lord Thralldom?"

"Oh! yes," was the reply, "his lordship has an account at our bank. He very rarely comes in, however, and we haven't seen him at all since his illness about six months ago. He can hardly walk now."

"And you are going up to see him on business, may I ask?" said Larose.

"No-o," replied the young man hesitatingly, and the detective made a mental note that he had got rather red.

A moment's silence followed and then the boy went on—"A wonderful old place this, sir, is it not? One of the best preserved castles in England. There's a lot of romance about it, too, for gold treasure is supposed to be hidden somewhere, and generations of Thralldoms have been trying to find it."

They chatted on during the short journey and then, as they were approaching close to the castle young Harden exclaimed suddenly, "Oh! you might just put me down here, if you don't mind; I may not be going into the castle until later."

Instantly, Larose following the direction of the boy's eyes, saw the bright colour of a woman's dress among the trees of the big garden upon one side of the road.

"Ah! ah!" he thought, "but I might have guessed something of that nature from his happy expression." He sighed. "Really, I am not much of a detective and am growing old."

He dropped his passenger as requested, and with his eyes roaming everywhere, crossed the bridge over the moat. Alighting from the car, he pressed upon the bell at the side of the big door.

"My conscience!" he ejaculated looking round, "but this place looks prepared for a siege, even now. With that great spiked door shut, it would need a battering ram before one could cross the bridge and, although this front door is invitingly open, that steel grille inside has first to be passed before one can enter the castle." He nodded, "Yes, this old chap here certainly keeps himself select."

A tall footman, resplendently attired in the livery of the Thralldoms appeared, and with a sharp movement of his arm, opened a small door in the grille.

"I want to see Lord Thralldom, please," said Larose.

The footman, eyeing him intently, shook his head. "I'm sorry, sir," he replied, "but his lordship sees no one except by appointment and he has made no appointments for to-day."

"But he'll see me," said the detective. "I'm from Scotland Yard. Take this card to him, please."

The footman received the card and glanced down at it, but he still looked doubtful. "I'll enquire, sir," he said, and retreating behind the grille, he pushed it to and disappeared.

Larose looked out across the moat and was an interested observer of the meeting of young Harden and the wearer of the bright dress among the trees. The lifting of a hat with great reverence, the outstretching of two hands, and the gentle inclination towards each other of two heads.

"Like two doves meeting upon the roof," he commented dryly. "The madness of life, its greatest mystery, its greatest urge!" He sighed. "Nothing in it at all and yet—the very glory of life itself." He looked again at the huge, spiked door upon the bridge and then at the grille. "But it seems I shall be getting a cool reception here."

But he was quite mistaken there, for the footman returning in less than a minute, the grille was opened and he was conducted through an immense hall and down a long corridor into the library where the great Lord of Thralldom received him with a courteous, if haughty, bow.

His lordship was standing, supporting himself against a big arm-chair, and he waved the detective to another chair placed at the other side of the table, before seating himself. He stared intently at his visitor with big, fierce, penetrating eyes. The footman, evidently acting upon instructions, took up a position behind his master, and immediately proceeded to assume the detached and impassive pose of the well-trained servant.

"I must apologise for troubling you, my lord," began the detective, "but——"

"You say you are from Scotland Yard," interrupted Lord Thralldom. "Show me your badge. I am a magistrate and understand these things."

Larose at once complied and then began again. "I am sorry, my lord, but——"

"What do you want of me?" came the deep, stern tones.

"I have come about your bailiff, Rawlings," replied Larose.

"So I supposed," commented Lord Thralldom instantly. "I understand his wife had approached the London police." He looked scornful. "But what her reason was, I cannot see. The local police are quite capable enough to deal with a matter such as this."

"What do you think has happened to him?" asked Larose.

"Happened!" exclaimed his lordship. "How do I know? I am as much in the dark as anyone. He may have walked over the cliff and got drowned. I have been losing a lot of my sheep lately, that way. He was short-sighted and very obstinate in refusing to wear glasses, and those over-hanging cliffs are dangerous to people of good sight, even in the day time. He may have done that or he may——" He turned sharply to the footman. "You can leave us, James, and close the door after you."

He ceased speaking until the footman had left the room and then went on very quietly. "Or he may have had a quarrel with his wife and just taken himself off to be away from her for a few days." He nodded his head. "That is quite possible, for she is pig-headed and obstinate, that woman. Just as obstinate as he used to be."

"But you are certain he is dead, are you not, my lord?" persisted Larose. "You are assured of that in your own mind?"

"Not at all, not at all," replied Lord Thralldom quickly. "I am assured of nothing, I tell you, except that his absence from his duties dates from that morning when he could not be found."

"But you have made Mrs. Rawlings leave her home," frowned Larose, "and appointed a new bailiff."

Lord Thralldom shrugged his shoulders. "As a matter of routine, sir," he replied. "Upon a large estate like mine, I cannot spare any servant for any length of time."

"Another question, my lord," said the detective. "I understand that Rawlings was in your service for over twenty years and therefore I am quite sure you must have formed a very accurate estimation of his character." He looked sharply at him. "Now did it ever strike you that he was unbalanced in his mind?"

"Certainly not!" replied Lord Thralldom promptly. "He was a cold, unemotional man, and secretive and reserved, if you like, but there was nothing, no nothing, mentally deficient about him. He was as sane as you or I." He bent forward confidingly towards the detective. "Now, you take it from me, sir, that there is no occasion to go further into this matter. Either Rawlings has given himself leave of absence and will return of his own accord in due time, or else he has fallen over those cliffs and been drowned. Of course there is nothing certain, but those are the only two alternatives that I can suggest." He smiled in a friendly way at the detective. "So you just go back to Scotland Yard, say you have seen Lord Thralldom and that there is no need to make any further enquiries." He frowned. "It is most annoying to me to have detectives coming about the place, and it is most distressing for Mrs. Rawlings to have the matter kept open for so long."

"But if he has been drowned," said Larose, "the body——"

"Bodies are never washed up here," broke in Lord Thralldom. "It is a peculiarity of the current round this coast, that they are carried out into deep water and then—well I suppose they are eaten by the conger eels. We never see anything of my drowned sheep."

"But is your lordship aware," went on Larose, "that it is rumoured Rawlings was in the habit of roaming about in the dark, even as late as midnight and at hours after that?"

"No, I am not aware," replied Lord Thralldom, instantly. He looked scornful. "But then the gossip of the villages never comes to my ears."

"Do you believe it?" asked Larose.

Lord Thralldom appeared quite uninterested. "I knew nothing of my bailiff's private life." He looked sharply at the detective. "But what if he did? It might have been his habit to take walking exercise at night."

"But there are people who say they have actually met him," continued Larose, "even upon nights later than the one upon which he disappeared. Upon one occasion, as recently as last Tuesday."

Lord Thralldom was interested now. He looked astounded and raised himself quickly with a jerk. "What!" he exclaimed, with his eyes opened very wide, "who saw him last Tuesday?"

"Some men who were returning from Darsham," replied Larose. "They called out to him, but he didn't answer."

For a few moments then, there was silence, with Lord Thralldom staring hard at the detective, with his face all puckered into a heavy frown. Then he laughed scoffingly.

"I don't believe it," he said sharply, "for if he's about the place, he would have returned to duty. I know enough about the man to be sure of that."

"But these men——" began Larose.

"Will say anything," interrupted his lordship, "and spread any tales." He shook his head solemnly. "None but they, sir, who have lived on the countryside can realise the foolishness and credulity of these villagers. They will see and say anything. They believe in ghosts and charms and witches and nothing is too gross for their superstitions." He looked contemptuous. "They never saw Rawlings, they just imagined they did."

A long silence followed, and then the detective said slowly, "So you can give me no help at all, my lord?"

"None whatever," was the reply. "Either the man will turn up of his own accord, as I say, or else—his disappearance will remain a mystery for ever."

The detective was rising to his feet to terminate the interview when Lord Thralldom said suddenly, "Oh! whilst you are here, sir, perhaps you will very kindly give me your opinion upon another matter." The fierce, intent look came again into his eyes. "I have some very valuable paintings here, and among others, have recently acquired a Rubens that I would not sell for £40,000. I have taken every conceivable precaution for their safety, but do you think"—he looked most worried and anxious—"that any miscreants would dare to make use of explosives, to break in here."

Larose laughed. "Explosives make a lot of noise, my lord," he replied, "and this castle is not sufficiently isolated for any burglars to run the risk of arousing the countryside."

Lord Thralldom pursed up his lips. "But the Earl of Balir lost two Hogarths that way, and remember, they used explosives there."

"A lonely house in the Highlands," smiled Larose, "an aged caretaker and his wife, and no help forthcoming within twenty miles."

But Lord Thralldom looked unconvinced. "I am an old man," he said wistfully, "and have little to live for but my paintings"—he sighed—"and they are a great worry to me. I am in poor health and an invalid and have to leave everything to others." His face grew hard and grim again. "And this castle is being watched, I know. These last few days even, an evil-looking man has been seen prowling about the meadows. I have seen him myself through my glasses, several times. He is disguised, I am sure, for he is got up like a golfer on the stage. I have had him ordered away, but he always returns."

"Well, I don't think you need worry, my lord," smiled Larose, very much amused at this description of the great Naughton Jones. "You are well protected. That grille in the hall would take a lot of breaking through." He rose to his feet and inclined his head. "I am much obliged to your lordship for seeing me."

"Not at all," replied Lord Thralldom, brightening up. "I only wish I could help you. But you'll take some refreshment," he added. He pressed a bell upon the table. "Oh! but I insist. My footman will take you to the pantry."

The detective acquiesced. It was a hot day and he was thirsty, besides he was nothing loth to have the chance of picking up some information from the servants and accordingly, he was led away in the direction of the kitchen regions.

Reaching the servants' hall, where three prepossessing maids were having tea, the footman paused. "Which would you prefer, sir?" he asked the detective, "a glass of beer in the pantry, or a cup of tea with the young ladies here."

"Oh!" replied Larose gallantly, "a cup of tea, of course," and at once a place was made for him at the table, and tea poured out by one of the smiling girls.

"Froggy, Froggy," called out the footman, "we've got a visitor, so bring out some of those poisonous cakes of yours," and then winking at the detective, he whispered, "We've got a new French chef here and he can beat the world with his stuff."

"'Orl right, I come, I come," came a merry voice from the kitchen and Larose gasped in surprise, for the voice of the unseen Froggy was undoubtedly that of the jovial thief, Raphael Croupin.

Half a minute later, the chef came into view, carrying a generous pile of cakes upon a dish, but dish and all began slipping from his hands as his eyes fell upon Larose. His jaw dropped and he was the very picture of consternation.

"Steady, Froggy," called out the footman angrily. "What's up with you? You'll be spilling all your trash."

The chef recovered himself instantly, and the look of consternation changed in a flash to one of impudent amusement.

"This is Froggy," introduced the footman, "and this gentleman, Froggy," he added in mock severity, "is a detective who has come down from Scotland Yard to arrest you for bigamy."

"Non, non," laughed Croupin showing his beautiful white teeth, "for I have nevaire even a sweetheart until I come here and now"—he bowed to the giggling girls—"I have three all at once."

He set the dish upon the table with a great flourish, and then asked smilingly of Larose, "You speak French, Monsieur?"

"Not much," replied the detective, a little grimly, "but I understand it."

Immediately, then Croupin spoke rapidly in French. "Meet me at nine o'clock at the old hut by the plantation on the marsh road. I will explain. It is urgent." And then he turned with a mirthful eye to the girls. "Zat means in my language, 'You must not fall in love with any of zem, for I love zem all.'" And he laughed heartily at his own impudence.

Over the tea and cakes the detective then proceeded to chat easily with the servants, and was at once on good terms with them. He speedily brought round the conversation to the disappearance of the bailiff, and soon learnt that they were unanimously of opinion that the man had fallen over the cliff and been drowned.

The footman, James, a big, strong fellow, but apparently not over-gifted with brains and inclined to be loquacious, was sure of it. Two holiday-makers were drowned there last year, he gave as his reason for being so certain, and as things always happened in threes, then of course, it had been for the bailiff to complete the sequence.

At the last moment, when the detective had made his good-byes to the girls and was leaving the room, Croupin again spoke in French and, as before, very rapidly.

"To-night at nine," he called out, "and I'll startle you. I believe that man was murdered." And then he smilingly explained to the girls, "Zat means I shall be marrying one of you, but I am not certain which one yet."

The detective was not a little thoughtful upon his journey back to the inn, and he had to confess to himself that his ideas were now in a state of bewildering chaos. Was Rawlings alive or dead, and could the information that Naughton Jones had picked up be relied upon? If Jones were right about Rawlings, then everything would fit in with the ideas that he, Larose, had conceived, and the disappearances of the other three missing people would be explained. A madman roaming upon Thralldom at night, and striking down indiscriminately everyone he met! But if Jones were wrong then the mystery was in a way as far from being solved as ever, unless the butcher from Halesworth stepped in to fill the bill.

He gave it up at last with a sigh and then he nodded his head with a grim smile. "Well, we'll see what Monsieur Croupin has to say to-night. He may be a thief and everything that Jones said about him, but for all that, he's a shrewd fellow, and it's a Heaven-sent gift having him now as an ally inside the castle."

Now there is always a mystery about the way of a man with a maid and the wile of a maid with a man, and when the two have fallen in love with one another, long before the boundaries of the polite and distant conventionalities of life are passed, there is always a perfect, though it may be wholly unconscious, understanding between them.

And so it was now with Ann Devenham and young Harden. They were in love with one another and both desirous, in their differing ways, that the raptures of real love-making should eventuate as speedily as possible.

The boy, man-like, would have stormed the castle at once with no delay, and the girl would have been quite willing, except that the usages and customs of her class demanded that she should be courted with due ceremony, in stages, and with the usual maddening uncertainty upon her lover's side. She had never been really in love before, but now she had quite made up her mind that she would like young Harden for a husband, and so, when she had said good-bye to him after the last dance at the Assembly Hall, she had smiled upon him in such a way that only the densest youth could have failed to realise that he was being encouraged to seek further opportunities for seeing her.

Ann was quite a determined young woman, and although she knew that neither her step-mother nor her great-uncle would look with favour upon his suit, she did not forget that she was over twenty-one years old and her own mistress, as far as the bestowal of her affections was concerned. She was sure Lord Thralldom would be furious, for he was always reminding her of her Thralldom blood, and took it for granted that she would, one day, ally herself with a family that was as old and distinguished as her own.

She was weary of her days at Thralldom Castle, however, and the advent of John Harden into her life was like the sunshine breaking through upon the drab and dreariness of a winter's day.

But, of course, when young Harden appeared among the trees that sunny afternoon, the ordinary happenings as usual upon such occasions, occurred.

She saw him coming perfectly well, but pretended not to have done so, and turned a slim and dainty shoulder in his direction. Then when he spoke, she appeared startled, as is customary, and returned his greeting with a most becoming blush upon her face.

They shook hands, and while his would have lingered, she drew hers gently away.

"I've brought you those books of poems that we spoke about," he said, and his voice was a little husky.

"Oh I how very nice of you! I've wanted to read them for ever so long," she fibbed sweetly, for she was quite aware there were copies of the same books, that she could have perused any time, in the castle library. "Did you walk here?" she went on, evidently desirous of giving him the impression that she had not seen him alight from a car.

"Part of the way," he replied, "but then someone who was going to see Lord Thralldom, gave me a lift."

"Still, you must be tired," she said smiling. "Come over here and we'll sit down," and she led the way to a big garden seat that was partly hidden from view among the trees.

They were soon chatting easily and naturally to one another, but each with a set purpose in everything they said. He told her that his father was a doctor in London, that his life in the bank was very monotonous and dreary, but that he was ambitious, and writing a book, and she told him about herself and her life in the castle.

Her father was dead and she had intended to be a nurse once, then she and her stepmother had come to Thralldom because they had not been left well off, and her grand-uncle had offered them a home. Not that he would have been lonely if they had not come, for he lived so much for his paintings and nothing else really mattered to him. His paintings, however, were a great worry to him and often at night he would hobble up on to the battlements, and through his glasses, imagine he saw people watching the castle. Also he used to walk up and down the corridors when everybody else was in bed.

The castle was really very wonderful—she would take him there presently—but there were many parts of it she had not seen. More than half of it had been walled off for more than fifty years and the uninhabited portion was very much as it had been, hundreds of years ago. No, she had never attempted to explore it, for Lord Thralldom was fidgety in some ways and did not like anyone to go in. Once, she had just been shown the entrance to the dungeons and that was all.

But there were a tremendous number of rooms under the castle she understood. Huge storage places, dungeons, vaults with graves and coffins in them, and long passages that descended even deeper than the moat.

Yes, of course, it was said there were ghosts haunting the castle. She had never seen any, but occasionally she had heard noises at night behind the walls, but she had imagined they had only been rats and she had not been afraid.

Strangers often wrote, asking if they might go over the castle, but Lord Thralldom always refused. There was supposed to be treasure buried somewhere in the vaults, gold plate that had been hidden away when Henry VIII. seized the monasteries, and the lords of Thralldom had been looking for it for hundreds of years but none of them had found it.

Her great hobby was music, and she would have been very lonely but for that. There was a beautiful organ in the chapel—the last Lord Thralldom had paid a fortune for it—and she played on it every day. Certainly she would take him into the chapel and show it him, after she had given him some tea.

So, for an hour and more, they talked on, and then having walked round the garden, they turned their steps towards the bridge over the moat.

Passing upon their way, they met Larose, who was then leaving the castle, and the detective flashed an admiring glance upon the girl.

"Nothing in it, did I say?" he sighed, as he sped by. "Well, perhaps I might be inclined to qualify that statement in certain circumstances"—he smiled—"and this might be one."

Harden was introduced to Lady Deering, who was very polite, if a little curious, when she learnt that her stepdaughter had met him at a dance during her recent stay with the vicar at Saxmundham. She was puzzled, however, why Ann had mentioned nothing about his coming up, for, of course, she told herself, he would not have come without being invited.

Captain Bonnett was puzzled, too, but for a different reason. He had recognised Harden at once as having been one of the clerks who had changed one of Silas Hudson's £5 bank notes for him in the bank at Saxmundham, and he wondered how the devil it was the fellow came to be having tea at the castle. The captain was not only puzzled, but in a way of being distinctly furious as well, for he noticed a most becoming blush upon Ann's face, and there could be no doubt from her manner towards young Harden, what had brought it there.

Lord Thralldom came in later, and after one hard glance at the visitor, was courteous but quite uninterested until he heard them discussing Ruskin's Modern Pictures, and then finding that, at any rate, the boy knew a little about art, upon Ann's suggestion, he consented to take them into the picture gallery. There, Harden was so obviously enthralled with the beauty of 'The Man of Sorrows' that his manner towards him thawed considerably and finally, he invited him to stay to dinner.

At first young Harden was not a little awed with the ceremonies of the meal, but Ann was an inspiration, and an incentive to his courage and he soon appeared as if it were quite an ordinary thing for him to be waited upon by a butler, and footmen, attired in gorgeous liveries.

Dinner over, Lord Thralldom retired to the library, and Lady Deering commandeering Captain Bonnett for a game of chess, Ann took Harden into the chapel. There, she played for him, like an angel herself, he thought—among the angels in the stained glass windows and the frescoes on the walls.

She played soft, dreamy pieces in the dim religious light, and carried away by the beauty of the music, he was soon regarding her with such reverence that he chided himself it was a sacrilege ever to have been hoping, one day, even to kiss her hand.

She was hallowed, she was divine, and no one was worthy even to kiss her in their secret thoughts!

But it all came to an end at last with the rapturous sweetness of a mediaeval vesper, and a few minutes later he was walking through the scented dusk, bearing in his heart so great a happiness that he was astonished it did not burst.

She had invited him to come again!

Ann returned to the drawing-room where her stepmother was still engaged at chess with the angry Captain Bonnett. Lady Deering looked up as the girl entered, and it was evident from her manner that she had now been informed by the captain as to the status of their visitor.

"You shouldn't have brought him in, Ann, before asking us," she said querulously. "You know how particular your uncle is," and when the girl made no reply, she asked—"What did he come after?"

Ann smiled as if she were very amused. "Why me, of course," she answered, and then when her stepmother looked scandalised at so unmaidenly an avowal, the girl added with mischief in her eyes, "or else after uncle's paintings."


IT wanted yet five minutes to nine when Raphael Croupin slipped into the ruined hut by the marsh road and found Larose waiting for him, seated upon a heap of stones.

"Good evening, Monsieur Croupin," said the detective dryly. "Then you are not staying in Southwold after all?"

But there was no embarrassment about the Frenchman, and his eyes twinkled. "Oh! but it was droll you should meet me in the castle," he exclaimed smilingly, "and yet, when the shock was over, I was never more glad of anything in all my life, for I have so much to tell you."

He spoke in excellent English and there was now no trace of the exaggerated accent that he had made use of in the servants' hall earlier in the day.

The detective eyed him very sternly. "Well, what are you doing up there, my friend," he asked, "masquerading as a cook?"

Croupin threw out his hands in a gesture of amazement. "Masquerading!" he exclaimed indignantly. "And did you not notice the flavour of my cakes?" He shook his finger accusingly. "You ate four of them, I saw."

"Never mind about the cakes," said Larose sharply, "but what did you take that situation at the castle for?"

Croupin appeared surprised at the question. "Why, for the Rubens, of course." He was quite calm and unflurried. "I thought it much too beautiful to be in this cold and unappreciative country and so, I came to borrow it—for France."

"Oh! you did, did you?" commented Larose grimly. "Then I'll stop that and you'll clear out at once."

"But it is not necessary, for I have no longer any hope of it," went on Croupin sadly. "First because it is an old man's treasure and I would not break his heart, and secondly," he sighed—"I see I cannot get it." He shook his head. "No, I make no attempt to touch it now for I do not understand the wiring of those alarms. They are of a kind I do not know and are even fused into the glass. There is talk, too, that they ring direct into the police station at Saxmundham." He shrugged his shoulders resignedly. "So, I leave that 'Man of Sorrows' alone."

"Then for what purpose are you continuing on at the castle?" asked Larose as if not yet convinced.

The Frenchman's face became all smiles again. "Ah! now that is quite a different matter and I wait there"—he lowered his voice to a whisper—"because I am in the midst of one of those mysteries that I love."

Larose shook his head frowningly. "Monsieur Croupin," he said, "you'll have to make a clean breast of everything. I have a certain regard for you, as you know, but as an officer attached to Scotland Yard"—he nodded—"but you understand."

"Yes, I understand," nodded back Croupin. He beamed in the most friendly maimer at the detective. "But I am going to be of great help to you, Monsieur," he went on, "for I think I know who killed that bailiff of Lord Thralldom." He paused dramatically. "He is in the castle now and he is William, one of the footmen up there."

If he had expected Larose to show any astonishment, he was disappointed, for the detective eyed him with an expression in which there was no surprise. "Oh! he is dead, is he?" he said quietly. "How do you know?"

"I do not know," exclaimed Croupin quickly. "I only guess. But it looks like it. Now, you listen to me." He went on very solemnly, "That night when the bailiff disappeared, I was up on the battlements. I had no business to be there because it is forbidden. It is one of the rules of the castle that the servants must not go anywhere except where their work is. Besides, it was late and we are all ordered to go to our rooms at ten. We are kept like prisoners there, for at ten o'clock to the minute, the castle is locked and barred everywhere because of those pictures the lord has, and if you touched a door or a window, alarms would ring all over the place. Well, it was not long after eleven and close near to the time when the woman said her husband had got out of his bed. It was half-moonlight and there was a mist rolling over the meadows from the marshes, and the moon was blurred over with clouds. Suddenly I saw someone running and he had one arm raised up higher than the other. He ran on his toes, as we run when we do not want our footsteps to be heard. I only saw him—just a glimpse—and then I lost him in the mist."

"Then?" exclaimed Larose, for Croupin had stopped speaking.

"Then," went on the Frenchman, breathlessly and stirred into excitement by his own recital, "I heard a little cry, a cry that just began and then stopped. I was sure of it. Just a little cry and very short but—it was a cry. Then I leant over the battlements and stared into the shadows of the mist again and then, whilst he was in my sight for perhaps a dozen yards"—he spoke very slowly—"I saw, it might have been a different man go by."

"Not the same man?" asked Larose quickly.

"I do not think so," was the reply, "but I only saw him from above the waist for he was in the mist up to his loins. He looked tall and big and he walked heavily, as if he were very tired." Croupin nodded solemnly. "Do you know, Monsieur, I believe the first man was running with something lifted in his hand, and the second man"—his voice had dropped to a whisper now—"was carrying a body."

"In which direction was he going?" asked the detective sharply.

Croupin shook his head. "I cannot be quite sure," he replied, "but it might have been towards the Priory, I often think."

"And where exactly was this man, or these men, when you saw them?" went on Larose.

Croupin shook his head for the second time. "Again, I am not sure, for the mist was so deceiving, but I looked across the battlements upon the next night, when it was clear, and I thought it may have been on this side of the plantation, close to the edge of the big meadow where the cows are."

"And you recognised the footman, you say," asked the detective with obvious doubt in his voice, "in the mist and darkness and all that way away?"

"No, no," replied Croupin quickly. "I did not recognise him. I saw no face at all, and it was not until a few days ago that the idea came to me that it was William, and then it exploded in me like a bomb." He spoke most impressively. "It was like this. Last Tuesday two men came up to the castle to deliver coal and one of them hurt his wrist in backing the horses and could not lift the sacks. They told Lady Deering, and as the other footman was in the village, William had to help. He did not like it, but he got some overalls from the garage and went carrying the sacks. Then, then——"

"Go on, Monsieur," said the detective sharply, for Croupin was hesitating as if he did not know what to say.

"Then," said Croupin slowly, "I was sitting in the kitchen and I saw him pass before the window every time he carried a sack. I was not a bit interested at first, but then he got tired and began to walk slower and slower every time he passed, and suddenly, I could feel that I was frowning. I was puzzled about something, and I moved up to the window to make out what it was. Then, all in an instant I knew why I had frowned." He leant forward and almost hissed in the detective's ear. "He was walking in exactly the same way as that second man had walked that night when I thought he was carrying a body with him through the mist."

"Ah!" exclaimed Larose and he glared at the Frenchman.

"Yes, his head was bent, his shoulders were bowed and he walked with the same peculiar, short stride." Croupin threw out his hands. "It gave me a shock for their way of walking was exactly the same."

"But how could that footman have got out of the castle," asked Larose incredulously, "to have been walking about at that time of night? You say the place is all locked up at ten."

"Ah!" exclaimed the Frenchman in his turn and his eyes were bright as stars, "and now I come to something that will even puzzle the great Larose." He raised one finger warningly. "Listen carefully for I have a lot to say and must be quick, for remember, I have to be back in the sacre castle by ten or I shall be locked out."

He paused a moment as if to marshal all his facts in their proper order and then went on.

"You have not seen William yet, but only James." He shook his head. "But of course their names are not really James and William. The lord always calls all his footmen James and William, just as if they were his slaves and he has bred them like his cows. Well, this William is a peculiar man. No, he is not common. He is educated and has books upon his shelves about great men who are dead, that I would never read. He is a favourite with the lord and waits upon him, more than anybody else. He talks very little and is tall and big. He never opens his eyes wide. They are like slits, and he turns them from side to side without moving his head. Rosa—she is one of the maids—says she is sure he is not right and sometimes I, too, have thought him half mad."

Croupin broke off his narrative and asked suddenly: "You have never been in prison, Monsieur Larose?" He smiled. "No, I thought not, but it happens I have. It was when I was quite a young man and I was punished for what I had not done." He nodded. "That's what made me the man I am now." He screwed up his face and picked out his words very carefully. "Now, I think somehow that William has been in prison, too. I have been in his room several times and he is very tidy, and always, I notice, he folds up his spare blanket, just as we did ours in our cells. And another thing, if you speak to him very suddenly, very softly, he answers you back without any movement of his lips, just like we did in prison too."

Croupin smiled again. "So I began to be puzzled about William soon after I came to the castle and I kept my eyes on him. Then one morning he borrowed a penknife from James and went out for his free afternoon before he had returned it. And James wanted it back and went into William's room to try and find it. And he looked in a drawer that he ought not to have looked into and found something hidden at the bottom, so secretly under a lot of clothes, that he brought it out to show me."

The Frenchman laughed at the intent look upon the detective's face. "No, nothing startling yet. It was just a book about the castles of England, but there were well-thumbed pages where it spoke about this castle here, and it said that there was gold hidden underneath which had never been found." He shrugged his shoulders. "But of course we have all heard about that, and secret passages too. It is the common talk in the villages. So James was only amused and he put back the book, but he mentioned then that weeks before he had caught William tapping upon the chapel walls with a small hammer. James thought nothing of it, but I"—and Croupin drew in a deep breath—"knew at once what must be in William's mind."

He broke off his narrative here. "That chapel, Monsieur, is the most interesting of that part of the castle, where we live. It is very, very old, and it has never been altered in any way. It is right at the end of the castle and up against the old walls. We are none of us allowed to go in there, except Rose, who dusts it every morning, but I have paid several visits, for the stained-glass windows are supposed to be of great value, and I was wondering," he grinned, "if they could be cut out and taken away."

"Go on, Monsieur Croupin," said the detective sternly. "You can make up your mind that the belongings of the castle will remain intact. You will take nothing away."

A merry smile was Croupin's only reply, and he picked up the threads of his story again. "Then, two weeks passed and I was taking notice, too, to try and find a passage to those vaults. I thought of likely places and whenever I could get a chance I sounded upon the walls. But I could discover nothing, and in the end I told myself I was a fool, for hundred and hundreds before me must have done the same thing." He lowered his voice impressively. "Then suddenly I made the startling discovery that William was in the habit of leaving his room in the middle of the night. His room is next to mine and many nights, I remembered, I had heard noises. I had given no thought to them at the time, believing they were only the rats. We have no rats where we live in the castle, but we can often hear them in the parts that are bricked off. Then one night I was wakeful and I heard him coming into his room about four o'clock in the morning, and the next day I noticed that he looked very tired."

Croupin paused a few seconds to puff at his cigarette, and then went on.

"So, that night I kept awake and watched, all ready to follow him if he went out. But nothing happened that night nor the next, and the third night I was so tired that I fell asleep, and I was furious, for I woke up just before four o'clock and heard William creeping into his room again. Also I heard him pulling out his trunk that is kept under his bed."

"You are very interesting, Monsieur Croupin," remarked Larose grimly, as the Frenchman paused again, "but it would be best if you got on a little quicker, because it will soon be ten o'clock."

"Yes, I was furious," went on Croupin taking no notice of the interruption, "and I made up my mind I would stand no more nonsense. So, that night I put fifteen grains of veronal into his coffee and at one o'clock in the morning went in to search his room. He was sleeping like a dead man and I knew I was safe. It was a long while, however, before I could find his keys for he was carrying them in a belt round his body. I wanted to get them, for the lock on his trunk was a Yale and difficult to pick. I opened his trunk quickly and made a thorough search "—a note of triumph came into his voice—"and what do you think I found?"

Larose shook his head. "It is not fair to ask me"—he looked at his watch—"and you are wasting time."

"Two old bracelets of beaten gold with the Thralldom arms upon them and a gold crucifix," exclaimed Croupin excitedly, "tied up in some shaving paper and a handkerchief, and stuffed in a pair of slippers at the very bottom of the trunk, also a big overall and a jacket that smelt horribly of earth, wrapped round in newspaper many times."

"So, he'd found a way down into the vaults, had he?" commented Larose. "Go on, Monsieur."

"Well, after that," went on Croupin, "I let nothing escape me, and I watched William as a cat does a mouse. Night after night, I sat up in a hard chair with my ear close to the door and with no shoes on, and never allowed myself to go to sleep until well after three o'clock. But nothing happened until last night," he heaved a great sigh of relief, "and that is why I am so pleased to have you now."

"Go on, Monsieur," said Larose again. "Quick, come to the point."

"Well, last night just before twelve," said Croupin, "I heard a movement in his room, but he was too quick for me and when I followed into the passage, I could not see which way he had gone. I wondered if it was to the chapel and crept round the many corners and down the long corridors until I came there. The chapel door was shut but the key was outside, in the lock, and I saw it was not turned. I waited a moment and then went in. Then, as everything was silent, I ventured to flash my torch, but the chapel was all empty except for a big rat which darted from under the organ and ran straight across the floor. I was in despair and raced up to William's room to see if he was really gone. I risked everything and opened his door. Yes, he had gone and his bed had not been slept in."

Croupin looked the very picture of despondency as if he were experiencing all over again the disappointment he had received then. Soon, however, his face brightened.

"But suddenly the idea came to me that if I could not find out where William had gone, I could at least find out from whence he was going to return. I would stretch black cotton across all the passages and as he broke it coming back, it would be as plain as footsteps in the sand. I almost laughed with joy and then I was in despair again. It was after midnight and I had no black cotton."

Croupin paused dramatically and the detective did not speak. He judged it best to let him take his time.

Croupin continued. "Then I did something that I have never done in all my life before and I did it in great fear." He looked very troubled. "I went into a young girl's room when she was sleeping and she might have wakened and thought I was a bad man. It was Bertha's room I went into. She is the sewing maid, and I knew I should find cotton there." He looked interrogatively at Larose. "You remember Bertha? She is the little dark one whose figure I saw you admiring this afternoon when she was pouring out the tea. She is very pretty with those dark eyes and long lashes of hers, and I do not wonder that you were looking at——"

The detective got rather red. "Go on, Monsieur," he interrupted testily. "You are too imaginative in your observations and we shall be here all night."

Croupin grinned. "Well, I went to her door and found it locked, as I expected, but I had a few things ready in my pocket that I had thought I might want when I was intending to follow William, and I knew I could soon make short work of that. I listened and heard no sound and so quickly had the door opened. Then I crept in." He spoke very softly now. "The moon was shining on her as she slept and everything was plain. Her dark head was on the pillow, her neck was open and her bosom rose and fell. I stopped for one moment and my heart was in my mouth for she looked so beautiful and I thought of the husband she would one day have. Then suddenly she turned upon her back and oh! she commenced to snore!" He threw out his hands in horror. "I just grabbed up the cotton from the work-basket and got as quickly as I could from the room."

"She didn't hear you at all?" frowned Larose, who, from the expression on his face, had been getting restive at this part of the recital.

"No, she did not wake and I ran to the kitchen and made a little piece of dough. Then, I stuck the cotton with it, across all the passages and went back to my room to wait until it was light. William came back just after three, and in the morning," the Frenchman made one of his irritating pauses here, "I found all the cottons broken in all the corridors leading to the chapel and so I knew where he had been."

"Good!" remarked the detective, "a fine piece of work!"

"But that is not all," went on Croupin quickly, "for again I took another risk. Just before the family had finished lunch, when I hoped everyone would be out of the way, I left my kitchen and ran into the chapel, for during the morning I had been seized with an idea. It was associated with that big rat that I mentioned had rushed out when I flashed my torch round the chapel. I remembered it had run straight to one place in the wainscoting where there was no possible cover for it, and for two or three seconds perhaps, it had run backwards and forwards there, as if looking for some opening that it could not find. Now, as I have told you there are no rats in our part of the castle and therefore I knew it had come up from the dungeons and had certainly got in when William had opened the secret door that he must have found. So, when I disturbed it, I argued to myself that it had run where it had, to try and get back to its home by the way it had come."

"Excellent!" exclaimed Larose nodding his head. "A piece of good reasoning."

"Well," smiled Croupin, gratified at the compliment, "I examined that part of the wall to where it had run. It was oak panelling and black with age. I tapped it everywhere but could get no hollow sounds. Then I held a lighted match low down where the panel reached the stone flags of the chapel floor and"—he rubbed his hand delightedly—"there was a draught blowing and immediately my match went out."

"Excellent again!" exclaimed Larose.

"Then," said Croupin, "I began pulling and pushing at the panels, and almost before I knew what had happened"—he could hardly speak in his excitement—"a panel slipped to one side, there was a gush of air, and an opening, big enough to admit a man, gaped before my eyes."

He paused for a moment as if quite exhausted and then added quietly. "And that is the end of my story. Monsieur Larose."

"You didn't go down?" asked the detective. "You made no attempt to see where it led to?"

Croupin threw out his bands. "How could I?" he exclaimed. "It was only this afternoon that I found it."

Larose regarded him frowningly. "But how does this help us to link up the footman with the man who was out on the marshes that night?" he asked.

"It helps us a great deal," replied Croupin quickly, "for it is common talk that there is a passage from the dungeons leading under the moat to somewhere on the castle lands. The tradesmen who come to the door have talked about it to us, and a guest at the lord's table, a Captain Bonnett, asked about it at dinner the other night. James told us the lord was very angry and said it was all nonsense, but"—he shrugged his shoulders—"everyone believes it, although no one knows where the entrance is, outside." His voice rose in excitement. "But I will find it, now I know of that panel that slides back in the chapel."

"No, no," said Larose emphatically, "you must not take it on by yourself." He held up his hand. "Now wait a minute. I want to think."

The Frenchman lit a cigarette and Larose, looking out into the darkness, sat biting at his lip in his perplexity. So another supposed madman had come upon the scene and there must be madness in the very air about Thralldom! What was he to do, with these three trails to follow—the footman's—the bailiff's and the butcher's from Halesworth?

A long silence ensued and then the detective spoke as if he had at last made up his mind.

"Croupin, my boy," he said, and he laughed good-humouredly, "you're not quite a prize-packet for a Sunday school, and I'm quite sure that our mutual friend, Mr. Jones, does not think too much of you at any time, still—" and he pretended to heave a great sigh—"we'll have to go into partnership, you and I, and work out this puzzle together." He pointed into the darkness in the direction of the marshes and spoke very sternly. "And it is not one death only we shall have to consider, but four, for three men and one woman, I am thinking died bloody deaths within one mile of where we now are."

Then very briefly but omitting no material facts, he told Raphael Croupin about his mission from Scotland Yard and how far his discoveries had led him.

The Frenchman listened wide-eyed in horror, but with the recital over, snapped his fingers exultingly together.

"We will find him, you and I," he exclaimed, "whether it be William or some one else. He will be a cunning fox that will hide his tracks when we are hunting together." He suddenly remembered something and his face fell. "But about Meester Jones, what shall we tell him?"

"Not much," replied Larose grimly, "and we can leave you out, anyhow." He smiled. "We will solve his problem for him and give it him as a present."

"But one moment," exclaimed Croupin quickly. "There are yet some things going on in that castle that we must understand, although I think they have nothing to do with William." He spoke very impressively. "Now, two men who are staying at a house on the beach here come up to the castle almost every day and I have my suspicions about them. One is a man called Hudson who is from America, and sells pictures there. He is clever and is great friends with the lord, because he praises that Rubens so much. The butler and James say he agrees with everything the lord says, to please him. I have only seen him once, but he looks to me like a man who would not waste his time so—for nothing. The other man is his servant and is called Thompson and he gives massage to Lady Deering. He has had refreshments many times with us, in our hall, and he is always asking questions about everything."

"What sort of questions?" asked Larose frowning.

