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Title: When Carruthers Laughed (1934)
Author: Sapper
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Language:  English
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Title: When Carruthers Laughed (1934)
Author: Sapper



CONTENTS:

 1. When Carruthers Laughed
 2. The Snake Farm
 3. The Great Magor Diamond
 4. The Broken Record
 5. The Taming of Sydney Marsham
 6. Dilemma
 7. The Baronets of Mertonbridge Hall
 8. Touch and Go
 9. The Loyalty of Peter Drayton
10. The Madness of Charles Tranter
11. A Student of The Obvious
12. The Second Ride




WHEN CARRUTHERS LAUGHED


Henry St. John Carruthers was something of an enigma. Where he lived I
have no idea, except that it was somewhere north of Oxford Street. But we
were both members of the Junior Strand, which, as all the world knows, is
not a club frequented largely by the clergy or the more respectable
lights of the legal profession. It is a pot-house frank and unashamed,
but withal a thoroughly amusing one.

It is not a large club, and the general atmosphere in the smoking-room is
one of conviviality. Honesty compels me to admit that the majority of the
members would not find favour in the eyes of a confirmed temperance
fanatic, but since the reverse is even truer the point is not of great
interest. Anyway, it was there that I first met Henry St. John
Carruthers.

He was, I should imagine, about thirty-six years of age--neither
good-looking nor ugly. Not that a man's looks matter, but I mention it en
passant. He was sitting next to me after lunch, and we drifted into
conversation about something or other. I didn't even know his name. I
have entirely forgotten what we talked about. But what I do remember, as
having impressed me during our talk, is his eyes. Not their size or
colour, but their expression.

I sat on for a few minutes after he had gone trying to interpret that
expression. It wasn't exactly bored: it certainly wasn't conceited--and
yet it contained both those characteristics. A sort of contemptuous
resignation most nearly expresses it: the look of a man who is saying to
himself--'Merciful heavens! what am I doing in this galaxy?'

And yet, I repeat, there was very little conceit about it: it was too
impersonal to be in the slightest degree offensive.

"Rum fellow that," said the man sitting on the other side of me, after he
had gone. "You never seem to get any further with him."

It was then I learnt his name and the fact that he was in business in the
City. "A square peg in a round hole if ever there was one," went on my
informant. "From the little I know of him he'd be happier in the French
Foreign Legion than sitting with his knees under a desk."

Time went on and I saw a good deal of Henry St. John Carruthers. And as
my acquaintance with him grew--not into anything that may be called
friendship but into a certain degree of intimacy--I realised that my
casual informant was right. That City desk was a round hole with a
vengeance. And the fact supplied the clue to the expression in his eyes.
It was the life he lived that it was directed against--and himself for
living that life.

Not that he ever complained in so many words: he was not a man who ever
asked for sympathy. It was his bed and he was going to lie on it; he
asked no one else to share it with him. Very much alone did he strike me
as being: a man who would go his own way and thank you to go yours. It
would be idle to pretend that he was popular. And in view of his manner
it was not surprising. His somewhat marked air of aloofness tended to put
a damper on the spirits of men he found himself with.

"Hang it all!" said Bearsted, a stockbroker, one night as the door closed
behind Carruthers. "Has anyone ever seen that fellow laugh?"

I thought over that remark during the next few days, and finally came to
the surprising conclusion that it was true. I'd never considered the
matter before, and now that it had been brought to my notice it struck me
that I never had seen Henry St. John Carruthers laugh. I'd seen him
smile, I'd seen a twinkle in his eye--but an outright laugh, never. So
one evening I tackled him about it.

"Do you know, Carruthers," I said, "that in the course of the year since
I first met you I've never seen you laugh?"

He stared at me for a moment; then he scratched his head.

"Haven't you?" he answered. "Don't I laugh? I wasn't aware of the fact.
Though, incidentally, what there is to laugh at in life I don't know.
Personally, I think it's too darned boring for words."

"Oh, come!" I said, "that's a bit scathing, isn't it? Everything has its
funny side. Go and look steadily into the face of the Honourable James
over there in the corner. That ought to do the trick."

"Thanks," he answered shortly, "I'd sooner keep the record unbroken.
Besides, he wouldn't make me laugh: he'd make me cry. I suppose," he went
on thoughtfully, "that there are uses for things like that in the world."

"Certainly," I answered. "The old man has some excellent shootings."

"Well, I wish to heaven you'd bag the son the next time you go there.
Good Lord, he's coming over here!"

I glanced round: the Honourable James had risen and was bearing down on
us.

"I say, dear old boy," he burbled, coming to rest in front of me, "my
old governor wants me to bring down two guys next Saturday. Would you
care to come?"

"Very much, James," I said.

"What about you, Carruthers?" went on James.

"Thanks, no," grunted the other. "I'm afraid I'm already engaged."

The Honourable James continued to burble, and after about two minutes
Carruthers, with a strangled snort, got up and left.

"By Jove!" said James plaintively, "he never waited to hear the end of
the story. You know, Bill,"--he waxed confidential--"I don't believe that
fellow likes me."

"My dear James," I cried, "what put that idea into your head? I expect
he's got an appointment."

"Yes--but he might have waited to hear the end of the story," repeated
James. "No--I don't think he likes me. He never even laughed."

He drifted away--the personification of utter futility--leaving me
shaking silently. I had been privileged to gaze on Carruthers's face as
he left the room.

"It would take more than you, James, to make him laugh," I called after
him. "In fact, if you ever do I'll stand you a drink."

A promise which I repeated to Carruthers when, half an hour later, he
returned warily to the room.

"It's all right," I reassured him. "Our little James has gone. I gathered
that he has a date with the most beautiful woman in London."

"Long may she keep him occupied," he grunted. "He is the most ghastly
example of a Philandering Percy I've ever seen. Still, I suppose when a
fellow has got the amount of money he possesses, beautiful women will
suffer in silence."

And an hour later we rose to go home. The night was fine and warm, and
refusing a waiting taxi we fell into step and walked. And Carruthers, I
remember, was still inveighing against the system by which the Honourable
Jameses of this world inherit totally undeserved wealth.

"Put that excrescence on his own feet," he argued, "and what would be the
result? Take away his money and let him fight for his food, and where
would he be?"

"Still," I murmured, "a man is the son of his father."

"Call that thing a man," he grunted. "Look here, I want a drink."

We were at the corner of Albemarle Street, and I glanced at my watch.

"It's half-past eleven," I remarked. "In a moment of mental aberration I
joined the Sixty-Six a few weeks ago. Let's go there."

Now, the Sixty-Six, as all the world knows, is one of those night-clubs
that spring up like mushrooms in a damp field, endure for a space, and
then disappear into oblivion to the tune of a hundred-pound fine. The
fact that they open a few weeks later as the Seventy-Seven, and the same
performance is repeated, is neither here nor there.

"Right," said Henry St. John Carruthers. "One can only hope the police
will not choose to-night to raid it!"

And at that moment he paused in the door and blasphemed. I glanced over
his shoulder, and then, taking him gently by the arm, I propelled him
across the room to a vacant table.

"If we get the police as well," I murmured, "our evening will not be
wasted."

In the centre of the floor was the Honourable James. He hailed us with
delight as we passed, and Carruthers sat down muttering horribly. "Can I
never get away from that mess?" he demanded hopelessly. "I ask you--I ask
you--look at him now!"

And assuredly the Honourable James was a pretty grim spectacle. I lay no
claim to being a dancing man myself, but James attempting to Charleston
was a sight on which no man might look unmoved. In fact, the only thing
about the Honourable James which caused one any pleasure was his partner.
To say that she was attractive would be simply banal: she was one of the
most adorable creatures I have ever seen in my life. Moreover, she seemed
to reciprocate James's obvious devotion. Three times did I see her return
his fish--like glance of love with a slight drooping of her eyelids which
spoke volumes.

"Evidently out to hook him," I remarked, turning to Carruthers. "Hullo!
what has stung you?"

For he was leaning forward, staring at the girl with a completely new
expression in his eyes.

"Good Lord!" he muttered, half to himself. "It can't be. And yet--"

He suddenly stood up and glanced round the room; then, equally abruptly,
he sat down again. "It is." he remarked. "As I live--it is. How deuced
funny!" And he grinned: he positively grinned.

"What is?" I demanded. "Elucidate."

"They will part him from his money," he went on happily. "And I hope they
sock him good and strong."

"What the devil are you talking about?" I said peevishly.

"If you look over there to the right," he answered, "behind that woman in
green, you will see a large and somewhat bull-necked man sitting at a
table by himself. He is smoking a cigar, and gives one the impression
that he owns the earth."

"I've got him," I said.

"Just a year ago," he continued, "I was over in Chicago. I was sitting in
the lounge of my hotel talking to an American I knew who was something
pretty big in the police. He'd been giving me a good deal of inside
information about crime over there, when suddenly he leant forward and
touched me on the arm. 'See that guy who has just come in,' he said,
'with a cigar sticking out of his face?'

"I saw him all right; you couldn't have helped it if you tried. 'Well,
that bloke,' went on my pal, 'is just about the highest spot in the
confidence game that we've got. He specialises in you Britishers, and I
reckon he's parted more of you from your money than one is ever likely to
be told about.'

"'What's his line?' I demanded.

"'Anything and everything,' he replied. 'From running bogus charities to
blackmail. And he generally works with an amazingly pretty girl. There
she is: just joined him.'

"'His wife?' I said. My pal shrugged his shoulders. 'I shouldn't imagine
the Church has been over-worked in the matter,' he answered. 'But you
can call her that.'"

Henry St. John Carruthers lay back in his chair and actually chuckled.

"You mean?" I said slowly.

"Precisely," he answered. "There they are. And so is dear James."

I glanced over at the table where the big man had been joined by James
and the girl. He was smiling in the most friendly way and filling James's
glass with more champagne. Then he handed him his cigar case, and James,
coming out of a dream, helped himself. Then James relapsed into his dream
to the extent of forgetting to light it. And the dream was what one would
have expected in the circumstances.

Assuredly she was the most divinely pretty girl. And James was totally
unable to take his eyes off her face. He was in the condition of trying
to touch her hand under the table, of little by little moving his chair
nearer hers, in the fond belief that the manoeuvre would pass unnoticed.

"Look here," I said, "we must do something."

"Why?" said Henry St. John Carruthers.

"Well, if what you say is right, they're going to blackmail that poor
boob."

"And serve him darned well right," he answered shortly. "A man has got to
buy his experience, and why should that horror be an exception?"

"That's going too far," I said, a little angrily. "You may not like him,
but you can't let him be swindled by a couple of crooks."

He shrugged his shoulders indifferently. "I disagree entirely," he
answered. "However, for the sake of argument, let's assume you're right.
What do you suggest we should do?"

"Get James on one side and warn him," I said promptly.

"Try it," he remarked. "And then see the result. Do you really imagine,
my dear chap, that you stand a dog's chance against that girl? The only
result will be that you'll lose some good shooting."

"I don't care," I said doggedly. "Chance or no chance, I'm going to have
a shot." I rose and crossed the room, leaving Carruthers smiling faintly.

"Excuse me, James," I said, bowing to the girl, "was it this week-end or
next that you asked me to shoot?"

James had risen, and with my hand on his arm I drew him a little way from
the table. "This coming one as ever is, old lad," he burbled. "I say, I
want to introduce you to--"

"Look here, James," I interrupted urgently, "pay attention to what I'm
saying." I was speaking in a low voice in his ear, and over his shoulder
I saw the big man staring at me steadily. "These two people you're out
with to-night are crooks."

"Crooks," bleated James. "Crooks?"

"For God's sake don't shout," I muttered. "Yes--crooks."

"Go to blazes!" said James succinctly. "And stay there. I'm going to
marry this lady. What the dickens do you mean by crooks?"

He turned abruptly and sat down, leaving me standing there feeling a
fool. And the feeling was not diminished by the look in the big man's
eyes. I realised that he knew what I had come about; short of being deaf,
he must have heard what James said. And his expression seconded James's
remark as to my immediate destination.

"Well," said Henry St. John Carruthers, as I rejoined him. "What luck?"

"The silly fool can stew in his own juice," I answered shortly. "He says
he's going to marry the girl."

"Quite possibly he may be," he remarked. "He's got enough money to make
it worth her while. Well, I'm going to have another whisky-and-soda, and
then I'm for bed."

"I still don't feel quite happy about it," I said. "After all, the old
man is a very decent sort."

"Oh, dry up!" said Carruthers wearily. "You've done what you could, and
you've got your answer. What the deuce is the good of worrying over a
disease like that youth?" He finished his drink and rose. "I'm for the
sheets. Coming?"

I followed him across the room, and we went into the cloakroom to get our
hats.

James and his friends were still at their table, but though we passed
close to them he took no notice of us. Which, when all was said and done,
was hardly to be wondered at. I took my top-hat and put it on. As
Carruthers said, he'd have to buy his experience.

And even as I was dismissing the matter from my mind the swing doors
opened and the big man came in. His hands were in his pockets; the cigar
still stuck out from his face. And he stood there in absolute silence,
staring first at me and then at Carruthers. But principally at
Carruthers.

It was an offensive stare, and I felt my pulse quicken a little. It was
the stare that precedes a row: the stare that is designed to produce a
row. And after a while--funnily enough, it seemed quite natural at the
time--I faded out of the picture. Though it was I who had spoken to
James, the issue narrowed down to the big man and Henry St. John
Carruthers.

I think it was then that I realised for the first time that Carruthers
was also a big man.

The depth of his chest was astonishing--and the broadness of his back.
And with a queer little thrill I saw that his fists--big fists they
were--were clenched at his sides. Moreover, for quite five seconds he had
made no movement to take his opera hat, which was standing open on the
counter beside him. He just stood staring at the big man, while the big
man stared back at him. And neither the attendant nor I existed for
either of them.

Then suddenly the music started, and with it the tension snapped. Like
two dogs who have been eyeing one another and then at last move away, so
did the big man pass back into the ballroom, while Carruthers turned
round for his hat. And as he turned the swing door hit him in the side.
Now, it was, I verily believe, accidental; the big man had passed through
normally, and Carruthers being where he was, the door in swinging back
had hit him.

But accident or no accident, the result was the same. Into Henry St. John
Carruthers's eyes there came a look which spelt one word. And that word
was murder.

That he was angry was not surprising. If there is one thing in this world
which drives me to thoughts of battle, murder and sudden death, it is
when a man lets a door swing in my face. But Carruthers was more than
angry; he was white with rage. There was a pulse hammering in his throat,
and for an appreciable time he stood there drumming with his fingers on
the wall. Then he turned to me.

"The egregious James is lucky," he said quietly. "He shall not be parted
from his money after all."

"You're not going to have a row in the club?" I said apprehensively. "It
was an accident, I'm sure."

"An accident that I like not the savour of," he remarked in the same
quiet voice. "But don't be alarmed; the sacred floor of the Sixty-Six
shall not be desecrated."

"What do you propose to do?" I said, staring at him.

"If you care to wait and see, I shall be delighted to have your company,"
he answered. "If not, I'll say good night."

For a moment or two I hesitated; then, moved by a sudden impulse, I said:
"I'll stand by to bail you out."

"Don't worry," he grunted. "If there's any bailing to be done, it won't
be me."

He turned and left the room, and it was left to the attendant to sum up
the situation. "Good night, sir," he said to me. "I reckon somebody is
going to be 'urt."

So did I; and as I followed Carruthers up the stairs I had an attack of
common sense. "Look here, old man," I remarked as I joined him in the
street, "don't you think this jest has gone far enough? What's wrong with
that bed you were talking about?"

It was then that Henry St. John Carruthers grew polite--astoundingly
polite. And when a man grows polite at the same time that his nostrils
are narrowed, the time for words is past. His hat was tilted back on his
head: his hands were in his trouser pockets, and as he stood on the kerb
he swayed a little on his heels. "I have already suggested that we should
say good night," he said very distinctly--and held out his hand.

"Rot," I answered. "Where you go I go."

"Then shall we save our breath?" he remarked.

I shrugged my shoulders: the thing had got beyond me. And for a space of
about ten minutes we smoked in silence. An occasional taxi went past in
Piccadilly, and once a policeman strolled close by us along the pavement.

"Good night, officer," said Carruthers.

"Good night, gentlemen," he answered. "Looking for a taxi?"

"Shortly," said Carruthers, and the policeman walked on.

"He little knows," I murmured jocularly, "the desperadoes he has just
encountered." And then, as he made no answer, I looked at him curiously.
"What exactly are you going to do?" I said.

He held up his hand to a passing taxi. "Get in," he said curtly. "I want
you to wait," he remarked to the man. "My friend and I will sit inside."
He got in after me. "Do?" he said. "I'm going to break up that man."