"Oh! why the windows have such big bolts, and why the doors are so thick and where we all sleep. He asks what we are afraid of, and who sets the alarms, and isn't it a business to always remember to turn them off in the mornings." Croupin nodded his head significantly. "But I notice he does not ask questions now when I am there. He does not like me, and he watches me. He says he is this Hudson's body servant but"—and the Frenchman laughed slyly—"he has more, to me, of the air of a man I would give work to if I were wanting to open a safe."

"Ah!" exclaimed Larose. "I have heard of them. Our friend Jones is interested in them too."

"Then a third man," went on Croupin, "and he is this Captain Bonnett who is staying at the castle as a visitor. He is an unpleasant fellow. He wants that beautiful Ann, but she does not want him." An eager note came into his voice. "You have seen Ann? Ah! you do not know. Well, she is like an angel. She has a figure better even than Bertha's. She has eyes that are pools of love. She has a mouth——"

"That'll do, that'll do," interrupted Larose sharply. "Now, what about this Bonnett man?"

"He knows more about Hudson than he makes out," replied Croupin, "and secret signs pass between them when the lord is not looking. James has caught them at it. And the servant, Thompson, sneers at Bonnett as if they were familiar and did not like each other." He shook his head. "They look like a gang to me and are up there for something."

"But this captain is a visitor there, you tell me," said Larose.

"Yes, but the servants say he is a bad lot. He has no money and there is much talk about him. He has been warned off the turf."

"Well, never mind him for the present," said Larose, "for he's not likely to be the man we want, and we've something much more important to think about." He rose to his feet. "Now, off you go, quick, and do nothing in the castle for the moment, except keep watch. There's too much at stake for you to work alone. Can you get out and meet me anywhere to-morrow?"

"My afternoons are always free," replied Croupin. "Make it here, at four o'clock."

"Good," said Larose, "and by then I'll have thought out some plan." He gripped the Frenchman by the arm. "It's in my mind, Monsieur, that you'll have to get me into that castle one night, without anyone seeing me, and open that secret door."

"Oh! oh!" exclaimed Croupin, "but it is impossible. The castle is all bolts and bars."


HALF an hour after he had parted with Croupin, Larose was sitting just inside the corner of the small plantation where Naughton Jones had described to him the finding of the missing Sam Baxter's blood-stained cap.

The night was misty and vapour was rising from the marshes. There was a faint moon showing, but every now and then, it was obscured by the clouds.

The detective had placed his folded mackintosh under him, for the ground was very damp. He had a small pair of binoculars in his hand, and from time to time, he lifted them to his eyes and searched the marshlands round. He was only about three hundred yards distant from Thralldom Castle, but could not see where its mighty walls sprang from the ground, because of the mist. He was frowning thoughtfully.

"Now it is incredible," he whispered, "but it must be we are dealing with a maniac, and as I surmise that all four of these people were murdered in this locality, and am certain that two of them were killed, actually within a few yards of where I am now sitting, it must be, again, that this is the particular place which he haunts." He nodded his head. "So if I am patient and come here every night about this time when there is a moon showing, sooner or later, I shall catch him and lay him by the heels, whether he be that butcher, the footman, or the bailiff, risen from the dead."

His thoughts ran on. "Croupin told a very straightforward tale and he is a shrewd fellow and can be relied upon. He is very observant and misses nothing." He lifted his glasses and swept them round in every direction. "Now according to him it was just such a night as this when the bailiff was killed. A fitful moon, hidden every other minute by the clouds and a heavy mist rising from the marshes. So, if this madman is looking for another victim, everything is propitious for him to be prowling about now. Nothing could be more in his favour for——" But he suddenly became aware of a faint rustle behind him and he jerked up his head, in doubt as to whether it was only a rustle of the wind.

Now in after-days, it was always a bitter memory to Larose that he had not been quite quick enough that night, when he sat watching upon the marshes of Thralldom, for, hitherto, it had been the obsession of his life that he was always alert and ready, and that in moments of danger or uncertainty his hand would slip to the safety catch of his automatic as quickly as that of any man in the world.

But that night, at any rate, he was caught napping and, for just the fraction of a second, he waited too long. And this fraction of a second proved nearly fatal to him, for, the thought of possible danger at last avalanching itself upon him, he was springing to his feet, when he felt, rather than heard, the swish of something passing close by his head.

Whatever it was, it almost missed him altogether. It missed his head but fell with a glancing blow upon the extreme edge of his shoulder, and he felt a pull as if someone were tearing at his jacket there, as some weapon hurtled forward and slapped on to the ground.

It had not hurt him in the least, but it had unbalanced him, and the next second, before he could recover himself, he was gripped fiercely by the back of his neck, and almost lifted off his feet by a hand of steel, was forced down until his face was pressing into the moist earth. Then he heard heavy, stertorous breathing, and from the movements of his assailant, it seemed as if the latter were groping with his free hand for the weapon that had slipped from his grasp.

The grip on the detective's neck was agonising, and a feeling of faintness surging through him, he realised that he was losing consciousness, but with a last despairing effort, he struck a spasmodic blow behind him with the binoculars that he was still gripping in his hand.

He felt them strike something and then, to his immense relief, his neck was instantly released. He heard a deep gasp, a groan of pain, and then complete silence reigned.

For perhaps ten second he lay on exactly where he had fallen. Then, with shaky movements, he sat up and drew in a deep breath. He could not think coherently, and it felt as if his neck were dislocated, but the feeling of faintness had passed.

The moon was behind a cloud and the darkness was complete.

Gradually, at first, but then very quickly, he regained his senses and he scowled with rage at the poor figure he had cut. He had missed the chance of a lifetime, he told himself. He had let everything slip from him when he had almost had the assassin actually under his very hands.

Then suddenly, the miracle of his escape came to him, and galvanised into activity by the possible danger that might be still threatening, with many grimaces of pain, he crawled, with what speed he could, until he was a good twenty yards and more distant from the spot where he had so narrowly escaped disaster.

"I won't be caught napping again," he scowled, gritting his teeth, "and maybe, I have not finished with him yet. When that cloud passes I may get another chance. The brute may be still about, for probably, I've winded him. I must not forget, however, that if it's dark for both of us, he knows the place better than I do and is fighting upon his own ground," and he sat on as if carved in stone, straining his ears into the darkness, with his finger upon the trigger of his automatic.

One, two, five minutes passed, and still the moon was hidden. Then all at once the cloud passed, and everything was flooded in a ghostly light.

Holding his breath in his excitement, he darted his eyes round and round in every direction, but for a few moments could perceive no movement anywhere. Then suddenly, about a hundred yards away a shadow seemed to rise up from the ground and started to glide slowly along by the edge of the plantation.

It was not near enough for the detective to use his automatic effectively, and added to that, he was not minded to disclose his own whereabouts, but he sprang to his feet and bending down so that his body was almost doubled, darted after the shadow.

But the owner of the shadow, glancing back over his shoulder, apparently at once became aware that he was being followed, and changing his direction instantly, he accelerated his pace and sped furiously down the slope, towards the deep belt of mist that was enveloping the base of the castle.

All his pains forgotten in his eagerness, Larose raced after him, but then, when he judged he could be only about seventy or eighty yards from the moat, the mist swallowed up the shadow and it was gone.

"Damnation!" swore the detective and he, too, plunged into the mist, but he pulled himself up short after a few strides and with his electric torch in one hand and his automatic held hip-high in the other, stood stock still, hoping that his enemy would betray his whereabouts by some sound.

"He can't get far away," he whispered, "for we are right by the moat now, and as there's every probability he's not got a gun, things are distinctly in my favour, if he doesn't hear me."

A long minute went by in the ghostly silence and with the sweat dripping from his forehead, the detective was yet chilled to the bone by the icy vapour rising off the moat.

"A devilish unhealthy place," he muttered, "and I wonder they don't all get ague in this castle." Then finding the inaction intolerable, he moved forward stealthily, step by step, until his hand came in contact with the wire fence encircling the moat. He rested the hand holding the torch upon the uppermost strand of the wire and then—his heart began to beat furiously.

He had felt the wire vibrating, as if someone else were touching it and perhaps, feeling his way along by its help.

A long time now passed, hours it seemed to the detective, although he knew it could be only a matter of minutes. Then, suddenly, the wire was pulled taut, it oscillated violently, and a tremendous splash came from the moat—a splash as of some big body plunging in.

Larose darted forward in the direction of the splash, and risking everything now, flashed his powerful torch upon the black waters. They were rolling up in small waves against the bank, thousands of bubbles were rising to the surface and across the moat a huge eddy was spreading in ever-widening circles.

"Great Scott!" gasped Larose, "he's jumped in!" and just beyond the rays of his torch, he fancied he could make out a dark shape moving under the water.

The waves died down, the bubbles ceased to rise and the eddies all faded away.

"The luck's been all with him," snarled the detective, "and he's escaped me now."

But for several minutes he ran up and down and along the wire fencing all round the moat, flashing his torch in all directions across the water and straining his eyes everywhere, in the hope of catching sight of the swimmer pulling himself up on the opposite bank. But he saw nothing, and he heard nothing, and gloom and silence surrounded him on every side.

"Now, was it that butcher?" he asked himself breathlessly, "and has he climbed out of the moat somewhere, and slipped off to where he's hidden his car? That shadow might easily have been his and that grip on my neck"—he felt it tenderly with his hand—"was just the grip of a man who could have felled an ox." He frowned thoughtfully. "But he was out of condition. His breathing was very hard."

He shivered violently. "Now, quick back to the inn and I'll ring up Halesworth and then have a hot bath."

He set off at a sharp run away from the castle, but very soon began to slow down, for his neck was hurting and he was hampered by having to hold it to one side, finding that, the least uncomfortable position.

And then, all in a moment, the excitement of the manhunt again surged through him. He threw off his pains in a lightning flash, and like a plummet, dropped into the ditch that bounded the meadow along which he had been running.

He had caught sight of a dark figure coming up stealthily behind him.

It was only by chance that he had seen him, and he swore angrily at his own carelessness. He had happened to glance back to see how far he had come from the castle and then to his amazement had become aware that he was being followed.

That the man who was now trailing him was his adversary of not half an hour ago, he was quite sure. It was true he had had only the briefest glimpse of his would-be murderer then, but the figures of the two were identical, except that now this man behind him appeared to be of less bulky build, which would naturally be accounted for, he told himself, by the saturated condition of his clothes which would be clinging to him.

"He's mad, right enough," panted the detective, "quite mad, for no one but a madman would dare to make a second attempt and right out in the open this time. Well, we're pretty clear of the mist here, and he has no chance of escaping as long as the moon does not go in."

He raised himself up cautiously to look across the meadow but, to his dismay, could now see no sign of his pursuer, and so, after a moment's consideration, he started to crawl back along the bottom of the ditch.

"I'll get behind him," he muttered, "and I'll shoot on sight. But I'll shoot him in the legs."

A hundred yards of laborious crawling, looking up every ten yards or so but seeing no sign of his enemy, brought the detective at last to the end of the ditch. Then he slowly straightened himself, inch by inch, until his eyes were level with the grass upon the meadow and—his heart gave a great bound.

Not thirty paces away from him, a man was crouching behind a bush.

The man was crouching, perfectly still, but from his attitude he was in every way as much upon the alert as the detective. He was apparently, however, keeping watch in the other direction.

A thrill of exultant joy surged through Larose for he felt that by his strategy he was now atoning for his failure earlier in the night.

"But a little too far off for a shot," he whispered with his raised automatic before him, "and I don't like to risk it, for it's his legs I want."

And then came a quiet voice, close behind him. "Don't shoot, please, Mr. Larose, I paid three guineas for that coat and it's still serviceable, also that cap is an old favourite of mine."

Larose almost jumped out of his skin and, jerking himself round, thanked Heaven that the shadows hid the shame and mortification in his face.

It was Naughton Jones who was speaking and it was his coat and cap only that were hanging upon the bush.

"Oh! that's you, is it, Mr. Jones?" the detective replied carelessly, and repressing his rage with a tremendous effort. "I was ready for whoever it might have been." He spoke as if with some concern. "But you will be catching cold without your coat."

The great investigator was by no means a romantic sight. He was minus cap and coat and his long lanky figure, now stripped almost bare, was skeleton-like in its proportions. But his manner was just as pompous and pedantic as ever.

"Excellent!" he commented judicially. "You have, certainly, a most wonderful gift of recovery, Mr. Larose. I must have startled you pretty considerably, and yet there is no trace of emotion now in your voice." He sighed and went on with a great affectation of humility. "But I do not come out of it too well myself, for I have been trailing you for the last half mile, thinking you were that man Rawlings. Your stoop and style of walking were not your natural ones." He looked curiously at him. "But what's the matter with your neck?"

"I have had fingers on it that I do not want to feel again," replied Larose grimly, "and it was a near thing that I was not killed, too, by that plantation where you found Baxter's cap." And then he proceeded to relate to Naughton Jones everything that had happened.

Jones listened without any comment until he had finished and then remarked: "Rawlings, of course. There cannot be the shadow of a doubt about it. He has got a hiding place somewhere upon the Thralldom lands. He is a tall man, just six feet, but stoops a lot. He is of great strength, and in his youth was a noted swimmer. You will find, if you enquire, that until a few years ago, he used to dive off the end of Minsmere jetting every morning, winter and summer, and he could stay under water for so long that strangers, observing his display, often began to think that he was drowned."

"But where is he hiding then?" demanded Larose, without the slightest belief, however, in Jones's statement, and yet curious to find out what the latter's ideas might be. "He must come out to eat and drink."

"Exactly," replied Jones sharply, "and that is what we have to find out. I've got my eye upon that ruined Priory, but I have had no luck there yet." He appeared to remember something. "Yes, and there's something more that interests me now. You remember I mentioned to you this afternoon those three queer birds who are staying at that house upon the foreshore. Well, one of them, the individual who goes under the name of Martin Fenner, has been nosing round here upon these meadows to-night. I've seen him three times, and he spent quite half an hour in that old hut by the marsh road." The great investigator spoke very sternly. "I'm half inclined to call upon him tomorrow morning and ask him what he means by it."

Larose shivered. "But I must be getting home," he said. "I'm wet through and want a hot bath."

"Good," commented Jones, "I'll walk with you, when I've picked up my bicycle which is hidden in that long grass over there, and you can be telling me what Lord Thralldom said to you this afternoon as we go along." He tossed his head. "Not that it will alter my opinion in any way for I am convinced that Rawlings is our man."

"Oh! but my neck's sore!" exclaimed Larose. "The wretch had fingers like steel claws."

Jones stopped and flashed his torch. "Let me have a look at it. I'm as good as a medical man." He handled the detective very gently and then pronounced his opinion. "It's only a bruise, and there are no nail marks, and the skin is not even broken." He spoke thoughtfully. "It seems that Rawlings must have been wearing gloves, and you're fortunate, for his dirty finger nails might easily have given you a septic wound."

They parted at the inn and Larose found the landlord waiting up for him. A telephone call had come for him, the man said, but the caller had left no message and had rung off without giving his name. Larose immediately then rang up the Halesworth police station and the inspector himself answered the call. Yes, the butcher had driven out in his car at 9.42 with the proper number plates on and and had gone as they had expected in the direction of Yoxford. He, the inspector, had at once warned the plain-clothes officer waiting at Darsham that the butcher was on the road and the officer had immediately set out to meet him. But he had not succeeded in getting in touch with him although, for an hour and a half and more he had patrolled the Halesworth-Darsham Road. Finally, at 11.32 he had returned to Halesworth to report his non-success. Three minutes later, then, Turnbull had driven up the road and turned into his yard. The Inspector was very annoyed and would like to see Larose on the morrow to make further plans.

It was a long while before the detective dropped off to sleep that night. His neck was hurting him and he was very troubled in his thoughts.

"Yes, he is a madman, right enough, who is haunting these marshes," he said, "and that I have been in actual contact with him, I can be quite sure, but that he is not Rawlings I am equally as sure. Rawlings is dead, and Croupin's testimony upon that point, seems to me, conclusive. Then, in that case, who is the man whose mind has given way? It may, of course, be this William, but for the moment there is only the very faintest suspicion in his direction and, indeed, until it is strengthened by further discoveries, it is of no value at all, except for inclining us to look pretty closely into all that gentleman's activities." He shook his head. "Still, William is worth looking after, apart from the idea of Croupin that he was walking like that man did in the mist, because the very fact that he now has access to the dungeons, suggests that he, of all others, may have come upon that passage under the moat and so is able to go to and fro upon the Thralldom lands at night, whenever he will." He thought for a long while. "Well, what about the butcher? It is most unfortunate he was not picked up to-night, for it leaves us exactly in the position we were in before, except of course that we know he was abroad upon one of his mysterious expeditions and seen to be proceeding in this direction during the very hour when I was attacked. As for his carrying his correct number plates when he started out, I think nothing of that. Of course he would always do that, and only change into the false ones when he was parking his car somewhere, preparatory to patrolling these marshes."

He rubbed his neck tenderly to ease the pain. "So, I'll go up to the castle to-day, on the chance of setting eyes on this William and to have another talk with Lord Thralldom at the same time. I'll tell his lordship what happened to-night and upon the way in which he receives my news, will depend what confidences I shall give him. If he does not take a serious view of the matter, which somehow I am inclined to think will be his attitude, I won't tell him anything about his footman, but will then just trust wholly to Croupin's resource to get me into the castle, so that I can make some investigations upon my own."

He laughed to himself. "As for the great Jones, well, he is so certain about Rawlings that it would be a pity to unsettle his mind, at any rate, for the present."


A FEW minutes after ten the next morning, Larose set off at a good pace to walk to the castle. It was a lovely morning, and he thought the exercise would do him good. He was not feeling much the worse for his adventure of the previous night, except that his neck was very stiff and there was a big, ugly-looking bruise where he had been gripped so forcibly by his unknown assailant.

When about a mile from the castle, he saw a young girl coming towards him and, as they approached closer, he recognised her as the one he had seen with young Harden, the previous afternoon.

"Miss Devenham, of course!" he ejaculated to himself, "and she's almost as pretty as Croupin said, in fact, I think, she's quite."

The road was lonely and as a matter of country politeness, he lifted his hat to her as he was passing. "Besides," was his thought, "I'd like to see her smile. A pretty girl is always doubly worth looking at when she smiles."

The girl acknowledged his courtesy with a little bow and, as he had hoped she would, with a smile as well. Then suddenly, she stopped and to his surprise, addressed him.

"I beg your pardon," she said, in a voice like a silver bell, "but are you not the gentleman who gave Mr. Harden a lift yesterday afternoon?" and when the detective had smilingly admitted that he was, she added, "And did he by any chance leave a book in your car?"

Larose shook his head. "Not that I know of," he replied. "I remember, however, that he had got a small parcel with him."

"Yes," she said, "but there should have been three books in it and there were only two. He had dropped one somewhere and he thought perhaps it might have been in your car."

"Well, I'll look for it when I get back," replied Larose, "and if I find it, I'll send it up to you. You are Miss Devenham, are you not?"

"Yes," the girl replied, "and you are Mr. Larose from Scotland Yard. You are going up to see my uncle again?"

"Yes, I want to see him for a few minutes and I hope he won't mind."

She looked a little doubtful. "I don't think he's up yet. At any rate he wasn't half an hour ago. Some days," she explained, "when he's not feeling too well, he breakfasts in his room."

"Well, I can enquire," said Larose, "and if he can't see me this morning, I'll have to come back this afternoon."

The girl hesitated a moment and then spoke very quickly. "But it's very dreadful about Mr. Rawlings, is it not? And I'm so sorry for his wife." She frowned prettily. "Do you think there's any chance that he's still alive?"

"It's very hard to say," replied the detective. "The whole business is very mysterious." He regarded her thoughtfully. "Of course, you knew Mr. Rawlings?"

"Oh! yes!" she replied. "He and I were good friends. I am interested in Botany and he used to collect wild flowers for me."

"What kind of man did you think he was," said Larose, "that is, if you don't mind my asking you?" He bowed. "You see, Miss Devenham, I ask you because I always think a woman is so often a much better judge of character than a man. She doesn't necessarily reason, but she blunders on to the truth somehow."

The girl pretended to look indignant. "She doesn't blunder at all, Mr. Larose, but she can generally tell at a glance what sort of person a man is." She smiled. "I wouldn't be talking to you here, now, if I didn't think you were quite nice, although you are a detective."

Larose smiled back at the compliment. "Well, what sort of a man was Mr. Rawlings then?" he asked. "Was he nice too?"

"Yes, quite nice," was the reply. "He was quiet and reserved, but a very high-principled man. I have many times heard my uncle say he was the best servant he had ever had."

"I expect he misses him, then," suggested Larose.

"Very much," she replied. She looked troubled. "But I think as people grow old, Mr. Larose, they are not quite as sympathetic as they used to be. Uncle is seventy-five, and he seems to take the loss of Mr. Rawlings quite as a matter of course, and it's rather sad." She shook her head slowly. "His only anxiety now, seems to be for his paintings, and from time to time, they are a great worry to him. One day he is sure people have been watching round the castle all night, but the next, he forgets that, and has a new idea that thieves are coming up hidden in the tradesmen's vans."

"It must be very trying for all of you," said Larose sympathetically. "Now one question more, if you'll forgive me. Is it likely, do you think, that Mr. Rawlings did fall over those cliffs?"

"Not at all likely," she replied instantly. "He'd lived all his life here and knew quite well where the cliffs are dangerous. Besides, what should he have been doing upon the cliffs, more than a mile away from his home at that time of night?" She looked scornful. "I have always thought that suggestion ridiculous."

They chatted for a minute or two longer and then the girl looked at her wrist watch and with a smiling goodbye, turned to walk on. "And you won't forget to look for my book, will you?" she called out, glancing back over her shoulder. She blushed prettily. "It has my name in it, 'Ann Devenham'."

"A very charming young woman," remarked Larose as he walked on, "and quite a shrewd one, too. She's certainly given me some things to think about and one, that uncle of hers is a selfish and callous old man."

Arriving at the castle bridge, he paused before passing over and allowed his eyes to rove round upon the moat. "Now, that's about where he jumped in," he said thoughtfully, "for I remember that tower was right above me when I flashed my torch."

He looked meditatively at the wire fence over which his adversary of the previous night had flung himself to gain the sanctuary of the water. It was stout and strong, and pinned down at the bottom, along its whole length, by large pieces of rocks that had been laid down methodically at regular intervals. They had evidently been placed there to keep the wires from lifting up should cattle or sheep stray up against them.

Suddenly, he gave a sharp exclamation, for he had become aware that the even row was broken and there was a gap where one of the rocks should obviously have been.

He ran quickly down to the moat side and bending down over the ground, uttered a cry that he had difficulty in stifling.

The missing rock had been only very recently removed for the edges of its bed were sharp and clear.

He clenched his hands together fiercely. "Oh! what a fool! What an abject fool I was!" he groaned. "Of course the wretch threw this rock over to make me believe he'd jumped in and then when I was dancing about, staring at the ripples it had made, he got away. He took in the large size of the hole left in the ground. But, by James, he must be a strong man to have been able to lift a rock like that, and no wonder I was helpless when he'd gripped me by the neck."

In a few moments his anger had abated and he moved away with a grim smile upon his face. "Gilbert! Gilbert!" he murmured, "and you even thought that you saw him moving under the water."

Ringing the castle bell, the door was answered by a footman, whom he knew instantly must be William.

The man was tall, and, of a lithe, greyhound-like build, was quite refined in his appearance. His forehead was high and he had a good-shaped nose, but his complexion was dead white and he had dark eyes of a peculiarly constricted shape. His mouth was straight and he held his lips pressed tightly together. Altogether he was not unhandsome but his expression was stealthy and not pleasing, and his eyes suggested that he would be always watching what other people did.

He subjected Larose to a hard scrutiny.

The detective asked to see Lord Thralldom, adding that he had called the previous afternoon and was an officer from Scotland Yard.

The footman's face betrayed no interest. "I'll tell him, sir," he said, and he took Larose into a small room just off the entrance hall and retired noiselessly, closing the door behind him.

"So that is William," thought Larose, "and he would just fit the bill everywhere we want him to. He's crafty and secretive if ever I saw anyone that was, and the expression of those eyes is not normal, but he's capable and determined and that forehead of his means that he can think and plan." He stroked his neck gingerly. "Well, this afternoon Croupin will tell me whether the gentleman went out of his room again last night."

The detective was not kept waiting very long, for the footman speedily returned.

"His lordship will see you, sir," he said, "if you will follow me," and he led the way up a broad flight of stairs, to the door of a room upon the first floor.

"Whew!" whistled Larose softly to himself, "the castle may be hundreds of years old, but everything in this part is new, and no expense has been spared either."

The room the detective was ushered into was very large. It was comfortably furnished with every modern convenience and the only antique thing was a huge four-poster bed with a high canopy at the far end.

"The dickens!" thought Larose, "and I suppose then, that that is the great ancestral bed upon which long generations of the Thralldoms have been born."

The owner of the castle was sitting up in the bed wearing a dressing-gown of cardinal red, but clad even as he was, he had evidently no intention that anyone should forget he was the great lord of Thralldom, and he glared now out of his fierce eyes, as a man accustomed to regard only his inferiors.

"So you've come to trouble me again, have you?" he said instantly, in commanding tones, and giving the detective no time to speak first.

"I'm very sorry, your lordship," replied Larose in as conciliatory a manner as possible, "but I have an important communication to make to you, and when you have heard what I have to say, I am sure you will excuse me."

"Well, what is it?" came the sharp reply. "What is the communication?"

"I should like to make it to your lordship alone," replied Larose with a glance in the direction of the footman who was standing motionless and seemingly uninterested, by the bedside.

Lord Thralldom lowered his eyebrows frowningly, and then nodded to the footman. "You can go, William," he said, and when the man had left the room he repeated his enquiry with some irritation.

"I regret to have to inform you, my lord," began Larose, "but I have every reason to believe that your bailiff was murdered. He——"

"Murdered!" ejaculated Lord Thralldom incredulously. "Then you have found the body?"

"No," replied the detective, "I have only evidence, so far, that it is probable he met with foul play, for a few minutes after the time when it is known he left his home that night, a cry was heard upon the marshes and——"

"A cry!" exclaimed Lord Thralldom interrupting again. He looked scornful. "Why, that's nothing. Plenty of cries are heard upon the marshes at night. Stoats, weasels, foxes and rabbits and many other creatures make their noises there. The hours of darkness are never still."

The detective spoke very quietly. "But this was a human cry, my lord, and a witness is prepared to come forward and state that there were two men upon the marshes that night, and, after the cry, one of them was carrying the other."

Lord Thralldom's eyes were now half-closed and inclining his head sideways, he looked in a strange and curious manner at the detective.

"Oh! he is, is he?" he said slowly, and there was the suspicion of a sneer in his voice. "Then who is this witness and what was he himself doing upon the marshes at that time of night?" The sneer gave place to anger and his voice rose. "He was a trespasser on my lands."

"I am not prepared, for the moment, my lord," replied the detective, "to disclose who my informant was, but I assure you that he is a reliable person."

Lord Thralldom straightened himself up in a grand gesture of disdain. "Well, no matter, I don't believe a word of it," he said emphatically. He smiled suddenly in a quite genial manner. "You must know, sir, that upon an occasion such as this, when any mystery presents itself, there are always people ready to come forward and say they've seen one thing or heard another." His voice became scornful again. "It is the opportunity of their common lives to crawl into the limelight, and they are ready to swear anything for purposes of publicity."

"But that is not all, my lord," exclaimed Larose sharply, "for we have every reason to believe another man met a dreadful death upon the same marshes, less than three weeks ago." He paused a moment to let his words sink in and then continued very slowly. "The cap of the innkeeper of Yoxford, who disappeared then, was found near the same spot where those two men were seen, and it was cut and bloodied, as if he too, had come to a violent end."

Lord Thralldom had listened as if he had not been taking in what the detective was saying, and he now regarded him with a puzzled stare.

"Yes," went on Larose sternly, "and we cannot ignore the significance of these two happenings. Each one, singly, is suspicious, but the two together, are very damning evidence that all is not right about here."

"What inn-keeper do you say?" asked Lord Thralldom finding his voice at last.

"Baxter, who kept the Yoxford Arms," replied the detective. "He's been missing now for nearly three weeks and the cap, with his initials in it, was picked up close by the small plantation by the marshes, not 300 yards from here."

"And what was he doing on my land?" burst out Lord Thralldom, his anger flaming up again.

"Poaching," replied Larose, "or, at least, it is supposed he came here after hares."

"And who found the cap?" went on Lord Thralldom. He scoffed. "The same witness as before, I suppose, the one who saw the body of my bailiff being carried away."

"No," replied Larose instantly, "quite a different man this time, but one whose evidence is equally reliable." He spoke very sternly. "But I have more, yet, to tell you, Lord Thralldom, for there is a third happening to record that I can verify myself." He stepped up to the bed and bending down, turned his head sideways, so that Lord Thralldom could see his neck.

"Look at that bruise, my lord. I myself was attacked last night upon the same spot and, from the ferocity of the attack, was fortunate to have escaped with my life."

Lord Thralldom's face was a study. His lips were parted, his eyes were wide and staring, and his whole expression was one of dumbfounded surprise.

"Yes," went on the detective, "someone sprang upon me when I was sitting by that plantation of larches. He struck at me with some weapon, but he missed me and then tried to choke me, when he had got me on the ground."

Lord Thralldom could hardly get his breath. "But it is incredible," he gasped, "unless he were one of some gang who is after my paintings." He hesitated a moment and then asked hoarsely, "But what kind of man was he? Did you see his face?"

"No," replied the detective, "unhappily I did not. I got out of his clutch but he was too cunning for me, and escaped in the mist." He went on. "And that can only mean, my lord, that some madman is haunting these marshes at night. We can be almost certain that he has killed two people"—he paused a moment—"and there may be others that he has killed as well."

Lord Thralldom had calmed down and now spoke very quietly. "And what were you doing, sir, by the plantation?" he asked.

"I was watching," replied Larose, "for I had already come to the conclusion that a madman is making a nightly round there and that it is dangerous ground."

Lord Thralldom meditatively regarded the detective for a moment, and then he sighed as if he were very troubled.

"Show me that bruise again, please," he said and then when Larose had complied he went on: "And now, I'll tell you what I think it was." He seemed quite himself again, now, and smiled grimly. "You interrupted a courting couple, sir; that is all, and, as is not unusual at such times, the man lost his temper. You flashed a torch, perhaps, and the man thought you were spying upon them—with the result he tried to punish you."

The detective was too angry to mind his words. "Your suggestion is childish, my lord," he said sharply, "and unless you are wilfully refusing to face the facts, the attitude you are taking up is not understandable. You must realise that bloody murder has been done upon your lands and that the murderer is still at large, and lurking somewhere, a menace to everyone who passes by."

"In the hours of the night, you should add," was the stern rejoinder, "when folks of decent character are in bed and not trespassing, for nefarious purposes, upon other people's lands." His whole demeanour altered suddenly and he sank back limply upon the pillows. "But what, in any case, has it to do with me, and how can I prevent it? I am an old man, sir, and my health is not good"—he was almost pathetic now in his distress—"and why do you come worrying me? You are a policeman and it is your business to find out these things. So, please find them out and leave me alone."

"But you can help me." said the detective sternly, "and it is your duty to do so."

"Help you!" exclaimed Lord Thralldom piteously. "How can I help you when I can only walk with difficulty and am a frail, old man?"

"You know every part of your property?" asked the detective in business-like tones.

Lord Thralldom looked astounded, and was animated at once. "Know every part of my property!" he repeated. He looked scornful. "Every yard of it, sir, every foot." His eyes dilated. "Why, as a boy I played in every wood and every meadow and, as a man every part of the estate came under my supervision. I planted those very larches even where you say you were attacked."

"Then where do you think any madman can be hiding?" asked Larose.

"Nowhere," was the instant reply. "Nowhere, when as you say, the fellow has been hiding for weeks. It is quite impossible." He spoke contemptuously. "There are no caves, nor caverns upon Thralldom where a murderer could hide away and sally forth at night as a beast of prey."

"But there are said to be secret hiding places, my lord," said Larose sharply, "both in the castle and among the ruins of the Priory as well."

Lord Thralldom sat up with a jerk. "Kitchen talk," he sneered. "The gossip of the scullery and the servants' hall." His eyes glared suddenly. "But you don't seriously suggest, do you, that anyone here in the castle is masquerading as an assassin at night?"

Larose smiled as if the very idea was absurd. "But as an officer of the law," he replied, "it is my duty to make all enquiries about everybody and everything in a quarter where we suspect crime has been done." He eyed Lord Thralldom intently. "Now, my lord, is there a secret passage under the moat leading into the castle from the Thralldom lands?"

"Certainly not," replied Lord Thralldom emphatically, adding sarcastically, "Or at least not one that is known to me or has been known to any of my ancestors for eight hundred years."

"And the walled-in parts of the castle," went on the detective, "are inaccessible to everybody?"

"Except to me," was the reply. "I, of course, possess a key to the door that opens to them, but I have not unlocked it for a number of years."

"And the dungeons underneath?" asked Larose.

"Can only be reached through the closed door."

There was silence for a moment and then the detective asked: "And your servants are quite trustworthy?"

Lord Thralldom nodded. "As far as I know. They all came to me with excellent references. I saw well to that."

"And have they all been with you for a long time?" asked Larose.

An amused chuckle came from the bed. "The longest, the butler, for five months, and the shortest, Antoine, the chef, for five weeks. You must understand, sir," went on Lord Thralldom "that when I acquired my Rubens, last March, I took every conceivable precaution that it should not be stolen. I expressly brought over an electrician from Berlin, to do all the wiring of the alarms, and I only employed him upon the distinct understanding that he could not speak a word of English. Then, with his work completed, in order that no hints as to the system of the wiring should leak out, I got rid of all my servants at a day's notice, butler, footmen, maids, every one of them. I made a clean sweep."

"And your present butler?" asked Larose.

"Came from Lord Tenterden, James from Sir Charles Saxby, and William from the household of an old friend of mine, Professor Dangerton, the great archaeologist." He nodded. "I was very lucky to get William, for the professor had died only the previous week."

"That was William who was here just now," said Larose.

"Yes, and a most valuable servant," was the reply. "He valets me and I have come to depend upon him for many things. He is a most intelligent man."

Lord Thralldom now became much more communicative, in his manner, and all traces of his irritation having passed, he answered with no hesitation, a number of further questions that the detective put.

"But mind you," he said presently, "although I think this notion of yours about people being killed upon my lands is all nonsense, still," and a strange faraway look came into his eyes, "when I shall have thought over what you tell me happened to you last night, I admit it may be very disturbing to my peace of mind,"—he nodded his head very solemnly—"because, for many months it has been my considered opinion that strangers are watching round the castle here. But they would not be madmen," he added quickly, "far from it. They are shrewd, keen, level-headed men, waiting to catch me unawares," his voice trailed away to a troubled sigh, "and rob me of my Rubens."

Larose sighed too. "No help for me in this quarter," he thought sadly as he rose to take his leave. "He's a cranky old man, and to take him into my confidence would be fatal at once. I can only depend on Croupin now, here in the castle."

He had another good look over the footman as the latter was showing him out, pausing at the hall door for a short conversation.

"And what do you make out of Mr. Rawlings's disappearance?" he asked, coming at once to the point.

The man's body remained quite immovable, but his eyes, under their half-closed lids, shifted restlessly from side to side. "I make nothing out of it, sir," he replied quietly. "It is very mysterious."

"Oh! you think it very mysterious do you?" said Larose. "Well, is it your idea that he fell over the cliffs?"

"I have no idea at all, sir," was the reply, "but that seems to be the general opinion."

They talked for a few minutes, but Larose could get no satisfaction out of him. The man was ready and polite with all his answers and most respectful, too, in his demeanour, and there was nothing in any way to suggest that he had anything but the most casual interest in the bailiff's disappearance. He seemed to be merely what he purported to be—a deferential and well-trained gentleman's servant.

"And yet we know," ran the detective's thoughts, when finally he was upon his way back to the inn, "that he is leading a double life, and under that calm and unruffled exterior, is a man who goes nightly upon his mission of theft." He started to nod his head and then winced. "Yes, and with all his gentlemanly appearance, only a few hours back his fingers may have been upon my neck with all the ferocity of a wild beast." He sighed. "Well, I have nothing much to tell Croupin this afternoon, except that I have been nearly killed, and that by hook or by crook he must smuggle me into the castle to-night."


THAT same evening, just after half past eight, Monsieur Antoine, the amiable and very efficient chef of Thralldom Castle, was entertaining James, the footman, in the former's little private sanctum just off the kitchen regions. A bottle of wine and two glasses stood upon the table before them, and that there had been no lack of the wherewithal for good fellowship was evidenced by an empty bottle that lay upon the floor beside them.

James looked hot and red in the face, but the Frenchman was as cool as a cucumber, and brimming over with the vivacity of his race.

"But drink up, James, old boy," he said, filling up the footman's glass. "Zere is no headache in a whole bottle of zis." He poked his companion in the ribs. "But it is good that I have a key of ze cellar for I am good judge of wine."

The footman laughed thickly. "Oh! you're a good judge, right enough, Froggy," he exclaimed, "and not half as stingy as the last bloke was. We could screw nothing out of him."

The chef patted him upon the shoulder. "But I do good service to zis great lord of Thralldom in seeing zat you have a little of his wine, for wine is good for ze stomach and with a good stomach, you work better for him."

"You're right, Froggy," nodded the footman. "Feed me well and I'll work well. That's my motto every time." He looked knowingly at the chef. "But you're flash. You're all togged up to-night. Got a date with a skirt, somewhere?"

The Frenchman instantly leant forward and clutched him by the arm.

"Hush! hush!" he hissed sharply, "not a whisper! Not a word!" His eyes sparkled joyfully and he put his mouth down close to the other's ear. "Yes, I have an appointment, to-night"—he spread himself out like a peacock—"wis a lovely girl."

The footman breathed heavily. "Gee! but you're lucky. What tart is it?" he asked.

Monsieur Antoine shook his finger playfully. "No, I not tell you, Meester James, for I have fear of you. If my girl see you, I not know what would happen." He poured out another glass of wine. "But drink up, son. I must leave by nine o'clock for I meet zis girl at nine and a quarter." He threw up his eyes. "Oh! but she is lovely." He looked searchingly at the footman. "You have kissed many girls?"

The footman's rather stupid face looked annoyed. "I've asked plenty," he began, "but——"

"Asked!" almost shrieked the Frenchman. "Oh! James, ze great mistake." He spoke very earnestly. "Nevaire, nevaire ask a woman for a kiss, for she have never love for a man who ask her." He lifted up one finger impressively. "Take hold her hand, James, and if she do not draw it away, zen you know you can kiss her, quick, for she is all for you at once." He looked horrified. "But ask! No, nevaire ask. It is indelicate and it offend ze modesty of ze girl."

The footman looked muddled. "Oh! that's the dodge is it? Good for you, Froggy." He blinked his eyes alcoholically. "I'll try it next time."

The Frenchman took out his watch and then rose sharply to his feet. "But see, I must not wait." He placed his hand upon his heart. "Love calls."

"Lucky beggar!" grunted the footman. "Alone with a tart, to-night. I wish I was you."