And for a further space of ten minutes we smoked in silence, while I
asked myself whether or not I was mad. To sit still solemnly waiting in a
taxi, with the avowed intention of aiding and abetting, and quite
possibly participating in, a street row was certainly a sufficient reason
to induce the query. And yet a sort of excited curiosity kept me there.
Mad or not, I intended to see the thing through.

"Sit back." Carruthers's voice cut in on my thoughts. "Here they come." I
glanced through the window. Sure enough, there were the girl and James
standing on the pavement. And a moment later the big man joined them. The
commissionaire was calling up another taxi, and the instant they were in
Carruthers leant out of the window. "Follow that car," he said. "And keep
a good fifty yards behind."

"Right, sir," grinned the man, and we started.

Now, I have since wondered what Carruthers would have done had they lived
at the top of a block of service flats. He'd have got at his quarry
somehow, I'm convinced, but it might have seriously complicated matters.
As it was, that side of the affair proved easy. Up St. John's Wood Road
and past Swiss Cottage the chase lay, and we soon realised that our
destination was one of those large and ultra-respectable houses in
Hampstead. "Go past him when he pulls up," said Carruthers to the driver.
"I'll tell you when to stop."

It was a detached house, standing back from the road, that their taxi
halted in front of, and Carruthers stole a look at it as we went by.
"Excellent," he muttered. "There's quite a bit of vegetation in the
garden. And we'll have to reconnoitre the land first." He rapped on the
window of the car, and we got out. "Keep in the shadow," he whispered,
"and if you see a policeman say good night in an affable voice."

"Lord help me!" I groaned. "Lead on. I leave it to you."

We strolled back towards the house, when suddenly, to my horror,
Carruthers started to sing. And at the same time I felt his hand grip my
arm, and force me past the gate.

Just inside was standing a weasel-faced man, who stared at me as we went
by. "The plot thickens," said Carruthers when we were out of earshot. "He
will be your share."

"You're too generous," I remarked.

He swung me round again, and once more we walked past the house.
Weasel-face was no longer there, but a light was shining from one of the
ground-floor windows through a chink in the curtains.

"Now's our chance," he whispered. "Keep under cover of the bushes and
don't make a sound."

The next instant he was through the gate, and I found time even then to
marvel at the quickness of his movements--and the silence. He skirted
round the edge of the lawn, while I followed him as rapidly as I could.
By this time I was as excited as he was; considerably more so, in fact.
Certainly he seemed as cool as a cucumber when I joined him underneath
the window. "It's pretty grim," he breathed in my ear, "but I don't think
it will last long. Listen."

And grim was not the word. At odd periods in my life I had heard the
Honourable James in varying stages of fatuous imbecility. I had heard him
in his cups. I had heard him endeavouring to tell humorous stories; but I
had never heard him making love. And I sincerely trust I never shall
again.

Gradually I wormed my way up till I could see into the room. Her arms
were round his neck, and she was gazing into his eyes with a look of rapt
adoration on her face. In fact, I was just beginning to feel thoroughly
embarrassed--even an object like James might reasonably object to being
watched in such a situation--when I heard a whisper in my ear: "Watch the
door!"

It was slowly opening. Now, James had his back to it; the girl had not.
And as it opened she kissed James firmly. James returned the compliment.
And Carruthers chuckled.

"May heaven deliver us," he muttered, "but this came out of the Ark with
Noah. Still, I suppose it's good enough for him."

Weasel-face was standing in the doorway--the picture of outraged horror.
The girl had risen to her feet with a pitiful cry of terror, while James,
plucking at his collar, was helping the situation by remarking: "I say,
by Jove! what's this fellah want?"

"My husband!" gasped the girl.

"You hound!" hissed Weasel-face.

"Oh! but I say--dash it all!" spluttered the Honourable James.

And then Carruthers pushed up the window and vaulted into the room. "Good
evening," he remarked affably. "Shall we cut out the rest?"

Weasel-face and the girl seemed bereft of speech; they just stood there
staring at him blankly. In fact, only James seemed capable of utterance,
and that was when he saw me. "Hullo, old lad!" he burbled. "What brings
you here?"

"So it's you, is it?" came a harsh voice from the door. The big man was
standing there chewing a cigar, and he came slowly towards Carruthers,
staring at him through narrowed eyes. And once again I had a feeling of
being out of the picture. The thing had narrowed down to the two of them.
"May I ask what you're doing in my house?" said the big man.

"Waiting to give you a lesson in manners." answered Carruthers.

"Is that so?" said the big man softly, and a fist like a leg of mutton
whizzed past Carruthers's ear. A believer in deeds, not words, evidently,
but it is inadvisable to start scrapping with a cigar in your mouth. That
cigar disintegrated suddenly, and the big man stepped back with a grunt
as Carruthers caught him fairly on the mouth.

And then in perfect silence they got down to it. I was watching
Weasel-face, but he made no attempt to interfere. A gentleman of
discretion, he very wisely decided that the matter had passed beyond him.
And no bad judge either, when two heavyweights are fighting for a
knock-out in a room full of furniture.

Moreover, the big man could use his fists; there was no doubt about that.
That first jolt on the face had roused the devil in him, and some of his
blows, delivered with a grunt of rage, would have finished the thing then
and there if they'd got home. But they didn't, and gradually his
breathing began to grow stertorous, and he started to slog wildly.

It was a smash on the point of the jaw with the whole weight of the body
behind it that ended it. It took the big man clean off his feet and
landed him crumpled up in a corner, where he lay staring at his opponent
with murder in his eyes.

"Had enough?" said Henry St. John Carruthers.

"I'll kill you for this," said the big man, but he made no movement to
rise.

"Some other time I shall be at your service." remarked Carruthers
politely. "Just now I think we will leave you. Come on, you fellows. I
know of a haunt where a man may obtain beer."

We left as we had come--through the window, with the Honourable James
clinging to us even closer than a brother.

"But I say, dear old chaps," he burbled for the twentieth time as we got
into a belated taxi, "what's it all mean--what?"

"Dry up," said Carruthers morosely. "Things like you ought to have a
nurse."

"But she never told me she was married," pursued James.

"May Allah deliver me!" Carruthers contemplated him dispassionately. "She
surely told you, didn't she, that her father had a living in
Gloucestershire?"

"Yorkshire, she said," remarked James.

"And that one brother was up at Oxford? I thought so. He used always to
be in the Guards during the War."

"By Jove! then--you knew her," said James. "What an extraordinary
coincidence!"

"I shall weep in a minute," said Carruthers pessimistically.

"Don't do that, old man," I answered. "Once or twice to-night I thought
you were going to break your record. You got as far as grinning, anyhow.
Can't you raise a laugh, even out of James?"

"Laugh," he groaned. "Laugh! Come on--here we are. Let's get down to that
beer. Perhaps if I look at him quietly for half an hour I might."

We went upstairs, and I left them to go and wash my hands. And all of a
sudden I became aware of a strange noise. It was a discordant sound,
rising and falling at, intervals, and somewhat reminiscent of the female
hyena calling to her mate. I suppose it must have been going on for about
half a minute when the door burst open and the Honourable James rushed
in.

"I say, dear old boy," he cried anxiously, "is that bloke Carruthers quite
right in his head, and all that?"

"What's the matter?" I asked.

"Well, it was quite accidental, don't you know--what--but I never
realised he was standing in the jolly old doorway. Just behind me, don't
you know. And I went and unloosed the door, which caught him a frightful
biff in the chest. I mean, I thought he'd be deuced annoyed and all
that--but listen to him. Have you ever heard such a row? Do you see
anything to laugh at?"



THE SNAKE FARM


Santos was at its worst. The heat, like a stagnant pall, hung over the
harbour: the few passengers who had not gone up to San Paolo lay about on
deck and mopped their foreheads. And I was on the verge of dropping off
to sleep when I saw them coming up the gangway.

They were new passengers and I studied them idly. The woman--she was
little more than a girl--was of the fluffy type: pretty in a rather
chocolate-box way, with fair hair and a charming figure. The sort that
one expects to be the life and soul of the ship, dancing every dance,
and, in the intervals, throwing quoits into receptacles ill-designed to
receive them. And it came therefore as almost a shock when she stood
close to my chair waiting for the man and I could see her face
distinctly.

The expression lifeless is hackneyed, and yet I can think of no other
word to describe adequately how her appearance struck me. She was wearing
a wedding-ring, so presumably the man was her husband. He was arguing
with a porter; perhaps it would be more correct to say that he was
listening to the porter argue. And the result, as I guessed instinctively
it would be, was the complete defeat of the Brazilian porter, who retired
discomfited and cursing volubly.

Then the man turned round and came towards us. He was considerably older
than the woman--twenty years at least, and he did not impress one
favourably. Thin-lipped, thin-faced--one glance at him was enough to
explain the rout of the porter. Also perchance, I reflected, his wife's
expression.

As he approached her she seemed to make an effort to become more
animated. She forced a smile, and the two of them went below together,
leaving me wondering idly as to their story. Perhaps I was wrong; perhaps
it was the overpowering heat that had made her look like a dead woman. At
any rate, I should have plenty of time to study them on the way home to
London. And on that I dozed off.

The next time I saw them was in the smoking-room, before dinner. He was
having a drink, she was not. They were seated in a corner, and during the
five minutes I was there neither of them spoke a word. In her evening
frock she looked fluffier than ever, whilst the black and white of his
evening clothes seemed to enhance the severity of his features. And once
again I found myself wondering what lay behind it. Was it merely the old
story of youth married to age, or was it something deeper?

Once or twice it seemed to me that he was watching her covertly, and that
she, becoming aware of it, tried to pull herself together just as she had
done on deck that afternoon. And suddenly it dawned on me. Whatever might
be the cause of her depression, she was afraid of him.

The Doctor joined me, and I drew his attention to them. "They've never
travelled with us before," he said, "so beyond telling you that their
name is Longman, I can't help. He looks guaranteed to turn the butter
rancid all right, Incidentally, they're at my table."

And after dinner I met him on deck. "There's something rum in the state
of Denmark," he said. "I can't make those two out at all. I don't know
whether she's been ill or what it is, but she's the dullest woman I've
ever met in my life. Even young Granger couldn't get a word out of her,
and he'd make the Sphinx do a music-hall turn. Just Yes and No, and not
another blessed syllable. Tell you what, Parsons, she's terrified of that
husband of hers."

"Just the conclusion I came to before dinner." I remarked.

"Look there," he said quietly. "Granger has asked her to dance, and she's
fumed him down. Well, well, it takes all sorts to make a world, I
suppose, but I'm glad some of the specimens are rare."

"I must confess I'm curious about them," I said.

"I'm afraid you'll have to remain so," he laughed. "I don't quite see
anyone prattling brightly to them at breakfast and asking them the why
and the wherefore."

But as it turned out, he was wrong. The first passenger to board the boat
at Rio was Charlie Maxwell, who metaphorically fell into my arms on
sight.

"Bill," he shouted, "surely Allah is good! My dear old boy, I had no idea
you were in these parts."

"Taking a voyage for the good of my health, Charlie," I said. "What's the
matter?"

For Charlie had suddenly straightened up and was staring over my shoulder
with a strange look in his eyes. "So they're going home, are they?" he
muttered. "That's going to make it a bit awkward for all concerned."

I looked round; a few yards away the Longmans were leaning over the rail.
And at that moment the husband saw Charlie. He gave a slight start, and
then his face became as mask-like as ever. His wife saw him, too, and
gave a cry of delight.

"Uncle Charlie!" she cried and took a little run forward.

"Mary!" The husband's voice, harsh and imperious, cut through the air and
she stopped, biting her lip.

"How are you, Mary, my dear?" said Charlie quietly. "I'd no idea you were
going to be on board."

"Mary--go below." Again the husband's voice, and after a momentary
hesitation she obeyed, leaving the two men facing one another.

"I believe I told you, Mr. Maxwell," said Longman, "that you were no
longer included in the category of my wife's friends."

"I rather believe you did, Mr. Longman," drawled Charlie. "And my answer
was that you could go to blazes, and stay there. You would merely be
anticipating the ordinary course of events."

Three or four passengers were staring at the two men curiously, and for a
moment I was afraid there was going to be a scene. Their voices had been
low, but their attitude was obvious. And then with a shrug of his
shoulders Longman turned away and followed his wife.

"Let's go and have a drink. Bill," said Charlie, "and then I must make
certain that I am not at that swine's table."

"They are at the Doctor's," I told him. "But why Uncle Charlie?"

"Needless to say, she is not my niece, but I've known her since she was
two. There once was a time when, if things had gone differently, she
might have been my daughter. Her mother died on her arrival, and I'm fond
of the kid."

"The doctor and I were puzzling over the menage last night," I said.

"One night I'll tell you about it," he said gravely, "if you'll both give
me your word that you won't pass it on. It's one of life's tragedies."

The opportunity occurred a few evenings later. We had most unexpectedly
run into bad weather, which kept the Doctor busy, but things settled down
again after passing St. Vincent.

Don't ask me why she married him,--began Charlie Maxwell as we settled
ourselves in the Doctor's cabin--for I'm bothered if I know. I once asked
her the question myself, and I don't think she knows either. As I told
you, Bill, her mother died when she was born, and for some reason or
other she never quite hit it off with her father. Funny thing, too, for
he was a very decent fellow, but they just didn't agree.

He was a stockbroker and pretty well-to-do, with a nice house down near
Surbiton. And since I bore him no malice, particularly after his wife
died, for having been the favoured one, I used often to go down and spend
the weekend with him and play golf. And it was because of that that I was
given the honorary rank of Uncle. I watched her grow up from a little
toddler, through the flapper stage till she reached the marriageable age.
Of course, I was out of England a tremendous amount, but I generally saw
her two or three times a year. And you two fellows who have only seen her
on board here--listless, silent, dead--will hardly believe what she was
like then. To say that she was the life and soul of any show she was at
is to state no more than the bare truth.

She was a topper, and the boy friends realised the fact. But strangely
enough, in spite of her relations with her father, she showed no signs of
accepting any of them, though I know several of 'em asked her. She used
to bemoan the fact to me that they did so. 'It's never quite the same
after you've given them the push' she said. 'And I don't want to get
married for a long while.'

Judge, then, of my surprise when I came back to England a couple of years
ago to find that she'd gone and done the deed. It was her father who told
me when I met him in the club one day, and I could see at once he wasn't
too pleased about it. 'Women beat me, Charlie,' he said. 'There's Mary,
with a dozen fellows of her own age to be had for the lifting of a
finger, goes and marries a man of our age. Financially he's a good match,
and he seems devoted to her, but he ain't my idea of fun and laughter.
Come down this week-end and have a look at him yourself. They're both
stopping with me.'

'What's his particular worry in life?' I asked him.

'He goes in for research work,' he told me. 'He qualified as a doctor,
and then some aunt died and left him a lot of money. So he doesn't
practise, but devotes himself to original work on his own. A clever
fellow.'

Well, I went down, and I got my first inkling into Mr. George Longman's
character shortly after my arrival. Mary, as was her invariable custom,
gave me a kiss, and I happened to see his face just after. And I was not
surprised to overhear a remark a little later which was not intended for
my ears.

'What nonsense, George,' she was saying, 'I've known Uncle Charlie since
I was born.' I did not hear his reply, but the subject of their
conversation was not hard to guess, and it did not start our relations
too auspiciously. Of course, I was his age and all that sort of thing,
and she was his wife, but for all there was to it I might really have
been her uncle. Naturally, nothing was said about the matter, and neither
of them had any idea that I had overheard. But--there it was.

Now both you fellows have seen Longman, and he was just the same then as
he is now. He could talk well when he chose to on a variety of subjects,
but it always seemed to me that behind all his conversation was a cold,
analytical mind. Never once would he allow an argument of his to be
influenced by the milk of human kindness. Sentiment had no place in his
mental equipment; a thing was either proven or non proven. And the more I
saw of him the more did I share her father's surprise at Mary having
married him. On the surface she seemed happy enough, and he, in his
peculiar and rather precise way, was undoubtedly very much in love with
her. But on the second day after my arrival the rocks ahead began to show
pretty clearly.

Her father, as usual, was in London, and at lunch I suggested a round of
golf to Mary. There was no question of a three-ball, as Longman didn't
play. To my intense surprise she looked rather hesitatingly at him, and
asked him if he objected. And to my even greater surprise it was quite
clear he did object. He didn't say so. Knowing who I was, and the terms I
was on with the family, he hadn't the face to. But his consent to our
round very nearly congealed the fish on the sideboard. So I tackled her
about it on the way up to the links. 'Look here, Mary, my child,' I said,
'that husband of yours seems to have a nasty mind. Does he think I'm
going to kiss you on the first tee?'

For a while she didn't answer; then it came out with a rush. 'It's awful.
Uncle Charlie,' she cried. 'His jealousy is something unbelievable. Do
you know that this is the first game of golf I've played with a man since
my marriage?'

'Great Scott!' I said. 'I thought people like that only existed in books.
What does he think you're going to do on a golf-links?'