"Now, listen, James," said the chef, and speaking now with a sharp note of authority in his tone, "you must do exactly as I tell you, and if you do not, not anozzer drop of wine for you as long as I am here." He buttoned up his jacket in a business-like way. "I am to meet zis girl at nine and a quarter, I tell you, and if she is not zere, zen I know her mother will not let her out and she will not come." He nodded his head emphatically. "So, I come back at once, you understand?"

"All right," said the footman. "I'll let you in. I shall be at the door all the evening."

"Yes, and let me in quickly, too," went on the Frenchman, "for I shall be angry and not want to speak to anyone. I will not ring ze bell. I will tap on ze window of your little room and mind you be ready for me."

"All right, I'll be ready, Froggy," replied James, now blinking his eyes more than ever. "I may be having a little snooze then."

"And if I meet her," exclaimed the chef, raising his eyes ecstatically, "it will be just before ten when I come in and zen I will tap on ze window too."

"And don't you be later," said the footman, frowning, "for you know old Thralldom may be starting on the prowl. What!" he went on, "you're taking your mackintosh. What for? It's a fine night and not going to rain."

"It might," said the Frenchman. He grinned delightedly and lowered his voice. "Besides, it will come in for sitting down."

James winked to the full extent that the wine he had imbibed would allow him, and accompanying the amorous chef into the hall, let him out of the front door.

"Now, mind and be ready," were the last whispered instructions of the latter, "for I don't want ze lord to know I am out. He complain zis morning that I go out too much, and want to know what for. You bring your wine into your little room and finish it zere. See, don't switch on ze lights when I come in."

The Frenchman gone, the footman made himself comfortable in the small room just off the hall and had soon finished up the wine. "And I could drink another bottle of it," was his grumbling comment. He smiled stupidly as he sank back into a big chair. "Still, Froggy's not a bad sort, and wouldn't old Thralldom grouse if he knew the booze I've had."

He closed his eyes luxuriously, and in a few minutes his deep snores were testifying eloquently to the potency of the wine he had imbibed.

But he had not slept ten minutes, it seemed only one to him, when his dreams were disturbed by a gentle tapping upon the window.

"Let me in, James," came the sharp voice of the chef. "I am all tears for she have not come."

Rising a little unsteadily to his feet, the footman tottered to the steel grille and unlocked it. Then he fumbled for a few moments with the catch of the big door.

"Quick, quick," called out the chef angrily. "I am in bad temper for zat lovely girl have cruel mother and she would not let her come. Do not speak to me for I am full of tears."

The door was opened at last and, without a word of thanks, a mackintoshed figure, with cap well pulled down over its eyes, darted through.

"Straight on to the end of the hall," it muttered in a voice very different from that of the musical one of the chef. "Then round to the right for about ten paces, then to the left and up the staircase at the end of the passage, then to the left again, and it is the fourth door on the right. Good! and I am to tread like a cat and get under the bed."

The footman closed the big door and, relocking the grille, returned to his interrupted alcoholic slumber. His head was beginning to ache.

He slept for more than half an hour this time, without any disturbance and then was awakened by a sharp pinging on the bell within a few feet of his ear.

"Blast!" he exclaimed, looking hazily at the clock. "It's nearly ten and who the blazes is ringing at this time. They're all in, in the castle."

He passed through the steel grille and, approaching close to the big door, demanded, according to his usual instructions, who was there.

"It is I, booby," came the angry voice of the chef. "You have kept me waiting and I told you not to. I tap ze window and you not hear it, an I have to ring ze bell."

The footman fell back aghast. "What do you mean?" he called out, sobered in his surprise. "It's not Antoine. You've been in an hour ago."

"Open ze door, you fool," hissed the Frenchman, "and speak softly. You'll wake all ze house."

"But I've let you in once already," insisted the footman. "You said you'd not met the girl."

"You great fool," returned the chef. "You have been dreaming. You have had too much to drink. I have been with ze girl all zis time and she was lovely. I tell you about it when I am in. Open ze door, quick."

And then, suddenly, James heard a movement in the hall and turning, saw the gaunt figure and grim visage of Lord Thralldom just behind him.

"Who is it, James, and what's this noise about?" asked his lordship sternly.

"I thought, my lord——" began the footman.

"Open ze door, James," called out the chef, his voice now rising almost to a shout. "It is I, Antoine and if you do not open quickly, I nevaire have you in my little room again and nevaire give you more——"

"It's Monsieur Antoine, my lord," exclaimed the flustered James, speaking now himself very loudly, and anxious that at all costs his master should hear nothing about the wine. He added spitefully, "He's very late."

"Open the door, then," was his lordship's command, and then when James had complied, and the chef came tripping blithely into the hall, the latter was pulled up in consternation at the sight of the scowling face of the lord of the castle.

"And did I not, only this morning," boomed Lord Thralldom fiercely, "express my displeasure at the many occasions upon which you went out at night?"

The Frenchman was all excuses and apologies, "But it was ze toothache, to-night, my lord," he explained volubly, "and I go to the doctaire to have it pulled out. Look, see," and pressing a handkerchief to his lips, he withdrew it, with the stain of blood showing.

"Oh!" grunted Lord Thralldom, and he frowned as if annoyed that there was something in the excuse.

"Yes, my lord," went on the chef, "I was in pain, and in fear that my cooking would be spoilt."

"Well, don't go out at night any more for a week," grunted his lordship again, "and don't make your Tartare sauce so thick in future. I don't like it," and waiting until he had seen the footman close the doors upon the bridge, he strode out of the hall.

The chef made a grimace behind his back and then turned frowningly to the footman. "But what is up with you, my son?" he asked. "You have too much wine and got drunk. Zat is it and you get me into trouble with ze lord."

James was angry, with the anger of a man with a thick head. "I'll swear," he said huskily, "that I let you in an hour ago." He blinked his eyes hard. "Now where's that mackintosh you went out with?"

"Hush! hush!" exclaimed the chef with his eyes twinkling in amusement. "I lend it to ze girl to cover her white dress wiz. It show too much in the dark." He threw out his hands disconsolately. "And I forgot to ask for it back. Nevaire mind," he went on. "I get it back on Sunday." He seemed suddenly to remember something. "Oh! she want to see you, and I am to take you wiz me next time. You will come?"

But the footman was not to be so easily mollified, and it was not until Monsieur Antoine had produced two stiff liqueur brandies from his private cupboard, that James would consent to view things in their proper light.

"I was half-shickered, Froggy, that's what it was," he explained thickly, "and my legs feel all wobbly now. Help me to bed, old man, and I'll sleep it off."

The forgiving Frenchman did as he was requested, but not until he was certain from the footman's heavy snores that the latter was finally settled for the night, did he seek the sanctuary of his own room.

"It is all right, Mr. Larose," he whispered delightedly, as the detective crept out from under the bed, "I managed it fine," and he proceeded with many chuckles, to relate everything that had happened.

"You are a great artist, Monsieur," commented the detective, smilingly, "and if only you turned your talents into the right direction, you might become as renowned as Mr. Jones."

Croupin screwed up his eyes. "Oh! but it was droll to see that look on James's face, and it was difficult to persuade him that he had been dreaming. He was most suspicious about it." He grinned in amusement. "Really, that James is more intelligent when he is tipsy than when he is sober." His grin broadened and he looked slily at the detective. "And it is droll, too, that I should now be helping a great detective from Scotland Yard to break into a nobleman's castle."

Larose frowned. "It is not breaking in, Croupin, and I am here in the interests of the law. I consider it best for all concerned to act in this way." He brushed the matter aside. "And now we can do nothing until after midnight, you are sure?"

"Quite sure," replied Croupin, "for it is never certain that the lord has gone to his room until after then. He prowls up and down the corridors; he goes and sits for an hour in the gallery worshipping his Rubens, or else, he drags himself up on to the battlements with some big field-glasses that he has." He nodded his head solemnly. "I tell you, I have had some narrow escapes of meeting him."

"Then why hasn't he caught William?" frowned Larose.

"Ah! William has privileges," was the reply, "and he can always have the excuse that he is about to see if the lord wants anything. He does a lot for the lord, and can be always sure when the lord is in bed and it is safe for him to go down to the chapel. Some nights the coast will have been clear for him soon after ten, but it will always be clear after midnight."

"Where is that music coming from?" asked the detective suddenly, lifting up his hand.

"It is Ann," replied Croupin, "and she is playing upon the organ in the chapel. We are not far from the chapel here." He paused a moment to listen. "It is a funeral dirge she is playing. She is very sad."

For a little while they sat silent as the glorious strains of the Dead March in 'Saul' came up softly to their ears, but with the ending of the march, the music ceased.

"It was an omen, perhaps," sighed Croupin, "for are not we ourselves going down among the dead? They say that twenty-three of the lords are buried in the vaults and all of their ladies too. Yes," he went on, turning his thoughts now back to the music, "the beautiful Ann is very sad. She has a lover and he came up to see her yesterday but after he had gone, the lord and her stepmother were angry with her. The stepmother told her she was to have no hopes of him because he was only a clerk in the Saxmundham bank, and one day she was to marry a man of a higher birth. James listened at the door and heard it all."

"Well," remarked the detective, "if I am any judge of character, she'll have her own way whatever they say."

"Her stepmother is not fond of her," remarked Croupin, "and is often angry with her. James listens a lot at the doors, I tell you."

The detective was restless and kept looking at his watch. "And you are sure," he asked, "that William is safe for the night?"

"Fifteen grains of veronal again," smiled Croupin, "and he is sleeping like a dead man. I put it in his coffee and looked to see that he drank it too." He nodded. "I wish I'd given him a dose last night, then he would not have half-broken your neck. I am sure it was William who attacked you, and I grieve that I went to bed directly I got in. But I was so tired because I had no sleep at all the night before and could hardly keep my eyes open." He snapped his fingers together. "So, with the lord in bed early, too, with a bad cold, William could have been in the dungeons by ten o'clock and passed the whole night there."

The minutes dragged slowly by but, at last, Larose rose briskly. "Come on," he said. "It's time now. I make it a good quarter past twelve."

Croupin opened the door very softly and then, for a long while, stood with his head craned forward listening.

"It is all right," he whispered at last. "Now hold tightly to the bottom of my jacket. It will be pitch dark but I know every foot of the way and shall not have to flash my torch."

They were both wearing rubber shoes and, by touch only, they crept down the stairs, feeling along the walls of the long corridor leading to the chapel door.

"Now wait," Croupin breathed softly. "They lock this door when they remember it and then the key is hung in the hall, but unless the lord is with them they don't generally trouble. Ah! it is not locked to-night and so our adventure commences well."

They crept into the chapel like shadows and closed the door behind them. They were still in inky blackness, for the night was stormy and no moonlight was filtering through the stained-glass windows.

Then, at last, Croupin flashed his torch, trailing the light, however, cautiously upon the floor.

"Are you sure you can find the opening again?" whispered Larose.

"Quite sure," Croupin whispered back. "I killed a fly and stuck it upon the wall the breadth of my left hand from where the panel opens. If the fly's dropped off, I shall still see the mark of blood."

But the fly had not dropped off and some thrilling seconds followed. Then Croupin found the right spot and, with a slight grating noise, the panel slid back and showed a gaping aperture just wide enough to admit a man.

Both their hearts beat tumultuously. "I'll go in first," whispered Larose, "and then we must make sure how it opens from inside before we shut it."

But there was no mystery about that for there was an oak knob upon the inner side of the panel, and so they very quickly pulled it to behind them and started to descend the narrow spiral staircase that they saw before them.

"Splendid! Meester Larose," ejaculated Croupin with enthusiasm. "We are wonderful when we work together, you and I. Everything runs smoothly, like the ticking of a clock."

"Yes," replied the detective complacently, "we take some risks, certainly, but we minimise those risks as much as we can."

But they would not by any means have been so assured in their minds had they been aware of what was taking place in the chapel at that moment.

A white-faced and badly frightened girl was sitting bolt upright in the high chair before the organ there, staring wide-eyed at the wall through which they had just passed.

Ann Devenham had fallen asleep when she had finished playing the Dead March in 'Saul,' the solitary candle above the keys had burnt itself out, and the girl had awakened suddenly to catch a fleeting glimpse of Croupin as he was passing through the secret door behind Larose.

For a minute and longer, unwilling to believe the evidence of her eyes, she sat on as if paralysed and then regaining the use of her limbs, she sprang up with a little sob of terror and, groping her way out of the chapel, tore along the more familiar passages outside, finally locking herself, breathlessly, in her own room.

In the meantime, all unknowing of what was happening behind them, the detective and Croupin had descended the winding stairs. Eighteen of them, they counted, and then they were brought up dead against what appeared to be a solid wall. But the detective at once noticed upon one of the big stones that faced them, a small patch that was darker than anywhere else.

"That's where they press," he whispered, "and there should be finger-marks." He hesitated a moment. "But it doesn't matter," he went on, "for we know who comes down here," and he immediately pressed upon the dark patch with his open hand.

The stone revolved at once, easily and without noise, and they stepped into a long corridor whose ends were lost in darkness in both directions. The roof of the corridor was low and not much higher than their heads. Its walls were made of big blocks of stone, roughly hewn; its floor was also of stone, but there, the long flags were smooth and fitting closely into one another.

A peculiar smell at once assailed their nostrils, dank and stinging, as of a cellar in which the air had not been stirred for many years.

"Oh! what a dreadful place!" exclaimed Croupin with a shudder. "And what a graveyard smell!" His voice rose in horror. "And, oh! look at those rats!"

He might well exclaim, for with the flashing round of their torches, myriads of rats seemed to have sprung out from everywhere. They dashed out of the open doors that gaped into the corridor, they raced along the ledges just under the low roof, and they scampered over the very feet of the intruders in their frantic efforts to hide themselves, as speedily as possible from the fight.

"Never mind the rats," said the detective, "they won't hurt us. But we mustn't let this smell get up into the chapel," and carefully noting its position, he pushed round the big stone until it was flush again with the other stones in the wall of the corridor. "See how beautifully it fits," he went on, "no wonder they smell nothing up there." He tucked the ends of his trousers into his socks and smiled as if he were quite pleased with everything. "Now, friend Croupin, at any rate we'll find out where that precious footman of yours has been digging for the treasure."

But they soon realised they had an almost superhuman task before them, for the dungeons and other chambers seemed innumerable, and there were passages branching off from the main corridor, that led in all directions.

They went into dungeon after dungeon but their conditions were all the same. Empty, as they probably had been for hundreds and hundreds of years, with only their big iron staples, embedded in the walls, and lengths of gruesome-looking rusted chains to testify to what dreadful uses they had been put in years gone by.

"Look at those doors, Monsieur," whispered Larose. "There are no locks to them that you or I could have picked. They are just banged to, and those heavy bars fall into their sockets automatically, and there is no opening them from inside."

They came, at length, to four broad steps and descended by them into a chamber, larger and loftier than any they had hitherto been in. It was paved with large oblong stones and many of them had been cut by deep lettering.

"The vaults!" exclaimed Croupin breathlessly, "where the lords are buried!"

Larose flashed his torch upon the flags. The lettering worn and corroded by the years, was yet quite decipherable upon many of them.

"Maurice, seventh lord of Thralldom, 1374," he read. "Thomas, tenth lord of Thralldom, 1493. Berenice——" But suddenly he darted forward and bent low over the stones. "Look, look," he exclaimed with a catch in his voice, "this stone has been lifted recently, this grave of Berenice." He clutched Croupin by the arm. "It is here that William got that crucifix and those bracelets. He has been rifling the graves."

"Mon Dieu!" ejaculated the Frenchman. "If the lord only knew!"

There was no doubt that the flag had been interfered with, for its edges were chipped and broken, and the intervening mortar scraped away. There was also a deep hole where a crowbar had evidently been inserted in a final effort to lift up the flag.

"And it is not the only one that has been lifted," cried Croupin excitedly. "Those others have been tampered with. See, that and that."

In all then, they found four flags had been lifted and the chipping round of a fifth begun.

"And but for that dose of veronal," grinned the Frenchman pointing to the last stone, "this night the bones of Alicia would have been rattling in her coffin."

The detective made no comment. He was searching behind a heap of crumbling stones and rubbish at one end of the vault.

"And here are his tools," he said. "A spade, a crowbar, a hammer and chisels and a paraffin lantern"—he examined the wick—"recently trimmed."

He sat down and considered everything for a few minutes. "But this does not help us in the least," he said finally. "I want to find a passage leading from under the moat to somewhere on the Thralldom lands, and unless I do, all the risks I am taking with you will have been wasted." He sprang to his feet again. "Come, Monsieur, it is half past two and the night will not last for ever. We must search quickly."

"But where are we to begin the search?" asked the Frenchman despairingly. He threw out his hands. "It will take months to go over all these dreadful places."

Larose looked anxious, for remembering the accuracy with which the revolving stone had been fitted, he realised it would be a stupendous task to examine the walls everywhere, with the minute care that would be required to find another opening—if, indeed, it existed.

And then, suddenly, his eyes fell carelessly upon a broad, stone slab that had been built into the wall just at the entrance to the vaults. It was about three feet in height and had evidently been placed there to rest the coffins upon when they were brought into the vaults and before they were lowered into the graves.

He regarded it without interest for a moment, but his eyes, trained by his life's work to notice anything out of the ordinary, he noted there was a black patch upon one end of the slab. It looked like paint at first sight, and he began to wonder sub-consciously what paint could be doing there. His interest quickening, he moved forward and flashed his torch upon the patch. Then he bent down closely and then, suddenly, he straightened himself up and his eyes opened very wide. "But this is blood," he exclaimed hoarsely, "and there is a long hair sticking to it. It is a woman's hair and jet black"—he could hardly get his breath—"and Rita Ethelton's hair was jet black."

Croupin sprang to his side and flashed his own light upon the patch too, and then, in startled silence they stood regarding each other, with faces that showed up pale and ghastly even among the shadows of the vault.

The detective was the first to recover his composure. "Yes, that is blood," he said quietly, "and see—it has dripped too over the edge of the slab. The hair is human because of its length and, for the same reason, it must have belonged to a woman. Therefore the body of a woman was placed here and if she were already dead, from the extent of the bloodstains, it could only have been very shortly after the moment of her death." He paused a moment and then added very slowly, "Unless, that dried blood there be the blood of all four deaths, and each time the assassin has waited here to rest."

Bidding Croupin stand back, he proceeded to minutely examine the stone flags all round the base of the slab, and was at once rewarded by further discoveries, for he picked up quite a number of small pieces of dried black mud.

"And they were brought in upon the boots of someone who had just come off the marshes," he whispered. He could not hide the exultation in his voice. "Oh! how it all fits in!"

"Then William is the madman who has been killing all these people," exclaimed Croupin excitedly, "and he found those gold ornaments, only by chance." He grabbed Larose by the arm. "Don't you see it, Monsieur? It is as clear as daylight to me." His eyes were almost starting from his head. "He has killed four persons and he has brought them all down here by that passage he has discovered, and has buried them under those four flagstones he has lifted up. Quick! where is that crowbar you saw?"

The detective whistled. "By Jove! you may be right," and in a few seconds they were handling the crowbar and proceeding feverishly to raise the first flag.

But the flag was thick and heavy and they could only raise it inch by inch, and then were obliged to wedge stones under it to prevent it falling back.

And their exultation died down quickly with the coming up of the stone, for there was no suggestion at all that any body had been interred there recently.

"But perhaps it is well covered over," panted Croupin "and that is why there is no smell."

The stone was up at last and they were gazing upon a bed of dry and crumbled earth with no suggestion, however that any corpse had been interred there recently. A few minutes of strenuous digging and then up came a piece of bone.

"A leg bone," said Larose grimly, "and from the look of it, it's been there for hundreds of years." He shook his head. "No, it's no good digging deeper here. Now for the other ones."

With great labour, one after another, they lifted up the three other flags, but made no attempt at digging very deep down for the earth beneath was just the same as in the first one, crumbled and disturbed, but with no odour other than that of the dried earth of hundreds of years.

"Now," said Larose, "we'll just sit down and sum everything up," and he was joined by Croupin upon the steps at the entrance to the vaults. "No, no smoking, Monsieur," he went on sternly, for the Frenchman had been upon the point of lighting a cigarette. "To smoke here, might prove as dangerous to us as smoking in a powder magazine. You say William doesn't smoke, and a non-smoker would detect the smell of tobacco smoke, even after forty-eight hours. Switch off your torch, too, for we'll probably want every minute of our lights now and we can talk just as well in the dark."

Croupin complied at once and the inky blackness of the vaults enveloped them. A short silence followed and then the detective began in a calm and measured tone.

"This is exactly what the position is. We are looking for a madman whom we suppose killed a girl, with jet-black hair, in the neighbourhood of this castle here, and disposed of her body in a place we cannot find—and our attention has unexpectedly been drawn to an individual whom we have found out has access to these vaults. Our attention was not drawn to him, in the first instance, because of the disappearance of this girl, but because we imagined him to have had something to do with the killing and disappearance of quite another person. We suspect him of murderous tendencies, quite apart from anything to do with this girl."

Larose paused here for a moment, and, in the silence and darkness, the emotional Frenchman edged up a little closer to him to make sure that be had not moved away.

The detective went on. "Well, we get on to this man's tracks, we follow them and they lead us down to this slab of stone upon which we find dried blood and a long jet-black, woman's hair." He lowered his voice impressively. "We have suspected him of one killing and we find concrete evidence of another, in a spot that we know he is in the habit of frequenting. We also find mud here similar to that upon the marshlands outside." He reached out and gripped Croupin by the arm. "Now, what conclusion, therefore, are we justified in arriving at?"

"Firstly," replied Croupin promptly, "that he is the killer of both these people and secondly, that the secret of that passage under the moat is his." A little of the assurance in his voice died away. "But where has he hidden the bodies?"

"They should be close here and the entrance to the passages too," replied the detective sharply, "for he laid that woman's body upon the slab either as I have suggested, to rest himself after having brought it under the moat, or else to get the burial place prepared."

But all at once the Frenchman was disturbed by an idea that had come to him. "Why should he have brought the bodies down here?" he asked anxiously. "Why should he have gone to all that labour?"

"Why should he have killed these poor people at all, if it comes to that?" replied Larose. "You see, Monsieur," he went on, "we are undoubtedly dealing with a madman here, and therefore we cannot judge his actions by what we should have done ourselves. We can conceive, as yet, of no reason why he should have taken these poor creatures' lives, but when we do find out what turned him all at once into an assassin, we may, at the same time, learn why he chose to hide the bodies here."

"I realise that," said Croupin slowly, "but not knowing his motives will make our work ever so much more difficult."

"And another thing," said Larose. "We cannot be sure yet that it is William. We can only surmise, too, that it was he who gave me this bruised neck last night. Don't forget we know for certain that that Halesworth butcher has been in a madhouse once, and remember—he was born near here and should therefore know every yard of the Thralldom lands. As a boy, he worked on them and what is more possible than that in the course of his work in his young days, he learnt that very secret that we think William now possesses? No, no, we can't rule out that butcher yet. After last night things are very suspicious about him." He switched on his torch and looked at his watch. "But it is nearly four o'clock and you must be back again up those stairs before morning comes."

"And we must think, too, how I am to get you out of the castle," said Croupin, "and how you are to get back again to continue the search."

"I shall not go out," replied Larose quickly. "I shall remain on down here, and whether I find the bodies or not, I shall wait for that madman to come here again." He nodded his head. "He will return sure enough if he does not learn anyone is after him."

"Well, William, will certainly come again," said Croupin gleefully, "for he has those other graves to dig up yet." He looked anxious. "But I don't like leaving you, for this is a dreadful place to be in, alone."

Larose laughed. "It is a great adventure, Monsieur, and one which I shall love. But you must go up now and get me a few things that I shall have to have, a blanket, some candles, a bottle of water and a little food."

"But what about to-night?" asked Croupin. "I cannot come before midnight because of the lord and after that"—he shook his head ominously—"I may run into William."

"Now, that's awkward," said Larose frowning, "for I must keep in touch with you all the time. Let me think."

"I could come down just as it begins to get light," said Croupin, "or failing that, you could come into my little room just off the kitchen and I will leave food for you there and a note, if I have anything to tell you, under the leg of the kitchen table. There is always a wedge of paper there to keep it from rocking."

They replaced the flags they had lifted and removed all traces of their work and then after Croupin had been up to obtain the things that the detective required, the latter was left alone in the darkness, among the rats, and in the presence of the dead.


THE following morning William awoke with a head, which if it had belonged to James, the latter would have described as 'muzzy.'

But William was not aware what a muzzy head was, for he had never indulged in too much alcohol. Indeed, he had been a teetotaller all his life, and had always a great contempt for those who took anything stronger than water or tea or coffee.

He felt languid and depressed and he counted his pulse and found that it was very slow. Also, he had a bitter taste in his mouth, and he looked at his tongue in the mirror which showed that it was furred and of an ugly colour.

He sat upon the edge of his bed and thought. This was the second time that he had felt like this lately; the other time had been not a fortnight ago. Then, as now, he had slept all night like a dead man, to awake in the morning with all the symptoms of one who had taken a heavy dose of some powerful drug. And he had been suspicious then that someone had been drugging him, and had looked hastily to see if any one had been opening his trunk while he had been asleep.

But he had found his keys in their usual pocket in the belt that he always wore upon him, night and day, and all his locked up belongings had been intact. Still he had half thought that the two gold bangles he had tied up in his handkerchief and had thrust at the bottom of all the other things in the trunk, were not tied up in exactly the same way as he had left them, and he had been doubtful, too, if the crucifix were not wrapped up differently in the piece of shaving paper.

Yes, he remembered how strong his suspicions had been then, and he became doubly suspicious now.

He knew something of the after effects of drugs, for there had been a time in his life when drugs had played a prominent and unpleasant part.

It was true he had only very vague memories of those days and nothing stood out really clearly to him, except a large garden with very high walls. But he could dimly remember being given nasty-tasting things to drink, and if he refused them, as he sometimes did, a cultured voice would say, "A fiftieth of hyosine, I think." And then would come a struggle and someone would prick his arm, and he would fight fiercely and then—drop off to sleep for a hundred years.

Then next, he would wake up with a head exactly like he had now.

He screwed up his eyes in perplexity.

Surely this heavy head, this tired feeling, and this bitter taste he was now experiencing for the second time, could not be natural? It must be something he had been given to eat or drink that was causing it.

He went carefully over all he had had for supper the previous night. Just some cold lamb and bread-and-butter, some salad, a little stewed fruit and a small piece of cheese. They had all had the same things in the servants' hall and they had all been served from the same dishes.

Then he had had two glasses of water and a small cup of coffee. Ah! he remembered now—that coffee! It had tasted burnt and he had remarked upon it, but everyone else had said theirs was all right.

And Antoine, the chef, had handed him that cup of coffee! A hot wave of colour surged his sallow face. Yes, then if anyone had doped him, it had been that cursed Antoine, and he believed the chef had done it.

He clenched his teeth together and his thoughts ran on.

No, he had never liked Antoine, and from the first moment of the Frenchman's arrival at the castle, for some reason that he had never been able to explain, he had always been doubtful about him.

The chef was such a watchful-looking, prying fellow, and he was always so curious about everything. And it was strange, too, about that old violin of his that he could play upon like a professional musician. He had always denied that it was of any particular value, and yet once when one of the girls had accidentally knocked it off a chair, he had gone as white as a sheet and had trembled all over until he had found it had not been injured.

The footman thought rapidly. But if Antoine had drugged him, what had he drugged him for? Who was Antoine and what was he after?

Antoine was nothing but a cook, an ordinary cook. Ah! but was he only a cook? He wasn't ordinary either. He was clever, much too clever, he, William, had often thought to be taking service in a private family. Yes, there was something very unusual about him.

William thought on for a long while and then, realising that he would be late for his work, began to make his toilet hurriedly.

"Yes, I'll watch that Antoine," he snarled. His face suddenly took on an ashen hue. "But what if he's been watching me?" A cruel and cunning expression came into his eyes and he shifted them rapidly from one side to the other and added menacingly. "It'll be bad for him if he has."

So Croupin noticed a subtle something about William the first moment that morning when he set eyes upon him.

He felt, rather than saw, that the footman was watching him, and when he handed him his cup of coffee, William sipped the first few drops very cautiously, as if he were not quite sure it was all right.

During the morning, whenever the two were brought in contact with each other in the course of their duties, William's manner towards the chef was more constrained and unresponsive than ever.

When he took his lordship's breakfast tray from him, he lidded his eyes so that their expression should not be seen, and when Croupin spoke, he answered curtly and in the coldest manner possible.

Croupin would have been terribly mortified if he had known that William was remarking something peculiar in him, too. The footman was sure that there was embarrassment in the chef's manner, and that he was more anxious to ingratiate himself and more anxious to please.

And then suddenly, when alone upon his duties in the library, William began wondering with a sort of shock, if there were anything in connection with the visits of the detective from Scotland Yard and the drug that he was now quite certain had been administered to him the previous night.

He had not been present when the detective had come into the servants' hall, but he had heard about all that had happened from the girls and how the chef had twice spoken very rapidly in his own tongue to their visitor.

Now, was Antoine acting in collusion with the police, and had those hurried, sharp words meant any passing on to the detective of some discovery that he had made? And if he had made any discovery might it not be that he was aware of the secret passage leading down into into the vaults and that he knew that he, William, had been making use of it, night after night?

He looked stealthily round, but he was quite alone in the room. His thoughts ran on.

What if he were found out and they were going to take those nights from him?

He bent his head forward with a strange light in his eyes.

Those nights! Ah! he was a different being then! He was no longer a hireling, decked out in the livery of servitude and carrying out menial tasks at the bidding of a querulous old man!

Another life came to him amid the dust of those dead years and he was the sovereign of all about him there! The reek of the bone earth was an opiate then to his scarred and tortured brain and he was King, Emperor and God in a dark world all of his own!

Myriads of rats were among his subjects and he had dealt out death to them when he had been in the mood! With his bare hands, he had torn them from the crevices along the corridors and their blood had been sprinkled upon the stones!

"Ah! there had been blood sometimes! Blood! Blood!" Then he passed his hand over his forehead and stared wonderingly round, like a man awakening from a dream.

But he heard shuffling footsteps behind him, and in the passing of a second was the quiet and subservient footman again.

His thoughts had, however, left their aftermath, but with cunning now taking the place of rage, and no one at the midday meal would have dreamed, from his impassive demeanour, the red mist that he was seeing before his eyes.

He would not leave his room for a few nights, he told himself, and, in the meantime, if he could murder the chef in a manner that would not direct the slightest suspicion upon himself, he would do so. But nothing must be done that would bring him in contact with the police. He shook his head energetically. No, he had no wish to be questioned by them.

He thought of many unpleasant ways in which he could get rid of Antoine, but all his ideas were tempered with a foresight that would leave nothing to chance.

To induce the chef to come up upon the battlements and then throw him over would be the simplest plan, but it was not practicable for he could think of no excuse to inveigle him into going up there.

Then he thought of poisoning him, and he remembered some mice poison that he had seen upon a shelf in the scullery. It would contain strychnine, probably, and he would look for an opportunity to place it in something the chef was going to eat or drink.

So choosing a moment early in the afternoon, when no one was about, he tiptoed into the scullery and reached for the tin of poison upon the shelf. But ill-fortune was dogging him there, for he had only just taken it down when Rosa, the under-housemaid, came in and seeing what he was handling, asked immediately what he wanted mice poison for.

He was quite calm and collected and explained he was looking for Insectibain, as he had just seen a black-beetle going under the big cupboard in the servants' hall. She told him where the Insectibain was and he had to replace the mice poison and that cut out all thoughts of dealing with the chef in that way.

Later, about four o'clock, it being his afternoon off, he went for a long walk to clear his head, and when passing through the village of Westleton, he suddenly saw Antoine coming out of the little general shop, with a parcel in his hand. The chef did not see him, but turned at once to walk back in the direction of the castle.

William waited a couple of minutes and then went into the shop himself and bought three pennyworth of boiled sweets, asking laughingly when the sweets were handed over, if the Frenchman had just been buying any chocolates for the girls up at the castle.

"No," replied the shopman, laughing back, "he only bought a pound of candles."

"Candles!" ejaculated William uneasily, when he was outside the shop again, and continuing his walk towards the sea. "Now what does he want candles for? I used candles until I'd bought that hurricane lamp." And he became more disturbed in his mind, than ever.

The goddess of ill-fortune was certainly following William that afternoon, for he had not left the shop two minutes when Croupin returned to it. He had forgotten he was out of cigarettes.

"And I was sure it was chocolates you'd come back for," laughed the shopman. "Mr. William's just been in, and he asked if you'd been buying any for the pretty girls up at the castle. He saw you go out with your parcel and was very astonished you'd only been buying candles."

"Oh! he was, was he?" commented the very discomfited Croupin. "Well, he's always as curious as an old woman that chap." And he proceeded to walk back to the castle, feeling most uneasy, looking many times over his shoulder, to see if William were coming up behind him.

"He suspects something," he muttered hoarsely. "I am sure he was different this morning, and now, he'll murder me if he gets the chance." He nodded his head. "I'll not leave my room to-night." A catch came into his voice. "But I must warn that Gilbert somehow. Croupin's not the man to let down a friend."

And so, directly he arrived back at the castle and had changed into his chef's clothes, he chanced everything and ran into the chapel. He had put a big dab of flour upon his face and carried a big rolling pin with plenty of flour adhering to it, with the intention of declaring excitedly that he was chasing a rat, if he were unlucky enough to meet anyone upon his way.

But he encountered no one and very quickly had negotiated the spiral staircase and was running along the corridor leading to the dungeons.

"Meester Larose," he called out shrilly, "it is I, Croupin and I want you! Quick!" The detective at once appeared with his torch flashed.

"What is it?" he asked anxiously.

"William suspects something," he exclaimed breathlessly, "and is watching me now! I don't suppose he'll come down to-night, and I'd better not either."

"Thank you, Monsieur," exclaimed Larose. "You're a good friend to have."

"Found anything?" asked Croupin. "I can't stop a second."

"No, nothing as yet," replied Larose, "but I've a lot more places to search round."

"Well, as I'd better not come down with your food to-night, you must come up and get it yourself, directly it begins to get light in the morning. I'll leave it all ready under the dresser in my kitchen. You know where it is. Au revoir. Good fortune to you." In two minutes he was back again in the kitchen, without having encountered anyone.

"Bien, Monsieur Croupin," he chuckled as he got busy with his pots and pans, "but you are a great man and like Napoleon, nothing is impossible with you." He shook his head slowly, "But you have had a worrying day."

And he was by no means the only one in the castle who had been worried that day for in addition to himself and William, both Ann Devenham and Lord Thralldom had had their unpleasant times.

The girl had risen that morning after a very broken night, and had tried in vain to persuade herself that what she had seen in the chapel had been only a dream.

But she was too certain she could not have been mistaken. She had seen a man carrying a light pass into the solid wall that she had many times helped Rosa, the housemaid, to dust.

"What did it mean," she asked herself. "What could it mean but that someone, unknown to them all, had access to the underground parts of the castle and was descending into them for some sinister purpose of his own. And that purpose could not be a good one," she argued, "because who would be moving about in the dead of night unless he were doing something wrong?"

She was angry with herself that she had no idea at what exact time she had run from the chapel for, upon gaining the sanctuary of her bedroom, she had been so frightened that she had just flung herself upon the bed as she was and not until the dawn was beginning to filter through the windows, had she undressed properly and put herself into bed.

Then when the hour for getting up had come, she was oppressed with the thought that she must tell her uncle. It would worry him, she was sure, but it was not right that he should not know what had happened, and so she must find the first opportunity she could and speak to him alone.

But it was not until the morning was well advanced that she could get that opportunity and then, following him into the library, she told him everything.

With her first words a look almost of consternation came into his face, but it was quickly succeeded by a look of stony incredibility. He made no remark, however, until she had finished. Then he asked sharply. "What was the man like?"

"I couldn't say," she replied. "I didn't see his face. His back was towards me and he was flashing a torch before him and stooping to pass through the opening in the wall." She hesitated a moment. "But, oh! uncle, it was someone I know, I am sure, for there was something familiar about his figure to me."

Lord Thralldom eyed her very sternly. "Have you said anything about this to anyone else?" he asked.

"No, I've spoken to no one," she replied. "It would terrify mother if I did. But I thought I ought to tell you."

A long silence followed and then Lord Thralldom heaved a heavy sigh. "I've lived nearly all my life here," he said slowly, "and until these last few days there has been no nonsense about mysterious secret passages. Then, within a few days, Marmaduke Bonnett mentions them, that man from Scotland Yard brings them up, and now you come with a tale that I can hardly believe to be true." He rose wearily from his chair. "Come with me and show me where you saw this door." He smiled kindly. "I believe you dreamt it all."

They went together into the chapel and shutting the door behind them, he asked her to point out where the opening had been.

Ann hesitated. "I don't know exactly," she said, "but it was somewhere about there," and together, they approached where she indicated, and proceeded to examine the oak panelling carefully.

They tapped upon every inch, and pushed and pulled against the panelling in all directions, but the oak was firm and solid as a rock and no discovery rewarded their efforts.

With every minute Lord Thralldom's face grew sterner. "I'm not pleased with you, Ann," he said at last. "You're a foolish girl and are worrying me unnecessarily. Of course you didn't see a man go in here and if you mention about it to anyone"—his voice was almost menacing in his displeasure—"there will be a pack of rumours going about that will torment me out of my fife."

"But I'm certain, Uncle——" began Ann.

"You are not certain," interrupted Lord Thralldom angrily. "You are just at that unbalanced age that comes to all women, when their judgment and reason cannot be relied upon." He snapped his fingers in a gesture of contempt. "Look at your conduct with that young fellow that came up the other night and whom I foolishly asked to stay to dinner. Why, Marmaduke Bonnett informs me he is only a clerk in a bank and you"—he glared angrily at her—"are a Thralldom. I am ashamed of you, Ann."

Ann was upon the verge of tears, but she restrained them bravely.

"He is in every way a gentleman, Uncle," she said quickly. She tossed her head defiantly and with something of her lordly relation's spirit. "But that has nothing to do with what I saw last night."

"And I say you saw nothing," insisted Lord Thralldom firmly, "and if you persist in your folly, it will occasion me great annoyance." He clenched his hands together. "Don't you realise, girl, that if it gets about that you say you saw a man going through a secret passage here, all the gossips in the county will be talking about it, and it will draw attention to my paintings. Good Heavens!" he ejaculated, "just as if they were not a great enough responsibility already."

Ann made no comment and he went on very sternly, "Now, you listen to me. You must give me your solemn promise that you will not mention about this to a soul in the castle." He glared at her. "You understand?"

"Yes, I understand," she replied.

"And you promise?" he went on sharply.

"Yes, I promise." Her face was very pale but her expression was not a cowed one and indeed, she looked just as angry as he was.

"Good," he remarked, and he added grimly, "a Thralldom never lies." And he left the chapel without another word.

Ann went up to her bedroom and gave way to her emotions in a flood of tears. She felt very miserable, but all her fear of the man whom she was still certain she had seen going through the secret passage, was now lost in the indignity under which she was smarting. Her uncle had treated her in a way that was humiliating. He had not only been contemptuously incredulous about what she had told him, but also he had spoken as if there were something despicable in her friendship with John Harden.