'And it's not only that,' she continued. 'It's the same over everything.
Dancing, for instance; he has a fit if I dance with anyone else. And as
he doesn't care about it himself, there's simply no good going to one.'

We drove on in silence for a bit, and it was then that I asked her why
she married him. Couldn't help it; that question just had to be put. And
as I told you before, I don't think she knew herself. I think, perhaps,
she'd been flattered a bit by a man of his brains running after her.
Possibly before they were married he'd been a little more human. Anyway,
that was the state of affairs two years ago. Now we're coming to the
point.

The branch of research in which Longman was most interested was
toxicology, with special reference to snake poisons. And he had
undoubtedly studied the question very thoroughly. But he was very anxious
to go for a time to some place abroad where he could observe the brutes
first hand. And he started pumping me on the matter. I told him that all
I knew about snakes was that they made me move quicker than anything
else, but that for variety of specimens, each one more pestilential than
the last, Brazil was hard to beat.

Then one of those extraordinary things happened that makes one wonder who
pulls the strings. The very morning after we'd been talking about it I
got a letter from a pal of mine telling me that he was going out to
Brazil on some form of experimental work connected with snake bites and
their antidotes. It was a semi-Government job, a bit up-country from Rio,
and would I look him up next time I was there? It was such an amazing
coincidence that I threw the letter over to Longman to read.

'If that's any use to you,' I said, 'I can easily give you an
introduction to the writer.' He was delighted, and accordingly I asked
them both to meet at my club, left em together, and forgot all about it.

A few months later I butted into Mary walking down Bond Street. I hadn't
seen her in the interval, or her father, so I suggested lunch. 'Or,' I
said jestingly, 'will George object?'

'George is in Brazil, Uncle Charlie,' she answered with a smile. 'So it
will be a bit late if he does.'

'So he went, after all!' I cried. 'I'd forgotten all about it. Perhaps I
shall see him out there.'

She clapped her hands together. 'You aren't going, are you?'

'Next week,' I told her, 'by the good ship Oregon.'

'But it's too wonderful,' she said. 'So am I. You'll be able to help me
through all the difficulties.'

I laughed. 'The difficulties, my child,' I assured her, 'of going from
London to Rio will not turn your hair grey. Now tell me all about what
George is doing.'

Well, it appeared that George had gone out with this other fellow,
leaving Mary to follow him if accommodation was suitable. The place
seemed to be a sort of glorified snake farm, and they were carrying out
experimental work with antidotes. George was there on his own in an
unofficial capacity, and he had managed to obtain a house not far away. I
knew the country near, though not the exact spot, and I was able to
assure her that she would not be eaten by cannibals or lions, nor would
she find an alligator in her bed. And ten days later the Oregon sailed,
with us both on board.

Now, we who go down to the sea in ships for most of our lives have
probably forgotten the ecstatic thrill of our first long voyage. And it
was her first long voyage. Moreover, dear George's influence had been
absent for some months. The result was what one would have expected; she
was as excited as a dog with two tails. She danced every night; she
played deck-tennis every day, and except at meals I saw very little of
her. I was working on a report and my nose was pretty well down to it. A
pity, because I might have spotted it sooner, though I don't know if it
would have done much good if I had.

There was on board a youngster called Jack Callaghan, and a more
delightful boy it would have been difficult to meet. And one morning--it
was after they'd triced the tarpaulin up for a swimming bath--I happened
to be strolling round the deck. It was early--before breakfast--and there
were very few people about. But a splash in the pool below made me look
over, and there were Mary and young Jack having a bathe. They were alone;
they didn't see me, and they were ragging in the water. Then they got out
and sat down side by side, and I was on the verge of calling out to them
when he covered her hand with one of his and kissed her shoulder.

And Mary, to put it mildly, did not resent it.

I don't know why it came as a bit of a shock--my morals are fireproof. I
suppose it was because it was Mary. However, I withdrew discreetly, and
decided to keep my eyes open. Ship-board flirtations are so common and so
harmless that I didn't anticipate any trouble, but I thought I'd watch
'em. And I very soon found out that this was a bit different.

It was later that very morning, in fact, that an elderly harridan with a
face like a wet umbrella conceived it to be her duty, since I was Mrs.
Longman's uncle, and though, of course, I would understand that she
didn't want to make mischief, to tell me in the interests of all
concerned, though really it was nothing to do with her and she was only
too glad to see young people enjoying themselves, but that she was sure I
wouldn't mind her mentioning that my charming niece was being a little
indiscreet.

I didn't enlighten her on the relationship question, and pooh-poohed the
whole thing. But in the course of the next two or three days I realised
that the old woman was perfectly right. They were the talk of the whole
ship. Literally, they were never out of one another's pockets. And I
decided that it was time I did something. So I buttonholed Mary.

'Look here, my dear,' I said, 'for a few moments I'm going to be an uncle
in reality. Have you forgotten that you're going out to a perfectly good
husband?' I could see she understood, though she pretended not to at
first. 'Your come-hither eye with young Jack is the one topic of
conversation on board ship,' I went on. 'Do you think you're being quite
fair to him--because it strikes me he's got it badly.'

And then she admitted it; they were in love with one another. Her
marriage to George had been a hideous mistake, and all the usual palaver.

'It may have been, my dear,' I said, 'but it's a mistake which,
unfortunately, cannot be rectified. Are you really serious about this, or
is it just a bit of ship-board slap and tickle?'

Evidently it was not, and I began to foresee complications. What did they
propose to do about it? I asked. They hadn't got as far as that yet, she
told me, and I breathed again. In all probability they would never see
one another again after we reached Rio, and the man who said that absence
makes the heart grow fonder coined the most idiotic utterance in the
language. But there was one thing that had to be seen to, and I tackled
Callaghan that night. 'Look here, young feller,' I said, 'I want a few
words with you. I hope you'll take em the right way, and not regard me as
an impertinent outsider. Mary has told me how things are, and I'm
extraordinarily sorry for both of you. However, it can't be helped.
You've got to grin and bear it, as lots of other people have done before
you. But I'm going to ask you to do one thing--a very important thing--a
thing for Mary's sake. She, I assume, has told you about her husband, the
manner of man he is. Well, I can confirm what she says. Without exception
he is the most jealous individual I have ever met. Now almost certainly
he will come on board to meet his wife at Rio, which brings me to the
point. I do not want there to be the slightest possible chance--don't
forget he's got an eye like a gimlet--of his spotting that there is
anything between you two. So, for the love of Allah, get your good-byes
over the night before we arrive, and behave as casual acquaintances in
front of him. No sighs and soulful glances--for if he intercepts one
he'll make her suffer for it afterwards.'

'The swine,' he muttered. 'Oh, how I wish I could ask her to come away
with me, but I can't arrive at Cadaga with her in tow.'

'Where did you say?' I said slowly. 'Cadaga! My sainted aunt!'

'What's the matter?' He stared at me in surprise.

'The matter, my young friend,' I said, 'is that that has put the lid on
it. Cadaga is not five miles from where Mary is going. I had hoped that
several hundreds were going to be between you. Brutal, I admit, but far
safer.' They hadn't realised it, of course; the geography of the country
was unknown to them. And their reaction was wild joy. Mine was not. But
there was nothing to be done about it. I talked to them both as seriously
as I could, but what was the use? They promised to be careful, and see
one another as little as possible, but with a man like Longman the only
hope would be if they didn't see one another at all. However, as I say,
there was nothing to be done except let matters take their own course and
hope for the best. Doc, I'll have a spot of that whisky of yours.

It was four months later--continued Charlie Maxwell--that I picked up the
threads again. Longman had met her at Rio as I anticipated, and Jack
Callaghan, realising that it wasn't good-bye, had treated Mary with a
casual indifference that satisfied even me. But a lot could happen in
four months, and being in their vicinity I decided to look them up and
see if anything had.

I arrived at Longman's house in the afternoon, to find Mary alone. He was
down with his snakes, so we could talk freely.

'It can't go on, Uncle Charlie,' she said dully. 'Jack and I both realise
that now. He's coming over to-morrow, and I'm going to say good-bye to
him and tell him he mustn't come over again.'

'Poor kid,' I said. 'I'm frightfully sorry for you, but it does seem the
only solution. Have you seen much of him?'

'Half a dozen times,' she answered. 'That's all.'

'And George doesn't suspect?'

'Oh no! He hasn't an idea. He never will have.'

'Well done,' I said. 'For I don't mind telling you now, Mary, that I've
been devilish uneasy as to what was going to happen.'

And it was a fact--I had been. I had not thought it possible for those
two to see one another and not give the whole show away, which, with a
man of Longman's nature, would have spelled disaster. But when he came in
and we started dinner, I had to admit that on the face of it Mary was
quite right. He was exactly the same as ever, cold and precise to me,
courteous to her. He talked in an interesting way of experiments he was
carrying out, and by the end of the meal my fears were quite allayed. And
then in a flash they returned. Mary had left us, and he had just lit a
cigar. I don't know why I watched the operation particularly, but I
remember thinking how typical it was of his character. The meticulous
care with which the end was cut the delicate way the used match was
deposited in the ash-tray; the slow exhalation of the smoke--in each
separate movement one saw George Longman, who was now staring fixedly at
me.

'Did you,' he said, speaking with extreme deliberation, 'see much of a
young man called Callaghan on the way out?'

The question was utterly unexpected, but a kindly providence has endowed
me with a face which enables me to win more money than I lose at poker.
And I'll guarantee he got nothing out of me.

'Callaghan,' I answered thoughtfully. 'Callaghan! I remember him. A nice
boy, who was always running round after some girl whose name I forget.
Why do you ask?'

'He is on a plantation close to here,' he remarked, 'and has been over to
see Mary once or twice. You forget the name of the girl, you say.'

'Completely,' I answered. 'She didn't get off at Rio, but went on to
Buenos.' And speaking, knew that he knew I lied.

But his voice as he continued was quite expressionless. 'He has seemed
very interested in some of my experiments. Strange, too, for I have never
met a human being who is in such mortal terror of a snake. It is worse
than terror, it is a peculiar revulsion which comes over him if a snake
is near him, even though it is shut up in a box. And so, as I say, it is
strange that he should go out of his way to accompany me to the farm!'

'Perhaps he is trying to overcome it.' I said casually. I couldn't get
his line of country at the moment, though it was clear Mary and young
Jack had been living in a fool's paradise.

'Perhaps,' he agreed. 'Or there may be some other motive; who knows?'

'Motive?' I said. 'A rather strange way of putting it, isn't it, Longman?
It may surely be that he thinks it only polite to show an interest in
your hobby.'

'Politic I think is le mot juste.' he remarked, and I knew the blighter
had spotted it. Jack Callaghan wasn't going trotting round a snake farm
when he might have been with Mary, unless they'd both deemed it wise. The
trouble was that it evidently had not deceived Longman.

'Politic,' he repeated, as if the word pleased him. 'It's astonishing
how blind some people can be, Maxwell. Are you quite sure that the girl
whose name you forget went on to Buenos?' He didn't wait for an answer,
but pushed back his chair and rose. 'You'll excuse me if I leave you,'
he continued, 'but I am in the middle of an experiment down at the farm,
which I must return to.' He went out through the open window, and for a
while I sat on at the table. He knew; there was not a shadow of doubt
about it. And the sooner Mary was aware of the fact the better. I didn't
like his manner. I'll go further and say I was frightened of his manner.

And yet, I argued with myself, what could he do? Clearly, Jack must never
come over again, whatever construction Longman might put on it. And I
began to wonder if that was what he had been playing for. If he had gone
straight to Mary or Callaghan, it might have precipitated a crisis he was
anxious to avoid. And so he had adopted the roundabout method of sending
them a warning through me.

At first Mary wouldn't believe me when I told her that he suspected her
and Jack. It was perfectly true that Callaghan had been two or three
times to the snake farm, because they had both thought it advisable, but
what was there suspicious in that? And it wasn't until I metaphorically
shook her, and made her understand that I wasn't inventing it, that she
began to realise the situation. Like all people in love, she had
blissfully believed that no one else knew, and now she had to adjust her
outlook to include the fact that the one person of all others she wanted
to keep in ignorance was fully aware of her secret.

'It won't matter after to-morrow,' she said a bit pitifully. 'I don't
suppose I'll ever see Jack again. And we couldn't help falling in love
with one another, could we?'

'Look here, my dear,' I said, 'I don't want to be brutal, but must there
be tomorrow? Can't you put him off?'

'And not say good-bye!' she cried indignantly. 'How can you suggest such
a thing? Besides, George knows he's coming.'

There was no more to be said and I let the subject drop. But I was
uneasy. Try as I would I couldn't get rid of a premonition of trouble.
For a man of Longman's nature to know his wife was in love with another
man and not forbid that man the house, seemed amazing to me.

Charlie Maxwell paused and lit a cigarette.

Then he burst out suddenly: 'My God! I wish I knew the truth of what
happened next day. I'm wrong: I do know it, but I can't prove it. We had
lunch as usual, and after it was over that swine went off to his snake
farm. His last words as he left us were to tell Mary to ask young
Callaghan to stop for dinner.'

'You must be wrong, Uncle Charlie,' she said. 'He can't suspect.' She was
all excited and keyed up. There would be an hour with him alone, at any
rate. But as the afternoon passed and there was no sign of him, she got
more and more unsettled. Useless for me to tell her that he must have
been detained: he'd have telephoned if that had been the case. There must
have been an accident, or he was ill or something. So I rang through for
her to his station, to find that he had left just after lunch.

'Then he's been thrown from his pony!' she cried. 'Uncle Charlie, we must
go and search along the track. I know the way, and it will be dark soon.'

I pulled out my car, and we started off. I, too, was feeling a bit
uneasy. The youngster might have been thrown. We'd gone about a mile when
suddenly she gripped my arm. 'There is his pony,' she said tensely.
'Tethered to the gate of the snake farm.'

I stopped the car. A chestnut cob was placidly grazing by the side of the
road. 'He must be with George,' I said quietly. 'I'll go and see. You
stop in the car.'

I went through the gate. What had kept the youngster there for four
hours? 'Longman!' I shouted, and got an answering hail.

'Come in,' he cried. 'I've just got to finish this culture and then I'm
through.'

'Have you seen young Callaghan?' I said.

'Not since early this afternoon. He left here about three hours ago.
Isn't he at the house?'

'He is not,' I answered. 'And his pony is still tied up to the gate.'

He pushed back his chair and rose. 'What on earth can have happened?' he
cried. 'He left me to go there, and since then I've been here in the
laboratory.'

We went out and shouted his name. No answer. Mary had joined us. Once
again we shouted. And this time we were answered. From a building about
forty yards away there came peal after peal of wild laughter--laughter
that froze the blood in one's veins.

'My God! What's that?' I muttered, and as I spoke I saw Longman's face.
For a second he had let himself go, and his expression was one of
devilish joy. Then the mask returned, and he began to run towards the
sound. 'He's in the snake house,' he shouted, 'and he can't open the door
from the inside.'

It was a Yale lock which shut automatically and I still wake up sweating
sometimes at night when I remember those next few minutes. Inside the
room were scores of snakes hissing venomously, and the demented
youngster. He was sitting on the floor babbling foolishly, whilst every
now and then he uttered a shout of laughter. He had gone mad, and when we
pulled him out he struggled to get back. 'Pretty snakes,' he kept on
saying. 'I like pretty snakes.'

Mary, poor child, was spared that part because she had fainted, and when
we got Callaghan to the laboratory Longman and I faced one another. 'What
a dreadful thing!' he said. 'And if only he had known, all those snakes
are harmless. They have had their fangs removed.'

'How did he get in there?' I demanded.

'Curious, possibly, to see what was inside,' he said calmly. 'And then
the door shut behind him.' And speaking, knew that I knew he lied.

Charlie Maxwell leaned back in his chair. "I have said things to men in
my life," he continued, "which have seared their souls. I have fought men
in my life, where if there had been weapons one of us would have died.
But I have never said to any man what I said to George Longman that
evening, while Jack Callaghan still babbled in his corner. And I have
never been nearer to murdering any man without a weapon than I was when I
fought George Longman that evening. I am as certain that he decoyed that
poor boy into that foul place and shut him in as I am that I am sitting
in this chair. Can't you picture the hours of mental agony the poor boy
went through till his brain could stand it no more and his reason
snapped?"

"Is he still insane?" asked the Doctor.

Charlie nodded. "A hopeless case. Mary had brain fever, and you see what
she is now. I have never said anything to her--naturally, I had not a
vestige of proof--and she still thinks it was an accident. At least," he
added, as he rose, "I suppose she does. But she must think it funny that
her husband has forbidden her to speak to me. And once or twice this
voyage I've seen her look at him as if..."

He paused and lit another cigarette.

"As if," he repeated, "she would not rush to open the door of a snake
house in which he was locked, even if the snakes were not harmless."



THE GREAT MAGOR DIAMOND


I suppose, as a law-abiding citizen, I should have informed the police;
but I didn't. I think it was the barefaced impudence of the thing that
intrigued me; and anyway, what would have been the use of telling a
French gendarme the truth concerning the great Magor Diamond mystery? It
had happened in England, as all the world knows, five years previously.
But much water flows under the bridge in that time: other crimes had
flitted across the stage, and even that nine days wonder was forgotten.
Besides, as I say, the little blighter intrigued me.

I met him at Aix-les-Bains doing a cure. We were both staying at the
Hotel Splendide, and once or twice I had run into him in the bar when we
were allowing ourselves a slight fall from grace. He was a small man by
the name of Martin--William Martin, of Birmingham. At least, that was
what was entered up in the visitors' book; afterwards, I wondered.

His age I put down at about forty-five, though he might have been older.
He was clean shaven and his hair was plentifully flecked with grey. But
his hands were the most noticeable thing about him. He had for his height
quite the longest fingers I have ever seen, especially the top joints,
which he could bend back in a most uncanny way. They were, in fact, the
fingers of a conjurer, and I was not surprised when, one evening, he did
some amazing tricks with a pack of cards for the benefit of two or three
of us who happened to be sitting with him. And then, just as he was going
to bed he suddenly paused by the door in a startled way.

"Good gracious me, gentlemen," he cried, "how careless of me! You might
have suspected all sorts of things."

And I'm dashed if he didn't produce from his pocket two cigarette-cases
and a gold watch belonging to us! He roared with laughter, and we laughed
too, though not quite so heartily.

"A little proof to the Colonel," he said as he left the room, "that what
I can do as an amateur is easy money for the professional."

"Darned sight too easy," growled old Firebrace, who disliked being made a
fool of. "Shouldn't wonder if the blighter ain't a professional himself.
I know one thing: I wouldn't play cards with him for a pony." And yet no
one could have been quieter than he was. He drank the waters and
conformed strictly--or as strictly as anybody did--to the rules and
regulations of the cure. He read a lot, principally lives and
biographies, and he could talk sensibly on a variety of subjects. In
fact, in his quiet way he was distinctly good value for money.

I forget what started the conversation on crime one evening. I was
sitting alone with him, and I think there had been an account in the
papers of some woman being run in for trying to smuggle silk things
through Dover. At any rate, I know I made some remark as to the
inequality of the age-old struggle between the criminal and the forces of
law and order.

"Sooner or later they all get caught," I said, "and a very good thing
too."

For a while he said nothing, though it struck me that the faintest of
smiles twitched round his lips. Then: "All is perhaps a slight
exaggeration," he remarked, "though I quite agree with your general
statement. And yet, there is a fascination in pitting your wits against
the whole resources of the police. Finger-prints: flying squads:
wireless--all the powers of science ranged against you. Or perhaps I
should say ranged against the man who does it." he added with a
deprecating wave of the hand.

I bowed: words seemed unnecessary.

"Are you interested in what people call crime?" he asked.

"A rather peculiar way of putting it," I said. "Crime, I take it, is
always crime."

"But there are varying degrees," he insisted. "In the eyes of the law
perhaps you are right. But I maintain that the man who swindles a poor
woman out of a shilling is an infinitely more despicable character, and
should be punished far more severely, than the man who relieves a
millionaire of several thousand pounds."

"A dangerous doctrine," I remarked; "though I suppose that, from a
sentimental point of view, most people would agree with you."

"Now I," he continued, "have always been interested in the study of
crime. And from a purely academic angle, I think I may claim to have as
much knowledge on the subject as anyone, in the force or out of it. It
has always fascinated me, the lone gamble against gigantic odds. And I
feel a great admiration for a man when he brings off a big coup and gets
away with it."

"Very few of them do," I put in.

"As you say," he agreed, "very few of them do. All the more power then to
the very few."

"And even if they get away to begin with," I said, "the pitcher always
goes to the well once too often."

"Always?" He raised his eyebrows. "I wonder."

"It's easy to wonder," I said, a little nettled. "There can be no proof
either way. After all, if a man isn't caught, it may merely mean that he
has given it up and is running straight."

"Of course," he agreed. "And yet that doesn't alter my argument. It may
be that by the time he has given it up he has been so successful that it
is unnecessary for him to continue. Naturally, I am not alluding to the
petty burglar--the man who breaks into villa residences and pinches the
spoons. The man I am referring to is the really big one, who plans
perhaps one or, at the most, two coups a year. Who plots and plans and
contrives for each of them as an artist does, and whose risk of being
caught in his one coup is greater than the little man in his many,
because he has so much more to contend with."

"Can you give an example?" I said, interested in spite of myself.

"Many," he answered. "There was the case of the two Vandycks stolen from
the chateau of the Prince de Perpignan: the celebrated mail-bag robbery
on the liner between Southampton and Cherbourg six months ago: a dozen I
could mention. But I think that the one that might amuse you most was
the removal of the great Magor diamond from its so-called lawful owner,
Sir Rube Jenkins, five years ago."

"Why so-called?" I put in.

He shrugged his shoulders. "You surely know Rube Jenkins's past history,"
he said. "And the less said about it the better. To my own knowledge
there were at least three men who had a prior claim to that stone.
However, that is beside the point. Do you recall the story at all?"

"Vaguely," I said. "I remember there was the devil of a song and dance
about it in the newspapers."

"And quite right, too," he remarked with spirit. "A work of art is a work
of art, whatever be the medium in which it is expressed. And I maintain
that that robbery was a very fine example of such a work. I will, if it
does not bore you, run over the salient points of the case, and you can
judge for yourself."

"There is nothing I should like more," I assured him.

He settled himself comfortably in his chair and lit a cigarette.

"To make things quite clear," he began, "I will go back some years. Mr.
Rube Jenkins, as he then was, was one of those products of South Africa
who made their money round Kimberley during the diamond rush. And, to put
the matter mildly, he was not the most scrupulous of them. It was never
brought home to him, but against his name in the dossiers out there the
three letters I.D.B. were written in letters of red. Time went on, and
from being the owner of a small store he grew to be a wealthy man and
finally a millionaire many times over. And it was at that latter stage of
his career that the great Magor diamond came into his possession in
circumstances which do not bear looking into. At least two men got knifed
in the process, and another was shot in a most suspicious manner. Anyway,
Rube got the diamond, while three other men got varying terms of
imprisonment. And it is of interest to note that all three of them,
before they left the court for jail, swore openly from the dock that they
would be even with him.

"A month or two later Rube returned to England, bringing with him his
wife. And the lady was about the only thing Rube ever possessed in his
life that he deserved. It is hard to say which was the more impossible
being of the two. In fact, one can only paraphrase the old chestnut of
the man at the country hotel: 'Waiter, if this is tea, bring me coffee;
and if it's coffee, I'll have tea.' So with Rube and his wife. When you
were with either of them alone, it was impossible not to believe that the
other was less repulsive. So you sought the other, and found you were
wrong. However, their wealth was fabulous, and when they bought Mexbridge
Towers, and started spending a fortune on the Turf, Society gradually
began to take them up. In fact, you may remember that the year War broke
out the devastating spectacle was seen of both of them in the Royal
Enclosure at Ascot.

"During the War they turned Mexbridge Towers into a hospital, supplied a
Red Cross train in France, and did all the usual things necessary to turn
Mrs. Jenkins into Lady of that ilk. And in the fullness of time Rube was
made a Knight of the British Empire, which caused those who knew him best
to shake with silent laughter.

"The War ended: the wounded were drafted away to other hospitals, and Sir
Rube and Lady Jenkins returned to Mexbridge Towers prepared to continue
their assault on Society. They bought Old Masters and tapestries, and
first editions, and scattered them indiscriminately about the house. They
had fifty gardeners, and twenty Rolls-Royces--or perhaps I've reversed
the figures: they had grouse moors and deer forests, and salmon rivers.
And finally they had the great Magor diamond.

"During the War this celebrated stone had been stored in the strong-room
of Rube's bank in London, but now that they had come into residence again
he determined that this, his crowning glory, must be on view. And so he
had a specially embossed golden cabinet of incredible vulgarity made for
it.

"You have doubtless passed at times the window of one of the super
chocolate shops in London or Paris, and you have seen reposing in the
middle one lone bon-bon. It lies there supreme, with nothing else to
distract one's attention. This, then, was his idea. Alone, on a black
velvet throne in the middle of the golden cabinet reposed the diamond.
The lid was of glass, and cunningly concealed lights shone on this apple
of his eye till the reflection almost dazzled the spectator.

"The cabinet, on its four monstrous legs, stood in a downstairs room,
which at first sight struck one as being dangerous. But Rube was, in
reality, taking no risks. Every known form of burglar-proof apparatus
protected that apparently harmless-looking cabinet. The glass, though
flawless, was an inch thick: the lock was a special combination, one that
was reset daily by Rube himself. But he went much further than that. Not
only were the windows and the door fitted with electric alarms that rang
all over the house if they were tampered with, but the cabinet itself,
when set, gave anyone who touched it a shock which, even if not strong
enough to electrocute them, was powerful enough to lay them out
temporarily. And when, in addition to all that, it was known that the
diamond was always returned to the London bank when Sir Rube was not in
residence, you will realise that it was a pretty tough nut for any
burglar to crack.

"But there were still further difficulties to contend with. Two of the
men who had gone to prison vowing vengeance against Rube were accounted
for. One had died in jail: the other had gone over with the South African
contingent and had been killed at Delville Wood. But the third, and most
dangerous, still remained. And the Knight of the British Empire was
taking no chances. In addition to carrying, himself, a six-shooter with
which he was a deadly performer, he kept a couple of prize-fighting
toughs about the place as a sort of personal bodyguard. They remained in
the background if a house party was there, because their appearance was
so awful that they used to spoil the guests' appetites if seen. But their
orders were to deal in their own way with any unauthorised man whom they
saw loitering in the grounds or near the house."

The little man paused and lit another cigarette.

"So, as I said before," he continued. "I think you will agree that the
removal of the Magor diamond was a pretty tough proposition. And that
being the case, it was all the greater incentive to the big men to try.
Human nature is the same in all branches of life, and the greater the
difficulties the keener the zest in overcoming them. But, though two or
three attempts were made, failure was registered each time. One man, it
is true, negotiated the burglar-proof window in some extraordinary way,
but was defeated by the cabinet itself. In fact, when he was found next
morning, he was only just alive.

"And so, as years passed and the great Magor diamond still remained in
its golden casket. Sir Rube, though he never relaxed his precautions,
became more or less contemptuous in his references to the abilities of
what he was pleased to call the underworld.

"'Show me the man who will lift that stone he was wont to say, 'and I'll
give ten thousand pounds to any charity you like to mention.'

"It was six years ago that the third man of whom I have told you was
liberated from jail. His name was Mark Sanderson, and he was just about
as dangerous a wild beast as you are ever likely to meet. He had always
been a wrong un, but his life in prison had made him a hundred times
worse. And, somewhat naturally, Rube Jenkins was the principal object of
his hatred.

"No sooner had he landed in England than he began to write threatening
letters, and Sir Rube at once put the matter in the hands of the police.
With a very strange result--one of the strangest perhaps in the whole of
the baffling case. Though he gave the police a description of the man,
which they supplemented by reference to South Africa, no trace of Mark
Sanderson was ever discovered. He was known to have embarked at Cape
Town: he was known to have landed at Southampton, but from that moment he
vanished completely, though the letters continued to arrive from widely
separated parts of the country with monotonous regularity. It took, of
course, a day at least for each one to arrive, and by that time the
postmark was useless. Nevertheless, it was a very extraordinary thing,
that a man for whom the entire police force was looking should be able to
hide himself for nearly a year in England; for it was eleven months after
Mark Sanderson landed that the robbery took place. During that time Sir
Rube was not idle, He had an electrician down to overhaul and strengthen
the whole system round the cabinet. He engaged another prize-fighter to
make the total three. But one thing he would not do. To every suggestion
that he should store the diamond permanently at his bank he turned a deaf
ear. He utterly refused to confess to being frightened of Mark Sanderson,
and to do that would have been tantamount to such a confession.

"And so we come to the house party which assembled at Mexbridge Towers
for Ascot in the year of the crime, of which, even at the risk of boring
you, I will give you a list. There were the Earl and Countess of
Shotover; a Colonel and Mrs. Maddox; a stockbroker named Leader and his
wife; Professor Rankel, the well-known art connoisseur and enthusiastic
lepidopterist; Aaronhaus, the big Hatton Garden diamond man; two girls,
whose names I forget, and the host and hostess.

"Not, as you will agree, a very well assorted lot, but Rube, even then,
had to be content with what he could get. The Shotovers, as you know, go
anywhere provided they are done well; Colonel Maddox and his wife were of
much the same brand. They were all four of them chronically hard up. The
stockbroker was the senior partner of the firm that Rube employed most;
the diamond man was also a business acquaintance; while Professor Rankel
had, after much pressing, been persuaded to come to give his opinion on
the art treasures. And finally the two girls were there merely to make up
the numbers.

"Such, then, was the party that went in to dinner on the night of the
Gold Cup. They had all been over to the races: even the Professor had
been inveigled into going for the first time in his life. 'It has been a
long-standing promise of mine to come and see your collection,' he told
his host, 'but attending a horse-race was not part of the bargain.
However, if you insist, I will go.'

"And he had gone, leaving Shotover fainting in the hall at his rig. 'My
dear Jenkins,' he said feebly, 'the little man can't wear a frock-coat
and a bowler. He can't. He mustn't. We shall all be assassinated on the
course. And what in the name of fortune is he taking a butterfly-net
for?' It was, I may mention, a peculiar fad of the Professor's to carry a
butterfly-net and killing-bottle with him wherever he went, and it was
only with considerable difficulty, on this occasion, that he was
persuaded to leave them in the car. So great was his enthusiasm for his
hobby that had he seen any specimen he wanted fluttering over the course,
he would probably have pursued it quite heedless of the racing. But the
danger had been averted and a very cheerful party sat down to dine.
Shotover had backed a couple of long-priced winners: a horse of Rube's
had won one of the smaller races, and a Duchess had nodded to Lady
Jenkins by mistake.

"Then quite suddenly the atmosphere changed. A letter was handed on a
salver to Rube, and the instant he saw it his face turned purple.

"'When did this come?' he roared.

"'Just been delivered, Sir Rube,' said the butler.

"'Search the grounds, Wilcox,' cried his master. 'Tell Robinson and the
others to look everywhere.' Robinson was the chief of the three
prize-fighters. 'The insolence of the scoundrel!' he went on furiously.
'It's that blackguard Sanderson again. You remember I told you about him,
Shotover?'

"'Why not open the note and see what he has to say?' said the other
languidly. Which proceeding made matters worse. Sir Rube's voice became
so suffused with rage as to become inaudible, and Lady Shotover, after a
moment or two, calmly removed it from his hand.

"'You poor fish,' she read aloud, 'I dare you to hand round the diamond
as usual to-night.'

"Now, I may tell you it was the invariable custom, when a house party
assembled at Mexbridge Towers, to pass the Magor diamond round from hand
to hand one evening after dinner. It was done with due ceremony, and the
pleasing idea underlying the performance was that all the honoured guests
should be able to say in the future that they had held in their hands for
a moment a thing the value of which would have saved hundreds of poor
people from starvation.

"'Dares me!' spluttered Sir Rube. 'Dares me! I'll show the rotten cur
what I dare and what I don't! And what's more, I'll catch him this time,
if he gives me half a chance. I'll show those blundering fools of police
how to do their own job.'"

The meal proceeded, but the harmony of the evening was shattered. And
things were not improved when they adjourned after dinner, by the
Professor, who had in a fit of absent-mindedness left his butterfly-net
on the sofa usually patronised by Mrs. Maddox. The lady was about to sit
down when his shout of anguish rent the air. 'Woman!' he yelled, 'don't
sit down.'

"By a supreme feat of contortion she complied with his request, and
glaring at her wrathfully the Professor removed his net and
killing-bottle.

"'Six sofas in this room', he rumbled, 'and you must needs choose this
one!'

"'How dare you call me woman!' she said shrilly.

"'I thought you were one,' he answered calmly, 'but you know best.
Anyway, whatever you are, there's no cause to break my butterfly-net.'
He placed it carefully in a corner and began wandering round the room
inspecting the pictures. And he was keeping up a running commentary on
the unspeakable manner in which they were hung when his host entered
with a large revolver in his hand. The ladies shrieked, but Sir Rube
held up his hand reassuringly.