She recovered herself very quickly, however, and sponging her face well, with cold water, there was nothing at lunch time to give any indication of the emotional stress through which she had passed.

She was losing, too, something of the resentment she had felt towards her uncle. After all, she told herself, he was an old man, and he could not have many years to live. The doctors told them he might have another stroke any time and the next one might be fatal. It was less easy to forgive his reference to John Harden, however, but there again his mind had undoubtedly been poisoned by that detestable Captain Bonnett.

All these thoughts coursed quickly through her mind, and very soon she was smiling again at her uncle as if there had been no unpleasantness between them that morning. She was considering, too, how she could help him, notwithstanding that he was incredulous of all she had told him and so insistent that he was not in a position to need any help.

Something was going on in the castle that was mysterious and, with those almost priceless paintings in the picture gallery, she was sure it was not safe there should be any strange happenings that could not be explained.

She had promised her uncle that she would not speak to anyone about what she knew had happened in the chapel the previous night, but that promise she reminded herself, only extended to those inside the castle and she had made no promise about anyone else outside.

She wondered then how she could get in touch with that detective from Scotland Yard. He had seemed to be a man whom she could trust and, if she told him everything he would surely advise her, and in any case she then would have done what she felt she ought to, whether any misfortune came upon her uncle or not.

So, after lunch, finding an opportunity when no one was about, she shut herself up in the telephone cabinet and with a little quickening of the beatings of her heart, rang up the bank at Saxmundham and asked for John Harden. She was put through to him at once and she flushed happily when she caught the thrill in his voice as he answered her.

Yes, of course, he would be delighted to do anything for her, he said. No, he did not know where that Mr. Larose was staying, except that he knew it was somewhere in Minsmere Haven. But he would soon find out, for he would go there straight away directly he was free, which would be about four o'clock. Should he come up and tell her? Oh! well, he was to get the detective to ring her up! Exactly at eight o'clock, and if he could not get hold of the detective, he was to ring her up himself and tell her!

"And don't let Mr. Larose give his name," she enjoined impressively, "nor you either, if you ring up. I don't want anyone to know. Just ask for me and say there's a message from Miss Smith, but if the call is put through exactly at eight, I will be by the telephone cabinet myself and answer when anyone rings."

Then followed a few minutes' conversation, which would have meant nothing to any outsider listening, but where every word of it was nevertheless laden to each speaker with the most beautiful message in all the world. It was the message that man and woman have been whispering to each other as long as time has run.

Ann left the telephone with her eyes sparkling. "I don't mind what anyone says," she told herself defiantly, "as long as he wants me." Her face flushed. "And I know he does."

Three minutes before eight, she was again in the telephone cabinet and holding back the hammer of the bell with her fingers. It vibrated at exactly eight o'clock.

It was John Harden speaking and he told her he had not been able to get in touch with Larose. He had found out where the detective was staying, at the inn on Minsmere Haven, but he had not been home since the previous evening, and no one knew where he had gone. He had not left for good, however, because his car was still in the garage and so he, John Harden, had left a note for him, telling him exactly what to do when he came back.

She rang off reluctantly a few minutes later, and, with no inclination to visit the chapel, went into the drawing-room, where she found her stepmother sitting alone.

"Captain Bonnett has been looking for you," said Lady Deering. "He wanted you to go up on the battlements with him. There's a big schooner anchored in the haven." Ann made no remark and she added with a smile, "Marmaduke is very interested in you, Ann, and you might do worse. He comes of a very good family and your uncle likes him."

The girl tossed her head contemptuously. "Well, I don't, Mother," she replied. "He bores me more every time I see him."

Lady Deering frowned. "Well, don't be foolish, Ann," she replied, "for you cannot afford to offend your uncle. Remember, he's an old man and all your future lies in his hands. He may make ample provision for you if you do as he wants you to." She spoke sharply. "I know he's annoyed with you about that young fellow in Saxmundham."

Ann made no comment. "Where's Captain Bonnett now?" she asked. "Do you know?"

Her stepmother smiled. "That's a good girl," she replied. "You will find him with your uncle in the gallery."

"I don't want to find him," said Ann calmly. "I only wanted to know where he was so that I could avoid him," and before her stepmother could think of any adequate reply, she swept from the room.

Shortly after half past nine Lord Thralldom, who was alone in his bedroom, summoned James and announced that he was going up on to the battlements.

"I've heard the hooting of the owl again, just now," he said sternly, "and we'll go up and see if we can stop that nonsense for good."

James cursed under his breath. He had been disturbed at a most interesting moment in a game of bridge, when he and Rosa were winning from the butler and Mary, and it should have meant a couple of shillings at least. He had just sorted a good no-trump hand, too, when the bell had rung.

But he bowed most deferentially. "Very good, my lord," and he added as if with great solicitude for his master's health, but really with the hope that he might put him off from the ridiculous excursion, "Your lordship had better wear an overcoat for I think it's going to rain."

"You've got your pistol, of course?" asked Lord Thralldom sharply, and James cursed under his breath again, as he replied that he had.

They ascended the stairs leading up on to the battlements, very slowly, and with Lord Thralldom leaning heavily upon his servant's arm. A slight drizzling rain greeted them when they arrived at the top and were in the open air.

"Now bend down and don't show too much of yourself," said his lordship sharply. "I'll go the north side. You go the other way and we'll meet at the east tower. Hold your pistol ready and shoot on the instant if you see anything moving."

"Very good, my lord," replied James, and he cursed under his breath for the third time. He hated firearms of all descriptions, considering them always as an abiding source of danger to their possessors.

He commenced circling slowly round the battlements, as ordered by his employer, but he took no interest in anything that might be below the castle, all his thoughts being directed upon what they were probably then doing in the servants' hall.

"I'd have given old Bevan hell," he muttered, "and with any help at all from the tart, it'd have been a grand slam."

But his meditations were interrupted suddenly by a sharp call from Lord Thralldom. "Over here, at once, James. I see something moving." With a grimace of resignation but with all appearances of great energy, the disgusted footman ran to his master.

"Quick, there he is at the end of the ditch," hissed Lord Thralldom. "It's a long shot, but if you're pretty good with a pistol as you told me when I engaged you, you may at least wing him."

James released the safety catch of his pistol with a shudder and raising his arm shakily, pointed his weapon in the direction indicated. He had seen nothing, but that did not matter. He pulled the trigger and the pistol went off.

"Did you hit him?" asked Thralldom. "I thought I saw him fall."

"Yes, my lord, I hit him," replied the footman grinning to himself in the dark. "In the leg, I think. I aimed pretty low."

"Excellent!" exclaimed Lord Thralldom. "That'll teach him a lesson anyhow." He peered over into the darkness. "Now can you see anybody else?"

But the footman was thankful his master could pick out no more shadows at which to make him fire that awful pistol, and so, after circling round the battlements several times, they descended the stairs into the castle.

James was free again at last, but almost racing into the servants' hall directly he had got rid of his master, dreadful news awaited him. In his absence, Isobel, the head-parlourmaid, had been given his hand to play and she had slipped badly by going down four tricks. The game was finished and he had three and twopence to pay.

Then in due time they were all sleeping in Thralldom Castle, but in their slumbers their subconscious minds were all stirring in curious and widely differing ways.

Lord Thralldom dreamed happily that injury had at last been inflicted upon one of his phantom enemies; William was restless and tossed about, dreaming that he was back among those high walls again; James had a horrid nightmare that he was missing another grand slam; Larose had only snatches of sleep because the rats ran over him and even crept under his blankets. Ann dreamed—ah! but what were Ann's dreams and who would dare pry among the slumbers of a young girl in love? No, let us leave Ann alone.

In the meantime Naughton Jones was most annoyed. Rawlings had shot a hole right through the side of his overcoat and he had only recently purchased the garment for four pounds ten! He was sure it was Rawlings although he had not actually seen him nor, indeed, had he been able to find any trace of the man afterwards.

The great investigator had been prospecting round the castle in the darkness, hoping that he might catch the demented bailiff upon the warpath again and then suddenly he had heard a hissing noise and felt some disturbance in the garments at his side. Then had come a sharp crack from behind him and he knew a pistol had been fired. He had turned like lightning but was too late to see any flash and so could not determine from which direction the shot had come.

Feeling his rent garment, he realised what a narrow escape it had been for him. But any thankfulness on that account was quite out-weighed by the knowledge, firstly, that he had been beaten in scoutscraft by a madman, for he had never been aware of the presence of his assailant and yet the latter had evidently seen him, and secondly, that Rawlings was now evidently in the possession of fire-arms.

The position, in Jones's opinion, had become so serious that he took two hours and more crawling along ditches with his stomach flat upon the ground, before he reached in safety the little cottage where he had taken rooms.


THE following day it was as if a number of trains of gunpowder were being laid in the great castle of Thralldom, with the possibility of any one of them exploding at any moment.

Larose was searching feverishly for the place where the body of a woman with jet-black hair had been interred; William was nursing murderous thoughts towards Antoine, the chef, and racking his brain how best to put them into action; Ann was hoping—with what possible consequences she did not dream—to have speech with the detective from Scotland Yard before another night had fallen, and Silas Q. Hudson, of New York, was perfecting his final arrangements for breaking into the picture gallery and purloining the Rubens and any other canvasses he and his companions could manage to carry away.

The American was lunching in the castle and his faithful body-servant and masseur was participating in the midday meal in the servants' hall.

"As you are coming up to lunch, Mr. Hudson," Lord Thralldom had telephoned earlier in the morning, "your man may just as well wait and return with you later in the car."

Nothing could have suited Silas Hudson better, for with arrangements almost complete for breaking into the castle, it was yet most desirable that Kelly should have a close-up view of the wiring of the alarms attached to the frame of 'The Man of Sorrows' before the actual night of the attempt.

Thus far, although Kelly had been coming up to the castle upon every other day, to give his customary half hour's massage to Lady Deering, the gang had not been able to think of any reasonable excuse to get him into the picture gallery, but with the near approach of the critical hour, Hudson's imagination had been stirred into activity and at last he had thought of an idea.

He began to work round to it directly he arrived at the castle.

They were all sitting in the lounge waiting for the luncheon gong to sound when he turned smilingly to Lady Deering.

"And how is the lumbago getting on?" he asked. "It ought to be getting better by now."

"It is, Mr. Hudson," replied Lady Deering thankfully. "I am beginning to feel quite a different person." She flushed ever so little. "Your man has such wonderful strength in his hands that now I have got accustomed to him, I really think that, apart from his curing my lumbago, he is imparting some of his vigour to me."

"Quite so, Lady Deering," commented Hudson glibly, "and that is what often happens. It is well recognised in medical circles that strength can be imparted from one person to another." He laughed. "You know, if I had made this world, I should have made health catching, instead of disease."

Lady Deering lowered her voice so that James, who was handing round cocktails should not hear. "But oh! I didn't like him at all at first and being massaged, too, was not a bit like what I'd thought it would be. He seemed terribly rough"—she looked puzzled—"and I never knew they wore rubber gloves."

"Oh! but that's the latest thing in the medical world," replied Hudson quickly, and choking back a grin. "The elasticity of the rubber is supposed to set up vibrations and their effect is wonderful upon the patient."

"Well, they have certainly been wonderful for me," agreed Lady Deering, "and I've been trying to induce my daughter here to let Mr. Thompson give her a course for her leg. She ricked her thigh about six months ago and her leg is often stiff after a dance." She looked frowningly at Ann. "But the foolish girl won't have it."

The American with great difficulty cut short a loud guffaw. He looked with twinkling eyes at Ann Devenham.

"So you won't have any massage, young lady?" he smiled. "You don't like the idea?"

"No, I don't," replied Ann laconically. She had quite got over the feelings of cordiality she had momentarily experienced for the American upon his first visit to the castle, and she now regarded him as a vulgar specimen of the great country that had given him birth. As for the masseur, Thompson, she always shuddered when she thought of the very idea of him pawing over her white limbs with his coarse hands.

Silas Hudson turned now to Lord Thralldom.

"There's one very curious thing about that man of mine my lord," he said. "He's a very good fellow and very intelligent, but he has no bump of veneration, and absolutely no appreciation of the beautiful things in life. The other day I pointed out to him the grave of one of the kings of England in Westminster Abbey, and his only comment was that his mother had got a good headstone too, over her grave in the cemetery at Bethnal Green. Then I asked him, only yesterday, what he thought of your 'Man of Sorrows' and he replied, 'All right at a distance, but it wouldn't bear close looking into and that's why they've got that rail up to keep people away.'"

The expression on Lord Thralldom's face was a pained one. "What colossal ignorance!" he ejaculated. "It's pitiable."

"He ought to have his nose rubbed against the glass," growled Captain Bonnett, "and then he'd know different."

"But he won't believe," went on Hudson, "that the closer you examine a great painting, the more impressed you become at the splendour and minuteness of its detail." He shook his head. "But it annoys me that the man is so obstinate in his opinion."

"Well, you can show him he is wrong, if you want to," said Lord Thralldom with a smile. "If it will be any satisfaction to you, he can come into the gallery after lunch and we'll see if he persists in his obstinacy."

"Good!" exclaimed the American laughingly. "It will be amusing to watch his face."

And so, when luncheon was over and coffee had been served to them all in the gallery, with Lord Thralldom's permission, James was despatched with a message to Hudson's servant in the servants' hall.

"Tell him," said the American "that I want to speak to him, and that he is to bring up the rheumatism tablets from the pocket of my car; the rheumatism tablets, not the indigestion ones. He'll know which are which." And a few minutes later Kelly appeared in the gallery with the usual sullen expression on his face.

"Thank you," said Hudson when the tablets were handed over to him. "We shall be going home shortly and you might see if any water is wanted in the radiator of the car. Oh! by-the-bye," he added, "you always say you'd like to examine this painting here"—he indicated 'The Man of Sorrows'—"and his lordship now very kindly gives his permission for you to do so."

Kelly frowned as if he were annoyed for all eyes to be focused upon him, and he stood hesitating, looking from his master to Lord Thralldom and then back to his master again.

"Thank you, my lord," he said at length and in a very gruff tone. "I always wanted to look closely at one of those pictures, but I've never had the chance." And walking up to the Rubens, he bent his squat figure and passed under the rail.

"Don't touch it!" exclaimed Hudson in horrified tones, for Kelly, not content with gluing his face as close as possible to the glass, was laying his big hands upon it, and, seemingly, pressing on it to see if it were firm.

"He won't hurt it," smiled Lord Thralldom now appearing quite amused. "Take a good look at it, Thompson, and see if the painter has put in anything wrong."

They all watched the slow and clumsy movements of the masseur, as with his eyes never an inch away from the glass, he moved his head slowly from side to side along the whole breadth of the canvas and tapped upon the glass several times.

"Oh! it fits well, Thompson," laughed the American, "and not one particle of dust will get inside if it hangs there for a hundred years."

And then suddenly it came to Ann Devenham with a shock, that both Hudson and his servant were playing a part. Yes, she was sure of it. Hudson was like a showman who was exhibiting a performing animal and the servant was acting as if it had all been arranged beforehand exactly what he should do.

In a flash, her mind went back to the conversation in the lounge before lunch and she saw how, step by step, her uncle had been led up to the point of himself suggesting that the man should be brought into the picture gallery and allowed to go under the rail to have a close up view of the Rubens.

"And what does it all mean?" she asked herself and she caught her breath in the possibility that might lie in the answer, for she had never forgotten how sure she had been that it was only through the scheming of Captain Bonnett that Silas Hudson had been introduced into the castle.

But the play, if indeed it were a play, was soon over, for the American's servant, apparently satisfied that he had seen all he wanted to, ducked back under the rail and bowed jerkily to Lord Thralldom.

"Thank you, my lord," he said quietly. "I don't know how he could have done it." And Lord Thralldom thought it a really fine tribute to the genius of Peter Paul Rubens from a very simple-minded man.

That evening, just before eight, more disturbed than ever in her mind, Ann went into the telephone cabinet and muted the hammer of the bell as she had done before. A call came through almost immediately and with a mingling of delight and disappointment, she recognised it was John Harden's voice again.

Larose had not returned to the inn, he told her, and there was no news of him. His car was still in the garage. What should he, John, do? He was telephoning from Minsmere Haven and was not two miles away. There was an invitation in his voice.

Ann hesitated a moment and then, taking her courage in her hands, gave a reply that thrilled and delighted the boy.

"Meet me in the garden, in exactly half an hour from now," she said. "Go to the seat where we were the other day and wait for me, if I'm not there when you arrive. Don't be seen by anybody if you can help it." And she rang off with a frightened and very guilty feeling at her heart.

Just before the half hour had elapsed, like a conspirator, she went round to make sure where everyone was. Lord Thralldom and Captain Bonnett were smoking in the library, her stepmother was reading in the music room, and all the servants were apparently in their quarters.

Ann unlocked the grille in the hall and pulled it to, without latching it. She did the same to the front door. Then with her heart bumping furiously, she ran quickly across the draw-bridge and down into the garden in the further side.

She realised she must hurry, for it was beginning to get dark.

She arrived at the seat where she had told John Harden he was to meet her and, for the moment, consternation seized her, for there was no one there. But young Harden stepped from behind a tree and smilingly took the hand that she thankfully extended to him.

"You told me not to be seen," he said softly, and the shadows hid the colour in her cheeks as she realised suddenly that there was now a secret between them. He would have held her hand longer, but she drew it away.

"I'm very worried, John," she said with a little tremor and slipping unconsciously into the use of his Christian name. "Oh! I beg your pardon"—she went on correcting herself quickly—"Mr. Harden, of course, I mean."

"No, John, from now, Ann," he said decisively and there was a firmness in his voice that heartened her at once. "Now tell me what it is?" And then with no hesitation she plunged into her story.

She told him how she had fallen asleep in the chapel; how she had wakened to see a man going through a door in the wall; how terrified she had been; how she had told her uncle; with what unbelief and then anger he had received her news, and how he had made her promise to tell no one in the castle. Finally, she mentioned her suspicions of the American and his servant, but for pride's sake because Captain Bonnett was a connection of her stepmother, she made no mention of the latter.

Young Harden listened without any comment, just standing and looking down upon her, delighting his eyes to the full extent that the quickly gathering darkness would allow him. Then with her recital finished, he guided her gently to the big rustic seat upon which they had sat at their last meeting in the garden.

"Sit down, Ann," he said quickly. "This certainly wants looking into, and if we could have got in touch with Mr. Larose he would have been the very man to have advised us." He thought for a moment. "Now, are you quite certain it would be useless to speak to your uncle again?"

"Quite," she replied. "It would only make him angry again, and really I have nothing but my suspicions against Mr. Hudson."

"Well what about me calling upon Lord Thralldom now, straight away," said Harden, "and then you taking me afterwards into the chapel, as you did before, and I'll have a look to see if I can find that secret door. I am a pretty good amateur carpenter and might see a join in the panelling which both of you overlooked. I have a wonderful excuse," he added smilingly, "for I have brought up a cheque with me that arrived by post at the bank this afternoon, that your uncle has paid in to us and not endorsed."

Ann looked very uncomfortable. "It wouldn't do," she said slowly. "My uncle wouldn't like it, and they wouldn't let me take you into the chapel afterwards." She laid her hand lightly upon his arm and went on in a shamed sort of way. "John, after you had been the other evening, they were angry and said you must not be asked again. Captain Bonnett had told them you came from the bank and so"—her voice trembled—"because you have not had so many wicked ancestors as I have had, they don't like you"—she hesitated and picked her words very carefully—"being my friend."

"Oh! that's it, is it?" said John grimly, and he spoke in quiet ordinary matter-of-fact tones. "So they don't think I'm good enough to be your friend." He smiled and nodded his head approvingly. "And they are quite right and I don't disagree with them." He paused a moment. "No one is really good enough." His voice was very gentle. "And what does Ann say?"

The girl laughed nervously. "Ann comes to you for help, John," she replied, "and she's sure you'll give it her, too."

The boy looked her straight in the face and she, if very flushed and hot, yet returned his look unflinchingly.

He waited just a moment and then, reaching out, pulled her gently to him and kissed her once, very softly upon the lips. She seemed to draw herself away, but then suddenly lifting up her face to his, she kissed him back in exactly the same way.

And by both of them it had been done as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

"Good!" said John Harden with a deep sigh. "Then that's that, and we can now settle down to business." He gently imprisoned one of her hands. "You must get me into the chapel, dear, and I'll keep watch there to-night."

The girl gave a startled exclamation. "But, oh! John, you couldn't."

"Why not?" he asked briskly. "No one need know. I came on a bicycle and I've got it hidden away in those bushes. I can go away early in the morning. No one will miss me at my lodgings for I often go out fishing all night. And I've got a good electric torch. Things couldn't be better. Now, can you smuggle me in without anyone seeing me?"

Ann sat with her brain in a whirl. "I could get you in," she said hesitatingly, "that is if you went in at once before the alarms are set, because I've left the doors open, but how about getting you out in the morning?"

Young Harden rose quickly to his feet. "Come on," he said. "The morning can take care of itself." He laughed lightly. "And by then, perhaps, I may have earned the undying gratitude of your uncle and he'll overlook that little matter of no unbeheaded ancestors of mine." Literally sweeping Ann off her feet and giving her no time to consider or draw back, he commenced to hurry her towards the castle.

The big door was open as she had left it and so was the grille, and now, closing both behind them, Ann led the way into the chapel. They met no one upon their way and less than three minutes from leaving the seat in the garden, were sitting behind the curtain in front of the organ and breathlessly regarding each other with feelings of triumph, in which, however, upon Ann's part, was soon mingling not a little consternation at the realisation of what she had done so hurriedly.

"And so great decisions are made," whispered young Harden nodding his head. "No, don't worry, Ann," he went on quickly, noting the troubled look upon the girl's face. "Everything will be quite all right. We'll rest a minute or two and then when it's dark, we'll have a look for that door. We'll be more likely to find it with my torch then, than in the half light now." He reached over and took her hand. "Now I want to talk to you."

But for the next few minutes there was not much talking done, and indeed it seemed for the time that they had both forgotten what had brought them there. They exchanged many kisses, and there were long silences and many sighs.

"Won't they be wondering where you are?" he whispered presently.

"No," she whispered back, "they'll only think I've gone to bed. They never trouble about me." Then followed another silence and the exaltation of the Cherubim and Seraphim in the stained glass windows could surely have never surpassed that of John and Ann.

But presently John flashed his torch. "Come on, darling," he said, "and show me where you saw the man go in. It's heavenly being with you like this, but we must do some work."

And so for half an hour and more they examined the panelling where Ann had seen the open door, but again, as with Ann and her uncle, all to no purpose. Nothing moved and everything was as solid as a rock.

"But you believe me, John, don't you?" asked the girl at last.

"Of course I do," he replied. "I never had a doubt about it. That panelling is just where a secret door would be; the lines in the carving would mask the opening so well."

And then suddenly both their hearts came into their mouths and Ann clutched at John's arm in consternation. They had heard footsteps, and then the deep voice of Lord Thralldom boomed just outside the chapel door. "And always see this door is locked, James," called out Lord Thralldom angrily, "and hang up the key in its proper place in the hall. What are locks for unless they are to be used. This door in particular is always being forgotten." Then they heard the big key grate in the lock and the sound of its being withdrawn, and the footsteps and the voices died away.

"Oh! John," exclaimed Ann piteously and clinging to him, "what shall we do? We're locked in."

But young Harden, if he were frightened, did not show it.

"Oh! we'll think of some way of getting out," he said reassuringly. "I've got a big penknife with a screwdriver in it and I may be able to pick the lock." He snapped off his torch and struck a match. "But we'd better light that candle there and save my torch." He bent down and kissed her. "Don't worry, dear, it'll be all right."

But a very few seconds' inspection of the big door convinced them, without any shadow of doubt that there was no chance of picking the lock. There were no screws on their side of the door and the oak was much too thick and hard to hack away.

"Well, it's no good us losing our heads," said John calmly, "and we'll just think things over. Come and sit by the organ again."

They sat together, side by side, and for a few moments neither spoke. From the expression upon her face, Ann was now quite as calm and collected as he was, but the quick rise and fall of her bosom betokened the emotional distress she was in.

"I've got you into all this trouble, little one," John said gently. "I ought never to have asked you to bring me up here. It's all my fault." He reached for her hand and held it. "But it's no good regretting it now."

"I don't regret it, John," she whispered softly, "whatever happens to me." She answered the pressure of his hand. "It doesn't matter," she went on with eyes shining tenderly in the candlelight. "Nothing matters, now we know we are fond of each other, dear."

"That's all very well for me, darling," smiled John happily, and he drew her again to him, "but a girl's reputation is more delicate than a man's, remember. Now what are we going to do?"

Ann spoke quickly. "Well, it would be no good calling for help now. It wouldn't make things even a little bit better." She laughed nervously. "My reputation's gone in any case." She became most matter-of-fact all at once. "Now, this is our only chance. Rosa, the under-housemaid will come in here to dust, at seven to-morrow morning. She's a good girl and I can trust her. I'll explain what's happened and she won't say a word to anybody. Then about getting you out of the castle. Uncle switches off the alarms from the control board in his bedroom directly the servants are about, but you'll have to wait in here until just after nine when we shall all be at breakfast. Then I'll make an excuse and leave the table and let you out."

"And that means," said John slowly, "that amongst other things"—his voice was husky—"you've got to pass about eight hours here in that thin dress and"—he shook his head—"it's going to be very cold."

She averted her eyes from his. "Then we'll take down the organ curtains," she said. "They'll be dusty but better than nothing." She nodded her head. "You shall have that side of the chapel, John, and I'll have this and we can talk across to one another until we go to sleep.

"No," said John firmly, "we'll keep together for a time yet. Remember, whoever's using that secret door may be coming here any moment."

She laughed in amusement now. "Oh! I had quite forgotten about it. Hadn't you?"

"Yes," he laughed back. "I never thought of it until this moment. We had our own big trouble to worry about. Now, I think we'd better put out that candle and watch. I see it's not going to be quite dark. There's a little moon."

Then, hand in hand, they sat and whispered together with many moments of silence, beyond all words, in between. They spoke of the wonder of the life that would lie before them; how they would be married soon and then how happy they would be.

"But I've no money, John," said Ann presently. "You'll be marrying quite a penniless girl."

"Thank heaven for that," replied young Harden instantly. "You don't want money with a face like yours."

"And uncle will never give his consent," went on Ann. "We shall have to go off without telling anyone."

"All the better," said John, "and then there'll be no fuss."

Presently he looked at his watch. It had seemed to them as if a few minutes only had passed, but it was nearly two o'clock.

"And now you'll go to sleep," said John masterfully. "I'll tuck you up here and then go and lie down in one of those pews. I don't feel sleepy and shall go on keeping watch. No, I'll not kiss you any more. You've had quite enough, and besides"—he pushed her gently away from him—"I never know when to stop."

He tucked her up in the big seat of the organ and then crossing the aisle, stretched himself out in one of the pews and, with a hassock under his head, prepared to make himself as comfortable as possible.

Ten minutes—twenty—perhaps half an hour passed, and then a small voice came from the direction of the organ.

"Are you asleep, John?"

"No, of course not. Don't talk. Try and go to sleep yourself."

Five minutes—ten—perhaps a quarter of an hour passed and then came the small voice again,

"I'm cold, John. I'm shivering. Come over to me, please."

John shivered too, but it was not from cold. "You're a bad little girl," he said, "and it's a nurse, not a husband, that I see you want." Then switching on his torch, and carrying his share of the curtain he walked towards where she was lying by the organ.

And then surely, under the dim moonlight there, the saints and angels in the stained-glass windows of the old chapel were mute witnesses of the strangest happening of all their eight hundred and more years.

Many a fair maid had they watched walk up the aisle, that after due ceremony and in course of time she might bear babes of the Thralldom blood to carry on the Thralldom line, and many of these babes had they seen later baptised at the font.

But now, they were beholding a maiden of the Thralldom blood, unwedded and unblest by sacrament of Mother Church, asleep in the arms of a man to whom she was bound by no ties, and whose very lips, even, had not touched hers until within a few short hours ago.

And she was sleeping so peacefully, too, with her head upon his shoulder, just for all the world as if under his protection she was assured there could be no danger and she need have no fear.

The man was wide awake and although he looked round, from time to time, his eyes were never long away from the girl's face.

It was thus as they were, when just as dawn was breaking, Larose pulled back the secret panel and stepped into the chapel. There had been no appearance of Croupin in the dungeons and the detective, according to the arrangement made with the chef, had come up in search of food.

The sliding back of the panel made a slight noise and young Harden, hearing it, instantly jerked his head round and riveted his eyes in the direction from which the sound had come.

He saw Larose before Larose saw him and, realising in a flash what was happening, disentangled himself from the sleeping girl and springing up, advanced to interrupt the detective, just as the latter had pulled the panel back into its place.

Ann awoke with a start and sat up. Larose heard the noise behind him, and the strike of a snake could not have been swifter than his movements in turning to face young Harden.

He realised instantly that Harden's intentions were unfriendly, for the boy's face was grim and set and he had all the appearance about him of one who was about to grapple with an enemy.

But Larose recognised him in two seconds and called out quickly, though not loudly.

"It's all right, Mr. Harden. Quite all right. I'm Larose, the detective from Scotland Yard." And then, seeing the white-faced Ann behind the organ rails, he exclaimed in amazed surprise—"Good Heavens! but what's Miss Devenham doing here?"

Then it seemed that Ann herself was the first of them to recover from the surprise, for springing up and smoothing down the crumples in her dress, she advanced quickly to the detective.

"Oh! Mr. Larose," she exclaimed, "then it was you I saw going in there the other night?"

The detective held up a warning hand. "Hush!" he said sharply. "Don't speak so loudly. We mustn't be heard."

"But what is beyond that door?" asked Ann with widely opened eyes. "And what are you doing there? Does my uncle know?"

"Three questions, young lady," replied the detective, "and I can't answer them all at once. But what are you and Mr. Harden here for at this time of the morning?"

"We are locked in," replied John Harden grimly, "and we can't get out. That's why we are here."

"But who locked you in?" asked Larose. "And have you been here all night?"

A hot wave of crimson surged over Ann's face and neck, but she moved defiantly up to Harden's side and slipped her arm through his.

"Two questions, Mr. Larose," she replied with a bow, "and like you, we shall find it easier to answer one question at a time."

"Good," said the detective and his face broke into a grim smile. "I see we shall have to exchange confidences."

"Yes," said Harden looking very stern, "but before we go any farther, I'd like to know if it's with Lord Thralldom's permission that you are acting as you are."

"No," replied Larose instantly, "Lord Thralldom is not aware that I am here and for the time being it is not in his best interests that he should know." He looked every bit as stern as young Harden. "I am acting on behalf of the Crown and in my capacity as an officer from Scotland Yard." He turned sharply to Ann. "And now Miss Devenham, will you please tell me when you saw anyone using this door before?"

And then Ann related quickly everything that had happened from the time of her falling asleep at the organ, two nights previously, to the moment when they had heard Lord Thralldom speaking outside the chapel door and he had locked them in.

"We didn't call to anyone to let us out, Mr. Larose," she added, with her head held very high, "because I knew I had broken the spirit of my promise to my uncle by asking Mr. Harden to try and find you, and I was sure he would have been furious with me for doing it."

Young Harden had listened to her recital with swiftly quickening feelings of anger against himself for, with the appearance of Larose, he was now realising for the first time the dreadful interpretation outsiders might put upon his night in the chapel with Ann. Alone with her, everything had seemed paltry and insignificant in the light of the ecstasy of her companionship, but now——

Larose turned sharply to him and asked frowningly, "What time were you locked in?"

"At about half past nine," he replied, now getting very red in his turn, "and I saw at once that it was hopeless to pick the lock." He spoke hoarsely. "Of course it was a tragic mistake upon my part, Mr. Larose, that I asked Miss Devenham to bring me here, for I am not a welcome visitor to the castle at any time. But it was all done on the spur of the moment and then when we were locked in"—he looked challengingly at the detective—"I judged it best from the certain censure that would follow if we were discovered, to remain on here until we were released in the morning." He was trying hard to keep his voice under control. "It was the lesser of two evils."

"And you did quite right, John," said Ann decisively, "and I shall always thank you for it." She turned to the detective. "My uncle would never have forgiven me if he had found out that I had acted contrary to his wishes, and it might have brought on all his illness again if he had known." She nodded her head emphatically to the detective. "Yes, whatever may be the consequences to me, Mr. Harden did the right thing."

Larose smiled kindly at her. "And there shall be no consequences, Miss Devenham," he said briskly, "for we will arrange that it shall be a secret between us three." He corrected himself quickly. "Between us three and one other who will have to be taken into our confidence."

"But where does that door lead to?" asked Ann, her curiosity now beginning to overcome her embarrassment.

"To the castle dungeons," replied the detective, "and I have been watching among them now for two nights and a day."

"But what are you doing there?" went on the girl.

Larose hesitated a moment. "It would probably have been better for the peace of mind of us all," he said gravely, "if you had not come upon me in this way, for now I have no option but to take you into my confidence and tell you things that are not pretty, at any rate for a young girl, to hear." He frowned. "You are both of you almost strangers to me, but now I have to entrust you with a secret, upon the keeping of which my very life may depend."

"You need have no worry about that, Mr. Larose," said Harden quietly, "for it would be unfortunate for us to have to explain under what circumstances you were compelled to give us your confidence."

The detective laughed softly. "Quite a good answer, sir," he said, "and I believe I shall be safe." He nodded his head. "Besides, if I am any judge of character, I cannot imagine either of you are cowards. Now listen to me." He spoke very slowly. "I am waiting down there for the coming of a man who is using those dark chambers for a very dreadful purpose. We are not certain who the man is, and we cannot determine as yet whether he comes from inside the castle or is a stranger who has effected an entrance through some passage that he has discovered, leading in from outside. At any rate he is mad"—he paused a moment—"and is a murderer."

"A murderer!" gasped Ann. "And he may live inside the castle! Oh! who can you suspect here?"

"The footman, William," was the stem reply. "There are very strong suspicions against him, for we know for certain that he has been rifling the coffins in the vaults."

"My God!" came from the girl. "And William is near us all, night and day." Her eyes dilated in horror. "But whom do you suspect him of murdering?"

"Mr. Rawlings, for one," snapped Larose, "and perhaps others. Mind you," he went on, "we have no absolute proof yet that the bailiff is dead, but we believe he is and that his body lies buried somewhere down below. As I have said, the murderer we are waiting for is a madman, and if it indeed be William, then having discovered a secret passage leading out under the moat from the castle, he has been going on to the marshes, night after night, and attacking anyone whom he has chanced to meet."

Then he proceeded to relate, in part, the discoveries that Antoine had made about the footman; how the chef had passed them on to him, Larose, and how they had gone together into the dungeons two nights previously.

"And is Monsieur Antoine then a detective too?" asked Ann incredulously.

"No," replied Larose, suppressing a smile, "but he is an old friend of mine and after we had met by chance in the servants' hall the other day, he came to me the same night and told everything he had found out." He nodded. "You can trust him as you would Mr. Harden here."

"Well, what are we going to do now?" asked Ann, too stunned to suggest anything herself.

"You're going to help us," said the detective, "and the very knowledge that you are doing so will steady your nerves and lessen your sense of fear." He smiled. "And for a reward, the first thing I am going to do is to get you out of your trouble here. Presently, I will take Mr. Harden back through that door and when the housemaid comes at seven, she will find you here alone. Then, you will have to speak to Monsieur Antoine and tell him exactly how things are and later bring some food and water for me and leave it under one of the pews here. Now, pull yourself together, young lady, and think how Mr. Harden can be got out of the castle, without anyone seeing him."

They talked together for a long while, and it was only almost upon the very stroke of seven that the detective and John Harden disappeared behind the panelling. The detective went in first and, for quite a long moment, stood with his back turned towards the lovers, pretending to make sure there were no sounds coming up from the spiral staircase below.

The panel closed behind them and alone at last, Ann sank back into one of the pews, physically and mentally exhausted. Her dress was soiled and rumpled, her face was all smudged over and her hair was all dishevelled. She was just worn out with the varying emotions of the night and her mind was torn and wounded with the memory of the horrors that the detective had outlined.

But for all that she did not look unhappy. Her eyes were bright and sparkling, her cheeks were flushed daintily and there was a curve, a very tender curve, about the corners of her mouth.

She looked in the direction of the organ many times and smiled and blushed and sighed.

Very little more than an hour later, Miss Ann Devenham, the grand-niece of Lord Thralldom, walked into the big kitchen of the castle and asked Antoine, the chef, for a lemon rind for her hands.

She looked spick and span and as fresh and sweet as a morning rose.

The chef was busy in his preparations for breakfast and there were two maids with him.

Ann thanked him graciously for the lemon and then remarked with a pretty smile, "And I suppose, Monsieur Antoine, one of the things you miss over here is hearing your beautiful language spoken?"

"But yes, Mademoiselle," replied the chef smilingly, "Zere is much beauty in zis country"—he bowed gallantly—"but ze words spoken are not like zose of my beloved Paris."

And then Ann rapped out in French, very sharply, but still preserving the pretty smile upon her face,

"Don't show any surprise. I'm going to drop my handkerchief. Follow me out into the hall with it. I want to speak to you most urgently. It's about your friend in the vaults."

The Frenchman's heart beat violently, but his face continued to be all smiles. "I will follow at once, Mademoiselle," he replied quickly, and speaking also in his own tongue, "but if you can help it, don't let that footman with the long face see us talking together."

And then for two minutes in the hall Ann issued her instructions rapidly. "I know everything," she said, "and am helping Mr. Larose. Be in the garden by the artichokes just before ten. In the meantime, exactly at a quarter past nine, manage somehow to keep all the maids in the kitchen. I want to keep the hall clear, for a friend of mine to get away from the castle. Mr. Larose is quite all right."

"Bien, Mademoiselle," exclaimed the bewildered chef. "It shall be done as you order."

And so, at a quarter past nine exactly, young Harden passed like a shadow out of the castle, unhindered, and unseen by everyone except Ann. He seemed to be in a great hurry, but for all that he had time enough to pause for one long and passionate moment to embrace the flushing Ann.

Later in the morning, it was reported to Lady Deering that there had been a most regrettable accident in the kitchen for, just after breakfast, the chef had had the misfortune to break one of the large, old-fashioned, hundreds-of-years old soup tureens.

Her ladyship was most annoyed at the clumsiness of the chef.


TWO days and two nights had passed and Larose was still watching for the coming of that assassin, who in some recess of those dark chambers had secreted the bodies of the murdered dead. He was certain that he was upon the right trail, and that down the side of that gruesome slab had dripped the blood of more than one victim whose last remains he was now seeking.

It was a dreadful vigil, for night and day were the same to him in the darkness there, and it was by his watch only that he could determine when day had dawned or night had fallen.

At first he had searched feverishly to find either an opening in the walls that would disclose a passage down under the moat, or one that would lead him to where the bodies had been buried, but he had soon come to realise that only by a miracle, almost, would he be successful in either quest.