"'Please do not be alarmed', he remarked. 'I am just going to say a few
words, if I may, for the benefit of those of you who do not know the
facts. This evening at dinner the note which I received upset me greatly.
It was from a man who has been annoying me considerably for some months
past: a man, I may say, who imagines he has some grudge against me. Now,
since this note was delivered by hand, the assumption is that the man is
about the place. He dared me, you may remember, to carry out the little
ceremony of handing round the great Magor diamond. Had it not been for
this note I should have postponed it till the last evening of your visit;
as it is, however, I propose to kill, if I can, two birds with one stone.

"'Knowing this man to be a desperate character, I think it more than
likely that he will make some attempt at a hold-up. He is probably hoping
that the effect of his note will be exactly what we are going to let it
be. Bluff, you perceive, of the second degree. Now then--what will occur
if my surmise is correct? He will enter by the window, which we will open
to its full width, and cover us with his revolver. We shall all put up
our hands, and at that moment my three men who are hidden on each side of
the window will collar him from behind.'

"'That's all very well,' said the Professor, nervously, 'but supposing he
lets off his gun? He might hit somebody.'

"'Don't you worry about that, Professor,' laughed Sir Rube. 'My men will
see to that. And if there is any trouble, there is always this.' He
patted his own revolver significantly. 'Now we will start. But there is
one thing I beg of you, ladies--try to appear quite natural. Don't keep
glancing at the window, or anything of that sort, or it may give the show
away. Leader, would you mind opening it as wide as you can? Thank you.
Now if we form a circle: that's right.'

"He placed his revolver on a table behind the cabinet, so that it was
quite invisible from the window; then with a flourish he opened the lid.
'The great Magor diamond, ladies and gentlemen,' he said grandiloquently,
but, in spite of his warning to the others, his eyes kept darting towards
the window. 'The largest and most perfect stone in the world.'

"He picked it up on its velvet stand and with a low bow presented it to
Lady Shotover. 'Take it in your hands and feel the weight, dear lady,' he
cried. And then in an undertone he added: 'I'm getting back to my
revolver.'

"It passed from hand to hand, and everybody dutifully gave forth gurgles
of wonder and delight, though it was noticeable that it moved with a
rapidity that suggested a red hot stone. No one had the slightest wish to
be the temporary possessor of it when the expected visitor materialised.
Until, that is, it came to the Professor, who was beyond any thought of
such a trifle as the Magor diamond. One of the girls had put it in his
hand, but he was quite unconscious of it. For he was staring at a spot on
the carpet opposite him, and his eyes were almost coming out of his head.

"'Look,' he whispered hoarsely. 'Heavens! but it is. I know it is. Here,
take the bauble.' He literally threw the diamond at Mrs. Maddox, who was
sitting next to him, leaped like a maniac for his butterfly-net, and the
next moment with a sweep he brought it down on the floor.

"'It is!' he shrieked in an ecstasy, examining the net. 'The
killing-bottle! Give me the killing-bottle!'

"'What on earth is it?' cried his host irritably.

"'The killing-bottle! cried the Professor. 'Hurry! hurry!' Somebody gave
him the bottle, and with infinite care he inserted it under the net. 'A
Death's Head moth,' he explained. 'And a perfect specimen. What luck!
What incredible luck!'

"He straightened up and beamed on the company.

"'What a ridiculous fuss to make over a butterfly!' said Mrs. Maddox
acidly, but the Professor was impervious to insult. With his
killing-bottle in his hands he sat crooning gently to himself, whilst
every now and then he held it up to the light to examine it better.

"'After which entertaining interlude,' remarked his host sarcastically,
'we might perhaps return to the trifling subject of my diamond.'

"Mrs. Maddox was still holding it, and once more it started on its round,
amidst a chorus of praise. But somehow it rang a little flat; the
solemnity of the moment had been spoiled. And Sir Rube, quite
justifiably, felt ruffled. Why the deuce did the little fool want to go
prancing after a wretched moth in the middle of the ceremony?

"The diamond came to Aaronhaus. Now, at any rate, would come the real
appreciation of an expert. 'What do you think of that, my boy?' he said
complacently. 'Something like a diamond--what?'

"The Jew looked at it; then at his host. 'Very like it.' he agreed
courteously. 'Of course, my dear Jenkins, I should have realised that
with the possibility of this man trying to get your stone you would take
additional precautions. Still, I congratulate you, I must say.' He
examined it again critically. 'Perfect,' he remarked.. 'Perfect. Who did
it for you?'

"A sudden silence settled on the room. 'What the hell are you talking
about? said Sir Rube thickly.

"'This,' said the Jew. 'It's paste, and very perfect paste. And I
wondered who had done it.'

"'You lie!' roared his host, snatching it out of the Jew's hand. He
examined it himself; then he let it drop on the floor.

"'By God!' 'he said softly, 'you're right!' His eyes roved round the
silent circle of people, and there was murder in them. Sir Rube Jenkins
of Mexbridge Towers had departed; Rube Jenkins of the mining camp had
taken his place. 'Which of you--did it?' he said even more softly.

"Lord Shotover rose to his feet. 'We have the misfortune to be your
guests,' he remarked icily.. 'And as their temporary spokesman I have the
honour to inform you that a man who can use the word you have just used
in the presence of ladies is a cad and an outsider of the first water.'

"'Maybe,' said the other thickly, picking up his revolver. 'But no one
leaves this room till my diamond is handed back. I'll give the culprit
half a minute: if it's not forthcoming by then, I send for the police.'

"'What exactly is your accusation? demanded Colonel Maddox.

"'A very simple one,' said the other. 'In the course of my diamond being
handed round, somebody has substituted this paste thing for it. Where is
the real one?'

"'Probably in that ridiculous bottle of the Professor's,' said Mrs.
Maddox venomously.

"One of the girls gave a nervous little laugh, and then gasped. For the
entire room was staring at Professor Rankel, whose face had gone the
colour of putty.

"'Ridiculous,' he spluttered. 'Absurd.' He clutched the bottle even
tighter as Sir Rube advanced towards him. 'I tell you it is absurd!' he
cried shrilly.

"'You look as if it was,' snarled his host, levelling his revolver at the
Professor's head. 'Give me that bottle!'

"He snatched it from the other's hands, opened it and turned it upside
down. And there fell out a very dead moth and the great Magor diamond.

"'You dirty little thief,' said Sir Rube softly as he picked it up. 'So
that is why you were prancing round with a butterfly-net.' And then he
broke off abruptly, and peered at the diamond. 'But I don't understand,'
he stuttered. 'This is paste too!' And even the so-called Professor
looked astounded.

"'Am I going dippy?' Sir Rube cried. 'Look, Aaronhaus! That's paste,
isn't it?'

"'It certainly is,' agreed the Jew.

"'Then where is my diamond?' said Sir Rube feebly, and Colonel Maddox
smiled behind his hand.

"'Where indeed?' he murmured pointedly.

"'What do you mean?' demanded the other.

"'As to where your diamond is, I'm afraid I can't help you,' said the
soldier, 'except to remark that it certainly is not in this room.'

"'But it was,' spluttered the other. 'You all saw me take it out of the
cabinet.'

"'We saw nothing of the sort,' answered the soldier. 'We saw you take
something out of the cabinet which you told us was the diamond, and which
we believed to be the diamond.' A murmur of assent came from the others.
'This--er--person,' continued Colonel Maddox, indicating the Professor,
had evidently conceived the friendly idea of substituting a paste stone
for the genuine one. Unfortunately--or, perhaps, in view of that chance
shot of my wife's, fortunately for him--he only substituted one piece of
paste for another.'

"'Do you mean to say I shouldn't have noticed that it was paste when I
took it out?' cried Sir Rube.

"'Hold hard again,' said Lord Shotover. 'You didn't take it in your hand.
You gave it to my wife on that velvet thing.'

"And once more there came a murmur of assent. 'I expect that man you were
talking about stole it before we came in,' said one of the girls, and Sir
Rube--all the bluster out of him--could only stare at her dazedly.

"'That is a possible solution,' agreed the soldier. 'And if so, I fear
he's away by this time. But you must go back further. When was the last
time you actually handled the diamond yourself, Jenkins?'

"'About three months ago.'

"The Colonel shrugged his shoulders. 'Then at any time during those three
months the substitution may have taken place,' he remarked. I'm very
sorry for you, my dear fellow, especially as I know you thought this
place was burglar-proof. But in my humble opinion there's nothing that
has yet been constructed by man that can't be opened by him. Don't you
agree, Shotover?'

"'Most certainly,' said the other. 'Couldn't have put it clearer myself."

"And at that it was left. No trace of Mark Sanderson was ever discovered.
In fact, he has never been heard of again. And, after much discussion, in
which the soldier played a prominent part, it was decided that the
Professor had been sufficiently punished by the disgrace he had incurred,
and his share in the proceedings was glossed over."

The little man paused, and called the barman. "What's yours?" he said.

"But, dash it, man," I cried, "you can't leave it like that. What had
really happened?"

"Well," he remarked, "the popular theory was the one put forward by the
girl--that Mark Sanderson stole it while the party was at dinner, and
then sent the note to make his revenge the more complete."

"And your theory?" I demanded.

"Is, of course, purely academic," he said, taking a sip of his drink.
"You appreciate, naturally, the main difficulty that confronted the
thief. To substitute a paste diamond for the genuine article was child's
play, but to hide the real one was a very different matter. A police
search is no joke. A thing the size of the Magor diamond would most
certainly have been discovered. It was, therefore, imperative to prevent
a search, and they hit on a very clever ruse to achieve their object.

"There were two paste stones. When the real diamond came to the
Professor, he passed it on to Mrs. Maddox, and made a diversion over an
imaginary moth. He had one already in the killing-bottle, and he slipped
one of the paste stones in as well. Taking advantage of the excitement,
Mrs. Maddox substituted the other paste stone for the genuine diamond,
which finally came to Aaronhaus and was at once discovered, she having
the real one in her bag.

"Now came the moment. She had already quarrelled with the Professor: what
more natural than her acid remark about the killing-bottle? To the others
it was an arrow at a venture, which, by a wild fluke, hit the mark; but
the whole thing was, of course, carefully premeditated. And immediately a
red herring was drawn over the trail.

"Then came in the Colonel, who proceeded to dominate the situation. He
suggested a plausible theory to which everyone assented, and Sir Rube was
so dumbfounded over the whole business that he agreed as well. The danger
of a search was over.

"Now they were in clover. The only man who could possibly be arrested was
the Professor, but there was nothing incriminating on him. True, he had
evidently gone to Mexbridge Towers with the intention of stealing the
diamond, but he hadn't succeeded. The utmost that could happen to him was
a short term of imprisonment, and punishing him didn't help Sir Rube to
get his diamond back, which was all he cared about.

"Finally, Mark Sanderson. Well, it is a strange coincidence, but on
landing at Southampton he was met by a man who bore a slight resemblance
to Colonel Maddox. And, but for the fact that three days later he was
knifed and killed in a drunken brawl down in the East End, he might have
figured more than he did in my story. But, since there were no papers on
him, and nothing by which he could be identified, it occurred to the
Colonel that he might profitably be kept alive to write threatening
letters to Sir Rube. Another red herring, and a useful one: as I said,
most people thought he was the thief."

"It's lucky for the thieves," I said, "that Sir Rube didn't handle the
diamond when he gave it to Lady Shotover."

He drained his glass and stood up. "Yes," he agreed, "but it would have
made no difference. The weights of the real and the paste stones were
identical, and it was extremely improbable that he would examine it when
he took it out. Anyway, that was a risk they had to run." He lit a
cigarette. "Well, I must be getting along. A charming woman is getting up
charades in aid of the local cats' home, and I'm performing."

"Really?" I said. "What part are you taking?"

A faint smile flickered round his lips, as he opened the door.

"That of a retired English colonel," he murmured.



THE BROKEN RECORD


On an average Tim Anstruther and I meet about once every five years, and
when we do my wife gets a telephone call to say that I am detained in
London for the night on business.

Twenty-four hours is the minimum time for recovery. And so when I butted
into him in Regent Street the other day, I went without further ado into
a telephone booth and did the necessary. Then we adjourned for a small
one.

An extraordinary chap--Tim. Providence in the shape of a father who had
made something in jam, had endowed him with ample money, so that a rooted
disinclination for any settled occupation was no drawback to him.

He had been able without inconvenience to lead the only life he wanted
to--that of a wanderer in strange corners of the globe.

There seemed literally to be no spot he did not know, and if one could
get him in a communicative mood he was the very best value for money I've
ever met. The trouble was that getting him into such a mood was what
necessitated twenty-four hours' recovery for people like myself.

But let it not be thought that this is going to be a record of inordinate
consumption of alcohol: I have only put in this short introduction to
emphasise the fact that on this occasion the mood occurred within half an
hour of our meeting. And the reason of it was so amazing that even now I
can hardly believe what he said. There must be a mistake: and yet...

We decided to lunch at the Royal Motor Club, that vast caravanserai which
numbers its members by the ten thousands. And we were standing by the bar
preparatory to feeding when a man I knew slightly, by the name of Finlay,
came up and spoke to me.

I was surprised at seeing him there because he is a strict teetotaller,
in addition to being perilously near, one of the unco guid. He
specialises in charitable works, and you can always safely bet that he
will try and touch you for his latest pet scheme. To cap it he is a
churchwarden and carries round the plate on Sunday.

I forget what he wanted to talk to me about--something trifling, and he
was just moving away when, somewhat to my surprise, Tim spoke to him.
"Excuse me, sir," he said, "but weren't you out in Burma some years ago?"

Finlay paused and looked at him. "No, sir," he answered gravely. "I have
never been out East."

"The last man I should imagine would have been, old boy," I said as
Finlay moved away. "Unless it was a round the world trip in a liner."

"Let's have another, Bill," he remarked thoughtfully. "I'll swear I'm not
mistaken."

I shrugged my shoulders. "Then why should he deny it?" I asked. "For I,
on my side, will swear that there is nothing in Finlay's past that will
not bear the closest investigation. Why, my dear boy, he damned near
preaches in the Park."

"How long have you known him?"

"Four or five years. But only really as a club acquaintance." Out of the
corner of his eye he was still watching Finlay, and I could see he was
strangely excited.

"If I'm right," he said at length, "it's the most incredible thing that I
have ever encountered in my life, and I've run against a few off and on."

"But if you'd known him out there he'd have remembered you," I objected.

"No: he wouldn't," said Tim. "Because he was so drunk on the one occasion
I saw him that he couldn't remember anybody."

"Finlay drunk?" I remarked incredulously. "You must be wrong, Tim."

"Perhaps I am, Bill," he said after a while. "And perhaps I'm not. But
one of my few assets is a memory for faces. A religious bloke, is he?
Well, that covers a multitude of sins on occasions."

"I should be interested to hear which particular one it covers in his
case," I said.

"Murder," remarked Tim quietly. "Cold blooded, brutal murder: planned out
and premeditated over many years."

"My dear Tim," I protested feebly.

"And committed," he continued calmly, "since you've known him--to be
correct, four years ago."

"But it's impossible," I spluttered. "You're pulling my leg. Who the
deuce did he murder?"

"Look here, Bill," he said with a grin. "I may be talking the most
appalling hot air, but I've got a hunch that I'm not. And anyway, the
yarn might interest you. I'm busy all this afternoon, and I can't tell it
to you over lunch: it's too long. But if you care to have a spot of
dinner with me at my club, I'll spin it to you afterwards."

And at that we left it. Tim went off shortly after two, leaving me to my
own devices, and as luck would have it I found myself in the smoking-room
sitting next a man who knew Finlay far better than I did.

"It's mere idle curiosity on my part," I said, after a little desultory
conversation, "but that man Finlay rather interests me. He was after me
this morning for some society or other he's running at the moment. What
does he do with himself when he's not touting round for money?"

My companion lit a cigarette. "I don't think he's got time for much
else." he answered with a grin. "As a matter of fact, he's in a big jute
firm in the City."

"How long has he been with them?"

"About five or six years. It was when he joined them that I first got to
know him, because he came to live down close to me in Surrey, and being
unmarried my missis and I started asking him over occasionally for
dinner. A rum bird, but he's lonely, poor devil."

"Rum in what way?" I asked.

"Well, even the mildest story doesn't go down with him, for instance. He
isn't exactly, shocked, but he simply gives one the impression that he
regards you as a dirty little schoolboy. And, of course, on the subject
of drink he is quite fanatical. Then again--women. Naturally, he is
polite to my wife, but you can see at a glance that he dislikes the sex
as a whole."

"What was he doing before he came to live there?"

"I don't know. He has never volunteered any information on the subject,
and he's not the type of man you can question. From an odd remark or two
he's made, I gathered he was in France during the War, and in the
infantry."

"I suppose you don't happen to know if he's been out East," I hazarded.

My informant shook his head and rose. "He's never said anything about
it," he answered, "but that doesn't mean that he may not have been. As I
said, he's a rum 'un, but there's no doubt about it that in his own way
he's a very decent fellow. He doesn't enliven a dinner table, but if I
was in a hole he's a man I wouldn't hesitate to go to."

With a nod he was gone, leaving me to my thoughts. Assuredly Tim must
have made a mistake: it was inconceivable to believe that such a man was
a murderer. A chance likeness would account for it: any other solution
was obviously absurd. In any case, how could he possibly say that a man
he had met in Burma many years ago, and had never seen since, was
responsible for a murder which had taken place recently. And so when we
were comfortably seated in a corner of his club that evening I was
prepared to listen to an interesting story, but Finlay was already
acquitted.

Indeed, Tim himself had recanted, and admitted that it must be a question
of an unusual likeness.

"Nevertheless," he remarked, "the story may interest you because it gives
a very strange example of what an idee fixe will do to a man, and of the
desperate passions which can be engendered by what on the face of it is a
comparatively trivial thing. We admit even in England that under certain
circumstances killing is justified. A man catching his wife with another
man is one of them, and though we don't present him with a diploma of
merit as they do in France, the chances are that he is let off lightly.
Again, we have all of us heard of the overmastering rage that can be
raised in a convict's breast if another convict hurts his pet mouse. I
don't believe public opinion would ever tolerate that man being hanged,
if in the heat of the moment he succeeded in killing the other. But my
story concerns nothing so human as that: it concerns a gramophone
record." He smiled as he saw my look of astonishment. "A common or garden
gramophone record," he repeated. "Not even a valuable one, such, let us
say, as one giving Caruso's actual voice which would be almost impossible
to replace. It was just an ordinary record that could be bought by the
dozen in any shop. However, of that in due course.

"We've got to go back to the year of grace 1910. I was doing a wander
round in the East, and in the course of it I found myself up--country in
Burma. The exact locality is of no importance, but I had been trekking
for several weeks when I arrived at one of those little communities of
white men which one finds scattered about in the back of beyond. Teak was
the particular raison d'etre of this one, though the manner of living of
the occupants varies but little whatever be the cause of their
banishment. It was pestilentially hot: the rains were about due, and in
consequence tempers were a bit on edge. The two married men had sent
their wives down-country, so that even that small restraint was removed.

"The first man I butted into was a fellow called Congleton, whom I had
met once or twice before. He was the manager, and one of the best. His
liver wanted watching in the morning, but so do most people's out there.
And he insisted that I should stop at his bungalow for as long as I
liked.

"'The longer the better, Anstruther,' he said. 'Mary has gone back home,
and I've got another six months before I'm due for leave. And, to tell
you the truth, I'm fed up with my own and the rest of the company here.'

"So I agreed at any rate to remain a few days, and in the course of the
first two I met the rest of the bunch. There was Rogerson, a great big
hulking chap, foul mouthed always and violent in addition when he'd got a
bit of liquor on board. There was Aldridge, quiet to the point of being
almost morose, and two or three others whose parents had obviously not
paid any attention to Kipling's dictum that East is East and West is
West. Anyway, they don't come into the matter.

"You may remember that it was just about then that auction bridge was
beginning, and it happened that I was the only man there who had any
practical knowledge of the game. So, since they were all keen to learn,
Rogerson and Aldridge came round each evening to Congleton's bungalow
after tiffin, and I showed them the rudiments of it. And the third
evening after my arrival, we sat down to our first genuine rubber.

"It was an electric sort of night: even the exertion of dealing made one
sweat. There was a storm about, and every living thing seemed to know it.
Not a sound broke the silence outside: it seemed as if a heavy blanket
was pressing on one's head.

"Aldridge had just dealt, and Rogerson was on his left: don't forget they
were absolute beginners. Aldridge called a spade, I think it was, and
Rogerson, who was playing with me, was trying to remember what I had told
him.

"'Now, I'm allowed to say two hearts,' he was beginning, when suddenly
the silence was broken by the sound of church bells. The chimes came
drifting through the open window and in my surprise I turned round in my
chair. The thing was so unexpected, for I knew there was no church
anywhere near. And the next moment I got a blow in the side that almost
winded me. It was the edge of the table, pushed violently by Rogerson,
who was standing up with the veins on his forehead like whipcord. 'Damn
and curse that drunken sot!' he said savagely. 'How can a man be expected
to think straight with that foul noise going on?'

"'Hold hard,' I remarked mildly. 'Until you very nearly winded me, I
thought it was rather pretty.'

"'Sorry, Anstruther,' he cried, sitting down again. 'But you wouldn't
think it pretty if you had to listen to that same blasted record over and
over again night after night. It's enough to drive one perfectly
frantic.'

"So it was a gramophone, and I asked who was the owner.

"'A man who calls himself Jones,' answered Congleton briefly. 'I'll tell
you about him later. Get on with it, Rogerson: you ought to be used to it
by now.'

"'One day, Congleton,' said the other, and his voice had an ugly ring in
it, 'that record is going to die a nasty death. I say two hearts.'

"And so we went on with the game, while the church bells still continued
to chime. Six times in succession was that record played, and at the end
I confessed there was some justification for Rogerson's outburst. The
monotony became maddening: one felt oneself on the verge of
shouting--'For Heaven's sake, play something else.' But there was
something rather intriguing about the whole thing, and I was not sorry
when Aldridge got up after the second rubber and the two of them left.

"'What's the story of the gramophone player?' I asked my host.

"He pushed the whisky towards me and lit a cigarette. 'A fairly common
one,' he answered, 'though it has one or two points about it that are of
interest. Needless to say, his name is not Jones, though what it really
is I have no idea. He arrived here about a year ago, pretty well done in,
and as Mary was not here I gave him a shakedown for a couple of nights.
Couldn't place him at all, and he volunteered no information about
himself. But I soon found out that he was frankly impossible. Drink!
Great Scott! old boy, his consumption per week would have floated a
battleship. He seemed to have a certain amount of money, though where it
came from I don't know, and apparently he still has since whisky has to
be paid for. However, just as I was wondering how to get rid of him
without being too rude, he settled the matter for me by saying he was
going into the bungalow over the way. You can see the light now if you
look through the window. It was in a very bad state of repair, but he
didn't seem to mind, and he's done nothing to it since. Shortly after
that I had to go on trek, and when I came back a month later I found him
settled in. It was a little awkward with us being so close, for so far as
I could make out he was practically never sober. Then one day a
packing-case arrived, and that night the performance you heard this
evening began. He'd sent for a gramophone, and some records, and from
then on whenever he was not too tight to wind up the machine we were
given a concert.

"At first it wasn't too bad; he varied the tunes. But after a time he
became more and more set on the one he was playing to-night. How the
darned thing hasn't got worn out, I don't know: I believe he must have
got two or three of the same one. And one night when he'd played it about
eight times, I felt I could stand it no more, and I went over to see him.

"'For the love of Allah, Jones,' I cried, 'give that tune a rest.'

"He was sitting at the table, with a photograph in his hand and a glass
of neat whisky by his side. There was a filmy look in his eyes, and I
doubt if he even saw me. Certainly my words didn't penetrate his brain.
'The river,' he said huskily, 'the river down Henley way, with the sun
setting behind the hills and the sound of the church bells stealing
softly over the fields.'

"'That's all very fine and large,' I answered irritably, 'but this isn't
Henley. And the sun has set, and there aren't any fields--only a damned
great forest. Can't you play something else, man?' His only answer was to
switch back to the beginning of the tune, an operation which was not
accomplished without difficulty. And then he started talking again--to
himself, not to me. Honestly I don't think he knew I was there. And as I
listened I learned the story of the man called Jones, and a certain pity
took possession of me.

"There was a girl in it--the girl whose photograph he held in his hand.
And there was no getting away from it, she was a fizzer. Evidently her
people had a house on the river near Henley, and he and she had been
engaged. Then she had been bathing one morning, and been drowned. Such,
baldly, were the facts that I pieced together from his incoherent
ramblings, and the rest was easy to fit in. It showed pitiable weakness
on his part admittedly, but I could not help feeling a bit sorry for him.
He'd simply let himself go, and the only thing left him was to get drunk
and then, with the help of the record, dream that he was back again in a
punt drifting down the river with his girl.' Congleton paused and
shrugged his shoulders. 'He's a hopeless case: he can't last long at the
rate he's going. And so I put up with it. At first it used to get on my
nerves: Rogerson is passing through that stage at present. But now I've
got used to it, and it doesn't worry me any more.'

"And on that we turned in. As Congleton had said, it showed abject
weakness, but there was something a bit pathetic about the case. Drinking
himself to death with a gramophone record as his only companion: one
couldn't help being sorry for the poor devil. At the same time, I was
frankly glad that it would not be my lot to have to go on listening to it
ad nauseam. I was leaving two days later, and Rogerson was going on leave
at the same time. And so the night before we started bridge was off,
since he had to square up everything before he left. He'd been
celebrating his approaching departure during the day, and when I saw him
just before tiffin he was a bit sprung.

"'Got about two hours' work on accounts to do to-night,' he growled. 'And
if that infernal machine tunes up, it'll be out of action for good.'

"A casual remark: I thought no more about it. And even when at ten
o'clock the church bells started their nightly chime I had no premonition
of trouble. Congleton was giving me one or two commissions to do for him
in Rangoon: the record was half-way through, and then it happened. Six
revolver shots rang out in rapid succession: the gramophone stopped:
there was dead silence.

"But only for a few seconds: then there came a yell of such maniacal fury
that we both sprang to our feet. It was followed by a heavy crash, and a
grunting noise like a beast worrying its quarry. 'Quick!' shouted
Congleton. 'This is serious.' We raced across the road to Joneses'
bungalow, and the sight that met our eyes pulled us up short for a
moment. Lying on the floor was Rogerson. He was unconscious, with a huge
lump already forming on his forehead. Bending over him, making animal
noises in his throat, was Jones. His hands were embedded in the flesh of
the big man's throat: he was strangling him before our eyes. It took both
of us all we knew to pull him off: he was mad drunk and fought like a
tiger. In fact, it wasn't till Congleton caught him a beauty on the point
of the jaw, and laid him out good and proper, that we could breathe
again. Then we took stock of the room, which looked as if a bull elephant
had run amok in it.

"In one corner was the gramophone splintered to bits, with the
over-turned table beside it. Rogerson's revolver was by the door, and a
broken bottle lay at his side, from which a pool of whisky had spread all
over his clothes. Jones, his shirt ripped off, sprawled face downwards in
the centre of the room, breathing stertorously. The jolt on the chin on
top of the whisky he'd drunk would keep him quiet for some time, and so
we straightened things up a bit, laid him on the bed, and turned our
attention to Rogerson. He was still unconscious, and the bump on his
forehead had grown to the size of a grape-fruit.

"'Caught him with that bottle,' grunted Congleton, 'so hard that he broke
it. And it serves the damned fool right. We'd better cart him over to my
place, Anstruther.'

"So we carried him over the road and dumped him in a chair, and half an
hour later he opened his eyes. He stared round dazedly: then he put his
hand to his head and groaned. 'What happened?' he muttered at length.

"'What would have happened if we hadn't come on the scene is that you'd
have been strangled,' said Congleton curtly. 'He laid you out with a
bottle of whisky, and it took both of us to get him off your throat. What
on earth did you do?'

"'I suppose I was a bit of a fool,' said Rogerson sheepishly. 'But I was
hard at work on accounts, and they drive me mad at the best of times,
when that infernal record started. So I went across to his bungalow, and
there he was with that cursed machine in front of him, babbling to
himself. And I dunno what it was, but I suddenly saw red and shot it
up.'

"'Well, it's mighty lucky for you that we were here or it's the last thing
you would have shot up,' said Congleton tersely. 'It was a darned rotten
thing to do, Rogerson. You're away to-morrow, and it's the only thing the
poor devil's got left in the world.'

"'I'll send him one up from Rangoon,' muttered the other a bit
shamefacedly. 'Great Scott! my head feels as if it had been hit by a
pile-driver.'

"And the following day he and I left, without seeing Jones again. True to
his word, he bought a gramophone and sent it upcountry, and with that the
whole episode gradually faded from my mind." Tim Anstruther beckoned to a
waiter. "Repeat the dose, Palmer," he said.

"About a year later," he continued, after he had lit his pipe. "I ran
into Congleton in London. He was back, I discovered, for good, and
finding London a far better place than an up-country station on the
Irrawady. And while we were celebrating his return I asked him casually
whether the man called Jones had drunk himself to death yet. To my
surprise he looked quite serious.

"'Do you know, Anstruther,' he said, 'that if anything would convert me to
the belief that the age of miracles is not past that case would. You will
hardly believe it, but from that night he cut off drinking completely.'

"'Then it looks as if Rogerson did him a good turn,' I remarked.

"'It's the most amazing thing I have ever run across,' he continued.
'After you'd gone that morning I went over to see him. I found him lying
on his bed staring at the ceiling, and holding in his hand the pieces of
the broken record.

"Has Rogerson gone?" he said to me quietly.

"Yes," I answered. "He asked me to tell you that he was very sorry about
it, and he's sending you up a new machine from Rangoon."

"Is he, indeed," he said, still in the same quiet voice. "Congleton,
would you mind taking away the whisky you'll find in that cupboard. I
shall never drink again, so it is useless to me. And I shall find it
easier to start with if it's not there."

"Of course, I will," I told him. "I'll send my boy over for it."

"Thank you." he remarked. "And now don't let me keep you."

"I hung about a bit awkwardly, but as he took no further notice of me, I
left him. Naturally I paid not the slightest attention to his remark
about cutting the drink out, and in fact I forgot to send my boy to get
it. But that evening when I got back from work I found eight bottles on
my table: the reformation had started. And he was stone cold sober when
the thing that worried me took place. Four days after you left I was
passing his bungalow when once again I heard six shots in quick
succession. I dashed up the veranda steps to find him sitting at the
table with a smashed-up gramophone in front of him. He was white and
shaking, which was only to be expected in someone who had knocked drink
off completely, but, as I said before, he was sober."

"What's the great idea?" I asked.

"That gramophone has just arrived from Rangoon," he remarked.

"What an utterly childish thing to do," I said. "You ought to be ashamed
of yourself." And then, Anstruther, he gave me a look which still haunts
me. I would not have believed it possible that so much concentrated
hatred could be seen in a man's eyes. "One day, Congleton," he said, "I
shall do that to Rogerson himself." And I believe he means it.'
Anstruther paused to relight his pipe. 'There was no doubt about it,' he
continued, 'old Congleton was quite worried. Rogerson, it appeared, had
been transferred elsewhere: Jones had vanished suddenly one morning and
had not returned.'

"'He's probably gone back to the drink by now,' I said to Congleton, but
he shook his head. 'Amazing though it may seem,' he remarked, 'I believe
that his hatred of Rogerson is a bigger driving force than his craving
for drink. And he realises that only by keeping off liquor will he be
able to gratify that hatred. Sooner or later, Anstruther, you'll open
your morning paper to find that Rogerson has been killed.'

"The years passed: the War came and somewhat naturally I'd completely
forgotten the whole thing. Poor old Congleton was killed at Loos:
Rogerson had wangled a staff job of sorts, and the man who called himself
Jones had never been seen again. I was convinced, and so was Rogerson,
whom I ran into once in France, that he had died of drink years ago: it
seemed impossible to us that a man who had been so far gone could
possibly recover. I did mention to him what Congleton had told me, but he
merely roared with laughter.

"Drunken ravings, my dear boy!" he said. "And after what you've told me,
all I regret is that I wasted my money buying the gramophone."

"And that was my opinion until one morning seven years later. I was
having breakfast in the Carlton Hotel in Jo'burg, when a paragraph in the
paper caught my eye. Here it is: read it for yourself." He handed me a
cutting from his pocketbook: it ran as follows:

"The mysterious disappearance of Mr. Cyril Rogerson six months ago has at
last been cleared up, in circumstances which leave no doubt that the
unfortunate gentleman was brutally murdered. Our readers will doubtless
remember the main facts of the case. Mr. Rogerson, of the well-known firm
of Peat & Rogerson, left Johannesburg on a lengthy business tour through
the Northern Transvaal and Rhodesia. Communications were received from
him from various places, the last coming from Bulawayo about a month
after he had started. From then on nothing further has been heard of him.
At first no anxiety was felt: it was thought that he was starting on his
return journey and was therefore bringing his reports with him instead of
mailing them. But when a fortnight elapsed without any word from him, Mr.
Peat informed the police who at once instituted inquiries, without any
result. The reason for their failure is unfortunately now only too clear.

"A native who was trekking in the sparsely populated district south of
Bulawayo was attracted by something unusual in a small gully a little
distance from the path. He found to his horror that it was the skeleton
of a man, and at once informed the authorities. A very brief examination
showed that the dead man was Mr. Rogerson, who had been the victim of a
singularly brutal crime. The actual reconstruction is difficult, as the
skull had been picked clean by the vultures. But six bullets were
discovered embedded in it, proving almost certainly that the murderer had
continued to fire after his victim was dead. Robbery was not the motive,
since the dead man's money was intact, but there was one peculiar feature
which it is thought may provide a clue. By the side of the skeleton were
placed the pieces of a broken gramophone record."