He was hampered so greatly by the poor light at his service, for it was only by candlelight that he could search. His torch would have soon run down and he had to conserve that for an emergency. He dared not light the lantern that he had seen in the vaults, because with the coming of whomsoever had been using it, the smell of the burning oil might warn him as he approached. Besides there was not more than two or three hours' oil left in the lantern.

So, in the end, he had come to the conclusion that the only thing for him to do, was to wait with what patience he could and let the assassin himself be the guide who should lead him to the places he was searching for.

But with two nights passing with no one appearing in the dungeons, a feeling of great depression began to take possession of him. The dungeons were so cold and chilling and from time to time he shivered violently as if he were going to become downright ill.

He was weakening, too, for want of proper sleep. One fold of the blanket was all there was between him and the hard flags and his only pillow was his arm.

The rats which at first were only an annoyance, had speedily become a positive torture, for their incessant squeaking was the least of their activities.

In the darkness they never for one moment left him alone, and at last, in desperation, he tried to sleep with the candle burning. But after a while even that made no difference, for they took to running boldly over him, and twice he was awakened by one of them actually biting him.

When he was eating his sandwiches, too, their beady eyes were always upon him, and when he dropped a crumb, they dashed for it as if they were expecting him to feed them.

He had seen nothing of Croupin, but upon both mornings just before five, had crept up into the castle for his food, to learn then from a cryptic message under the leg of the kitchen table, that the Frenchman was certain he was still being watched and accordingly was going to take no risks. Larose had left a message in return, that all was well.

So things were, when towards noon upon the fourth day of his vigil a great catastrophe occurred. His watch stopped and he had no longer any means of learning the time.

He did not awake to the calamity at first, but between fitful snatches of sleep began to worry subconsciously, how slowly the hours were passing, and he had flashed his torch three times to see what the time was, before it came to him what had actually happened.

"Still not midday," he had murmured with his eyes half closed, "and I can hardly have slept at all." Then the third time, the position of the hands seemed strangely familiar to him, and with a cry of dismay, he sat up with a jerk and held the watch up to his ear. There was no tick in it and it had stopped at ten minutes to twelve. He shook it and opened it and shook it again, but to no purpose. Some of the dust of the dungeons had got in and it was as dead as a nail.

He was in dismay for now, he realised, there could be no pretence of sleep at all. He must remain awake until he dropped from sheer exhaustion and then that would be the end of all this fine adventure upon which he had set such hopes.

"No, no, Gilbert," he said, bracing himself up, "this will never do. You're made of better stuff than that. You're not beaten by a long way yet. Where's your resource, my boy?" He smiled weakly. "You'll have to take a greater risk, that's all."

So he left the dungeon where he had been lying, and with unsteady steps negotiated the corridor and climbed up the spiral staircase to the panel behind the chapel wall. He stood listening there for a long time, but all was quiet, and he slid back the secret door. The chapel was empty and he drew in big draughts of the purer air.

"Now, if I'd only thought of it," he frowned, "I could have made this a place of rendezvous with the charming Ann, but it's too late now."

The light from the stained glass window, dim as it was, made his eyes blink. "There's no sun," he whispered, "and it may be any time after two o'clock."

Greatly daring, he crept to the chapel door and opened it a little way. He heard the cheerful sounds of people moving about, the sounds of distant voices and once someone laughed. Growing bolder, he crept into the passage and tiptoeing along its entire length, craned his head round the corner. He could hear the voices much plainer then and soon came the chink of cups and saucers.

"Ah! afternoon tea in the lounge?" he exclaimed longingly. He sighed. "That should make it about four o'clock." He blinked his eyes wearily. "But oh! I'm so tired and I shall drop if I don't get some sleep."

But suddenly he straightened himself up with animation, for an idea had come to him. "I'll have a nap in the chapel," he exclaimed. He smiled with something of his old vivacity coming back. "I'll sleep where the charming Ann slept, although I can hardly hope to have such happy dreams."

So, in two minutes he was settling himself back luxuriously in the big seat before the organ, where three nights previously Ann Devenham had lain sleeping in her lover's arms.

"No, I'll not lie down," he whispered, "or goodness knows when I shall wake up. Just a little doze," he went on drunkenly, "and at any rate, there'll be some peace from those rats. It'll revive me a bit anyhow."

However, he did not by any means derive the benefit that he was expecting, for the whole time his sleep was nothing but a series of short dozes, with him waking up every few minutes and harassing his mind with each awakening as to whether he had been asleep too long.

A dozen times and more he forced himself into complete wakefulness to make certain the light was not waning through the stained-glass windows, and as many times again, he crept out of the chapel door to determine by any sounds that he might hear, as to how near the hour of darkness was approaching.

At last, upon one of these excursions into the passage, he no longer heard anyone talking, but now the faint aroma of the preparation of food was wafted to him.

"Dinner!" he murmured brokenly. "A hot dinner with good things to drink! Then later, a hot bath perhaps, and a divine sleep in some comfortable bed!" He frowned angrily. "Oh! what a fool I am, when I might have the life of a happy human being, instead of always going upon this infernal crime stunt." But a smile quickly replaced the frown. "No, no, Gilbert, you're not built that way. The gods made you a very foolish man."

He rubbed his eyes vigorously with his knuckles to dispel as much desire for sleep as possible and proceeded down into the dungeons again.

"After to-night, my boy," he said sadly, "you'll have to alter all your plans. You're coming to the end of your tether and with all the spirit in the world, you can't go without sleep for ever. You never bargained for this long watch."

Mentally, if not physically, refreshed by his incursion up into the chapel, he returned to the dungeon that he was making his temporary home. It was the one nearest to the steps leading down into the vaults and he had chosen it in preference to any other because he was sure that it was about there would lie the opening to the passage under the moat, and reclining upon his blanket in the corner, he would have a clear view, too, of the slab upon which he had found those sinister traces of blood.

He pulled the door half to, as he always did, and then proceeded to take down his blanket from where he had stuffed it, high up in a wide crevice in the wall.

But he trod on something soft, and flashing his torch down, a cry of fury escaped him. His blanket had been torn to shreds and there was not a piece in sight larger than the palm of a child's hand.

He shivered violently. "Oh! well, it is my own fault," he exclaimed woefully. "I ought to have taken it with me. Now, I shall have a dreadful night."

And it required no great gift of prophecy to make him realise very quickly that in this last surmise he was going to be quite correct.

He sat huddled in a corner on the bare stone in the darkness and he was soon in what he considered must surely be the last state of misery.

He was depressed with the thought of the long hours of torture that lay before him; he was chilled to the bone and shivering violently; also, he was deadly tired and almost sick for want of sleep. But it was the rats that were his greatest torment. He dared not light a candle, for it was now approaching towards that hour when if anyone were coming down into the vaults he would arrive soon, and, as before, they gave him no peace. As long as he was upon his feet and flashing the light upon them, they kept their distance, but directly he sat down and extinguished the torch, they swarmed upon him from all directions.

Unhappily, he had no satisfactory weapon with which to beat them off, but he struck continuously at them with a big lump of stone, and time after time, exasperated almost to the point of frenzy, jumped to his feet and scattered them.

All the time, however, it was with the greatest difficulty that he could keep awake, even when he was in the very act of repulsing his tormentors.

So, the hours dragged on until he reckoned it could not be far off eleven o'clock.

Then suddenly it seemed as if the rats had at last had enough, for immediately after one of his fierce dashes upon them, they all in a moment turned and scampered off. He was too tired to feel in the least degree surprised at their departure and sinking back exhausted, in a minute at the longest was fast asleep.

But his sleep had only lasted a very little time when they were back all round him again, and he was awakened by one of them running over his face.

Then the battle commenced all anew but it was a very wearied man now who was defending himself. Indeed, after a while his actions seemed to have become almost mechanical, and he alternately kicked with his feet and thrust out with the hand that held the blood-stained stone.

A long while passed, hours and hours the detective thought, and then as suddenly as before, all the rats left him, and in a few seconds, in spite of almost superhuman efforts, he was asleep again.

He had no idea as to how long the respite lasted and it was not the rats who finally broke into his troubled dreams. It was something quite different this time.

He had many times been stirring in his sleep as if some subconscious warning were being given him, and at length half-awakened and drawing in a deep breath preparatory to a long sigh, his nostrils were assailed with an unaccustomed odour.

He shook his head vexatiously, not willing to be disturbed, but he had not smoked now for four days and his sense of smell was in consequence very keen, and soon, very soon, he found himself wide awake and sniffing hard, with his eyes blinking bewilderedly into the darkness.

Then all at once, he sprang to his feet as if no such things as exhaustion or weariness existed.

He had recognised the smell at last. It was that of burning oil!

Someone had just passed along the corridor with a lighted lantern!

He darted to the half opened door and with dilated pupils stared up and down the corridor. All was black and empty and he could see no light or hear no sound anywhere. Indeed so quiet was everything that the hush filled him with foreboding for it was exactly as if some greater force for evil than they had terrified the rats, and in the presence of some danger that they knew, they had swept panic-stricken into their holes.

But if the sudden silence was inexplicable, the explanation of the smell that had awakened him was very clear and definite, for the instant he stepped out into the corridor the reek of burning oil was almost nauseating in its strength. Not only had someone passed with a lantern but he had been carrying it with the wick turned too high and it had been smoking badly.

For a long minute the detective stood in the darkness, almost holding his breath in his excitement, and straining eyes and ears for some sight or sound.

But he saw nothing and he heard nothing and he bit hard upon his lips to make certain everything were not a dream.

Then he flashed his torch round and instantly he gave a gasp of horror and pressed his hand upon his heart for it had started to throb so violently.

Upon the slab at the entrance to the vaults was outstretched the body of a man and from its overhanging head, the ghastly pallor of its face, and its sagging open mouth, it could only be that the man was dead.

The detective clenched his jaws together like a steel trap, and invigorated as if he had imbibed a deep draught of wine, sprang over to the slab and touched the body. It was still warm.

Switching off his torch for a second to make certain that his was the only light in the corridor, he snapped it on again quickly and took a searching look at the body.

It was that of a man unknown to him and he was neither young nor old. His appearance was refined and he had long white hands, upon one finger of which was a signet ring. At the back of the head was a dreadful gaping wound.

But the detective snapped off his torch and darted to the entrance of the dungeon again, for he had heard a faint sound in the distance, up along the corridor.

He stood, hardly daring to breathe, with his head just round the dungeon door.

One minute, two minutes went by, and then about seventy or eighty yards away a glow of light appeared in the corridor. It came from the floor of the corridor itself, and a few seconds later it gave a shadow to a flag-stone, upraised, and at right angles to the walls. Then a long arm, holding a lantern, came into view and lifted the lantern out into the corridor, then the head and shoulders of a man appeared and finally, the man himself stepped out, and picking up the lantern began to walk slowly towards that end of the corridor where the detective was hiding behind the opened dungeon door.

Larose darted back a few feet into the dungeon and with his body pressed up closely to the wall, and almost suffocated in his excitement, awaited the coming of the bearer of the lantern.

His heart was beating like a sledge-hammer.

"At last, at last," ran his exultant thoughts, "in a few seconds the assassin will be unmasked. I will wait until he has passed the door and then spring upon him and bring him down. I shall not need to use my pistol."

The lantern swayed and swayed and the man came nearer and nearer. Larose could hear his shuffling footsteps and his heavy breathing.

Then suddenly the totally unexpected happened, for in passing the dungeon where Larose was hidden, either of deliberate purpose because the detective had unwittingly left it jutting too far into the corridor, or just by chance, the man lurched against the open door and banged it to.

Two moments of agonising suspense ensued for Larose as the big iron bar outside quivered ominously against the door. Then it crashed down noisily into its heavy socket and the suspense was over—for the detective knew he was a prisoner.

The man with the lantern passed on and shuffled down the steps into the vaults.

A sweat of fury burst upon the forehead of Larose, but by no gesture or exclamation did he betray his discomfiture. He was mortified beyond all words, but it was his life's training to remain cool and unflurried in great crises.

He threw himself down at full length upon the stones and glued his eyes upon the narrow crack below the door.

A few moments passed and then came the unmistakable sounds of the man returning.

But he shuffled along even more slowly this time and panting hard, swayed the lantern more than ever. He soon passed out of hearing, however, and the light faded away.

It was about five minutes before the detective heard any other sound, and then it was a distant thump as if the upraised flag that he had seen had been dropped into its place.

The light, however, did not return and once again silence reigned.

"He's not passed again, at any rate," whispered the detective hoarsely, "and therefore, whoever he was, he must have come from inside the castle,"—he hesitated—"unless he has not gone away yet." He nodded emphatically. "But I was right in what I thought. The entrance to the passage under the moat is somewhere by the vaults and he lays the bodies each time upon that slab after he has brought them in." He shuddered. "But who was that last poor wretch?"

A few minutes went by and then the rats began to squeal again. He rose stiffly to his feet with a wan smile. "Yes, he's gone right enough and they think they're safe now. They evidently know him and are more afraid of him than they are of me. Anyhow, they won't trouble me now, for if I cannot get out, they cannot get in and I shall have some peace at last." He shook his head disgustedly. "But I ought to have thought about that bar and jammed it, so that it couldn't fall."

He returned to his position in the comer and wearily fussed his hand over his forehead. "Now, of course, I shall have to remain shut up here all night, but to-morrow morning when Croupin sees I have not been up for my food, he'll, he'll——" But he was so exhausted that he could not think coherently and after a few seconds closed his eyes, and tried to forget everything in sleep.

But cruelly enough, sleep would not come to him now. His brain was in a whirl, and confused and rambling thoughts circled insistently through his mind. He was so cold and stiff, too, and although so tired, could not keep his limbs still.

Then suddenly he pulled himself together and his heart began to beat tumultuously once more, for all in an instant the squealings of the rats had become accentuated to an extraordinary degree, and he heard the pad of quickly rushing footsteps as if someone were now chasing them and striking at them with some heavy implement like a spade. A light, too, flashed again under the door, but it was not the lantern this time, for the flash as it passed was too steady to be anything but that of an electric torch.

Then came low chuckling laughs in quick spasmodic jerks, as if the laugher were laughing with his mouth shut.

"Mad! mad!" ejaculated the detective wearily, "and so, he's not yet sated his lust for blood. No wonder the rats scuttled off when he came! They knew what to expect."

The sounds soon died down in the corridor nearby, but they were repeated at short intervals in more distant parts of the underground passages and Larose could distinctly hear what he was now sure was the thud of a spade.

Four times he heard the thuddings, with the squealings each time rising to a crescendo and then everything stopped as suddenly as it had begun. By then, however, a feeling of such utter prostration had come over him that he had lost interest in all that was happening.

The next morning Croupin was very worried. He had seen that Larose had not been up for his provisions and he did not dare to risk a lightning visit to the dungeons, because he was positive that William was watching his, Croupin's, every movement. He could not move anywhere out of the kitchen without finding the footman, upon one excuse or another, always at his heels.

But he considered it vital that he should know what was happening to Larose, and, from the moment of finding that the provisions had not been fetched, he taxed his fertile brain to think of some way of getting in touch with the detective, and at last, while he was preparing the breakfast for the family, he hit upon an idea.

He had not seen Ann to speak to since their meeting three days previously in the kitchen garden by the bed of artichokes, but their conversation then had impressed him with the strength of the girl's character, and he now determined to appeal to her and induce her to go down into the dungeon and see what had happened to Larose.

"But she will not like it, the pretty one," he sighed, "to go down into the darkness among those rats, but she has the courage of those wicked ancestors of hers and when I tell her how serious things are, she will not refuse."

So he cut a lemon in two halves and also a small Jerusalem artichoke, and placing the four pieces upon a plate among some dainty paper frills, instructed one of the housemaids to take them up at once to Miss Devenham's room.

"And you be quick, Rose," he said looking very distressed. "Zey were to have gone up by eight o'clock and she will be very angry. Tell ze beautiful miss I am so sorry but I forget and I hope she will forgive me."

The girl looked at the plate. "But what's that artichoke for?" she asked, "What is the use of that?"

The chef threw out his hands. "Why, for ze finger nails, of course." He smiled pityingly. "Zey always use zem in France. Now you go up quick, or I get ze sack, Oh! and mind and see if she is angry," he called out as the girl was leaving the kitchen. "You will tell by ze look on her face."

The girl was back again almost at once. "And she was not angry?" asked the chef for all the world as if he depended for his very life upon the answer he was going to receive.

"No," smiled the girl. "She just looked very hard at the artichoke to see if you had given her a nice one and then said 'It's quite all right, tell Monsieur Antoine.'"

The chef was delighted. "Ah!" he exclaimed, "she have a most sweet disposition! I knew she had."

Soon after breakfast Croupin, having all the time kept a close watch from the kitchen window, saw Ann walking in the garden, and he quickly made his way there, too, carrying a small basket upon his arm.

"I will get my own vegetables zis day," he had announced to the girls. "Zat gardener pick ze first one he sees and have no judgment."

He passed Ann with a deferential bow, without speaking, but then having proceeded a few yards, he stopped suddenly and turned back as if she had called him.

"You are wonderful, Miss Devenham," he said smiling, "and I knew you would guess that I wanted to speak to you." His face became very grave. "I have something serious to tell you and I want you to do something for me."

Ann regarded him curiously and with a certain feeling of annoyance. There was almost a note of authority in his tone, she thought, and he—the castle chef!

"Quick! turn your back to the windows," Croupin went on. "They may be watching and see your face. I was on the stage once and they will get nothing from mine."

Ann complied frowningly and Croupin threw out his hands with his face again all smiles, but when he spoke it was very sternly.

"Miss Devenham," he said quickly, "I have a favour to ask of you. No," he corrected himself, "because so much depends upon it it is almost an order that I am going to give you."

"An order, Monsieur!" ejaculated Ann. "You give me an order—you?"

"And it will be no disrespect if I do, Mademoiselle," replied Croupin sharply, "for my ancestors were such as yours. My grandfather was of the French nobility and the noblest blood of France ran, too, in my mother's veins."

The girl's anger all suddenly died down and regarding with slightly heightened colour the good-looking face before her, she said simply, "And I believe you, Monsieur."

Croupin bowed and now spoke rapidly. "I am very anxious about Monsieur Larose," he said. "He is still watching in the dungeons but I have not seen him for three days. This night he has not come up for his provisions and this morning"—he hesitated as if he did not like to utter the words—"this morning, there was blood upon the handle of William's door."

"My God!" ejaculated the girl, as white as a sheet. "What do you think has happened?"

"I do not know," replied Croupin, "and I cannot go down myself because William is watching me. To my great grief, I slept last night, as I had not intended to, and where William went, I do not know."

"Well, what do you want me to do?" panted Ann. "Go down there myself?"

"Yes," replied Croupin instantly, and taking it for granted that she would do so, he proceeded to give her the most minute instructions. "Now, I dropped my electric torch in the bed of mint as I came by," he said. "Pick it up as you pass. Go into the chapel and upon the panelling about where you saw us go through that night, you will find a dead fly. Press sideways about the breadth of my hand to the left of the fly, and the panel will slide open. Close it after you have gone in. Then you will descend eighteen steps, and at the bottom you will come up against a stone wall. Press upon a dark patch that you will see at about the height of your shoulder and the stone will revolve. Pass through but don't shut that door. Leave it open for you to come back. Then you will find yourself in a long corridor. Turn to the left and walk about a hundred yards. Monsieur Larose will be in the last chamber on the right hand side of the corridor, and a few yards before you see some steps that lead to the vaults. You understand?"

The girl nodded. She was too overcome to speak.

"Ah! and another thing," went on Croupin carelessly, and as if it were of no importance, "you may see some rats. Don't take any notice of them. They will run away." He eyed her intently. "You are not afraid?"

"I'm terribly afraid," replied Ann, half choking, "but I will go all the same."

"Bien, Mademoiselle," said Croupin, and his stern face relaxed into a warm, approving smile. "I was sure you would. You are not really afraid but only think you are and it will be a great adventure." He nodded his head. "And if you are not back in twenty minutes from now, I will risk everything and come after you." He smiled back. "If everything be all right, send Rosa for another lemon."

Ann had spoken truly when she said she was afraid but, for all that, she held her head high and there was no wavering in her steps as she approached the panel in the chapel. Contrary to her expectations, she found the opening easily and according to the instructions of Croupin, although not without a tremor, she closed it behind her. The stairs were quickly negotiated and the revolving stone at the bottom did not worry her, but it was when she stepped into the long, low corridor, and the rays of her torch shone down its ghostly lengths that the real test of her courage and determination began.

She choked down a sob of terror as her torch reflected the the light from hundreds of beady eyes, and stood stock still with her feet as if rooted to the ground. But remaining stationary was really the best thing she could have done, for the rats scuttled past her and in a few seconds she was alone.

With a great effort of will then, she forced herself to move forward and her courage coming back, she started to run quickly and to call out for the detective.

"Mr. Larose," she shouted, "it is Miss Devenham! Where are you? Are you here?"

But she had run almost to the length of the corridor before any reply came and then a muffled and hoarse voice answered "Here! here! Let me out! Someone has shut me in!"

Her heart gave a great bound of thankfulness and all her fears forgotten, she turned to the door from behind which the voice had come.

"What am I to do?" she asked breathlessly. "How can I open it?"

"Lift up the bar you see outside," replied Larose with surprising cheerfulness for a man who but a short while before had thought he was sinking into unconsciousness.

"But I can't," she replied after a moment. "It's too heavy. I must go and get help from the castle."

"No, no," came sternly from the detective, "anything but that. Do as I tell you and you'll get it up. Now listen. Take off one of your shoes, place it upon your shoulder. Then lean hard against the door and put your shoulder under the bar as near as you can to the socket and heave up slowly. No jerking, and take a deep breath before you begin. Don't be in a hurry."

She did as he told her and three times struggled to raise the bar, without however receiving the faintest promise of success.

"I can't move it," she panted at last. "It's too heavy or it's jammed. Oh! let me go for Monsieur Antoine."

"Not yet," called back Larose imperatively. "We'll try another way. You'll see some steps a few yards further on. There are only four of them. Go down and turn round to the right. Then in the corner there, behind some stones, you'll find a crowbar. Bring it and swing it against the bar. You'll loosen it from the socket then."

A couple of minutes elapsed and then he heard the girl return dragging the big crowbar behind her.

"But it's too heavy for me to swing," she cried despairingly. "I can hardly lift it off the ground."

"Take it with both hands, by the middle, and then you'll be able to. Swing it a few times backwards and forwards first and then bang it hard against the bar."

Laying her torch upon the ground, with a great effort Ann managed to at last get the long length of iron properly balanced, and she started resolutely to swing it against the door. But the bar was high and she missed it every time. She soon tired, and with every swing her efforts became weaker. At last, with one despairing effort she lunged forward, and very wide of the bar again, the iron nevertheless just flicked against the socket. It touched it very lightly but a sharp crack followed and then both socket and bar crashed on to the ground.

The door swung open, missing the girl narrowly and the detective reeled out into the corridor.

"What's happened?" he asked hoarsely, and Ann replied, "I don't know."

He stooped and picked up the broken socket. "Oh! oh!" he exclaimed ruefully, "if I'd pushed against the door, ever so gently, it would have given way. This socket's almost rusted through."

Then the reaction set in and he sank down upon the stones.

"Are you hurt?" asked Ann anxiously as she flashed the torch upon his face. "Oh! how ill you look!"

She might well say that, for the detective was an appalling spectacle. He looked the wreck of a man. He was shivering violently, his face was drawn and ghastly pale, his eyes were swollen and bloodshot and he had been unshaved for four days.

"I've had no sleep," he whispered, "and I'm almost dead from cold. I couldn't sleep all last night. I was so frozen." He smiled weakly and a little animation crept back into his face. "But how is it you came down here?"

"Monsieur Antoine sent me," she replied. "William was watching him and he dared not come himself." She put one of her arms under his and helped him to his feet, thinking rapidly all the time. "Now don't worry any more," she went on. "I'm going to take you up into the castle and you shall have some proper food and sleep."

"No," said Larose firmly and freeing himself from her arm. "I must remain down here. With something to eat and another blanket, I shall soon be all right again. The rats took the blanket that I had or I should not be like this now."

"You will come up," said Ann with great sternness, "and I insist upon it. I didn't torture myself to come down here for nothing, and you'll break down altogether if you don't get proper attention now. I was training for a nurse once and know what I am talking about."

The detective shook his head. "But it won't be for long," he pleaded. He passed his hand across his forehead and added weakly, "I think my work is almost done here."

But Ann had not been given her good chin for nothing and she took his arm in a firm grip again.

"You're coming with me," she said quietly, "and you're going to have a hot bath, some champagne, and a good sleep."

It was the thought of a hot bath that made the detective waver and his resolution was weakening palpably when he spoke again.

"But how can it be managed?" he asked shakily. "No one in the castle but Monsieur Antoine must know."

"You'll see," replied Ann quickly. "I'll arrange it somehow. Now you lean on me and take short steps! Come on, for those awful rats are here again," and from that moment she had things all her own way.

She helped him, almost pushing him at times, up into the chapel and there she left him, lying in one of the pews whilst she went to make her arrangements.

"Keep still," she said, "and don't worry. It will be a miracle if anyone comes in here, but if they do, pretend to be unconscious and don't answer any questions. I'll be back very soon and you shall have that hot bath I promised you."

She went up to her little suite of rooms which consisted of a small boudoir, with a bedroom, and a bathroom attached. One of the housemaids was making the bed.

"Be quick, please, Rosa," she said. "I've got a bad headache and am going to have a sleep and don't want to be disturbed."

The maid left in a few minutes and Ann turned on the bath. "Now for the critical moment," she thought, "and if anyone meets us, I'll just have to say I found him wandering about." She caught her breath in apprehension. "But oh! if uncle ever gets to know."

She had only one flight of stairs to go down and then she turned into the long corridor leading to the chapel.

"Now quick, Mr. Larose," she said briskly, hiding all trace of her nervousness. "We have only this corridor to go along and then up one flight of stairs and we shall be all right." She fibbed boldly. "We are certain to meet no one."

And they did meet no one, but Ann had two frights. She heard Lord Thralldom's voice a very little way away, just round the corner in the lounge, and William himself passed across the end of the corridor, happily, however, without looking round.

The detective took no interest in anything. He was just content to be led along, with his eyes half shut and breathing heavily.

They reached Ann's room at last and she took the detective at once into the bathroom. "Here's the bath all ready," she said, "and it's as hot as you can bear it." Then with no demur on his part she proceeded to help him to begin to undress. "Don't be too long," she went on, "and when you've dried, get quickly into bed. I've no pyjamas to offer you"—she blushed ever so slightly—"mine would be much too small, but here's a blanket you can wrap round you and it'll answer quite as well. Now, I'll go for that champagne."

She found the chef alone in the kitchen and told him quickly everything that had happened. Croupin gave her a low bow when she had finished. "You are an angel, Mademoiselle," he said gently. "Just an angel, that is all."

Larose had just thrown himself into the bed as she returned with some sandwiches and the champagne, and after eating a little and taking a long draught of the wine, he felt revived enough to be for the first time interested in his surroundings.

"But where am I, Miss Devenham?" he asked, looking in a dazed way round the chamber.

"In my bedroom,"—she blushed prettily—"and in my bed." She bowed and smiled. "It is some small return for your consideration to me the other morning when we met in the chapel."

"Oh! oh!" exclaimed Larose and with all his weakness he blushed too; "then I am exposing you to a terrible censure. If your uncle learns——" But his eyes closed in dreadful sleepiness and his voice trailed away.

"That's right," said the girl as she tucked the clothes round him. "You just go to sleep. You will be quite all right and no one will disturb you."

"But I must be up again to-night," said the detective drowsily. "I must—I must——"

"We'll see," replied the girl. "Now don't talk any more," and in half a minute he was as sound asleep as he had ever been in all his life.

Ann remained in her room all the morning, and at lunch-time, pleading the headache again, had her lunch brought up to her. Larose slept peacefully like a dead man and apparently, by his stillness, was disturbed by no unpleasant dreams. Every now and then she tiptoed into the bedroom and looked at him. The afternoon waned and evening began to draw in. Then Ann summoned the maid again and announced her intention of having dinner, too, in her room.

"Tell Lady Deering, please," she said, "that I am feeling much better, but want to keep quiet and not talk until my headache is quite gone."

At nine o'clock, she was sitting reading in her boudoir when she heard a knock upon the door and mechanically called out "Come in." The handle of the door was turned slowly and then, to her consternation, her uncle walked into the room. With a strong effort she repressed all traces of emotion as she rose up and advanced to meet him, bestowing a covert glance, however, at the door leading into her bedroom, which was ajar a few inches.

"Oh! Uncle," she said, forcing her face into a smile. "It's very nice of you, I am sure. But why did you come up? I'm feeling quite all right now."

Lord Thralldom sank wearily into the arm-chair, which she had moved forward for him.

"I wanted to speak to you," he replied fixing his great eyes upon her, "for I am worried about you."

"Worried!" she exclaimed. "But I tell you I am quite all right."

"Oh! it wasn't about that," he replied carelessly. "Girls are always imagining they've got headaches and other things." He looked at her very sternly. "I am worried about that business in the chapel the other day."

The girl's heart beat unpleasantly, but her smile was a ready one. "Well, forget about it," she replied brightly, "and don't let it worry you any more. It doesn't worry me." She laughed with animation. "Now, have you been worshipping as usual before the Rubens to-day?"

But her uncle was not to be put off. "I am always afraid of a woman with a secret," he said frowningly, "for they are creatures of impulse and never to be fully trusted." He spoke sharply. "Now have you said a word to anyone about the idea you had of that secret door?"

She drew herself up proudly. "Did I not make a promise to you?" she asked, speaking quite as sharply as he had done.

"Yes, you did," he said with his eyes intently holding hers.

She tossed her head defiantly. "Well, a Thralldom never lies," and she bowed as if to dismiss the whole matter.

He regarded her very thoughtfully. "I'll take you down in the dungeons one day," he went on, "and let you see what they are like"—he turned his eyes away now and put up his hand to stifle a yawn—"perhaps to-morrow or the day after." He looked back at her again. "But no mentioning it to anybody, mind. I don't want a pack of sightseers at our heels. Oh! and one thing more. I have upon several occasions mentioned to you and your mother that I have willed all my possessions to the National Gallery in the interests of Art." He nodded significantly. "Well, my lawyer will be coming here on Thursday and I intend"—he smiled a slow inscrutable smile—"to make a different decision then."

He bade her good-night and walked slowly from the room. Breathing a great sigh of relief, she went into the bedroom and, finding her patient was now wide awake, switched on the light. She thought he looked very frightened.

"It's all right," she said soothingly, "he's gone. How are you feeling?"

"Much better," replied the detective. He leant upon his elbow. "But look here. I heard what your uncle said and you must promise me"—he spoke most deliberately—"that under no circumstances whatever will you go down into those dungeons unless I am with you. You understand? Under no circumstances; whoever asks you."

"Why not?" she asked, very surprised at his earnestness.

"Because," he replied, "you are forcing me to tell you, there are the bodies of the murdered dead down there and, if you see them, they will become the nightmare of all your life and you may be so horrified that when you have children they may be born imbeciles."

The pallor on the girl's face was now even greater than his own and she caught her breath in a nervous gasp, "But you frighten me!" she exclaimed.

"I mean to," he said sharply, "for there are things there no young girl should see." He repeated his request. "Now, you promise me."

"Yes," she replied faintly, "I promise you."

"You swear?" he went on.

"Yes, I swear," she said.

Larose dropped back upon the pillow and then spoke in quite a different tone. "You've been an angel of compassion to me, Miss Devenham," he said gently, "and I can never be grateful enough to you." He looked round and then laughed with some embarrassment. "I wonder how you dared to bring me up here."

The girl laughed back. "I had to, Mr. Larose," she replied. "It was forced upon me. I couldn't leave you down there in the condition you were in, and this is the only room I could be sure no one would come into. Besides"—and she flushed hotly—"you were so nice to us that morning in the chapel. You didn't smile and think we were horrid. You just took everything as a matter of course, and as if it were nothing out of the ordinary." She bowed. "You saved my reputation, sir, and you drew all the sting out of the remorse Mr. Harden was feeling because he had asked me to bring him into the chapel."

"Well, he'll have no remorse in years to come," smiled Larose, "for it consecrated you to each other for all your lives." He sighed. "You are a charming girl, Miss Devenham, and I envy Mr. Harden from the bottom of my heart." He craned his head above the bedclothes and looked round for his clothes. "Now, I'll be getting up."

But Ann was instantly the imperious nurse again. "No, Mr. Larose, you won't," she said firmly. "As I told you this morning I've harrowed my feelings a lot for you and run a lot of risks, too, so you're going to obey me now. To-morrow morning before anyone's up, you shall get up and go, but until then"—she smiled—"you are my patient."

"But I must," began the detective, "I have——"

"I won't give you your clothes," she interrupted, "so that's final. Now, you'll have something more to eat and then go off to sleep again. Remember, you have three nights' sleep to pick up."

Larose frowned. He realised the wisdom of doing as she suggested, but was worried at the idea of not at once resuming his search. "But where are you going to sleep?" he asked hesitantly.

"In the next room," she replied, "and I will be at hand any moment you want me."

"Well," he said after a moment, "can you take a message for me to Monsieur Antoine?" and when she nodded he went on with a smile, "Tell him you are allowing me to get up to-morrow morning at five and I'll go straight to the kitchen then."

She switched off the lights and, assuring him that no one would be likely to disturb him in her absence, departed upon her mission, to return, however, very shortly with the information that she had spoken to the chef and that the latter would be waiting for him at five o'clock.

Larose thanked her gratefully and then, turning on his side, was asleep again almost at once.


CROUPIN was very thoughtful that evening when, in a few and hurried words, Ann had told him that Larose would be remaining on in her room until the morning, but was intending to go back into the vaults at five o'clock on the morrow, refreshed with a good night's rest.

The chef had received with great relief her assurance that Larose was recovering, but, after she had left him, with the realisation all at once that no one would be keeping watch now in the vaults that night, he began to be very troubled.

"And to-night William himself may go down into the vaults," he thought ruefully, "and if he does, may easily chance upon some evidence that another person has been there recently. Miss Ann says Larose was dazed and most exhausted when she found him, and in that condition it is hardly probable that he thought of bringing up his blanket with him. So, if William sees it there, or any of the paper that I wrapped the sandwiches in, or the empty bottles of wine or the little basket that carried them"—he threw out his hands despairingly—"then everything will be ruined, for he will take warning and perhaps never give us a chance of catching him again."

He frowned. "And I don't like the look of that William now. There's some change in him that I don't understand. He is brighter, and has been smiling that strange smile of his as if, at last, he is relieved about something and able to throw off some feeling of dread or suspicion that has been haunting him. I don't understand either about that blood upon the door-handle. He may have cut his hand, of course, but he is so secretive about himself that I have never had a chance to see."

He thought for a long while and then snapped his fingers together with a grin. "Well, I must dope him again; that's all. It will stir up all his suspicions, but I can't help it. Anything rather than that he should go into the vaults to-night."

He went on. "But how am I going to do it? He refuses coffee now and draws his own water from the tap. He will only drink tea when he has seen one of the girls make it, actually under his very eyes, and he himself picks out every cake and biscuit that he eats. He watches me carving too, as if he were a cat watching a mouse." He grinned again. "No matter, old Croupin is a boy of great resource and he'll manage it somehow."

Monsieur Antoine, then appeared to be in a merry mood that night as he prepared the supper for the servants' hall, and as usual with him when he was happy, talked a lot to everybody.

"Now, as you have all been good girls and boys to-day," he announced with twinkling eyes, "I give you special treat. You shall have some of zat famous soup zat no one but me can make. The secret was only known to me and ze Pope of Rome, as he tell me the other day he have forgotten it, zen only me can make it as it should be done. So get your mouths ready to water when I put it on to ze table."

Then, in due time, after much mystery and with the juggling together of many pots and pans, he produced a saucepan of steaming soup, giving off most delicious and appetising aromas.

"No, no pushing," he remonstrated, as if he were addressing a crowd of hungry school-children, "zere is enough for all. But you sit down, everyone, and I will serve it myself so zat no one get too much. Also, as it is my birthday and I am just twenty-one to-day—you need not laugh Mees Rosa for it is ze wisdom in my face zat make me look so old—I will put on a bottle of ze wine of France afterwards."

They took their seats as he had ordered, and he proceeded to serve them, one by one, leaving William and himself until last.

Then he came over to the table with two servings, one, a good one which he set down before William, and the other a much smaller one which he was reserving for himself.

"Ah! but you will enjoy zis," he beamed round upon them all. "Ze Pope of Rome once say—Why what is zat for?" he exclaimed, for William had suddenly reached over across the table and exchanged his own serving for that of the chef.

"Only that you are helping me to too much," replied the footman with a quiet smile. "I'll have this little serving that you were taking yourself," and giving the apparently disgusted chef no time to remonstrate, he dipped his spoon in his plate and began to eat.

Outwardly, certainly Monsieur Antoine was the very picture of astonishment, as if amazed beyond all measure that anyone could have too much of his precious soup, but inwardly he was chuckling in his joy.

"I knew, I knew you'd do it," danced his exultant thoughts, "and now you've given the veronal to yourself. You are clever, Meester William, and prepared for everything, but there is one cleverer than you, and he is the poor old Croupin here. Ha! ha! ha! Deep dreams, my son, for there'll be only bed for you to-night."

"But, Monsieur Antoine," called out the pretty Rosa, "the fried onions in this soup are very strong. It is delicious but we shall all smell."

"Zat is what ze Pope of Rome say," laughed the chef delightedly, "but he have it all ze same." He shook his head. "Ah! zis is not ze soup for lovers, Mees Rosa. Nevaire, nevaire eat onions before you go to make ze love." He sighed heavily. "I forgot zat once and lose a lovely lady. She was rich countess wiz millions of pounds. She turn her nose away and love anuzzer at once. It was very sad."

"Law! but what company you must have kept, Monsieur Antoine," exclaimed Rosa. "Fancy you knowing a countess to speak to!"

"Oh! I did much more zan speak to her," smiled the chef, "and when I lose her, it was a great blow."

"But you've made up for it since, Froggy," laughed James coarsely; "I'll bet you've had hundreds after her."

"No, no," denied the chef quickly, "I am a woman hater ever since."

They all laughed derisively, but Monsieur Antoine, as if to at once prove the truth of his assertion, took the hand of Bertha who was sitting next to him, and squeezed it tenderly in front of them all.

The chef was at his merriest after the meal, and it was with regret, when ten o'clock arrived, that Isobel, the head parlourmaid, shepherded the maids up to their respective rooms, with the men-servants proceeding to lock up for the night.

In the meantime Hudson and Kelly down at the old house on the Haven had passed a very worried day. They were furious, for they were in a way of being hampered in all their plans because Fenner had taken himself off without a word of explanation, and the only reason they could think of for his going, was that he must have become frightened at the last moment and determined to sever all association with them in their contemplated raid that night upon Thralldom Castle.

The last they had seen of him was on the previous evening when, just as it was beginning to get dark, he had announced his intention of going out as usual to continue his search for the opening to the passage that would lead them into the castle under the moat.