In silence I handed the cutting back to Tim. "What happened?" I asked.

"Nothing," he answered. "I told the authorities what I've told you, and
they were very polite and thanked me. But I couldn't describe the man
called Jones--for all I knew he might have grown a beard. And the crime
was six months' old: he might be anywhere in the world."

"You think it was him?"

"Who else could it have been? Surely the gramophone record proves that.
No, Bill: Congleton was right. His hatred of Rogerson was greater than
his craving for drink. Year after year he had carried round that broken
record, waiting and biding his time. And then at last he got his
opportunity. How he did it we shall never know, but that Rogerson was
killed by the man who called himself Jones is to my mind as certain as
that night follows day. Rum, isn't it--the different things that
different men require as a driving force in life, and the objects they
put them to? For a man to cure himself of drink in order to become a
murderer is a bit out of the ordinary, isn't it?"

"He may have relapsed afterwards," I said.

Tim rose and stretched himself. "Perhaps: who knows? Let's go round to
your club and have a Turkish bath. Much talking has made me weary."

It was fairly empty when we got there: two or three men were sitting
about in the outside room, and one with his back towards us and a towel
round his waist was leaning over the paper table. I didn't see who it
was, but as I passed him I noticed casually that he had tattooed between
his shoulder-blades a really beautiful design of a ship in full sail. And
at that moment he turned: it was Finlay.

"The very man," he said with a smile. "I know you can do a few good
conjuring tricks, and I want you to come down one day next week and help
me amuse some of my youngsters in Hoxton." I told him I would if I could,
and looked at Tim. "I suppose your friend hasn't any parlour tricks," he
remarked tentatively.

"None, I fear," said Tim slowly. "Are all the causes you work for such
deserving ones?"

"I try to do my bit," answered the other, looking a little surprised.

We moved away, and the next remark Tim made was as we entered the hot
room. "So he didn't relapse afterwards, Bill. I'd forgotten myself until
five minutes ago that the man who called himself Jones had the picture of
a ship in full sail tattooed between his shoulder-blades. I saw it that
night when his shirt was ripped off. And what I'm trying to decide is
whether to tell the police or to give him a fiver for his boys' home."



THE TAMING OF SYDNEY MARSHAM


To say that Sydney Marsham was wild would be to err on the lenient side.
She was the maddest, most harum-scarum child that ever donned a skirt. In
fact, she frequently didn't, until her mother and father combined in
issuing an order that the said garment was indispensable for a young lady
of seventeen, and that riding breeches, except on special occasions,
would not do instead.

The more crack-brained the escapade, the more certain it was to attract
her irresistibly. And it was useless trying to check her. Her mother had
made one or two feeble attempts, but after a while she gave it up as
hopeless. "She's you all over again, my dear--only she's a girl."

Thus to her husband, and he nodded and grinned. "Give the child her head;
she'll be all right. Look at me--how I've settled down."

At the age of twenty Sydney Marsham had become a singularly lovely girl.
It had always been obvious that she would be pretty, but maturity had
more than fulfilled the early promise. And Mrs. Marsham, looking
sometimes at the slim, lithe figure, and the perfect head set so proudly
on a pair of boyish shoulders, grew a little anxious as she thought of
the future. Who was the man going to be?

She was so impulsive--just like her father; so apt to let her heart run
away with her judgment. But with a girl of Sydney's type the wrong man
would be worse than a tragedy; it would be hell on earth.

So far she had had no serious cause for worry. There had been, of course,
a few boy and girl affairs, but they had made no impression--certainly no
lasting impression--on Sydney. One, with a Sandhurst cadet, had lasted
nearly six months, but that had died naturally with his departure to join
his regiment in India. True, he had written twice, but Jack--the
terrier--had consumed the second effusion before it had been answered,
and Sydney had forgotten the address. So that had finished that.

And it therefore came as a little shock to Mrs. Marsham when Sydney
announced one morning at breakfast that she'd met a new he-man. No trace
of her feelings, however, showed in her face as she asked placidly:

"Where, my darling?"

"In the sea," answered Sydney, her mouth full of buttered egg. "I raced
him to the sunken rock, and he won!"

"But, my dear," reproved her mother mildly, "was he a complete stranger?"

"Well, darling," said Sydney. "I really don't know. It's a point. I must
buy a book on etiquette. Surely if two people undress on the beach with
only a rock between them, that should constitute an introduction."

Mr. Marsham chuckled behind his paper, and then tried to frown. "Look
here, old thing," he grunted, "you really must be careful."

"Male parent's cue," laughed his daughter.  "I am the soul of care, my
beloved."

"I know, Sydney," he answered, "but, honest Injun, Kid, there are so many
cads about these days. Who is this man? Did you find out?"

"He's taken the Manor House, Daddy. And he's really rather a pet."

"I heard it had been let to a Major Dacres," said her mother. "Bill,
you'd better go up and call on him."

"All right, my dear--I will." He broke off suddenly. "Sydney, what on
earth is the matter with Jack? He's behaving in the most extraordinary
way."

She looked at the terrier with a puzzled frown.

"I don't know what's the matter with him," she answered. "He's been very
strange the last few days. Jacko!"

The terrier, which was lying in a corner of the room motionless, with its
head buried under its forepaws, rose a little unwillingly and came to
her. For a time it wandered restlessly round her chair; then, sitting
down, it began to lick her hand.

"Don't, Sydney--don't," cried her mother. "I hate to see a dog doing
that."

"Jacko's different. Aren't you, my pet?"

"Still, I'd take him to Rogers if I were you," said her father. "He's not
a bad vet. And I don't think the dog is fit." He pushed back his chair,
and lit a cigarette. "What was it I heard about this fellow Dacres?" he
went on thoughtfully. "I know, he's spent most of his life in the
tropics."

"I was told he was a retired Army doctor," said Mrs. Marsham. "And a very
brilliant man. And that he had come here to have a quiet place in which
to carry on some research work."

"Listen to her. Daddy," laughed the girl. "I bet she knows the colour of
his eyes better than I do. You darling--how is it you always find out
everything? But what is far more to the point--what is the size of his
bank balance?"

"Well, he can't be a pauper." said her father. "When I was down yesterday
asking Dobbs when the deuce he proposed starting work on that petrol
filling station, he said that all his men had been busy making
alterations up at the Manor House. And with building what it is these
days, you can't have that done for nothing."

"I will go up and investigate this morning," announced Sydney.

"Dear, you must wait till your father calls," protested her mother.

"Bless you, my pet," said the girl. "I'll be terribly proper. And there
really was a rock between us, even if it was rather small. Come on,
Jacko."

She strolled through the open windows into the garden, and after a
moment's hesitation the terrier got up and followed her. He paused by his
bowl of water and drank greedily--drank till the last drop was finished;
then he gave a sudden odd little run forward and snapped at the air.

"There's something very funny about that dog," said Mr. Marsham uneasily.
"Sydney, take Jack to the vet. this morning."

"All right, Daddy, I will. Come on, old man. And we'll call on the
mystery man on the way," she finished mischievously.

No one would have been more surprised than Reggie Dacres at being called
a mystery man. True, he was not of a talkative disposition; fifteen years
of burial in impossible Backs of Beyond do not make for unnecessary
conversation. But apart from that, a more direct individual seldom lived.
The least curious of men himself, it never occurred to him that the
arrival of a stranger in a quiet English place would arouse any interest
whatever.

As Mrs. Marsham had said, he had come there to be undisturbed. The
unexpected death of an aunt had provided him with enough money to chuck
the Army and to devote his life to the only thing he cared
about--original research work. What that work was, for the moment, he
preferred not to say. Sufficient for it to be known if and when it was
successful. So he told himself; and wild horses would not have wrung from
him the admission that that was not the real reason for his reticence.

Some men, when they are walking hand in hand with the possibility of an
agonising death, might not be averse to a little publicity; to Reggie
Dacres the idea was abhorrent. The thought that success would cause
untold thousands to rise and call him blessed had nothing to do with it;
he could only visualise queues of newspaper reporters.

On this particular morning he felt singularly disinclined for work. When
the slim figure of a girl, running over the sand with the sunlight
glinting in her hair, insists on running over the paper you're trying to
write on, the result is often the same. And at length, with a grunt of
half-amused annoyance, he pushed back his chair and strolled into the
garden.

For a while he leant over the gate, smoking a pipe and staring down the
lane that led to the main road. And unconsciously the contrast struck
him--the safe, sweet beauty of his present surroundings; the dangerous,
exotic loveliness of the places in which most of his life had been spent,
where death from a hundred causes lay in wait for the unwary.

Suddenly his eyes narrowed as the figure of a girl came into sight. She
was a long way off, but not too far for him to recognise her. And once
again he gave his little grunt of amusement and annoyance blended as he
realised his pulse had quickened. But his face was quite impassive as she
came abreast of him. "No worse for the swim, I hope," he remarked with a
smile.

"Good Lord! no," laughed Sydney. "I do it every morning. What are you
supposed to be doing?"

"Leaning over a gate," he answered politely.

"But how terribly naughty of you! I thought you spent the day battling
with all sorts of abstruse problems."

"One's sins always find one out, don't they?" he said gravely. "But how
do you know I'm not battling with one now?"

"You look altogether too peaceful," she answered. "Your teeth aren't
gritting together and your fists aren't clenched. Are you really doing
research work?"

Reggie Dacres nodded. "That's the idea."

"And it is a dead secret?"

"Not exactly," he smiled. "But, personally, I never believe in talking
about things until I pull them off. You look such a fool, don't you, if
you start gassing and then fail? For instance, do you see that bottle?"
He pulled out from his pocket a small bottle with a distinctive red label
on it. "Now, this is strictly between you and me. If I were to say that
the stuff in there is going to be the means of saving millions of lives,
and then, when it was put to the test, all it did was to produce
nettle-rash, I should feel a pretty drivelling ass."

"Do you really think it will?" said Sydney a little breathlessly.

"I hope so." he answered. "But I'm not sure yet. That's a secret." he
laughed. "Even from you." He slipped the bottle back in his pocket.
"Don't pass it on, will you?" he continued. "I've come here for peace and
quiet, and--"

He broke off abruptly, staring over her shoulder down the lane. "My
heavens, look at that dog!"

The girl swung round. "It's Jacko, my terrier. He's a bit off colour; I'm
just taking him to the vet."

But the man was paying no attention to her. Motionless, he stood there
watching the dog, and suddenly Sydney felt a hand like a steel vice close
on her arm. "Inside the gate, please, at once." Dacres's voice, sharp and
peremptory, made her stare at him in amazement. "If this wasn't England,
I should be certain. Tell me--has that dog been bitten lately? Had a
fight or anything?"

"He has, as a matter of fact," said the girl coolly. "What on earth is
the matter with you? You look quite frightened."

There was a hint of amused scorn in her voice, but the man took no
notice. "What did he fight?"

The girl laughed openly. "What do you think? An elephant? He fought
another dog, belonging to one of the fishermen, if you want to know."

"Do you know anything about the other dog's history?"

The terrier was coming nearer; shambling slowly along--head lolling, and
snapping every now and then at the air.

"It's a dog he's had for months. It came ashore with some shipwrecked
people last winter." She heard him draw in his breath shortly, and with a
shrug of her shoulders she opened the gate. "Come, Jacko."

The terrier was close to her, and at the sound of her voice it sat down
suddenly and gave a hoarse, strident bark, mouth open, head thrown back.
A hideous sound, and one which to the man gave proof absolute.

"Don't touch that dog! Don't touch that dog, I tell you!"

"Do you suppose I'm afraid of Jacko?" cried the girl scornfully. "Good
old man! Is he coming to the vet. then?"

And before the man could move she bent down and picked up the terrier in
her arms. So utterly unexpected was the action that for a moment he stood
still. The dog was licking her hands, was on the point of licking her
face before the power of movement came to him.

What happened then was rapid. In one stride he was beside her. His two
hands shot out, gripping the dog by the collar. He wrenched it from her
arms, and then he turned his back on her. Speechlessly she watched him;
saw a sudden heave of his powerful shoulders; and the next moment the
body of the terrier was lying on the ground at his feet.

He turned round--his face grim and set. "Come into the house at once,
please. I must examine you immediately for any cuts on your hand."

It was then that full realisation came to her. He'd killed Jacko; he'd
killed Jacko before her very eyes. Dimly she knew he'd said something; he
might as well have spoken in Arabic for all the effect that the words had
had on her. The blood was pounding in her head; her eyes were blazing.
The feeling of stunned incredulity that this impossible thing could have
happened was replaced by such wild passionate anger that, for the moment,
Sydney Marsham was mad. She saw his face through a haze of red; had she
possessed the means she would have killed him where he stood.

Instead she sprang at him like a tigress; saw him recoil instinctively as
she struck. "You brute! You devil! You beast!"

She stood there gasping, wondering hazily why the blood was flowing from
a deep cut on his cheek-bone. Between them lay the dead body of the
terrier, and suddenly something snapped in her brain. She burst into a
wild storm of sobs and knelt down beside it.

"Jacko! Jacko!"

Once again those two strong hands shot out, gripping her by each arm.
"Come into the house at once." came a voice full of quiet authority. "I
will fix up that poor little fellow later."

For a moment or two she struggled furiously then quite suddenly she stood
stock still. "You murderer!" she said calmly.

"Quite," he answered with equal calmness. "Will you come, or am I to take
you?"

"You're to take your vile hands off me."

"The instant you promise to come I assure you I will," he returned grimly.

"I promise."

In silence she followed him into the house, and he opened a door leading
out of the hall. "In here, please."

She found herself in a laboratory, and still in a half-dazed condition
she watched him light a burner on the bench. Methodically he selected a
thin piece of glass, from the end of which there stuck out a wire; and in
a few seconds the wire was glowing white hot.

"Come here at once."

He took her hand and examined it. It was still wet from the dog's mouth,
and, taking down a bottle from one of the shelves, he poured some of the
contents on to a swab of cotton-wool.

"This will sting when it touches that scratch." he remarked. "And I'm
afraid I've got to hurt you even more in a moment."

"It seems your favourite form of amusement," she said icily.

"Yes, I do it for fun." His voice was expressionless. "Now, stand by,
please; I'm going to hurt you terribly. But that scratch has got to be
cauterised."

He picked up the wire, and there was a sudden smell of burning flesh. One
involuntary moan of pain did she give; then, white-faced, she stood stock
still. "Good," he said quietly. "I congratulate you on your pluck."

He was staring at her gravely, and when she made no reply, he continued
still in the same quiet voice. "As soon as you feel fit enough, perhaps
you will go. I have to cauterise myself now, where your signet ring
opened up my cheek, and it won't be a pleasant operation to witness."

He rang a bell, and a man-servant came into the room.

"Dennett, outside the gate you'll find a dead dog. Please bury it in the
garden. On no account touch its mouth. Where's Binks?"

A joyful scurry of fat, flopping legs, and a spaniel shot through the
door, yelping deliriously. For a moment or two the girl watched it
jumping round the man; then she laughed harshly. "Are you going to kill
him now?"

"Is it possible," he said in amazement, "that you are still in ignorance
of why I killed your dog?"

"Complete," she answered. "I can only assume that you're mad."

A faint smile flickered across his lips. "The ailment is right; but
you've got the wrong sufferer. Your terrier was mad."

"I don't believe you," she cried incredulously.

"That, I fear, does not alter the fact. When you have seen as much rabies
as I have--which I trust you never will--you don't make a mistake about
it. And when you've seen as many people die of hydrophobia as I have, you
don't take any risks."

"He could have been cured," she said furiously.

"Impossible," he answered curtly. "Now do you mind going? I don't want to
leave this place on my cheek any longer than necessary without
attention."

"Yes; I'll go. And if ever I have a chance of getting even with you over
this, I'll take it."

It was a rotten thing to say; it was a silly thing to say--and even as
she said it she realised she was being unutterably cheap. But she was not
quite prepared for the answer she received--an answer which fanned her
anger to bursting point. "You want smacking with the business side of a
hairbrush, but I really haven't time to attend to you at the moment.
There is the door."

Which also was a stupid remark to make--very stupid. But Dacres had lost
his temper with a woman for the first time in his life.

The trouble is that the mischief is always caused by foolish remarks of
that type. Two days later the dog belonging to the fisherman having run
amok, was duly put under by the vet., and Sydney had to admit to herself
that Dacres had been right. But all the time ringing through her head
were the words, "You want smacking--"

Out of a sort of morbid curiosity she had made inquiries about what
happened to people bitten by mad dogs; had heard something of what
hydrophobia meant. But it was "the business side of a hair-brush" that
seemed more important than any symptoms.

And then an uncle of hers--a general who had done most of his soldiering
abroad--came to stay. And from him she heard something about Dacres.