"And I'll be making a last search among the ruins of the Priory," he said, "and there is still a chance we may be able to avoid all the danger of having to break in." And Kelly had jeered at him, as he always did, for being so obstinate.

They had not become aware that Fenner had left them until well on towards midday when Hudson had gone into the bedroom, to find that it was unoccupied and, moreover, that the bed had not been slept in.

"He's quit, right enough," snarled Kelly, "and I'm not a bit surprised. There was always too much of the kid-glove about him, and he was full of his blasted arguing instead of being willing to get to work."

Their anger was the greater because they had definitely fixed that night, or rather, the very early morning, for their attempt to obtain the Rubens, and they could not possibly postpone it. The captain's stay at the castle was almost at an end, the moon would be just right, there had been no rain for three days to allow of any incriminating footmarks being left, and they had everything prepared.

Exactly at a quarter past two, Captain Bonnett was to signal to them by the flashing of a torch in the window of the footman's little room off the entrance hall. Then they would climb over the big gate on the drawbridge by means of a rope ladder, long enough to reach down over both sides at once; then Kelly would cut through the bars of the window with an oxy-acetylene torch and afterwards cut out the entire window pane with a diamond.

They believed they had provided for every possible contingency and Fenner's part, a very subordinate although a very essential one, would have been to have first helped with the carrying of the heavy cylinders and the other things that they were taking, and then to have kept watch outside the castle to warn them of any danger approaching from along the marsh road.

They sat outside, about the house all day, gloomy and fidgeting and saying very little to each other. It was not a day when Kelly was due up at the castle, and Hudson would dearly have liked to have got into communication with Captain Bonnett, if only to be assured that all was quiet and everything still propitious for the adventure of the night, but he had no adequate excuse to ring up and did not dare to do so, being mindful of the enquiries that would be made later everywhere, if their raid upon the paintings were successful.

"But, my word!" he exclaimed suddenly, breaking one of the long silences, "won't there be a hell of a stir tomorrow. We shall have the 'tecs from all over this darned country down here and they'll want to have a jaw with everyone," and he laughed nervously as if, with the actual moment of the attempt approaching, he was not too easy in his mind.

"And what does it matter if they do?" commented Kelly gruffly. "They can't touch us unless they've got some proof, and who the blazes would think of digging in these sandhills for stuff worth fifty thousand quid. No," he went on emphatically, "we're quite safe and nothing can go wrong if that fool Bonnett does exactly as we told him, and by this time to-morrow we shall be sitting quiet and enjoying watching the rotten police dancing all about the place."

The day dragged on and at last darkness fell with all the promise of it going to be a fine night.

They had a light supper just before midnight, which, on the American's part, at all events, consisted in the main of stiff brandies and sodas, and then they began to gather up their apparatus.

"Curse that Fenner," growled Kelly deeply, "these cylinders are darned heavy and at least he'd have been of some use, carrying one."

At twenty minutes to two they set off along the road leading over the marshes. The stars were showing and the moon, towards the end of its last quarter, gave them just sufficient light to pick their way.

A few minutes after two they were crouching by the castle drawbridge and at a quarter past, to the very second, the light flashed in the little room.

"A good beginning," whispered Hudson, moistening his dry lips, "now, over with the ladder and I'll go first."

The gate was easily negotiated and leaving the rope-ladder with both its ends trailing upon the ground, they crept up to the castle walls. They saw Captain Bonnett inside the footman's room with his face pressed up close against the window pane. He looked ghastly white, but he nodded and his lips framed the words "All right."

The American's teeth were chattering, but the cool and business-like way in which Kelly proceeded to set about his work soon calmed him and his hand was quite steady as he helped to screw the connections on to the cylinders.

"A wonderful little invention, the oxy-acetylene torch" whispered Kelly enthusiastically, "and you'll be surprised at the little noise it makes—no louder than the burning of a small Primus stove."

He slipped a roll of stout asbestos padding behind the bars so that the heat of the torch should not crack the glass in the window and then, with Hudson holding a large beach umbrella lined with thick black cloth behind him so that no one across the meadows should see the light of the flame he set a match to the oxygen and started operations.

"No one will see us a hundred yards away," he whispered exultingly, "and no one will hear us, twenty. Keep the umbrella as close as you can."

The torch hissed sibilantly, and under its fierce heat the solid bars were cut through, almost as if they were butter. Kelly might have been a man of most unpleasant disposition, but he was certainly a most efficient workman and knew what he was about.

"Now quick, grab hold of that bar," he ordered sharply. "It's just going to fall and we mustn't have a sound." He laughed sneeringly. "I've always wondered this old fool here doesn't keep a couple of savage dogs. They'd have made things difficult, if you like."

In a few minutes the bars were all cut out and then Kelly, first tightly wedging the window frame with some strips of lead that he had provided, proceeded to cut all round the glass with a diamond. Captain Bonnett was now standing close up to the window again and holding a blanket, folded, in his hand.

Kelly nodded and the captain at once began to press lightly against the glass with his blanket. Then Kelly, with his elbows held closely to his sides and with the palms of his hands wide open, struck sharply against the glass. Once, twice, three times he struck, and then with just a gentle crack, the glass fell into the blanket that the captain was holding, and Kelly and Hudson stepped into the room.

"Wonderful!" ejaculated Hudson wiping the perspiration from his forehead, "I should never have thought it would be so simple."

"Simple!" growled Kelly contemptuously. "You just try it one day and see."

"Everything's all right," whispered the captain breathlessly, "but put the sucker on." He looked anxious. "You haven't forgotten that?"

Kelly smiled contemptuously, but then taking a large suction disc from his pocket, spat vigorously upon it a few times and then attached it to the middle of the pane of glass now lying down upon the ground. A line of stout whipcord was then tied round the handle of the sucker.

"So, your pretty little soul is saved," he jeered, "and you needn't worry." He handed over some small coils of wire to the captain. "Get away, quick now, and screw these across the stairs. Half way down, too, so that anyone will have a good tumble. They're all measured off and of just the right length. I haven't been coming up here for nothing." He flashed his torch upon the captain's face and spoke menacingly. "And mind you watch, all right. No shouting if you hear anything suspicious but just come and tell me. I've got a knuckle-duster and am good for a footman or two," and he and Hudson then padded softly away in the direction of the gallery.

"Everything's going splendidly," whispered Hudson as they arrived at the big grille, "and if you cut these bars as easily as you did the others, we shall never need to work for another day in our lives. Things couldn't be better."

But he was very much mistaken, for Croupin had been an unseen and intensely interested spectator of all that had been going on from the moment when they had started the oxy-acetylene torch outside the window, and behind a big settee in the hall, had nodded many times in professional appreciation of the expeditious manner in which they had effected an entrance.

He had tucked himself up in bed soon after ten, but for some reason he had been very restless and the hours going by without his falling asleep, the idea had suddenly come to him that he would go down into the dungeons and bring up the things that he was sure the detective had left behind, for after all he told himself, it was quite possible Larose might not be well enough to resume his watching in the morning and he, Croupin, could not go on doping the footman indefinitely.

So, partially dressing himself, he had crept down the stairs and had been just upon the point of turning into the corridor leading to the chapel, when a faint hissing sound had caught his ear.

He had stood as if rooted to the floor for a few seconds and then he had caught his breath in a thrill of ecstasy.

"An acetylene torch!" he gasped. "Someone is trying to break in." He drew himself up to his full height and grinned delightedly. "And I, Croupin, am here to prevent it."

He crept like lightning into the hall and along its entire length and then crouching down was a witness of all that was happening.

"Captain Bonnett!" he gasped again as his amazed eyes took in the figure of the captain silhouetted against the flare of the acetylene torch. "Then he is helping them! The wretch, and I owe him one, for James said he agreed with the lord that my Tartare sauce was too thick. A guest here, too! Oh! the bad lot!"

He saw the pane of glass removed and Kelly and Hudson step into the room and he gasped again. "But I might have known it," he breathed. "I guessed it all along."

He heard the sharp whispered instructions that Kelly gave to the captain and with the disappearance of the latter, he followed the other two at a respectful distance, up the stairs leading to the picture gallery.

"They'll cut through the grille in the same way, of course," he went on, "but they'll have to be very clever if they get the Rubens out of its frame without sounding the alarms." He nodded his head. "But I won't give them the chance. I'll just let them get going well and then I'll give the alarm myself." He grinned delightedly. "The honest Croupin saving the priceless Rubens for the great lord!"

He watched them adjust the cylinders, and setting light to the torch, start upon the bars of the big grille. Kelly was as quick and dexterous as before and, one by one, the bars were cut through. Four, Croupin counted them and then he thought it about time to interfere.

"But I'll lock the door of the little room first," he murmured, "and cut off their retreat. I saw the key was in the lock outside."

He ran down the stairs and swiftly through the hall, but approaching the little room was brought up dead by the flash of a torch through the glassless window frame, and the sound of low voices.

"They went in here, Inspector," he heard someone say. "They've cut the window pane right out."

"Well, we'll follow the same way," came a voice of authority, "in you go, Barney and you, too, Valentine. You, Reney watch outside. Stand well clear of the window so that you can see if they attempt to break away from somewhere else."

Croupin did not wait to hear any more, but raced like a greyhound towards the chapel. "It's the police," he gasped. "They are after them, and will steal all my glory if I do not look out. But I'll get in first and ring the great bell in the belfry," and he began to tear up a narrow flight of steps not far from the chapel door.

Kelly had proceeded quickly with his work and seven bars were cut through. "That'll do," he grunted, "we can get through now," and he turned off the gas.

Then just as he was in the very act of squeezing through the opening he had made, a loud resounding clang broke into the silence of the night.

"Dong, dong, dong," and the echoes of the great bell were reverberating for miles over the countryside.

"Hell!" roared the American, "someone's heard us! Get for your life," and, followed by the deeply cursing Kelly, he flew down the stairs.

But the flight of both of them came to a very speedy conclusion. Hudson bumped straight into the arms of Inspector Dollard, of Saxmundham, who promptly tripped him up and held him down, while Kelly was floored by the outstretched leg of Police Constable Valentine, who had flashed his torch just in time to see him coming.

"Switch on the lights," shouted the Inspector, and at once the hall was as light as day.

Hudson made no attempt at resistance, but Kelly showed fight and got in some nasty blows at two of the policemen before he was finally knocked down and handcuffed.

Then for a few minutes pandemonium raged. Shouts and cries came from all parts of the castle; the alarms buzzed everywhere and there were loud thumps as James and the butler were tripped upon the stairs.

"Look out, my lord," shrieked Croupin, who had now returned to the scene of the conflict. "Zere may be a wire stretched across zose stairs," and Lord Thralldom, with surprising agility, avoided the wire that had almost caught him.

"But what's happened?" roared the master of the castle like an old lion roused from his sleep. He threw up his hands. "My Rubens! my Rubens! What's happened? Tell me quick."

"It's all right, my lord," replied Inspector Dollard smiling. "Quite all right. They've not touched any of your pictures. We got here just in time."

Then Lord Thralldom started back as if he had been struck with the lash of a whip.

"Great God!" he cried, glaring at the two handcuffed prisoners. "Mr. Hudson and the masseur!"

Hudson was ghastly white and breathing hard, but Kelly was smiling and looking quite pleasant for him. "Yes, the masseur, my lord," he grinned. "The masseur who massaged your niece."

"But it's incredible," he gasped again. "Incredible! incredible!"

"Oh! no, my lord, it isn't," laughed the Inspector. He jerked his head round. "They got in through that little room there by oxy-acetylening the bars and taking out the entire window pane."

"But were they alone?" asked Lord Thralldom wildly. "Someone inside here must have helped them."

"I don't think so," said the Inspector, "for after they had broken the glass, they lowered it to the floor with a large sucker on a piece of cord. That looks as if they had no help inside."

"But how did you come to know they were here?" asked Lord Thralldom now beginning to recover from his panic.

Inspector Dollard took out his watch. "Twenty-seven minutes ago, my lord," he replied, "we got a telephone call from a party who declined to give his name, that two suspicious-looking characters were approaching the castle along the marsh road, heavily laden, and he was of opinion that they were carrying gas cylinders. I immediately tried to get you on the 'phone here to ascertain if all was right, but learning that your wires were dead, I suspected something and came along at once." He smiled happily and put back his watch. "And a good thing we lost no time."

"But who ordered the great bell in the belfry to be rung?" asked Lord Thralldom sharply. "Did you do it to summon more help?"

The Inspector, looking very puzzled, shook his head, and then Croupin thought that he himself ought now to step into the picture.

He glanced round and his chest expanded, for he saw he would be having a splendid audience. All the inmates of the castle appeared to be there.

The maids were huddled in a corner of the hall, with frightened eyes and in varying conditions of undress; Ann Devenham looked charming in a pink dressing gown, with her pretty hair all ruffled up, and the men servants were gaping in amazement, although William could hardly keep his eyes open.

Croupin stepped forward into the centre of the hall. "My lord," he said, bowing, "it was I who rang ze big bell."

"You!" glowered Lord Thralldom. "How did you know anything was wrong?"

Croupin shot out his arm and pointed dramatically at the prisoners. "I saw zose men zere melting ze bars of ze grille. It was like zis. I could not sleep and leant out of my window because I have ze headache. Zen I smell something and knew it was carbide. I ask myself 'Who is using carbide in ze middle of ze night?' I open my door and ze smell is stronger. I follow ze smell and it lead me to ze gallery. I guess at once what was happening and I ring ze bell to wake all ze country so zat ze great Rubens be not taken."

"And you tumbled them into our arms," laughed the Inspector. "You could not have done better."

"These two wretches were alone, and there was no one else with them?" asked Lord Thralldom sharply.

Croupin was silent for a moment and then his words were like the exploding of a bomb.

"Only Captain Bonnett," he replied calmly, "and he watch so that no one come near to interfere." He looked with accusing sternness at the captain. "I see him, but he not see me. He knew zey were zere right enough."

Captain Bonnett had gone as white as a ghost, but he shouted energetically enough. "You liar! I was asleep in my bed when the bell rang." He turned to Lord Thralldom. "The man is mad, sir."

"Oh! no you were not in your bedroom," insisted Croupin. "You stood by zat door and you were listening first one way and zen ze other. I saw you."

"You scoundrel!" began the captain, "I believe——"

But Kelly interrupted harshly. "Oh, chuck it, Bonnett," he sneered. "You'll come along with us, too." His anger rose. "You great fool! If you'd kept your eyes open and seen this damned cook here, we might have throttled him and nothing would have gone wrong." He gritted his teeth. "Now, it'll be seven years for us—hard labour." The captain was speechless. He could not get his breath. Lord Thralldom spoke very slowly. "It's not true, Thompson. You are lying and——"

"Lying, you old fool!" retorted Kelly coarsely. "Then who cut the telephone wires in here if it wasn't your precious captain?" He laughed mockingly and turned to the Inspector who was holding Hudson by the arm.

"Put your hand in that chap's breast pocket," he jeered, "and pull out the paper there. It's a map of all the rooms here, with notes, in the dandy captain's own handwriting and the rooms of the men are marked with a cross."

The Inspector hesitated a moment and then, apparently with no objection on the part of the American, did as he was requested. He drew out a folded paper and after one quick glance over it, handed it to Lord Thralldom.

Lord Thralldom's glance was a quick one, too, and then looking up, he regarded the captain as if he could have killed him. "Handcuff him," he shouted, "and if I could get him hanged for this, I would." His voice boomed thunderously. "Take them all away quick, out of my sight or I shall strike them. My Rubens is a sacred trust and I would spare no one, not even my own flesh and blood, if they laid hands upon it." He was sweeping out of the hall when he turned again to the Inspector and spoke sharply. "I shall want police protection until the morning and every night until I have taken further measures to protect my property." He beckoned to the footmen. "Leave all the lights on now until the morning, and you, James, go and keep watch in the gallery until it is light. Don't close an eye. You understand?"

"Yes, my lord," bowed James, but surely no one had cursed deeper that night than did James then, under his breath.

The prisoners were removed in the police car and in a few minutes all the inmates of the castle had left the hall.

Lady Deering ascended the staircase leading to the bedrooms, leaning heavily upon her stepdaughter's arm.

"But this is awful, Ann," she exclaimed tearfully, "for your uncle and I were arranging that you should marry Marmaduke shortly." She shook with fright. "Oh! I feel I shall never go to sleep again. At any rate I dare not sleep by myself any more to-night. I will come into your bed with you at once."

It was now Ann's turn to shake. "No, not in my bed, Mother,"'she said quickly, "but I will come and sleep with you. The owls outside my window are terrible to-night and we shall be thinking all the time, as uncle says, that they are men signalling to one another."

In her confused state of mind that was quite enough for Lady Deering and she consented to be led to her own room without any further remonstrance. Then Ann returned to hers to switch off the lights and, as she had told her stepmother, to fetch her hot-water bottle.

She found Larose was up and dressed and very anxious as to what had been going on downstairs. She told him quickly and then asked, very troubled, "And do you think William had anything to do with it too? I was watching him just now and, all the time, he was pretending to be so sleepy that he could hardly keep his eyes open."

The detective shook his head. "No, I don't think for one moment that he was mixed up in this," he replied, "and it may be he was not pretending either when he looked, as you say, as if he could hardly keep awake." His tone was very grave. "As I have told you, we are endeavouring to track down the perpetrators of those dreadful crimes that have been committed here, and the matter is so serious that it is quite probable Monsieur Antoine somehow gave William a sleeping draught so that, in my absence, he should not go down into the vaults to-night."

The girl shivered. "But oh! this is a horrible place," she exclaimed, "and with all its luxury, I wish I were away from it."

"I expect you soon will be," smiled Larose, "and then the happiness of your new life will make up for all you lose here." He spoke very earnestly. "If I were you, Miss Devenham, I wouldn't hesitate a moment, but would let Mr. Harden have his way and take you off at once, as he wants to. From all you both have told me, you will have to run away in the end."

Ann was silent for a few moments and then she sighed deeply. "But no girl in my position, Mr. Larose," she saw slowly, "likes to go to her husband with just the clothes she stands up in, and a few shillings in her purse, as I should have to if I ran away." She held her head up proudly. "It wouldn't be fair to Mr. Harden."

"Nonsense," smiled the detective; "if I know anything of Mr. Harden, he'll be thrilled to take you even if you haven't got a postage stamp." His expression changed suddenly to one of great sternness. "Now, listen, Miss Devenham. I may very shortly be advising you to do something, and I want you to be prepared to do that something, without questioning and at once. You understand?"

"No, I don't," she replied, "but I'll always consider what you say, for, as you have seen, I trust you." She blushed prettily. "But now, please, shut yourself up in the bathroom for two minutes. I want to get undressed, and then I'm going to sleep for the rest of the night with mother. She's very upset and wants company."

Larose did as she requested and then even before the two minutes had elapsed, she knocked softly on the bathroom door. "You can come out," she said, "and you can have another hour's sleep. There's an alarm on this clock and I've set it for twenty minutes to five. Also, I've borrowed one of Monsieur Antoine's razors for you. You look awful as you are." She gave him a charming smile. "Good-night, Mr. Larose, and pleasant dreams to you."

The detective switched off the lights and lay down upon the bed. "Yes," he sighed sleepily, "I could very easily fall in love with that young woman, myself."


A LITTLE more than an hour later, the moment the alarm went off, Larose roused himself and rolled off the bed. He was still terribly sleepy and felt rather weak.

"But I'll be better when I've had another hot bath," he told himself, "and, at any rate, I can stick it out for one more night. I've an exciting day before me, but when I can think clearly again I'll soon gather up all the threads." He glanced at himself in the mirror, and made a grimace, "Yes, I look pretty awful, as Ann said—like a man risen from the dead."

He felt much better after his bath, but when he had well soaped over his face preparatory to the much-needed shave, a most annoying surprise awaited him, for there was no blade in the razor Ann had brought up.

"Whew!" he whistled disgustedly, "so I shall have to go on looking pretty awful and in no respectable condition to meet that assassin. But there's no help for it," and resigned to his continued unkempt condition, he put the useless razor in his pocket.

He tidied his hair, however, with the monogrammed silver brushes that were lying upon the dressing table.

"Ann's," he whispered, "and dainty, as she is." He sniffed delicately at them. "Yes, they remind me of her." He sighed again. "Young Harden's a lucky fellow."

Opening the door softly, everything seemed as silent as the grave, and after pausing a moment to make sure no one was about, he tiptoed softly down the stairs and proceeded into the kitchen. It was not yet fully light, but a fire was burning there and it partially illuminated the room.

He was well inside and almost up to the table before he perceived that a man was seated before the fire, and to his consternation, he realised in a lightning flash, that the man was not Croupin. He was a uniformed policeman and was meditatively smoking a pipe.

It was too late for Larose to draw back, for the policeman looked up sharply and then, as if suspicious of the detective's noiseless approach, rose instantly to his feet and stood regarding him from out of a pair of very shrewd blue eyes.

But Larose had been in many a tight corner before and if he were now very much dismayed, the expression upon his face did not show any signs of it.

"Good morning," he said most politely. He held up his hand. "Hush, don't speak too loudly. Everybody's nerves are on edge after last night and if they hear a strange voice they may take another fright."

He walked up to the fireplace. "What! where's the kettle?" he went on, "Not on yet! Darn that French cook. He never sympathises with anyone who wants a cup of tea, and he ought to have been up before now, getting me my breakfast. I told him five o'clock," and picking up a kettle and filling it at the tap, he placed it on the fire.

All this time the policeman had not spoken a word, but Larose noticed with some uneasiness that he had knocked the ashes out of his pipe and put the pipe in his pocket in a most business-like manner.

"Who are you," he asked sharply, at length breaking his silence, "and what are you doing here?"

Larose smiled. "Ah! of course, I forgot!" he said. "I'm from the Yard. I'm Larose, Gilbert Larose." He added carelessly, "I called on Inspector Dollard last week, in reference to the disappearance of that Mr. Holden."

The policeman stood hesitating. He had heard right enough about Larose having called at the police station in Saxmundham, and if it were truly the Australian now, was prepared to be duly respectful, but no one had mentioned anything about Larose being in the castle and, with the exciting experiences of the night still stirring in his mind, he was inclined to be suspicious.

And certainly, he thought, he had reason to be. The night had barely waned and tiptoeing into the kitchen, with all the actions of a man not desirous of being heard, had come this unheralded stranger, looking disreputable and unkempt and very unlike any officer associated with the Yard.

Then, at that moment, he heard more soft footfalls, and Antoine, the chef of the castle, in his turn came in softly.

"Monsieur Antoine!" exclaimed the detective angrily, before the chef had had time to utter even an "oh," but addressing him in the same guarded tone that he had used towards the policeman, "when will you understand that we Australians cannot do without our tea? You are late and I am pining for a cup now."

Croupin picked up his cue instantly. The detective evidently wished it to be known who he was.

"I am very sorry, Meester Larose," he said, "but I oversleep myself. You shall have ze tea at once."

"And why did you send me up a razor without any blade in it?" went on Larose irritably, proceeding to produce Croupin's empty razor from his pocket. "It was very careless of you. Look at my face. No, it's no good now. I shall leave it until to-night."

The policeman was instantly relieved of all his doubts, for that the chef of the castle should be now addressing this unshaved stranger as Mr. Larose was quite sufficient. He had been present in the hall when the Frenchman had so dramatically related the story of the ringing of the bell and later, too, that amiable gentleman had stood him a stiff whisky after the other policeman had gone. So it must be quite all right.

He nodded most respectfully. "Pleased to meet you, sir," he said, "but I didn't know you were working with us."

"And I'm not," said Larose quickly. "I'm here on quite a different matter and his lordship, even, is not aware as yet that I am in the castle." He dropped his voice to a whisper. "I am here upon that Holden case and another matter, and you must please not bring up my name at any time, to anyone." He spoke most emphatically. "You must understand I am here on secret work."

"Quite all right, sir," said the policeman briskly. He smiled. "I'll forget that I've seen you."

There was a moment's silence and then came another interruption, and yet another person came into the kitchen and he tiptoed in, in exactly the same furtive manner as Larose and the chef had done. It was William.

The footman was looking very ill; for he had passed a wretched night. During the first half of it he had lain like a dead man, but awakened roughly by James when the great bell had sounded, he had been almost dragged from his bed, to take in with difficulty all that had happened downstairs in the hall. Then, retiring to his bedroom again, he had been violently sick. The sickness had in part cleared away his stupor, but it had left a splitting headache behind, with all the feelings that he had experienced twice before when he had been so certain that the chef had drugged him. So, although he could not explain how it had been done, he was equally as positive that he had been drugged again.

There had been no more sleep for him, and he had sat up, nursing an unreasoning and murderous anger, until the dawn. Then, all at once he had heard the chef leaving his room and, seized with a sudden resolution, he had hastily pulled on some clothes and followed after him, with the determination that at last he would avenge himself, but with no clear purpose in his mind as to how exactly he was going to do it.

His face was furious with anger as he glided into the kitchen and he licked his lips in preparation for the curses he was going to hurl at the luckless chef.

Then, all in an instant, he was brought to a standstill, his limbs became as if turned to stone, his jaw dropped and the expression of rage upon his face gave way to one of great dismay. He had expected only Antoine, but to his amazement, he now saw a policeman and worse still, the dreaded detective from Scotland Yard.

Instantly then, he began shifting his eyes rapidly from side to side; he licked his lips anew and he breathed very hard. His whole attitude was that of a guilty man, caught in the very act.

Croupin suppressed a grin in which amusement and consternation would have been blended and the policeman stared stolidly, recognising William as one of the footmen he had seen during the night.

Larose spoke up at once. "Good morning," he said genially; "it would seem we are all going to be early risers this morning."

William had now in part recovered himself and, mumbling something about not having been able to sleep, was about to shuffle away again, when Croupin called out quickly, "Have a cup of tea, William. Yes, come on now. Zere's plenty for you and you look as if you wanted somezing. You look dam crook, old man."

The footman shook his head, but hesitated. He was cowed and shaky and for the moment clay in anybody's hands.

"Come on, sit down," went on the chef. "You must have a cup," and the footman, incapable of any resistance, sank limply into a chair.

Croupin passed over a cup of tea and then asked sharply, "Why, what's zat on your hand?"

The dazed footman at once held one forward, palm upward. "No, on ze uzzer one," said Croupin.

William complied again and Croupin laughed. "It is nuzzing. I imagine I see a spider."

The footman was then left out of the conversation that ensued and gulping down his tea as quickly as he could, he rose from his chair, and unhindered this time, shuffled from the room. A minute or two afterwards the policeman got up to go, too.

"I must be off to that gallery again," he announced with a smile, "for if his lordship turns up and I'm not there, there'll be the very devil to pay. I only came down to get a warm. It's hellish cold up there and that other footman has been cursing all the time."

The sound of his heavy footsteps died away and then Larose asked sharply—"Quick! tell me, did William go out of his room the night before last?"

"I do not know," replied Croupin very shamefacedly, "for unfortunately I slept all night." He spoke in an intense whisper. "But there was a mark of blood upon his door handle in the morning and I was very worried about you. The mark was sticky when I touched it, and it had not been there long. Tell me what happened to you?"

Larose very briefly outlined everything that had taken place in the dungeons and Croupin listened with his face as white as his own flour.

"Mon Dieu!" he exclaimed, "then it is certain William is the one we want!"

The detective hesitated a moment. "It looks like it," he replied, and then he asked quickly: "Have you ever heard him laugh?"

"No," said Croupin emphatically, "he never laughs." He looked round apprehensively and put his lips close up to the detective's ear. "But there's something going on in the man's mind now and he's getting dangerous. He's taken to following me everywhere, and didn't you notice his face when he came in just now? He was mad with fury, and I believe he was going to attack me. He knows he was doped again last night."

"Well, you look out," nodded Larose. He spoke thoughtfully. "But I don't think he'll do anything until he's worked himself up again. All the kick went out of him when he saw the policeman and me here." He frowned. "That was very awkward, for he may mention about it to Lord Thralldom."

"No, he won't," said Croupin at once. "He never speaks unless he's spoken to, and the lord never asks any questions of the servants."

A few minutes later, provided with another blanket and a watch that he had borrowed from Croupin, the detective once again passed through the panel in the chapel wall and descended the spiral stairway leading into the dungeons.

Now there are some days that, even in the most adventurous lives, stand out in memory above all others and that day when Larose went down into the vaults for the last time, was one, every happening of which he was to remember all his life. It was a day starting in dreadful disappointment, then proceeding to one of dreadful horror, and finally culminating in a series of startling surprises that left him in a whirl of bewildering doubt and wonder.

To begin with, it was hours and hours before he could locate the opening in the corridor from where he had seen the unknown man come out with the lantern.

And yet at first he had thought it would be so easy, for he told himself he had only to stand by the door of the dungeon where he had been imprisoned and measuring the distance with his eye, just walk forward until he came to a flagstone that would certainly show signs of being different to all the others.

So, he stood by the dungeon door and called up to his sight the whole scene of the two previous nights before.

"Here, I was standing," he said, "and about there was the shadow of the upraised flag. There, on the roof I saw the light and there by the wall I saw the arm appear and place the lantern upon the floor."

It seemed to be so very simple, but when he came to put the idea to an actual test, it yielded no result at all. All the flagstones were of exactly the same size and no particular one of them seemed any different to the others.

They were all solidly embedded and gave forth no hollow sounds. They fitted pretty closely against one another and nowhere was there any sign that they did not all form one continuous pavement.

The rats were again a great annoyance, for as before, as long as he was upon his feet, they kept at a respectful distance, but the moment he crouched down to flash his torch between the crevices or lie flat, as he continually did to listen whilst he tapped upon the stones, they immediately ran over him and one even bit him through his sock.

For two hours and more he scrutinised the floor of the corridor stone by stone, and his hopes went soaring when he found that between some of them he could just insert the thinnest blade of his pocket knife, but they soon sank again when he invariably struck hard mortar upon which the blade could make no impression after thrusting it down about half an inch.

Then he thought of another idea, and proceeding into the vaults, went behind the heap of stones and picked up the lantern that he had seen there upon the first night when he had had Croupin with him. Lifting up the glass to put a light to the wick, he was then instantly of opinion that the lantern had been used since he had last handled it, for the wick had been trimmed then and now it needed trimming again. He looked hard at it for quite a long time to make sure, with his face puckered in a frown.

"Then it must be William," he said slowly, and as if arguing with himself, "for I can be sure from the lantern being in this place, that whoever rifled the coffins was making use of it and we know it was William who rifled the coffins because of those bracelets and the crucifix that he's got."

He made a sharp exclamation as he threw the light of his torch upon a spade that was lying near. "Ah! and there's blood on it! Of course, of course, as I thought, he was hitting at the rats with it, that night."

He stood for a moment in deep thought and then with a shrug of his shoulders proceeded to light the lantern. He carried it into the corridor and placed it where he was of opinion he had seen the lantern put down. Then he went back to the dungeon door and, concentrating all his thoughts, endeavoured to determine if he had got the distance right.

But he was not satisfied, and not once but many times, shifted the position of the lantern. At last it seemed that he was pleased.

"Well, at any rate I'm within a few feet of it," he said, "and if I have to crowbar up every stone, I'll find the opening now."

Then he looked round in astonishment realising for the first time that the rats had all left him and there was not a single one in sight.

"Great Scott!" he ejaculated. "Something's frightened them. Someone's coming," and he was in the very act of hastily extinguishing the lantern when he stopped suddenly and a smile took the place of his anxious look. "Of course, that's it," he went on. "I understand everything now. That gentleman of the lantern is not too kind in his ways with them and directly it is lit, they expect trouble and rush away. They know him and that's why they left me the other night. The first time, when he came down empty handed and the second"—he nodded very slowly—"when he returned with that dead man."

He dismissed the matter from his mind, and kneeling down, methodically, stone by stone, examined the joins between each flag. But no success rewarded him. The blade of his knife would penetrate down the interstices a little way in many places and indeed all along the sides and end of one big flag, but every one of them was quite immovable and there was not the slightest indication that there had been any interference with them for hundreds of years.

He gave it up at last and went and fetched the crowbar. "There's no help for it," he said, "but it's a pity for now the next time he comes down he will see at once that someone's been here, and may take alarm and get out before I have time to lay hands upon him."

He looked down to see where to begin operations. One flag, he had noticed many times, appeared to be cracked slightly at one corner and the crack was uneven and roughly triangular in shape. He lifted the crowbar and prepared to begin chipping away by the side of the crack.

Then with the first fall of the crowbar an amazing thing happened. The whole cracked piece of the flag jumped out of its bed, leaving a hole about an inch in depth, and to his thrilled excitement, exposed to view a thick iron ring lying flush with the bottom of the hole.

"Gee!" he exclaimed delightedly, "I've got it at last," and dropping upon his knees, he grabbed at the ring and bracing himself for a great effort, prepared to heave with all his strength.

But he soon realised that very little strength would be required for, after raising the flag a few inches, it suddenly swung up of its own accord and looking down into the gaping opening that presented itself, he perceived that the stone was balanced by a large pendulum-like weight underneath. All along the edges of the stone had been cut a ledge fully two inches in width.

"No wonder I couldn't get my knife down any deeper," he breathed excitedly, "for I was trying to cut into the solid stone."

He carefully examined the big flag to make sure it would not fall again, and then taking the crowbar with him, proceeded with an unpleasant thumping of his heart, down the flight of narrow steps that he saw before him.

A descent of ten steps brought him to the bottom and he raised his lantern high above his head, to take in his surroundings. Before him and on one side he could see the enclosing walls, but in the other direction the light of the lantern was lost in shadows. The floor of the chamber was of beaten earth, but it was not of a pavement-like hardness. The air was dank and tainted with a horrible, indescribable smell, but it was not so foul as he had expected, and swinging the lantern round, he saw no sign of the earth having been disturbed anywhere. As far as he could see, the whole place was empty.

He had soon examined the part of the chamber that ended near the bottom of the steps and then he moved forward in the other direction and soon, very soon, a sense other than sight, plainer and more plain with every step that he advanced, told him that he was nearing his goal.

But he could still see no sign of any body anywhere, and proceeding about fifty yards, and when the rays of his lantern were falling upon the farthest enclosing wall, there was still nothing to indicate to his eyes that anyone had been there before him for hundreds and hundreds of years. Only a cold and chilling emptiness on every side with the earthen floor unbroken and undisturbed in all directions.

But still that other sense had become more and more insistent that if he were not in the presence of the living, he was certainly in that of the dead.

He moved up quickly towards the extreme end of the chamber, the thought now flashing through his mind that he might have to search for yet another hidden door. Then, when almost up to the wall itself, turning his head sideways, his eyes fell upon something that almost made his heart stand still.

In one of the extreme corners of the chamber gaped the opening of a large well!

He darted forward and held up the lantern. The top of the well was widely margined round with stonework and its coping was just level with the beaten earth. The well itself was about seven feet in diameter and, as far as he could see, its sides were stone-lined, too.

He approached close up and swung the lantern round, but it did not throw its light down far enough and so placing it upon the ground; he bent over the well and flashed his torch.

Then the torch almost dropped from his hand, and forgetting he had been holding in his breath, he opened his mouth wide and gasped in horror. He had been quite prepared to expect what now lay before him, but in all his life of the tracking down of crime, never had he met death in such a dreadful setting before.

Not four feet below him rested the body of a man. It lay upon its back, partly submerged in the clear water of the well. Its head was raised as if upon a pillow and its calm white face was serene in the peace and majesty of death. Its eyes were closed as if it were very tired, its forehead was fretted over with a straggling wisp of hair and a long, white hand, with a gold signet ring upon one finger, was stretched against its side.

But it was its pillow that gave the horror to the scene, for it rested upon the body of another man, and this body was ballooned to such a size that there was no neck to its head, and its face was but the semblance of a face. One of its arms was flung across the chest of the first man and the hand of the other arm was just showing above the water, like a claw. This second body seemed also to be buoyed up in some way.

Larose took in everything in a lightning glance and then completely overcome for the moment and leaving his lantern where it was, he darted back to the foot of the steps and drew in deep draughts of the less tainted air there.

But it was only for a few seconds that he remained inactive and then he was once again the cool, calculating detective inured to all the gruesome happenings of his profession.

He picked up the long crowbar and returning to the well, lay flat down upon the earth and stretched the crowbar down.

Very gently he levered against the side of the topmost body. It sank and rose and quivered as if it were upon springs, but then suddenly it slipped into the deep water and, all in an instant, had disappeared to the accompaniment of thousands and thousands of little bubbles.

Immediately then it was as if some great monster had been disturbed in the depths of the well, for the surface of the water was broken violently and, one after another, strange, horrible-looking objects heaved themselves up into view.

The back of a man arched like a bow and with arms and legs spread out at dreadful angles; a black mass that had no shape at all and finally, a foot shod with a woman's shoe. The ankle above this shoe was grotesque and shapeless.

The detective, with his lips tightly compressed, pulled up the crowbar and rising to his feet, sprang away from the side of the well. Then happening to glance up, he saw far away a small, round patch of light. There was a chimney over the well, and it tapered up to some opening high upon the castle walls.

"And that is why the air down here is not so foul, away from this cursed well," he murmured. "I couldn't understand it."

He picked up the lantern and with one last shuddering glance all round, made his way quickly across the chamber and up the steps. He lowered the big flag-stone again into its bed, and returning to the entrance to the vaults sat down and leant against the wall.

He saw that there was still plenty of oil remaining in the lantern and he left it burning.

For a long while then, he sat very still with his elbows upon his knees and his chin upon his hands. There was no elation in the expression upon his face, indeed he looked very worried.

"I am troubled, I am troubled," he whispered. "I am not ready and I am not certain yet. I must be very careful or I shall ruin my whole career. If I strike now I may be only striking the air." He thought for a long while. "Yes, I am afraid and I do not know what to do next."

He went on. "This is a terrible business, the most terrible I ever remember, and if William be the murderer, his actions are so motiveless and ununderstandable. Just the blind slaughter and the sheer lust of shedding blood! And how does it happen that, all in the course of a few short weeks, he has become the possessor of all the three secrets of these dungeons; the door leading down from the chapel, the secret of the chamber with the well, and the secret of the passage leading under the moat?" He shook his head. "No, no, it seems absolutely impossible."

He went on frowningly. "But it must be William, for everything points to him. Croupin does not lie, and his evidence, if indirect, is nevertheless almost overwhelming. The many disappearances of the man from his bedroom during the night, the similarity of his walk to that of the slayer of the bailiff, the possession of those gold bracelets, his unusual behaviour all along, and finally, that blood upon the handle of the door."

He nodded his head again. "That's all right, but what evidence have I against him that I could produce in a court of law? Practically none. Only the evidence of Croupin that he saw those bracelets in the man's trunk, and that evidence, too, obtained in a most questionable way. Besides, Croupin himself is a fugitive from his own country and I could not expect him to go into the witness-box. Also, that footman has been badly frightened lately, and it is quite on the cards that he has got rid of those brackets, so that no evidence may really be forthcoming against him. Then—finger-prints? No, I don't think so. I looked particularly at his hands this morning and they were smooth and well-kept and wholly unlike those of a man who has been doing this rough work in the vaults, so he undoubtedly wears gloves."

His thoughts ran on. "Then the butcher, what about him? It might possibly be he, after all, who is the assassin, for from his early and long association with Thralldom, he is far more likely than William, to have acquired the secrets of these passages." He shook his head. "I can do nothing there, however, until I learn if he was away from home the night before last."

He sat on for a long while. "And there are other things I do not understand," he murmured, "for I have thoughts, yes, I have thoughts——" But his voice trailed away into silence and he stared and stared into the shadows cast by the lantern.

Presently he looked at the watch Croupin had lent him and at once yawned sleepily, and leant back with what comfort he could, against the hard wall.

"Really, I could drop off to sleep again," he whispered. "I am still dreadfully tired." And drop off he did, for in a couple of minutes at most, he was snoring deeply.

An hour passed—two—and he was still asleep. The lantern burned low, waved and flickered and finally went out.

The detective's sleep was deep and long but at last he awoke with a sharp cry, for a rat was biting at his hand. He sprang up with a savage imprecation and finding he was in total darkness, flashed his torch in bewilderment, not realising for the moment what had happened.

Then he ruefully regarded the lantern and touching it with his hands, found it was quite cold. He shook it. It was empty.

"Now, that's awkward," he whistled, "for when the party who has been using it comes down, the first thing he'll want to do will be to light it. He'll find it empty and know at once that someone else has been here."

Then suddenly he caught his breath and instantly switched off his torch.

He had heard muffled sounds somewhere between the walls.

For a few moments he could not locate them and then he realised that they came from behind that part of the wall against which he had been leaning when he had fallen asleep. They grew louder and were unmistakably now the footsteps of someone who was approaching the wall.

He darted into the nearest dungeon and stood with his head leaning out into the corridor. A long, thin streak of light appeared through the cracks of the wall.

"At last! at last!" he whispered excitedly. "Blind chance is playing into my hands!" and he snatched out his pistol and held it ready.

A short silence followed but the light was still there.

Then suddenly the wall opened and after a moment's hesitation a man stepped cautiously into the corridor and swung a lantern high above his head. In the other hand, he was holding a large revolver. The man was tall and thin and his cap was pulled down over his forehead.

"Naughton Jones!" gasped the detective disgustedly. "He's beaten me again!"

He stepped out into the corridor and Jones perceiving his approach, instantly covered him with the revolver.

"Don't shoot, please, Mr. Jones," he exclaimed quickly. "This is the only suit I have."

The great investigator regarded him intently for a moment and then pocketed the revolver. There was no expression of surprise upon his face.

"Oh! it's you again, is it?" he remarked coldly. "We are always meeting one another, it seems." He nodded significantly. "I was aware no one had heard of you for four days and I quite thought Rawlings had got you. I am agreeably surprised."

"But how did you get here?" asked Larose excitedly.

"Very simple," was the reply. "I found a movable stone in one of the chambers under the Priory. It opened into a passage, and I followed the passage here."

"But how did you pick out the stone?" went on Larose.

"Very simple, again," said Jones. "I followed a trail of blood by the plantation and it led me there. There was a mark of blood also upon the stone. Without doubt Rawlings had been upon the war path again." He looked rather annoyed. "I found the opening just after lunch to-day, but had to return to Minsmere to borrow a lantern, otherwise"—he spoke carelessly—"the whole business would not have taken me half an hour." He looked intently at the detective. "But how do you come to be here?"

"I have been keeping watch in these dungeons," replied Larose, "from the night following the day upon which I last saw you."

"Then Lord Thralldom himself has commissioned you," remarked Jones. "I thought his lordship——"

"Lord Thralldom knows nothing about it," interrupted Larose quickly. He hesitated a moment. "I am here with the connivance of someone in the castle."

"Someone in the castle, and not Lord Thralldom!" exclaimed Jones. He looked incredulous. "Whom?"

Larose hesitated again. "One of the servants," he replied in some annoyance.

"Oh! that's it, is it?" commented Jones frowningly and as if he did not quite approve. "Then you'd better be careful of the company you keep for, unless I am very much mistaken, one of the footmen there—I gather in the village that he goes under the name of William—is an escaped convict, from the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. I am sure I recognise him."

The detective was too dumbfounded to speak. He felt, as Croupin has once expressed it, as if a bomb were bursting in his brain.

"Yes," went on Jones angrily, "and I was grossly insulted this morning. I called to speak to Lord Thralldom and sent in my card, but he refused to see me and I was informed to that effect in an offensive message by the mouth of the same footman." He tossed his head contemptuously. "I was calling, too, to do Lord Thralldom a service for last night I came upon a man killing his sheep and was intending to put his lordship in the way of apprehending the thief."

"Killing his sheep!" ejaculated Larose. "Another madman!"

"No, I don't think so," replied Jones calmly. "Just an ordinary case of larceny. The fellow was killing the animals and taking the carcases away and, from the expeditious manner in which he cut their throats, I should say he was a butcher by trade. He was driving a Ford touring car."

Surprise upon surprise was avalanching itself upon the bewildered detective. "What was he like?" he said hoarsely.

"I really can't say," was the reply, "except that he was tall and gaunt. I never saw his face. I did not interfere, because I was not desirous of any publicity. However, I took the number of his car although that may be of no help for the plates were obviously substitutes. Apparently they had only just been screwed on, for the oil on the nuts was clean."

"Then you went up close to the car?" asked the detective very astonished.

"Oh! yes," replied Jones carelessly, "and I watched all the proceedings from start to finish. It happened in this way," he went on. "It was getting on for eleven and I was lying upon the watch, behind some oak trees there, when he drove up and parked his car. I should say, too, it was not his first visit to the spot, firstly, because of the oil marks upon the ground that I had noticed before he arrived, and secondly, because there was no hesitation in the manner in which he backed his car into the deepest shadows. I was interested, naturally, but I knew it was not Rawlings, for he has never driven a car and moreover hates the things." He regarded Larose intently. "You knew that, of course?"

"Yes," nodded Larose, "he was knocked down by one in the early days of motoring and never forgave it."

"Well," continued Jones, "I soon saw what the fellow was up to. There were some sheep camping near and he was in among them and had grabbed two before any of them had had time to get up. Then he cut their throats, jumped upon them, let them bleed for a little while, and had bundled them in the back of the car and was driving off, all in less than six or seven minutes. A very neat job, I can tell you."

"Well, what about the footman?" asked Larose anxiously.

Jones smiled. "Ah! I was digressing, I see," he said. "Well, about that man, if I am right and I almost am positive about it, he is Carl Heidelburg who escaped from Broadmoor about three years ago. He is a homicidal lunatic, and he killed his employer, Sir Rainton Baynes, the great architect, just because the latter had had occasion mildly to reprimand him. He was condemned to death by Judge Bambury at the Leeds Assizes, but he was held to be insane and confined in Broadmoor. He escaped from there, however, about six months later and the relatives of the architect were so incensed firstly because he had not been hanged, and secondly because he had escaped, that they offered a reward of £2,000 for his capture. The reward, I understand, still holds good, but I shall not be able to move in the matter until I get him identified by a friend of mine, the chief warder of the asylum who at the present moment is in the South of France. I have, however, communicated with the gentleman, and he is now on his way home. I have said nothing to the official police because the reward is worth having and I want to be sure of it for myself." He looked hard at the detective. "But that is digressing again. Now what are you watching here for?"

"For a homicidal lunatic," replied Larose dryly, "who has committed several murders and who, I know for certain, is frequenting these dungeons."

"Oh!" exclaimed Jones frowning, "and do you suspect anybody?"

"Yes, this same William for one person," replied Larose.

"Then whom has he murdered?" asked Jones quickly.

"Lord Thralldom's bailiff among others," was the calm reply.

The frown upon the face of the great investigator darkened. "Mr. Larose," he said coldly, "you are a very obstinate man, and in spite of the overwhelming evidence I have produced that Rawlings is still alive, you yet refuse to credit anything I have said and when Rawlings is before us in the flesh, it will be one of the most humiliating moments of your life."

"Not at all," said Larose quietly. "He is before us now. He is down here."

"What!" almost shouted Jones incredulously. "He is a prisoner here!"

The detective nodded. "Yes," he replied quietly, "but it is not I who am his guardian." He stretched out his hand. "Here, give me that lantern, and you come with me."

Jones handed over the lantern without a word and followed after the detective. His expression was that of a man who was endeavouring to mask a certain feeling of uneasiness under one of contemptuous disdain.

With a face of stone, he saw Larose put down the lantern and kneel in the empty corridor. As cold as ice, he watched him lift up the big flag and it was only when he bent over the gaping opening and a whiff of the tainted air was wafted up to him from below, that he allowed his features to give any indication of the real state of his mind.

"Good God!" he gasped. "Are you sure?"

Larose nodded and leading the way down the steps, guided him across the earth floor chamber up to the side of the well. Then they both knelt down and the detective flashed his torch.

"That, I think, is the bailiff," he whispered. "See, the pyjamas showing, where the jacket has burst."

The great investigator was breathing hard. He frowned and scowled and appeared to be most annoyed that he should have been proved to be in the wrong.

In a few moments, however, his interest in what lay before him overwhelmed all other feelings, and in perfect calmness and as unconcerned as if he were only regarding objects under a glass case, he then proceeded to enunciate his opinions.

"Yes, that is Rawlings," he agreed. "He always wore a double-breasted jacket. And that's the inn-keeper's hand—his wife told me he had lost the tip of one forefinger. But do you know who all the others are? Who's the woman there?"

Then Larose had almost to drag him away. The detective was not inclined for any prolonged conversation over the foul air of the well and it was not until they were once more in the corridor and the flag had been let down, that he answered the question.

"But there was a body there when I looked this morning," he added, "and I do not know whose it can be. It was the last one thrown in and was in a perfect state of preservation. It had a brown suit on; it had dark hair and——"

"An oval face," supplemented Jones sharply, "an aquiline nose, a small mouth, long, shapely hands and a gold signet ring."

"Yes," exclaimed the detective very astonished. "You know who he is?"

"Martin Fenner," replied Jones, "an associate of the gang that I was instrumental in laying by the heels last night, and the individual that I have mentioned to you I have encountered several times upon the marshes." He snapped his fingers together. "I have been wondering all along why he was not in their company." He laid his hand upon the detective's arm. "Now let us sit down somewhere. You must have a lot to tell me."

And certainly Larose had a lot to tell him, but he did not disclose everything. He resolutely declined to name his associate in the castle, and he made no mention of Ann Devenham or young Harden, also he said nothing about the footman having been drugged.

Naughton Jones listened intently with his eyes never for one moment straying from the detective's face. Towards the end of the recital, he was frowning hard.

"Well," he said at last, "I must ask you to oblige me in one way. I have been more open with you than you have been with me and I deserve some consideration." He rapped out quickly as if he were giving an order. "I want no interference with that footman for forty-eight hours. He is my bird and I want to bring him down. I want to claim that reward."

"I'm not certain," began Larose, "whether——"

"Of course, I'm very sorry to steal any of your thunder," interrupted Jones quickly, "but as you admitted that you had no direct evidence against the man, it was practically only my disclosure to you of his being a homicidal lunatic that warrants you making any arrest. You would not have dared to do it if I had not furnished you with that information."

Larose hesitated. "But he is dangerous," he said, "and to wait, may endanger more lives."

"Not at all," said Jones quickly, "for we will block up that opening in the Priory and he won't possibly be able to get out."

"All right," said the detective after a moment, "until the day after to-morrow then, and you are to do nothing without advising me. I will come up with you when he is apprehended." He spoke briskly. "Now let me have some of the oil out of your lantern. I've emptied all mine and it won't do for anyone to see that it has been interfered with."

They had just effected the exchange of the oil when suddenly, they both, as in one movement, jerked up their heads and stared open-mouthed at each other. They had heard a noise behind the wall. "Quick," exclaimed Larose, "someone's coming. Put out the light and into this dungeon, quick."

The lantern was instantly extinguished and they sprang back in the darkness. The noises came nearer and then, as once before, the detective saw a streak of light appear on the wall.

The door opened and, following upon some hoarse whisperings, three men emerged into the corridor. Two of them were in ordinary clothes but the third was in the uniform of an inspector of police and Larose recognised Inspector Ferguson, of Halesworth.

Naughton Jones was quite calm and unflurried. "They're police," he said quietly in the detective's ear. "Really, the locals here are more efficient than I thought," and he proceeded at once to step into the corridor, into the light of the lantern they were holding up.

"That's him," cried one of the plain-clothes men quickly, and he sprang forward and seized Jones by the arm. "Who are you now, and what are you after here?" he asked sharply.

"My name is Naughton Jones," began the great investigator haughtily. "I——"

But the name apparently struck no chord of memory in the man's mind, for he interrupted brusquely. "Well, whoever you are, we're suspicious about you and we've been watching you for two days. We want to know——"

"It's all right, he's a colleague of mine," called out Larose, stepping into the corridor, too. He laughed merrily. "Good afternoon, Inspector. How do you do?"

The Inspector gave a cry of glad surprise. "Good heavens! What a relief!" he exclaimed. "I've been very anxious about you and was sure something bad had happened. I sent two men out and they got upon the track of the gentleman and saw where he went in through the wall of the Priory. One came and fetched me and"—he took off his cap and wiped his forehead—"here I am."

The rather mortified Naughton Jones was introduced and partial explanations followed. Then the Inspector took Larose aside.

"Ridge has been out for two nights, since you've been missing," he whispered, "but he managed to dodge us both times"—his voice was hoarse in its impressiveness—"and this morning one of my men paid a secret visit to his garage and saw blood upon the floor of his tourer. Lots of it."

"Yes, I know," whispered back Larose, "and I'll put you wise about him later on when my friend here isn't present. Turnbull's only been stealing sheep."

They chatted together for a few minutes and then, upon the Inspector suggesting that, as he and his men were there and might never get another chance, they should see something of the dungeons, Naughton Jones, taking charge of the lantern, at once proceeded to act as guide and conductor, and from his condescending manner it might almost have been assumed that he himself was the lord of the castle.

Then they all filed away along the passage under the moat, and during their uncomfortable journey there, for the passage was barely five feet in height, Larose considered with many a pang for what dreadful tragedies it had been so recently responsible.

Arriving at the other end among the ruined walls of the Priory, for a good ten minutes they all worked hard, piling up great slabs of stone where the door opened, thereby rendering it quite impossible for one person, by himself, to clear the entrance. Then, promising the Inspector that he would look him up the following morning, Larose and Naughton Jones parted from him and his men and returned to the inn upon the Haven.

"I am putting up there, myself, now," the great man announced, "for one reason because it is imperative I should be in close proximity to the telephone during the next forty-eight hours, and for another, because the people where I lodge are becoming too inquisitive about me. They don't understand my being out so late at night and I am sure they have been talking to the local policeman about it. At any rate, I have encountered the fellow upon more occasions than I can believe to be mere coincidences, and also he eyes me in a manner that I consider impertinent. Indeed, I am almost inclined to report him to headquarters."

Upon arriving at the inn, Larose asked the landlady to ring up the castle and have a message taken to Ann that a Mrs. Smith was wanting to speak to her. The girl was at the other end very quickly, and then the detective spoke to her himself.

In carefully guarded language, he asked her to inform Monsieur Antoine that he had left the castle, but would the chef please meet him upon the beach the following afternoon. Also, he reminded her of her promise to on no account go down into the dungeons.

Then receiving her emphatic assurance that she would do as he bade her, he rang off, and after a good meal, retired to bed. He resolutely refused to allow his thoughts to wander, and making his mind a blank, soon dropped off to sleep.


THE following day it was almost as if the detective were a gentleman of leisure. He rose late, he took plenty of time over his breakfast and then, for an hour and more, he sat smoking upon the beach. He saw nothing of Naughton Jones and was glad to learn from the landlord that the latter had been out and about before seven, and was not likely to be in for lunch. The landlord also informed him that Jones had been called to the telephone before six.

Towards eleven o'clock the detective took out his car and drove over to Halesworth to keep his appointment with the Inspector there, driving very slowly, however, and stopping many times to admire the views.

He was back again at the inn in time for lunch and then, towards three o'clock, took up his position under the cliffs about half a mile away, at the spot he had appointed for a rendezvous with Raphael Croupin.

The lively Frenchman arrived on time and was prepared for a thousand excited questionings, but Larose cut him short by asking to be first informed as to all that had been happening at the castle since their last meeting.

"Oh! it has been like a hive of bees ever since," exclaimed Croupin with great animation, "and policemen and detectives have been arriving all the time to talk with the lord and examine how those wretches got in. A tremendous fuss is being made, and to-day the Chief Constable himself arrived and stayed to lunch."

"And Lord Thralldom," asked Larose, "is he knocked up?"

"Knocked up!" echoed Croupin sarcastically, "why, it's taken ten years off his age! He is full of energy and like a raging lion. Yesterday, he was on the go all day long, and ordering the policemen about as if they were his private servants. James says, too, that at lunch just now he was insisting to the Chief Constable that the police force at Saxmundham must be doubled and that any attempt upon his pictures should be made a hanging matter. He's going to speak about it in the House of Lords."

He grinned. "Poor old James and the butler are in for a bad time. They are to sleep on mattresses now in the picture gallery, with loaded shot-guns as well as pistols by their sides. James is terrified because he is sure there is something wrong with the shot-gun the lord has given him and that it will go off without anyone touching the trigger. Both the footmen, and the butler, too, are to carry their pistols about with them, night and day now."

"And William?" asked Larose.

Croupin nodded significantly. "He is stunned and cowed and has got all the fight knocked out of him. He avoids the policemen as much as he can and slinks out of our hall whenever any of them come in." He looked up excitedly to Larose. "But tell me all that has happened to you?"

Then with widely dilated pupils and with many "Ohs" and "Ahs" Croupin listened to the detective's tale. Larose kept nothing back but related in detail everything that had happened.

"So, Meester Jones will take all the glory from you," exclaimed the Frenchman disgustedly, when the recital was ended, "and this Carl Heidelburg will be actually in the hands of the police before you can tell what you know"—he looked very sorrowful—"and we have both run such risks."

"Yes," nodded Larose, "we have both run such risks." Croupin went on in great dejection. "This Jones is spoiling everything, for when they have arrested William, I do not see even then, how you can bring your charge against him. You are not ready, for you cannot prove yet that it is William." He threw out his hands. "We know it, but there is no actual proof. What can you do?"

Larose shook his head. "I am very troubled, Monsieur," he said, "very troubled indeed."

They talked on for an hour and more and then Croupin rose up to return to the castle.

"And it may be good-bye," he said sadly, "for any moment I may be going now. When they learn who William is, the police may start making enquiries about all of us servants and then"—he laughed impudently—"they will find out that my testimonials were forged."

"Tut! tut!" frowned the detective, "and it was only yesterday that Mr. Jones was warning me to beware of what company I kept." He smiled. "Still I am most grateful to you, Monsieur Croupin, and I wish I could repay you in some way."

"Tut! tut!" mimicked Croupin, "it has been a great adventure to me and you have repaid me many times." He bowed. "You have repaid me by your trust in me, in me Raphael Croupin, the wicked thief." He laughed merrily. "How strange life is! Six weeks ago I came here to steal the Rubens from the lord and to-day, he has given me £50 because I rang the big bell to prevent others taking it."

"But seriously," said Larose, "I am anxious about you. Naughton Jones may be spiteful because he knows you always make fun of him, and it is quite likely he will have told the police that he met you here the other day."

Croupin shrugged his shoulders. "Well, I'll risk it, anyhow, a little longer, for I must see what happens to-morrow." He laughed slyly. "You are very thoughtful to-day, Meester Larose, and you are a great man and I should never be surprised if at the last moment you did not manage somehow to trump this Jones's ace!" and waving his hand in good-bye, he strolled away humming a lively time.

Larose sat on for a long while after Croupin had left him and never once did it seem that he took his eyes off the sea. Indeed, from his concentration it might almost have been thought that he was expecting to see something rise up out of the waves. At last, however, he looked at his watch and with a troubled sigh rose up and walked back to the inn. He chatted to the landlord for a few minutes and then went into the dining-room for the evening meal.

He sat down to the table by himself, but almost immediately Naughton Jones arrived and took the chair opposite to him. The great man was looking very pleased with himself.

"I have had a busy and interesting day," he said, "and have put in quite a lot of good work. I had another look at that footman, too, and am satisfied he is the man I want."

"What!" exclaimed Larose, aroused to interest at once. "You've been up to the castle!"

"Certainly!" smiled Jones. "Why not? I induced the village grocer to take me up with him in his van, when he was delivering stores there this morning. I made out I had an overwhelming desire for a close up view of the castle and I sat inside at the back, well away among the tea and sugar and the pots of jam. I had a pair of field glasses with me and was very entertained. I saw Lord Thralldom himself. He was busy outside the castle door superintending the unpacking of a big dynamo that I understand is going to be installed for the electrocution of anyone who in future attempts to raid his paintings. He was strutting about like an old turkey-cock and giving orders all round. He looked very active and full of life."

"He's a remarkable old man," commented Larose thoughtfully.

"He certainly is," went on Jones, "but of course it was William who interested me most, and I had him under my glasses for quite a long time, not five yards away. Every line of his face showed up and he looked careworn and tired, I thought. But he was different to-day to the last time I saw him, for then he had all the appearance of a man who had been taking drugs."

"Did he see you?" asked Larose, avoiding the searching eyes of the investigator.

"Oh! dear me no," laughed Jones. "I was crouching among the treacle tins, and indeed was being so careful to make certain that I should not be seen that I trod upon a few of them." He passed his hand down one leg of his trousers and looked annoyed. "I believe I have some of the syrup adhering to me now."

The detective made no comment. He was in no mood for conversation, and was wishing Jones would let him eat his meal in peace, but Jones was not to be denied and ambled on.

"Hark! hear those church bells!" he exclaimed. "There must be a service on to-night. Very pretty, but very sad," he went on musingly. "Yes, there is always a sadness in church bells, for they remind us how uncertain is our life here. They chill, somehow, those feelings of hope and yearning that we all have for length of days and they strike some chord of sentiment in us that is most unreasonable and peculiar. Why, I have known men who could cut your throat for half a note, stand listening to them with their eyes filled with tears."

The night was cold and with the remains of the meal cleared away, the two remained on sitting before the fire. Naughton Jones was lively and talkative, but the detective was very quiet and spoke as little as he could. He wanted to think.

Presently Jones stopped to light his pipe, and the detective making no attempt to carry on the conversation, contented himself with staring into the fire.

Then Jones rubbed his hands together and smiled happily. "Well, to-morrow," he said, "should be a great day in both our lives, for I am going to earn £2,000 and you, if you take your courage in your hands"—he spoke in an easy and conversational tone—"are going to arrest Lord Thralldom."

A long silence followed and even, it seemed the fire ceased to crackle and the embers ceased to burn. For a few moments it might almost have been as if Larose had not heard, for he made no movement and did not withdraw his eyes from the fire. Then he turned his head slowly and regarded Jones with an intent stare.

"Yes," went on the latter and now himself looking in the fire, "you have played a lone hand and deserve all the credit that will accrue." He shook his head. "But your difficulties are not all over yet, for I doubt if you will find it easy to induce anybody to sign the warrant for his lordship's arrest."

Still Larose did not speak. His face was like a mask and he continued to stare stonily at his companion. The great investigator looked back at him again, and now smiled an amused smile.

"Yes, you are naturally surprised," he said, "but since our little talk in the vaults yesterday, I have thought over everything and can come to no other conclusion but that you are sure now it is Lord Thralldom himself who is this unknown assassin."

He bent forward and went on very quietly. "You see, Mr. Larose, with no intention at all to flatter you, our two brains were cast in very similar moulds and in consequence I am able to follow the workings of your mind almost as easily as I can follow the workings of my own."

He raised one long forefinger to emphasise what he was going to say. "Now, your description of what took place that night when you were imprisoned in the dungeons was so graphic that when I came to go over it afterwards, it was almost as if I had been there myself, and I was soon analysing everything in exactly the same manner that I was sure you had done. Then your doubts as to the footman being the actual assassin became my doubts, and I was soon hot upon the other trail. Of course," he added quickly, "it may be that you unconsciously stressed upon the points that were troubling you, but I was soon, very soon, like you, of the opinion that there had been two visitors to the dungeons that night; first Lord Thralldom and then this Carl Heidelburg." He shrugged his shoulders. "Like you, I fought against the idea, but in the end, as with you again, it triumphed over me."

Larose spoke at last. "You are a great Master, Mr. Jones," he said quietly, "and what I obtain with infinite labour, comes to you by intuition alone."

Jones patted him smilingly upon the arm. "A very pretty compliment, sir," he said warmly, "very pretty indeed." He laughed. "But here, at all events, you yourself have helped me most materially to form my ideas. You told me, and although you may not have realised it, you repeated it twice, so that I could see what was in your mind, that when you were shut in the dungeon that night, the light that first showed under the door was slow and wavering, but the second time, it came and went in quick jerks. That suggested to me two different persons at the different times. One, tired and exhausted by the labour of carrying a corpse for a long way, and the other vigorous and fresh for his warfare upon the rats. I was the more imbued with this idea because one man had been silent and the other had accompanied his activities with laughter and shouts." He looked enquiringly at Larose. "Now, those were your thoughts, too, were they not?"

The detective nodded. "And they passed along the corridor quite differently," he said. "One shuffled and the other ran."

"Then the idea is preposterous," went on Jones frowning, "that any comparative newcomer to the castle, such as this Heidelburg is, could possibly have discovered those steps leading down under the corridor to that well. No one would have lighted upon them by chance in a thousand years, and the man who has been using them must either have been actually shown where the particular flag is and how it lifts up, or else—he must have seen the flag upraised, as you did."

He paused a moment and then nodded emphatically. "So when I had dismissed the idea that this footman was the assassin, my mind at once then turned to the owner of the castle for he, of all people, I told myself, would most likely be in possession of its secrets." He raised his voice stridently. "Lord Thralldom answers so well, too, to the temperament and disposition of the very man we want. Not only is he eccentric, to the point of insanity, but we have with him the clear outstanding motive for these murders. He is obsessed with the idea that all trespassers upon the Thralldom lands are after his paintings and it is the common talk of the villages, that at night he abrogates to himself the duty of protecting the castle." He looked as shocked as if some dreadful sacrilege had been committed. "Why! I myself was fired upon one night, as I have told you, and I am convinced now that the bullet came from the direction of the castle." He nodded emphatically. "Yes, there can be no doubt at all. Lord Thralldom is the man you want."

Larose sat up stiffly in his chair. "I agree to a very great extent with what you say, Mr. Jones," he said slowly, "but still, with all my suspicions about Lord Thralldom it is not yet clear to me that I can definitely discard the idea that this footman is the murderer."

"Oh! oh!" scoffed Jones, "then you think he first found the secret door in the chapel, then that leading down under the moat and then, by some miraculous chance he came to know what was under the flag-stone in the corridor and how it was lifted up!" He laughed mockingly. "Then, stimulated by these discoveries and finding all these conveniences ready to his hand, the idea came to him suddenly that he would embark upon a course of murder. Do you really think that?"

Larose laughed back. "Hardly," he replied, "but what is troubling me is this. We know now without any doubt that this footman is insane and already a murderer, and unhappily for my peace of mind, under certain not wholly improbable circumstances, everything can still suggest to us that he and not Lord Thralldom may be the assassin we are looking for."

"No," said Jones sharply, "we can rub Heidelburg out once and for all, firstly because there is no motive in his case for committing the murders, and secondly because he could never have found those passages and that well."

"But we need not necessarily expect to find a motive," argued Larose, "for a man of insane mind surely does not have a motive for all he does." He smiled. "Now what motive can you suggest that the footman had to compel him to go battering at those rats with the spade?"

Jones made no answer, and the detective went on, "Then is it not possible that the footman learnt all about those passages from some book or plan of the castle that is in the possession of Lord Thralldom? Remember, you have told me that the man is an architect by profession, and I learnt from Lord Thralldom he had been for six months in the service of Professor Dangerton, the well-known archaeologist. So all his training would assist him in making good in any searching he was undertaking."

"But if any such book or plan existed," scowled Jones, "his lordship would see to it that no one could get hold of it."

"Still, the footman has had every opportunity," said Larose, "and constantly in attendance upon Lord Thralldom when the latter has been asleep or ill, he may easily have taken his keys and opened drawers and desks everywhere." He spoke most impressively. "The man must have got a hint from somewhere, to have been able to find that opening in the chapel wall and remember, he is most cunning and capable or he would never have escaped from Broadmoor in the way that you told me he did. I don't forget you dwelt upon how his architectural knowledge had helped him there?"

Jones looked very disgusted. "Then you have gone back on the first opinion you held," he said, "that two men came down into the dungeons that night. You think now that there was only one?"

Larose hesitated. "I don't know what to think," he replied. "I was dazed and drunkenly sleepy then, and I've no idea how long a time elapsed between the passing of the two lights before my door. The tired man may have rested and become refreshed enough to go again after those rats." He spoke most respectfully. "You see, Mr. Jones, I am putting everything before you to get your advice. The matter is vital to me, for if I dare to act upon my own, as I want to, and intimidate the people here into issuing a warrant for the arrest of Lord Thralldom, and then it turns out I have made a mistake"—he shook his head gloomily—"then I am disgraced and ruined for ever."

"I think you have a clear case," said Jones firmly, "and I shall be disappointed in you if you do not strike and strike quickly."

The detective sighed. "Certainly, so many things came into my mind," he said, "directly my suspicions were turned upon Lord Thralldom. For one thing, I went over all you had told me about those different people who were positive they had seen the bailiff upon the Thralldom lands at night, many days after I was certain he had been dead, and I know they must have seen someone who was not unlike the dead man in appearance. Then I thought of Lord Thralldom at once, for although much taller than Rawlings, he stoops a lot and that would take off the height. Also I argued, who would habitually take walks about Thralldom except one connected in some way with the estate, and again, whoever the nightly prowler was, he evidently did not want his identity disclosed or he would have replied to the hails of those who accosted him."

"Exactly," commented Jones, "and that was one reason why I was so certain it was Rawlings. The prowler did not want to be recognised."

"Then, there was another thing," went on Larose. "I had always wondered why Lord Thralldom with all his desire to prevent the approach of strangers to the castle, had never kept any dogs. That would surely, I thought, have been the first thing to suggest itself to anyone, for savage dogs would not only have given an unhealthy reputation to the Thralldom lands, but would also have been invaluable in giving warning at night. But no, there were no dogs attached to the castle and not only that, but other folks on outlying farms could not keep them because of the poison baits that had been strewn about." He nodded solemnly. "It was just as if someone were not wanting his excursions anywhere upon the Thralldom lands to be heralded by the barking of dogs."

"The poisoning began about two months ago," supplemented Jones, "towards the end of July. Joe Gregorsen, a Westleton farmer, lost a fox terrier on the night of Tuesday, August the first."

"And Rita Ethelton and Augustus Holden were killed on the 13th," said Larose. "You must understand, Mr. Jones," he went on quickly, "one great doubt I still have, is whether an infirm old man such as Lord Thralldom appears to be, can possibly possess the necessary physical strength to carry out these murders. I can never put away the certainty that the man who attacked me that night was no weakling. On the contrary, he had great strength."

"Pooh!" exclaimed Jones, "that's nothing, for in moments of great excitement all his virility might have come back. The affection he now suffers from is, I gather, purely of nervous origin, and there are cases recorded in medical annals, where persons so afflicted have accomplished feats of superhuman strength, almost upon their very death-beds."

"Well," said Larose, "I have certainly noticed in my interviews with him, that the moment his anger is roused, he becomes a different man. He sits up erectly or he strides about the room and there is no sign of weakness about him then, except that he breathes very heavily." He nodded. "And the man who attacked me was breathing exactly as I have heard Lord Thralldom breathe, and exactly as the man was breathing that night as he passed the dungeon door, labouring under the burden of the dead man."

A short silence followed, and then Jones said briskly. "Well, I repeat, in my opinion, you have a clear case and I think you are fully justified in effecting his arrest."

"But it is not clear," persisted Larose, "for I have no direct evidence to present to a court of law."

Naughton Jones looked very angry. "You have found the bodies of five murdered people," he said sternly, "in a place that Lord Thralldom has told you is only accessible to him. Therefore, an explanation is demanded from him as to how they got there. Good gracious!" he went on, "suppose you found a dead body in the cellar of a man's house, when that man was known to have a grudge against the person dead, would you not take him in charge at once, if only on suspicion? Well, treat Lord Thralldom as you would an ordinary person and don't let the heads take all the credit from you." He shrugged his shoulders contemptuously. "That's all the advice I shall give you."

The detective rose up from his chair. "Well, I'm off to bed, now," he said, "and I shall think it over. At any rate I shall go up and see Lord Thralldom to-morrow morning, and be guided by what I learn then. Good night."


THE following morning, as if exhausted with all the excitements of the past forty eight hours, Lord Thralldom breakfasted in bed. During the course of the meal, he received a message through the extension telephone by his bedside that Larose would be much obliged if he would kindly grant him an interview that morning, and frowning in some annoyance, he had replied that the detective could come up at half-past ten.

He finished his breakfast and then leisurely bathing and dressing, took himself into a small room adjoining his bedroom, a sort of study and business room, and proceeded to go through the morning newspapers.

But he was very thoughtful about something, and evidently not much interested in the news, for he frowned many times, looked out of the window very often, and muttered a lot to himself. Finally, he snapped his fingers together as if he had at last come to some decision and pressed the bell upon the desk. James at once appeared.

"Tell Miss Devenham that I wish to speak to her," he said, and when the footman was leaving the room, he added—"I expect that man again from Scotland Yard, at half-past ten. Show him up here at once when he arrives and then, when he has been here five minutes, one of you come in and say I am wanted by the electricians. You understand, I do not wish him to take up my time."

"Very good, my lord," said the footman and he left the room.

Ann appeared very shortly. She looked bright and smiling and very happy. She had had a letter from John Harden that morning, saying that he had commenced his annual three weeks' holiday and would be ringing her up on the morrow to know where they could meet. She had read the letter many times and it was now tucked in the bosom of her dress.

Lord Thralldom regarded her with feelings of no particular interest. She was no canvas with oil paint smeared across it, only just a creature of flesh and blood, and a woman at that.

"Ann," he said quietly, and regarding her in a way which she thought very strange, "since we had that little conversation in your room, you have not spoken to anyone about that incident in the chapel?"

"No, uncle," she replied, rather uneasy at the intentness of his gaze. "Why should I have spoken about it? It would not interest anyone."

"No, of course not," he replied, still staring very hard, "of course not, why should it?" He spoke carelessly. "Well, I promised you the other day that I would take you down into the dungeons sometime, and as I shall be going there myself after luncheon"—he turned away his eyes at last and looked out of the window—"you shall come with me then." His eyes were back upon her in a sudden flash. "But not a word to anybody," he added sternly, "not a word to anybody, remember. It is just a secret between ourselves."

The girl's heart beat unpleasantly. There was more of a command than a request in his tones and, although she did not want to offend him, she was remembering her solemn promise to Larose. She stood, hesitating, not knowing how to frame her reply.

But Lord Thralldom appeared to take it for granted that an answer was not required, and producing a bundle of keys from his pocket, he turned round to his desk and opening a drawer, took out a bundle of bank notes. He counted off ten of them and held them out to her.

"Here's a little present of £100," he said. "Your mother informs me that you want some more clothes and so you and she can make a trip into Norwich to-morrow and do some shopping. No, you needn't thank me," he went on as she took the notes. He smiled peculiarly. "Now, run away and come to me in the library at half past three." He raised his finger warningly. "But remember, not a word to anyone where we are going."

The girl laughed embarrassedly. "Thank you very much for the present, Uncle," she said. "I'm sure it's awfully kind of you." She stood hesitating. "But about going down into the dungeons, I'd rather not, if you don't mind. We've had so many horrors lately and really——"

"Not want to go down!" exclaimed Lord Thralldom sharply. "Why not?"

"Because I don't want to," she replied. "I haven't the slightest wish."

"But I want you to come with me," he insisted. He smiled peculiarly again. "I want you for company, my dear."

"But I can't come, Uncle," she pleaded. "I really can't."

There was a gentle knock upon the door and it was opened by William. Larose was standing behind him.

Lord Thralldom had not heard the knock, and with his back towards the door, he was not aware that it was open.

"But you must come with me," he went on angrily. "I insist upon it and——"

"Mr. Larose, my lord," announced the footman and Lord Thralldom, turning quickly, composed his features instantly to a careless and indifferent expression.

"All right," he said quietly. "Ann, you needn't wait. Good morning, Mr. Larose."

The detective flashed a quick look at the girl as she was leaving the room, and she returned it with a smile and a little bow. The door closed behind her and Larose was alone with Lord Thralldom.

"But I thought you had left the neighbourhood long ago," said his lordship with a frown. "I was very surprised to learn you were on the telephone." He motioned to a chair against a small cupboard built in flush against the wall. "Sit down."

"My enquiries are not yet finished, my lord," replied the detective, "and I have still——"

"Not finished!" interrupted his lordship angrily, "and whilst you have been wasting the authorities' time, that dastardly attempt was made upon my possessions here. It is a scandal that a closer watch should not be kept upon the criminal classes and that we taxpayers should have to pay out for services that are not rendered. I understand now that that man Kelly was a known bad character, with his history among the records of the police." He looked curiously at Larose. "Well, what do you want now?"

"To go through the underground parts of this castle," replied Larose promptly. "I am not satisfied that there is no passage there leading out on to the lands outside."

"Oh!" sneered Lord Thralldom, "you are not, are you?" He spoke with intense sarcasm. "And you think you can find one, if there is?"

"Well," replied Larose hesitantly, "I should like a half hour's inspection, anyhow."

"A half hour's inspection!" gasped Lord Thralldom incredulously. "You think you can search my dungeons, my vaults and my underground passages—in half an hour? Good Heavens!" He laughed scoffingly. "Well, you shall have your chance."

He pinged hard upon the bell in high good humour and William appeared.

"The petrol lantern from the garage," ordered his lordship sharply, "and be quick about it, please," and when the footman had left upon his errand, he looked at his wrist watch and added to Larose—"Yes, I can give you just half an hour, and then I have an appointment with my bailiff, and then I am supervising some new electric installations." He rubbed his hands together. "Upon the next occasion when any enterprising gentleman attempts to enter the gallery without invitation, there will be no need for any charge to be made against him, for he will be electrocuted at once."

Larose made no comment, for he was thinking hard. He had suddenly become very puzzled, for the memory of those awful days and nights that he had spent in the dungeons had all at once recurred to him. He did not know what had stirred the memory but its chords were now vibrating violently and he was asking himself—"why?"

"Oh! by-the-bye," went on Lord Thralldom pleasantly, "my friend, Colonel Wedgwood, the Chief Constable of Suffolk, was lunching here yesterday, and your name cropping up, he spoke very highly of you. But I did not know you were an Australian." He nodded. "I was in South Australia myself once, upon a sheep station near Lake Frome and I remember I had a very sporting time. I am pretty good with the rifle, as with all fire-arms, and my chief occupation was keeping down the wild dogs. I became quite an expert too, in trapping them and laying the poison baits."

The eyes of the detective gleamed, but before he had time to make any comment, William arrived with the petrol lantern.

"We are making a visit to below the castle," explained Lord Thralldom sharply to the footman, "and you will come and carry the lantern."

Larose was watching the footman closely, but if the latter were dismayed by the announcement, his face, nevertheless, did not show it. Perhaps his eyes moved more restlessly, but that was all.

Lord Thralldom led the way down a long corridor parallel with the chapel walls, until they came to a large, closely-fitting door at the end. He unlocked it and they passed inside.

"Mind the steps," he said. "They are rather steep," and the detective noted he was walking strongly and did not need any assistance. At the bottom of the steps there was another door and as Lord Thralldom opened it, Larose started, for he knew then why he had been so suddenly reminded of his recent sufferings, when he had been sitting talking to Lord Thralldom upstairs.

He had received just a faint whiff then of the same dank, suffocating smell that he had endured for so long in the dungeons, and he realised in a flash, that it must have come from the cupboard behind where he had been sitting.

But he had no time to pursue this train of thought, for, with the second door opened and closed behind them, he was once again in the long, low corridor that he had come to know so well, and Lord Thralldom was addressing him.

"Well, here you are, sir," he said sarcastically, "and where will you go first? Hold the light up, William, and never mind the rats. They won't spring at you, unless they're cornered. Come on, we'll go straight forward." He turned again to the detective and spoke most politely. "I am afraid I cannot help you much in your search, for my eyesight is very poor in semi-darkness, so much so, that I am quite unable to distinguish between one person and another when I encounter them."

They walked slowly down along the corridor with Lord Thralldom stopping many times to point out to the detective the innumerable chambers with their dark gaping entrances, and the passages that branched off on either side.

"A good half-hour's work, Mr. Larose," he remarked pleasantly, "and we've a lot more to see yet. What!" he exclaimed sharply and turning now to the footman who had just kicked viciously at a big rat, "you're afraid of them are you, William?"

Then perhaps for the first time his master saw William smile, as without a word in reply, the footman plunged his arm deep down into a space between the stones of the wall and with his naked hand tore out a squealing, struggling rat. He held it up for inspection for a few moments, and then transferring his grip to the tail, he whirled the animal round and round and then finally dashed it to a pulp against the wall.

"Good!" said his lordship grimly, "then I see you are not afraid." He nodded his head. "I've fought in three wars, but I would not have cared to do that."

They came in a few minutes to the flags under which lay the steps leading to the chamber with the hidden well, and Larose stopped abruptly.

"Hullo! what's here?" he exclaimed, sniffing hard. "I smell a nasty smell."

Lord Thralldom and the footman stopped too. "I smell nothing," said his lordship sharply. "Do you, William?"

"No, my lord," the footman replied, and his master at once signed to him to move on.

They went about another twenty yards and then Larose stopped again. "It's here too," he exclaimed. "A smell of putrefying flesh."

This time Lord Thralldom seemed more disposed to stop, and for a few moments sniffed as hard as the detective was doing. Then he moved on again. "Come on," he said testily. "You can't expect the perfume of a lady's boudoir in these dungeons, and we are not here to differentiate between the various smells."

They descended the steps leading down into the vaults and Lord Thralldom remarked casually, "This is where my ancestors are buried, going back for more than 800 years."

"And what's that for?" asked the detective pointing to the long stone slab upon which, three nights previously, he had seen the dead body.

"For the bearers to rest the coffins upon," replied Lord Thralldom, "while they prepared the ropes for lowering them into the graves." He spoke proudly. "Many who have contributed to the glory of our great country have passed their last moments above the earth there."

"Very interesting," commented Larose. He approached the slab and then, with a quick movement, bent down and there was a note of startled surprise in his voice when after a few moments he spoke again.

"But what's this?" he asked, pointing to the dark patch. "It looks like blood."

Lord Thralldom turned his head sharply and opened his eyes very wide. Then instantly his look of astonishment changed to a scowl and he strode over to where the detective was standing.

"Hold up the light, William," he said, and then after a moment's inspection, he exclaimed, "Nonsense! it's only some mark in the stone."

"No, it's blood," said the detective firmly. "I'm sure of it."

"And how could blood get down here?" sneered Lord Thralldom. "Really, sir, you have a mind for horrors. First, you smell putrefying flesh and then you say this mark is blood. Both impossibilities," and he turned away, as if the matter were worthy of no more consideration.

The detective followed after him into the vaults. "And all your ancestors, my lord, are buried under these stones?" he asked.

"Up to the last two generations," replied Lord Thralldom. "The last interment here, was ninety-three years ago."

Larose appeared to be most interested and stared down at the big flags. "Thomas, tenth lord of Thralldom," he read out, "in ye yeare of oure lorde——" He broke off suddenly. "But this has been lifted recently!"

Lord Thralldom glanced down without much interest. "Another of your extraordinary ideas," he began, "really——" But he stopped speaking and stood frowningly regarding the flag.

Then suddenly the petrol lantern that the footman was carrying began to give trouble. Its fight flickered and wavered and began to die away, finally it almost went out.

But Larose sprang to the footman's side and snatched the lantern from him.

"You duffer!" he laughed. "You were turning it off and not on," and in an aside to himself he added, "I've no hankering to be here with two madmen in the dark."

Lord Thralldom was still looking at the big flag stone. "Now that's strange," he said, "for bar myself, no one has been down here for a score and more of years."

But Larose had almost fallen up against him. "Oh! I feel faint," he exclaimed. "Let's get out of this. I've had quite enough," and still holding to the lantern, he tottered to the entrance to the vaults.

The others followed him and proceeding with all haste, for the detective kept on averting that he was suffocating, they reached the first door leading up into the castle.

Then a most disconcerting surprise awaited them, for Lord Thralldom could not find his bunch of keys. He went through every pocket and flashed the light everywhere upon the ground, but there was no sign of them anywhere. They were lost.

"Oh! I remember hearing something drop," said the detective faintly, "when we were in one of those dungeons at the far end, but I have no recollection which."

"Well, we'll have to go back and search," said Lord Thralldom, looking very annoyed. "We know where we've been and they must he about somewhere."

"But I can't come with you," wailed Larose, "I don't feel equal to it. I'll stay here and wait."

"Keep where you are, then," said Lord Thralldom sharply, "or you may easily get lost."

They left the detective almost upon the verge of collapse, but the instant they had moved away and he was beyond the rays of the lantern, a most extraordinary change at once took place in his condition, for he sprang briskly to his feet and producing the missing keys from his pocket, began feverishly to insert them, one after another, in the lock.

"But I'm a most competent pickpocket," he chuckled gleefully, "and if the worse comes to the worse, I can look up some reputable practitioner and go into partnership with him. But Oh! these keys!" he went on ruefully, "There must be quite twenty of them."

And it was not until he had tried fully half of the bunch that he found the one he wanted and then to his great relief, he discovered that it opened the second door as well.

"Now for it," he panted breathlessly as he raced along the passage, "and I'll see what's in that cupboard. I can't have been mistaken in that smell."

Coming out of the passage he at once slowed down to an ordinary walk and it was well he did, for just as he had turned the corner he met James. The latter smiled and stood aside for him to pass, for he was by now so accustomed to the coming and going of detectives that he experienced no surprise at seeing Larose there, alone.

The detective was soon in the little room and standing before the cupboard door. He sniffed hard as he began trying out the keys. "Yes, there's no mistake about it," he whispered. "This is the dungeon smell."

The fourth key that he inserted was the one that fitted the lock and in a second the door was swung open. For the moment then, his heart almost stopped beating in disappointment, for the cupboard seemed only to contain innumerable ledgers and account books. Then just as he was beginning to feel almost sick with disgust, his eyes fell upon a long, plain wooden box below the bottom shelf, and in a trice he had lifted it out upon the floor.

It was locked, and from the appearance of the lock, it did not seem as if the key that belonged to it were upon the bunch that he had taken from the pocket of Lord Thralldom.

But he was in no mood for any more delay and so picking up the poker that was lying in the grate, with a few vigorous blows, he burst in the lock.

Then, it took only ten seconds to satisfy him that he had found all he wanted.

A pair of big rubber boots, well muddied over with black mud; a long overall of black cloth, with ugly stains upon it; two pairs of gloves, the fingers of one of which were caked stiff with what looked like dried blood, and lastly, a short battle-axe whose unwiped blade had evidently seen dreadful service at a very recent date!

And over everything hung the foul, dank, reek of the dungeons. The detective's face was ghastly white, but he did not tremble and his hands did not shake as he quickly replaced the box with its contents and locked the cupboard door.

"My God!" he whispered, "but it's too horrible to believe and he a peer of the realm, too!"

Then, looking round quickly, he tore a piece of blotting paper from the pad upon the desk and lighting it at the fire, blew out the flame and waved the smouldering paper round.

"That should make it all right," he whispered again, "and he'll not notice that the cupboard has been opened." His voice hardened. "Now for those two wretches below, and I'm half inclined to leave them where they are. They both know the way out and yet neither of them will dare to use that chapel door." He thought for a moment. "I'd like to, but no, this dreadful drama must not be played out there."

So, in two minutes he was back again in the dungeon corridor and saw the faint light of the lantern wavering to and fro in the distance. He waited a minute or so to recover his breath and then called out shrilly. "I've got them. They are here. I just felt them under my feet."

The light stopped wavering. He heard Lord Thralldom's deep voice and then the latter, followed by the footman, came up to where he was lying. The lord of the castle looked very tired.

"So, you found them here," he growled as Larose handed him the keys. "Then you couldn't have heard them drop at all." He eyed the detective angrily. "Well, I hope this is the last of you. You've been a great annoyance to me and I'm weary of it."

Not another word was spoken as they ascended the stairs and then when finally they had reached the hall, Lord Thralldom bade the detective a curt good morning and and turned off in the direction of his room.

Larose slipped a half note into the footman's hand. "Whew!" he exclaimed, "but that was an unpleasant experience and I shouldn't care to go through it again." He looked round enquiringly. "But see, I've got a message for Miss Devenham. Do you know where she is?"

The footman was nervously crushing the note in his hand, for, with all his impassive appearance, he was inwardly in a state of great mental stress and was exhausted with the varying emotions that, like storm upon storm, had just been sweeping through his brain.

At one moment the foul air of the dungeons had been as a deep draught of wine to him, and he had had difficulty in remembering that he was not there alone. Then, he had shaken in terror when Lord Thralldom had been so curiously regarding the lifted flags, but anger swiftly supervening, murderous intentions had flared up and he had started to extinguish the lantern. But the grip of the detective had recalled him to a less courageous state of mind, and from then he had been expecting every moment that something terrible was going to happen to him.

Now, however, the present of the ten shillings from Larose reassured him in some degree, and he was able to answer calmly enough.

"I'll fetch her, sir, if you'll wait a few moments."

A minute or so passed and then Ann came quickly into the hall, with a very anxious expression upon her face. She could not understand how the detective had dared to send for her so openly.

Larose wasted no time. "You must leave here almost at once," he said sharply, "for within a few hours this will be no place for you. This afternoon your uncle will learn everything."

"Why, what's happened?" asked the girl with a very white face.

"Nothing as yet," was the stern reply, "but a lot's going to happen before this evening. Now look here. At half past two Mr. Harden will be waiting for you on the marsh road. Slip out and meet him. Take no luggage with you, only a parcel that you can carry in your hand. Pack a suit-case if you like and hide it under the bed in your room. I will pick it up later in the day and take it to Mr. Harden's lodgings, where it can be forwarded to any address you leave."

"But—but what am I going away for?" stammered the girl.

"To be married," and the detective's grim face relaxed to a kindly smile. "Miss Devenham," he went on earnestly, "I swear to you solemnly that in all my life I have never tried to render greater service to any human being, than I am trying to render to you now. If you have any affection for Mr. Harden, if you have any love for the man who wants to marry you"—he was almost threatening her now—"do as I implore you and leave this accursed place for ever. Good-bye. I can't wait a minute. Remember at half past two standing on the marsh road," and he walked quickly over to the grille where William was waiting to let him out.

Lord Thralldom had spoken truly when he had told the detective that he had an appointment with his bailiff in half an hour, and five minutes after he returned from the visit to the dungeons, he was interviewing the man in the same room where he had spoken to Larose.

Their discussion had proceeded for some little time, when Lord Thralldom had occasion to consult one of the big ledgers in the cupboard Larose had opened. He had taken down the book he wanted when his eyes happened to fall upon the box under the bottom shelf. Perceiving instantly its battered condition, he stared incredulously for a few moments. Then he lifted the broken lid and looked inside. But his glance was a very brief one and closing the box, he replaced the book and locked the cupboard.

Then with the excuse that he was tired, he at once dismissed the bailiff and alone again in the room, stood for quite a long while looking out of the window.

There was no appearance of panic about him, on the contrary he was quite calm and collected.

He pressed upon the bell and William glided noiselessly into the room. He looked frowningly at him.

"How long was it," he asked, "that we were looking for those keys?"

"About ten minutes, I should say, my lord," was the reply.

"And did that detective say anything to you," was the next question, "after I had left the hall?"

"Nothing particular, my lord. He just waited until he had spoken to Miss Devenham and then I showed him straight out."

Lord Thralldom lifted his eyebrows. "Oh! he spoke to Miss Devenham did he? How was that?"

"He said he had a message for her," replied the footman, "and asked me to fetch her."

A short silence followed and then Lord Thralldom said, "Send James to me," and when the second footman appeared he asked sharply,

"Did you throw any paper on the fire here, when I was below the castle with William and that man from Scotland Yard?"

"No, my lord," replied James, "but I put some coal on just before that Mr. Larose came up. He passed me in the passage."

"He came up here?"

"I think so, my lord. At any rate, he came up those stairs."

"Oh!" exclaimed his lordship. He turned away to the window. "Thank you. Now, tell Miss Devenham that I want to speak to her."

"So, so," he murmured when the footman had gone, "then it is me he has been interested in all along, and by some miraculous means he has discovered things it is unfortunate for me that he should know. He did not then ask those questions for nothing just now, and if I do not take steps to close his mouth, the worst may happen." He paced up and down the room. "It is a sacred duty that at all costs I should protect my Rubens, and although I may regret that upon some occasions I have had to take extreme measures, still it was right that I acted as I did. With every hour, innumerable new lives are being given to the world, but a 'Man of Sorrows' such as mine, is painted once only, in the lifetime of all mankind."

Ann came into the room and, although her face was quite composed, she was feeling very frightened.

"You wanted me, Uncle?" she asked.

"Yes," he replied. "I wish to speak to you." He paused a moment and then asked very sternly, "What did that detective want with you just now?"

The girl laughed nervously. "He had a message for me from Mr. Harden," she replied. "They are friends and Mr. Harden wants to know if I am going to Lady Pouncett's dance next week. He will be there."

"Oh!" exclaimed Lord Thralldom eyeing her intently. "And that was all?"

"Yes," she nodded, "that was all." A little warmth came into her face. "I don't think you and mother," she went on, "are at all nice about Mr. Harden, Uncle. I like him and I don't see why I shouldn't meet him again."

Lord Thralldom was frowning hard, but then all suddenly his face broke into a pleasant smile. "Well, well," he said as if rather amused, "perhaps we have been a little too hard on him." He nodded. "You can go to that dance next week. Tell your mother I said so. Run away now, I'm busy, but don't forget this afternoon," and he began turning over the papers on his desk.

"She was probably lying," he said when she had left the room, "but still it won't matter after this afternoon." He shook his head and his eyes gleamed fiercely. "No, nothing will ever matter as long as I keep my Rubens."

He strode quickly over to the cupboard and unlocked it. Then he drew out the gloves and overall from the box and threw them on the fire. He picked up the battle-axe and stood regarding it thoughtfully for a few moments. Then with a grim smile he carried it into the bathroom and held it under the tap there until the blade was quite clean. Then he dried it carefully upon one of the towels and replaced it again in the box, relocking the cupboard door.

"Now for that man from the Yard," he muttered, and he picked up the receiver of the telephone upon his desk. "He said he was staying at Minsmere and so he'll probably be at the inn."

He was put through to the inn, and learning that Larose was staying there but had just gone out, left a message that he would like to see the detective, upon an important matter, immediately upon his return.

Then he opened a drawer in the desk and took out a small automatic pistol, making sure before he transferred it to his pocket that it was fully loaded.

"Accidents so often happen with firearms," he remarked dryly, "and when I am showing this little toy to the gentleman from Scotland Yard, if it should happen to go off, well," he looked very disdainful—"who would dare bring any accusation against Lord Thralldom?" He nodded his head slowly. "Yes, the Chief Constable said the fellow always works alone, and delights in springing dramatic surprises at the very end." He nodded again.

"Well, I will be the one to spring the surprise this time."


WHEN Larose returned to the inn on Minsmere Haven he found Naughton Jones with the head warder of the Broadmoor Lunatic Asylum who had arrived about an hour previously, impatiently awaiting him.

The warder was a very homely-looking man with all the appearance of an unsophisticated farmer, but he at once proceeded to question the detective in a sharp and businesslike manner about the suspected footman at the castle.

"That's him," he said at once, "and we'll have to be darned careful how we nab him. If we rush him and don't give him any time to think, he'll be all shaken up and come like a lamb, but if we give him the chance to get his wits together, he's likely to give a lot of trouble. He's dangerous when he's roused. We'll take up a couple of Roberts with us from Saxmundham."

Without waiting for any meal, they drove at once into Saxmundham, Larose going in his own car and the warder taking Naughton Jones with him in the car in which he had driven down from London.

"You go on to the police station," said Larose, "and I'll follow in ten minutes. I have a call to make, first."

The detective pulled up at the house where he knew John Harden was lodging and found the latter about to sit down to his midday meal.

"What's up?" he asked anxiously, the moment he set eyes upon Larose. "Anything happened?"

"Not yet," replied Larose, "but something's going to, this afternoon." He looked him straight in the face. "Now, Mr. Harden, have you any ready money?"

Harden looked very surprised but answered quickly enough. "Yes, I can lend you some. How much do you want?"

The detective smiled. "I don't want any, thank you, but now, have you sufficient to get married straight-away upon, and go for a nice honeymoon with?"

The young fellow got very red. "Plenty, if it comes to that," he replied. He laughed nervously. "But what do you mean?"

"Well, have you got a motor-car?" went on the detective. Harden nodded. "I can borrow one," he replied. "I've started my holidays to-day, and a friend has offered to lend me his for as long as I like."

"Good," said Larose, "then go and borrow it at once. Don't wait for any dinner. You can make up for that this evening in very pleasant company." He spoke sharply. "At half past two, Miss Devenham will be waiting for you upon the marsh road. Drive away with her at once and marry her to-morrow by special licence in London."

"But, Mr. Larose," began Harden, "I——"

"You want to marry her, don't you?" snapped the detective.

"Want to marry her!" exclaimed the boy. "Good Heavens! Why, I'd give——"

"Well, now's your chance," interrupted Larose. "She's waiting for you and if you miss this opportunity, you will regret it all your days, and even if you marry her later, she will never be the same woman if she's been a spectator of what's going to take place at the castle this afternoon." His voice was harsh in its insistence. "Take her away, John, and give her the happiness that she deserves. Don't ask questions, but we've found the murderer and a bomb is going to burst within a couple of hours." He drew in a deep breath. "God only knows what's going to happen."

He walked quickly to the door. "I can't wait." He nodded smilingly. "If ever a man has had happiness thrust upon him, you are having it thrust upon you now. Goodbye. Good luck to you. I'll be seeing you again some day."

He drove up to the police station and found the head warder and Jones waiting there. Much to the annoyance of them all, the Inspector was out and they had to wait nearly an hour and a half before he returned.

The warder's business was quickly dealt with, and then Larose, with no preliminaries, demanded a warrant for the arrest of Lord Thralldom upon the charge of having murdered Augustus Holden, Rita Ethelton and three other persons.

The Inspector was aghast and although Larose briefly outlined the discoveries he had made, and was supported by Naughton Jones as to the finding of the bodies in the well, at first resolutely refused to issue the warrant.

"Lord Thralldom is the chief magistrate here," he argued, with a very white face, "and I dare not move until I have consulted headquarters. I'll ring up the Chief Constable in Ipswich. You can wait until——"

"We can't wait a moment," interrupted Larose sternly. "We have already wasted an hour and a half here and every minute's delay is dangerous. Lord Thralldom is a madman and to my certain knowledge has determined to make away with yet another person this afternoon." He looked very sternly at the Inspector. "If you fail in your duty now, it will mean dismissal from the Force."

"I don't need to be told my duty by anyone," replied the Inspector angrily. "I——"

"But you do need to be told it," interrupted Larose again. "I have given you the clearest proofs, supported by the word of Mr. Naughton Jones, whose reputation——"

"I know, I know," said the flurried Inspector wiping the perspiration from his forehead, "but you see, you are putting me in a dreadful position, Mr. Larose, and I——"

The detective saw that he was wavering. "Make out the warrant, sir," he said quietly. "The responsibility is all mine."

The Inspector gave in, and five minutes later, seated next to Larose, was being driven up to Thralldom Castle. In the car behind were Naughton Jones, the warder from Broadmoor and two uniformed policemen.

During the short drive Larose gave yet more details to the Inspector and by the time they were approaching the castle, that official was much easier in his mind, and indeed was almost pleasantly excited.

"And the coincidence is, Mr. Larose," he remarked, "that I was actually intending to come up to the castle this afternoon, for the description of a man wanted by the French police corresponds pretty closely to that of the chef they've got here. He's wanted for several burglaries across the channel."

"Ah!" thought Larose, "then poor old Croupin'll have to flap his wings at once."

According to arrangement, the warder was kept out of sight until they had seen which footman answered their ring. It turned out to be James and directly he had unlocked the grille, Larose seized him by one arm and the Inspector by the other.

"Where's William?" asked Larose sharply.

"With his lordship in the gallery," gasped the footman, very frightened when he saw the other four men come trooping in. "I'll go and tell his lordship——"

"No, you won't," said Larose. "We'll just announce ourselves. I'll go first," he went on to the Inspector, "and the others had better follow pretty close. We'll take them by surprise and not give them that moment's chance, for the footman will possibly be armed. It's unfortunate they are in the gallery though, for the gallery's very long and if they're at the other end, they may wake up to what's happening before we're on them."

They crept softly up the stairs and round the corner to the opening of the gallery. The gate of the mutilated grille was standing wide open and they had a clear view of everything inside.

A big arm-chair had been drawn up close before 'The Man of Sorrows,' and Lord Thralldom was lying back in a profound reverie, with his eyes half closed in ecstatic contemplation of the canvas. His massive head was sunk upon his chest, his arms were folded and he breathed in the quiet and tranquil manner of one asleep.

The footman at the far end of the gallery was busy with a feather duster, with his back towards the grille.

Larose tiptoed softly forward, with the Inspector and the others close upon his heels.

Then suddenly, one of the policemen slipped upon the parquet flooring and crashed heavily against the wall.

Lord Thralldom looked up sharply to see what had occasioned the noise, and perceiving Larose with the little crowd behind him, after one startled moment of surprise sprang like lightning to his feet and snatching a pistol from his pocket, pointed it straight before him.

"Stop, stop," he shouted fiercely. "Stop, all of you, or I fire." His voice rose to a shriek. "Stop, you, Larose, and keep your hands away from your body. Quick, sharp! or I fire."

Larose gritted his teeth in fury, for he realised in a flash that there was no help for it but to stop. Forty feet and more separated him from Lord Thralldom and there was that deadly little blue barrel just level with his eyes.

"Not a movement, any of you," roared Lord Thralldom. "I've seven bullets here, and I'll not miss with one. I was the best shot in the British Army once. William," he called out without turning his head, "you've got your pistol, haven't you?"

"Yes, my lord," replied the footman tremulously, "I've got it."

"Then empty it among them if any of them move," shouted his master. "Don't wait an instant."

A short silence followed, with the little huddled crowd by the grille mortified beyond all expression. They were as if caught in a trap and it looked instant death if any of them moved. They were not too certain either, that death was not inevitable for some of them whatever they did.

Lord Thralldom laughed mockingly. "Ah! but I was prepared for you," he scoffed. "I expected something like this." The light of madness gleamed in his eyes. "You are all conspirators and you have come to rob me of my Rubens. You—you, Larose"—he could hardly get his breath—"you are the ring-leader of them all, and a bullet will be too merciful for you." He spat out his words. "You have been spying on my lands here, you have been spying in this castle, and you have been rifling the graves of my dead!" His voice rose to a shriek again. "Why! you even dared to point out to me this morning the very stones that you have lifted up! You boasted——"

But Larose had been thinking rapidly. He was sure that if this madman before them were allowed to have all the fury on his own, then things would speedily work up to a climax and they would end by his discharging his pistol indiscriminately among them.

So the only chance, and it was a frail one, was to so protract the duration of his fury, that his emotions would exhaust him and thereby render him less capable of using his weapon effectively. Already, the detective saw that the pistol hand was wavering.

He risked everything and interrupted loudly and with great violence.

"You lie, my lord," he shouted. "I have rifled no graves and it is not I who have been violating your dead. It is that shaking wretch behind you who has done it. He knows the secret of the chapel door, and night after night he has been descending into the vaults, and desecrating the resting places of those from whose loins your great house has sprung. He has defiled this castle and brought shame upon you, who are the custodian of your dead."

The detective stopped for want of breath and Lord Thralldom, stunned into silence by his outburst, gaped at him as if he were a ghost.

"Yes," went on Larose in sharp ringing tones, "and he is a convict, that man. He has escaped from Broadmoor and we have come to arrest him. He is Carl Heidelburg and the head warder of the asylum is here to identify him. He——"

But a snarl of fury came from the far end of the gallery, a cry as if some wild beast cornered by its enemies, and the footman was seen to spring forward and, with one hand shading his eyes against the sunlight that was streaming through the windows, with the other to menace the little group of police officers with his pistol.

He seemed to be trying to pick out someone among them.

He danced and chattered in his rage and his pistol was a danger to everyone before him.

"It's me he's looking for," whispered the head warder through dry lips, "and I'll be cold meat in two seconds, if he's any good with his gun."

Then suddenly two shots rang out in quick succession. One crashed splinteringly through the glass protecting the Rubens, but for the moment it was not known where the other had gone.

Then, with a strangled cry Lord Thralldom fell forward on to the floor. Blood gushed from his mouth, he coughed horribly, and then gasping, "My Rubens, my Rubens!" turned over and closed his eyes.

Roger, 27th Lord of Thralldom was dead.

A fierce rush followed, for regardless of all consequences, a wave of men surged over towards the convict Heidelburg.

The man stood staring at the fallen body of his master and then looking up and seeing that his enemies were almost upon him, he smiled a dreadful smile and putting the muzzle of his pistol between his teeth, blew his brains out.

Then, when everyone was standing speechless and appalled at the double tragedy that had occurred, the great bell in the belfry began to toll.

"Dong—dong—dong—dong," as it had tolled all down the ages when a lord of Thralldom had passed away.

Naughton Jones was the first to recover himself. He thought it time he should assert his individuality among the official police, and he bent down in a grave professional manner over the body of Lord Thralldom.

"The bullet severed the carotid artery," he announced, "and there was no hope in the world for him then. I remember——" but to his great annoyance, he found no one was listening.

"Gee!" exclaimed the Inspector, "but that was a close shave, and it was Mr. Larose who saved us." He looked round to speak to the detective, but the latter was nowhere to be seen.

Then excited voices were heard upon the stairs and Lady Deering, followed by some of the maids, came running into the gallery.

"What's happened?" she asked in a terrified tone, and then seeing the Inspector and the policeman there, she went on thankfully, "Oh! we thought it was another raid and I sent James up into the belfry to ring the big bell."

But she caught sight of the body of Lord Thralldom upon the floor, and her voice rose instantly to a wail. "Oh! tell me what's happened! Quick!"

The Inspector broke the dreadful news as gently as he could, and she burst instantly into a flood of tears.

"But where's my daughter?" she sobbed. "Someone fetch her at once."

"Keep her out of it, my lady," said the Inspector sternly. "This is no place for a young girl."

"But she's the heiress of Thralldom," she cried. "Her uncle's left everything to her, and it's only right that she should be here."

In the meantime, Larose had made his way swiftly, at first, to his car, and then back towards the servants' hall. He came upon Croupin craning his head round the corridor.

"William's shot Lord Thralldom," panted Larose, "and he's dead."

"Mon Dieu!" gasped Croupin, "but has William escaped?"

"No, he's shot himself and he's dead too; but quick, you must get away. They're after you, and Naughton Jones is here."

Croupin made a grimace of dismay and darting into the kitchen, reappeared, struggling to get James's overcoat over his chef's clothes.

"Go to my car, quick," exclaimed Larose. "It's the red one just outside the door. Hide under the rug upon the floor at the back. No one will go and sit there, because I've spilt oil all over the cushions. Now, quick, at once, for you've not a second to spare. Lie quiet, whatever happens, and I'll get you out of this somehow."

"Bien, I'm quite sure you will," grinned the Frenchman turning to run off. "With you and me, together, we cannot fail."

"You did splendidly, Mr. Larose," said the Chief Commissioner of Police when, a few days later, he and the detective were talking things over at Scotland Yard, "and although the arrest of Lord Thralldom would have been a great feather in your cap, still it was best for everyone that the matter should have ended as it did. After all, as a nation we are proud of our aristocracy, and it would have been a terrible scandal if Lord Thralldom had been charged."

"And it was best, too, for Miss Devenham, or rather Mrs. Harden I should say," said Larose, "for it would have been a dreadful shadow on her life if she had learnt everything. Now, she need never know what her uncle was and what a narrow escape she herself had."

The Commissioner nodded. "But fancy the old wretch altering his will the very day he was intending to kill her and making her his sole heiress so that if her body had ever come to be found afterwards, it would have looked incredible that he could have had a hand in her death! Ah! but he was cunning!"

"Yes, he was much more cunning than I could have thought," commented Larose, "but it was only by chance that he found out I had broken open that box. If he had not gone to the cupboard for that ledger, he would never have suspected anything. Then, of course, he remembered having smelt the paper that I had smouldered and after that—well, James gave everything away to him." He nodded. "Still, those four metal buttons in the ashes were conclusive that he had destroyed the overall in the fire and that towel in the bathroom showed where he had cleaned up the axe."

The Commissioner nodded in his turn. "But we were bound to act upon that hint we received from high up," he said, "and you gained a lot in the estimation of everyone who knows the real facts, by the tactful way in which you gave your evidence at the inquest. You avoided most skilfully a lot of awkward points and I don't wonder the coroner summed up dead against Heidelburg, giving the jury practically no option but to return a verdict of wilful murder against him." He frowned. "But it didn't matter. We knew him to have been responsible for two deaths and he was a most repellent character."

"Well, it was a good thing, in any case, that he shot himself," commented Larose. "It saved a lot of trouble."

"Yes, and there's another thing," laughed the Commissioner. "The Suffolk police were perfectly dumbfounded at what you had found out, and they have been feeling very cheap ever since. I saw their Chief Constable yesterday and he said, 'Confound that Gilbert Larose of yours and please keep him out of my county in future. I should probably have been in the next honour's list but for him, and now I shall have to remain plain Colonel Wedgewood for the rest of my life!'"

"He'll never be plain," laughed back Larose, "for he's a very handsome man."

They chatted for a few moments and then Larose got up to take his leave.

"Oh! by-the-bye, one thing more," exclaimed the Commissioner, pretending to look very stern. "About that French chef who was so very useful to you up at the castle and is supposed to be the man the Paris people are wanting so badly. It has come to me in a very roundabout way that Naughton Jones is of the opinion you helped the fellow to escape. He says that when your car was requisitioned to give a lift to those two policemen, back to Saxmundham, you made them squeeze into the front seat along with you, because some oil had been spilt on the back cushions."

"Well, what of that?" asked Larose innocently. "They wouldn't want to soil their uniforms would they?"

"Perhaps not," agreed the Commissioner smiling, "but Jones remembered afterwards there was a thick rug flung loosely over the floor at the back of the car and later after having shaken hands with you in saying good-bye, when he came to light his pipe, he smelt oil upon his fingers."

Larose grinned. "A very remarkable man, sir, that Jones," he replied, "but he's got too much imagination by far, when he's talking about his friends," and bowing most respectfully, he proceeded to leave the room.

The following year, upon one gorgeous day in early June, Larose met John Harden in Regent Street, just as the latter had alighted from a very beautiful looking car. They shook hands warmly.

"You must come down and see us, Mr. Larose," said Harden after they had exchanged a few remarks. "We've got a lovely place just outside Haslemere and I'm going in extensively for Jersey cows. They are the only things my wife brought from Thralldom. You heard, of course, that she sold the castle?"

"Yes, an American bought it, didn't he?"

"Yes, a Judge Morrison, and he's a very good fellow." He laughed. "He's immensely proud of those dungeons and especially of that dreadful one with the well."

"But where's Mrs. Harden?" asked Larose. "Isn't she up with you to-day?"

"No," replied Harden quickly. "I came up alone for a couple of hours to do some shopping for her." He pretended to look very annoyed. "You know, Mr. Larose, my wife thinks the world of you, and if I hadn't happened to meet her first, I'd have never had a look in." He shook his head. "She's always trying to make me jealous by reminding me of that night when she took care of you in her bedroom."

"She's a charming girl, Mr. Harden," said Larose solemnly, "and you had the luck of the world when you married her."

"Yes, I did," nodded Harden, "and I shall always be grateful to you for the way you ordered us about that dreadful day." He smiled. "But now look here, do you happen to know that Monsieur Antoine's address?"

"No, I don't for the moment," replied Larose, "but he's back in France, I think. What do you want to know for?"

"Because we had a beautiful wedding present from him last week," replied Harden. "Three pairs of most lovely, old silver candlesticks. We've never seen anything like them before, and they must have cost him a lot of money. He's had my wife's initials 'A.H.' engraved on them, too, and we're wondering where he can have picked the candlesticks up."

Larose made no comment, but he was now wondering too. He had very recently been in Paris and he remembered hearing then of a burglary that had just taken place at Count Hauteville's magnificent chateau in Chantilly and the count's christian name was Armande. Ann Harden and Armande Hauteville! both the same initials 'A.H.!'

It was a singular coincidence, certainly.

"Well, you'll be coming to see us one day, won't you?" said Harden after having shaken hands, and turning to go back to his car.

"Certainly, I will," replied Larose. "How about next Sunday? Will that suit you?"

The young husband looked very embarrassed. "Well, no," he replied hesitatingly. "Wait a bit, if you don't mind. Come, say in a month's time." He laughed slily. "We may have a little surprise for you then."

"But it will be no surprise at all," murmured Larose as the car moved away.

THE new owner of Thralldom Castle had been showing a party of guests over the dungeons and was now providing them with cocktails in the lounge.

"Yes," he said proudly, "everything in the dungeons is exactly as it was upon the day when Lord Thralldom died. Except for the electric light that I had installed there, those seats in the corridor and that half of the well chamber that is railed off for my mushroom beds, nothing is different." He smiled round impressively upon the company. "You have seen it, ladies and gentlemen as it has been for over 800 years."

"It was thrilling, Judge," said a pretty girl enthusiastically, "and I have never enjoyed anything so much in all my life." She made a little grimace of disappointment. "But I think you ought to have left a few of those rats. Then we should have known something of the horror that detective, Larose, must have felt, when they were running all over his legs."

"Oh! I really couldn't have done that," replied Judge Morrison. "They had to be got rid of. There were millions of them down there." He turned and addressed the resplendently attired footman who was serving the cocktails "James, how many brace did those ratcatchers kill?"

"Twelve hundred and four, my lord—sir, I beg your pardon," replied the footman deferentially. "That was the count when they left."

The judge turned back to his guests and joined merrily in the general laugh. "Well, I knew it was a good number," he said, "and some were as big as young cats."

"But that Lord Thralldom must have been half mad himself," commented a tall, distinguished looking man, "to have allowed the rats to breed to that extent, for so long."

The judge flashed a covert look at the last speaker, and putting his finger to his lips, waited until the footman had moved out of hearing.

"Hush!" he said solemnly. "There are many tales about that lord." He drew the little company together with his eyes and lowered his voice to a mysterious whisper. "He was mad and there are rumours, too, that he and that convict footman had been carrying out that dreadful work together. They say the murders were done between them and the lord knew all along what was going on." He nodded darkly. "But of course, it was all hushed up."

"Oh, Judge, Judge," shuddered the pretty girl, "and you sleep in that same bed of his, that you showed us just now!"

"And why not?" laughed the Judge. "It is mine and I've paid for it. I bought everything in the castle, lock, stock and barrel, just as it stands. I took over all the staff, too, and to-night you will be waited upon by the same servants that waited upon the mad lord. Yes, I kept everybody and——" He corrected himself quickly. "Ah! no, I did not keep everybody, for there was one person who wouldn't come back and that person"—he sighed and looked very sad—"I would have perhaps liked to have kept, best of all."

"Oh! who was it?" asked a stout lady, very red in the face after her third cocktail.

The judge put his finger to his lips again. "Hush! don't tell my wife." He just breathed his next words. "It was the great lord's niece, Ann." He clasped his hands together in ecstasy. "She is a real peach!"

"Yes, I've seen her and so she is," commented the distinguished looking man when the laughter had subsided. He shook his finger reprovingly at his host. "You are a bad man, sir—but a darned good judge."

James and Bertha, the pretty sewing-maid were walking in the moonlight among the plum-trees in the castle garden. He had his arm round her waist and every now and then he stooped and took a loud kiss.

"Yes," he said meditatively, "it doesn't seem as if anyone could believe it, but I've had nearly £50 this month already, in tips, and if it goes on like this, in six months we'll be taking over that Westleton pub."

The girl nestled up closer to him. "And they grow such lovely nasturtiums in the garden there at the back," she sighed. "I've always longed to have flowers like that."

"They'll be yours, my dear," said the footman, squeezing her hand, "for we're going to have plenty more visitors here yet. I heard the old woman telling the judge last night that every room in the castle was booked up for nearly four months and they mustn't invite any more. But about those tips," he went on, "these swell people who are here now, are real suckers about having chippings off that darned well, and I've only got to mention about them taking a souvenir from where those bodies were found and they go balmy at once. I could have chipped the whole well to bits, twice over." He chuckled. "But of course they don't want the old judge to know." He squeezed her again. "You do love me, don't you, Bertha?"

"Of course I do, dear. I always have done."

"And you don't ever think about that old Froggy that used to be here?"

The shadows hid the tenderness in the girl's eyes. "No no, I never do," she replied quickly. She caught her breath. "But oh! dear, I had a strange dream once and I can tell you, now we are engaged. I dreamt before he left, that Monsieur Antoine came into my room in the middle of the night and stood watching me in the moonlight. I was——"

"What! in your room in the middle of the night!" ejaculated the footman. He clenched his fists. "It's a good thing I didn't know."

"But it was only a dream," said the girl quickly "for the door was locked. I dreamed he was there and that he crept over to my work basket. So, I pretended to snore and he went away.

"Dream or no dream," said James, "I'd have broken his neck, if I'd known. Going over to your work basket, indeed! Ah! that reminds me, I must borrow one of your baskets to-morrow." He grinned. "I've run out of my chips again and must go down to the quarry and get some more. They're hot stuff on the souvenirs, this lot here, especially the women." He tilted up her chin. "Now, give give us another kiss."


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