"A magnificent fellow, my dear," he had said. "One of the bravest men
I've ever known. He's spent his life tackling foul diseases in fouler
spots, with remarkably little hope of reward save death if he made a
mistake. I wonder what he's doing here?"

Sydney neither knew nor cared. He was the man who "hadn't time to attend
to her at the moment." Heavens! how she hated him! Conceited, overbearing
brute--how dared he speak to her like that? And if at odd moments the
thought stole into her mind that she fully deserved what he had said, and
that she was deliberately fanning her rage to keep it alight, she
dismissed it at once. How dare he say such a thing to her? How dare he?
He might be a magnificent fellow, as her uncle said, but tackling foul
diseases seemed to have caused the same adjective to apply to his
manners.

Her father, when he heard what had happened--or, rather, a slightly
expurgated version of what had happened--had straightway gone up to call
on Dacres. And he had returned full of gratitude to the man who had acted
so promptly.

"He asked me to tell you, my dear, how sorry he was at having had to do
such a thing right in front of your eyes. But it never dawned on him that
you wouldn't know Jack was mad. I suppose it's been such a common
occurrence in his life that he assumed you, too, would recognise rabies."

Sydney had grunted noncommittally.

"His eye is all bound up," had gone on her father. "Tripped up and cut
it, I gather. He also said you were the pluckiest girl he'd ever met."

And Sydney, who had been brushing her hair, had paused for a moment and
looked at the brush. "How kind of him! I'm terribly nattered."

And then, as the days went on and lengthened into weeks, the feeling that
she was behaving like a spoilt baby could no longer be beaten down. Twice
had he been to dinner, and on each occasion she had almost openly ignored
him. And when he had returned the compliment and invited them to his
house, Sydney had suddenly developed a headache and refused to go.

But at last she forced herself to face matters fairly; things couldn't go
on as they were. And because she was as straight as a die, she knew there
was only one thing to do; and because, also, she was now being honest
with herself, she knew that at the bottom of her heart she'd been wanting
to do it for days.

He'd be an easy man, too--she felt that instinctively. If she just walked
up to him, held out her hand and said: "I'm sorry," he'd take it in just
the same spirit as she said it. There would be no arriere pensee about
Reggie Dacres.

And so on the afternoon of the day which had brought this momentous
decision, she told Uncle Jimmy to fall in for a walk.

"My dear," he said, "I'm going up to see Dacres this afternoon. He's
about to carry out a very big experiment, and I'm frightfully curious to
see what it is. He's refused to tell me up till now."

"Excellent, Jimmy, my dear," said Sydney. "I'll come with you. I want to
talk to him."

"It struck me you didn't like him much," commented her uncle as they
started.

"My maidenly modesty, dear uncle," she answered. "I just want to say one
word to him, and then I'll leave you."

Which was once again the signal for the Fates that move the pieces to sit
up and take notice. Things mustn't be allowed to adjust themselves quite
as easily as that.

Certainly Uncle Jimmy gave her wonderful opportunity. Whether that
incorrigibly sentimental warrior imagined that the one word was the
answer to a very important question or not is beside the point. The only
sure thing is that on some utterly fatuous excuse he left them alone in
the very room where their last interview had taken place. And the words
were trembling on her tongue; her hand was actually lifting when Dacres
spoke.

"Still singing your little hymn of hate in the morning, Miss Marsham?"

Her hand dropped to her side, and she stared at him speechlessly. There
was a faintly amused--to her mind almost contemptuous--glint in his eyes.
So this was the man she'd been going to apologise to--this--this sneering
brute. "Good heavens, my dear man!" she said contemptuously, "you don't
imagine you were ever worth as much trouble as that, do you?"

And suddenly the smile flashed out on his face. "You perfectly adorable
child!" he remarked. "What do you mean by telling such unholy
tarradiddles?"

And the next instant he was gone, leaving her gasping. The conceit of the
man; the ineffable conceit. To call her a child--an adorable child; to
dare to imagine that she'd thought about him. The fact that she had,
without cessation, had nothing to do with it; he couldn't know that...

She stared round the laboratory blankly; was there no way she could
pierce the brute's abominable swank? And at that moment her eyes rested
on a small bottle with a distinctive red label on it. She recognised it
at once; it was the bottle he had taken out of his pocket the day he'd
killed Jacko--the bottle the contents of which were to save millions of
lives. For a moment she hesitated; then, glancing through the window, she
saw Dacres and her uncle at the other end of the garden, standing by a
small wooden shed. And she hesitated no longer. She had said she'd pay
him back; she would. Two minutes later she had left the house.

Tea was over when Sydney, comfortably ensconced in a hammock at the end
of the garden, saw her uncle step out on to the lawn.  He was talking to
her father, and even from the distance she could see that something
unusual had happened. It wasn't like Uncle Jimmy to be agitated, and he
was clearly in that condition now.

The two men were strolling towards her and suddenly she heard her
father's voice: "Great Scott! what an appalling thing!" And somewhere
down her spine there seemed to run a little trickle of cold water. "Do
you hear what's happened, Sydney?" cried her father. "Get your uncle to
tell you about it."

"Don't get uneasy, my dear," said her uncle reassuringly. "Dacres being
the manner of man he is, there's no great damage done. But the pluck of
the blighter--that's what gets me every time."

"Do you mind telling me what you're talking about?" said Sydney in a low
voice. The trickle had become a rivulet.

"You know I told you about the big experiment he was going to carry out
this afternoon?" began her uncle. And then he paused, for the girl's face
was as white as the muslin frock she was wearing. "It's all right, Kid,"
he said with a smile. "He's quite all right."

"Oh, go on, please--go on," she cried urgently.

"Well, the experiment was one which not one man in ten thousand would
have had the nerve to carry out. You know, don't you, that a tremendous
number of deaths occur annually from snake-bites in India and elsewhere?
And in India, particularly, the principal culprit is the cobra. Well, for
months past Dacres has been experimenting with the idea of finding out
some fairly simple antidote for the cobra venom; something that can be
kept in every house--something that can be slipped into a man's pocket if
he's out shooting or anything. And a little while ago he decided that
he'd found it."

"Oh, no, no, no!"

If he heard the girl's little broken whisper he gave no sign; but then.
Uncle Jimmy's appreciation of the situation in military parlance was a
little wide of the mark.

"Now comes the point," he continued. "In a wooden shed in his garden he
keeps a full-grown cobra--he's had it there for months. And this
afternoon he'd determined to test his discovery. He asked me to go up in
case--well, in case he was wrong. To tell people the truth--and to kill
the cobra. Because, you see,"--the old soldier's eyes were shining--"if
he was wrong, he wouldn't be there to kill the brute himself.

"And so," went on the General after a little pause, "that singularly
gallant man proceeded this afternoon to face one of the most agonising
deaths in the world. The antidote was in a little bottle, which he placed
close at hand. I was standing at the door with a double-barrelled gun to
shoot the cobra in case it escaped. And then I had the privilege of
watching what was, I think, the bravest deed I've ever seen. He
deliberately infuriated the cobra to make it bite him. He had covered up
his left hand--all save two fingers, and it was at one of those that the
snake struck. Then as calmly as if he were reaching for the cake at tea,
he took up the bottle of antidote and poured it over his finger...And
even as he did so his face changed.

"For the moment, I couldn't realise what had happened; and then, before I
could speak, he had put the bitten finger on the muzzle of the gun and
pulled the trigger. My first coherent thought was that he'd lost his
nerve; that at the very end his courage had failed him. His face was
white--a hand wound is one of the most painful there is--but he shut the
door quite calmly and started to walk up to the house. And it wasn't till
we got to the door that he spoke."

"Sorry, General," he said quietly, "the fault is mine. I quite forgot,
like the silly ass that I am, that I'd put the antidote in another
bottle. There was only water in that one."

"It's astounding how he could have made such a mistake," said Mr.
Marsham. "My dear child--what's the matter with you? You look ghastly."

But Sydney was half-way to the house, and the General solemnly dug her
father in the ribs. "You might find as good a son-in-law," he remarked,
"but I'll be hanged if you could ever find a better."

Up to her bedroom tore Sydney. Her brain was whirling, and every now and
then she caught her breath in a little sob. She hadn't known; she hadn't
even had the remotest inkling when she'd done it. All she'd meant to do
was to make him feel a fool when he tried his wonderful liquid and found
that nothing happened. And instead--she'd done this...

Only one coherent thought was in her mind--she must get to him and
explain. Beg his pardon on bended knee, grovel. He must have known that
she had changed the stuff in the bottle, but he hadn't said anything. He
never would say anything.

Breathless and panting, she arrived at his gate, clasping tightly in her
hand the precious bottle into which she had poured the antidote. And
suddenly she paused; she was staring at the wooden shed. The next moment,
her mind made up, she was walking steadily towards it. She tried the
door; it was not locked. But a sudden hiss from inside made her draw back
instinctively. Then, with a little shake of her head, she opened the door
and went in.

At first she saw nothing, until there came another hiss from close by
her; and turning round, she saw the cobra. It was erect and swaying
slightly, with hood extended; and she bit her hand to stop the scream of
terror that rose to her lips. She stared fascinated at the brute-essence
of evil personified, and then tremblingly she stretched out her hand
towards it.

Came a deafening report from the doorway, and the head of the snake had
disappeared; and all jumbled up like a bad dream she saw a still writhing
body, felt a strong arm round her waist, realised that bending over her
was a man whose chalk-white face was wet with sweat. Then blackness...

She was back in the laboratory when she came to. At first she thought she
was alone, and then she saw Dacres. In his hand he held the bottle of
antidote, and he was staring at her with an inscrutable expression.

"Feeling better?" he said gravely.

"I'm sorry I was such an idiot," she said shakily. "And oh! can you ever
forgive me for that?" She was pointing at the bottle, and he placed it on
the table.

"Why did you do it?" he asked.

"Because I was a fool, and deserve to be smacked with the business side
of a hairbrush," she answered steadily. "But one thing I would like you
to know. I had no idea, when I did it, as to what it was or that you were
going to use it this afternoon." She bit her lip as she saw the bandages
on his left hand. "I don't suppose you can forgive me; what I did was
utterly inexcusable. I'm--I'm sorry."

With a little sob she buried her face in her hands.

"Of course I forgive you," he said. "The fault was mine in the first
place."

"It wasn't," came a stifled choke. "I was a hateful beast."

"But it was exceedingly naughty of you to go into that shed at all. If I
hadn't happened to see you from the house and arrived in time, you would
most certainly have been bitten."

She raised her face and stared at him through her tears. "But I wanted to
be bitten. That's why I went there. I wanted you to find out if the
antidote worked."

"Good God!" Dacres sat down suddenly. And then again: "Good God!"

"Surely you understood that," she said desperately. "It was the least I
could do to try and make up."

"You mean to say," said Dacres dazedly, "that, knowing there was a cobra
in that shed, you deliberately went in there and risked your life to test
my antidote?"

"I don't think I cared much about the antidote," she said with a
tremulous little smile. "I wanted to show you I was sorry."

Without a word the man rose and walked over to the window. For if his
life had depended on it he couldn't have spoken steadily at that moment.
And it wasn't until he heard the sound of the door opening that he swung
round.

He caught her just outside in the hall, and for a time they stared into
one another's eyes in silence.

"Sydney," he said at length, and his voice was shaking badly. "Sydney,
may I come and ask you a question in a day or two?"

"If you like," she answered steadily.

"Do you know what it is, my dear?"

And suddenly she smiled, her face very close to his.

"Of course I know what it is. And I know what the answer is. So why wait
a day or two--to ask it?"



DILEMMA


I am on the horns of the most appalling dilemma. I don't know what I
ought to do, and the more I think about it the more hopelessly difficult
does it become. Listen, and I'll put the case to you. And if you can
think of the right way out I shall be vastly obliged.

I shall have to go back a couple of years--nearly three--to the wedding
of Lady Alice Denver to Mr. William Scrotton. You may remember it: it was
one of the events, of the season. Blood marrying money, of course, though
the illustrated weeklies glossed it over a bit. A bit--that's all:
because nothing could gloss over Scrotton's appearance. Hardware, I
think--or tinned food; anyway, the point is immaterial. He was a
millionaire, which was all that mattered to Alice Denver.

You raise your eyebrows: I tell you I knew that girl. Better than most
people. Hard: why, Scrotton's hardest tin was like putty compared to her.
Beautiful undoubtedly;  but underneath the beauty--rotten: rotten to the
core.

Why Scrotton married her was best known to himself. He was just a plain,
vulgar man, twenty years older than she. And she treated him like dirt.
If it was for social advancement--he paid the price; if it was because he
desired her, and was accustomed to having his desires gratified,
well--I'm thinking he made a pretty bad bargain. The possession of a
being who loathes you and despises you is a poor form of enjoyment. Why
she married him is obvious. The Earls of Lakington have never been well
off, and the present one--her father--was practically bankrupt, till
Scrotton's money saved the situation.

The wedding took place at the height of the season, and to this day I
don't know why I attended. I didn't know Scrotton: I didn't like his
bride. The only reason why I had been honoured with an invitation was to
ensure that I sent a present, and I should certainly never have been
missed if I hadn't gone. However, that is beside the point: I did go. And
now I wish to Heaven I hadn't.

The church was crammed with society people who had come to see the sale.
Scrotton, with his neck bulging over his collar, looked worse than usual
as he waited for his bride, and yet, of the two, I was the more sorry for
him. Jove! If the poor devil could have heard the remarks a bunch of
people in front of me were making about him!

I'd taken a seat right at the back of the church, and I'd been there
about five minutes when a general craning of heads announced the bride's
arrival. And I don't suppose Alice Denver had ever looked more beautiful
in her life. White suited her. She went up the aisle on her father's arm,
looking neither to the right hand nor to the left. And she gave one the
impression of a block of ice. She knew--none better--the comments that
were being made, and she called up all that scornful hardness of hers as
if to challenge the gossipers to do their worst. It was a part of the
price, and it had been duly reckoned.

It was just after the service commenced that I noticed him for the first
time. He'd slipped into the end of my pew, and I put him down as a member
of the general public who had managed to get in somehow. Or perhaps a
reporter. He was dressed in a threadbare lounge suit, and his collar was
none too clean. His face was emaciated: his age somewhere between thirty
and forty. But the thing that riveted my attention after a time was his
extreme restlessness. His hands were never still; his eyes--bright and
feverish--kept darting all over the church, only to return always to the
two figures standing in front of the altar.

And then quite suddenly it happened, and his voice rang through the
church. "Stop! For God's sake--stop!"

It was a ghastly moment. The organ petered out abruptly: the choir ceased
singing, and everyone craned round to see the cause of the interruption.
He was standing up, his arms thrown out--and thus for a moment or two did
he remain. Then, as if conscious of what he had done, his nerve seemed
suddenly to go. And before anybody could stop him, he was out of the door
and gone.

Horrified officials came hurrying up; old Lakington himself, in a state
of pitiful agitation, almost ran down the aisle. The shock to him must
have been terrific; to be deprived of the Scrotton money when he had to
all intents and purposes felt it jangling in his pockets completely
unnerved him. They appealed to me, and I told them that I thought it must
be some madman who had eluded the guardians at the door. And that, at the
time, is what I did think. At any rate, he had disappeared, and the pause
was becoming more and more embarrassing. So, after a hurried conference,
the organ let drive again, and a few minutes later Lady Alice Denver
became Lady Alice Scrotton. And the Earl of Lakington breathed freely
once again.

Somewhat naturally, so I was told afterwards, it was the sole topic of
conversation at the reception. Everybody sympathised with the happy pair,
and the general belief seemed to be that he was some unbalanced fanatic
or Communist agitator who had deliberately tried to wreck the proceedings
on some distorted question of principle.

That, as I say, is what I was told. Because I didn't go to the reception.
And now I wish to Heaven I had. No; I didn't go--not being able to be in
two places at once. And whilst the reception was being held, I was
talking to the unbalanced fanatic in my rooms.

Why does one do these things? Why, for instance, when, on leaving the
church, I saw his face in the crowd outside the door, did I not say to
the nearest policeman--"There is the man who created the disturbance in
church"? I don't know; let it suffice that I didn't. I merely stood
chatting to one or two people, and keeping the corner of my eye fixed on
him. And when he moved abruptly out of the onlookers and walked off
rapidly, I followed him.

He swung round as I overtook him, and stared at me defiantly.

"May I ask the reason of your extraordinary outburst?" I said quietly.

"You may ask," he answered. "That's as far as it will get."

"Indeed!" I said. "You see that policeman? Can you suggest any good
reason why I shouldn't give you in charge?"

"I wish to God you would," was his surprising reply. "If they sent me to
prison for a few years I might be safe. Oh! don't think I'm mad: I'm as
sane as you are."

"Doubtless," I agreed courteously. "So, proceeding on that assumption,
perhaps you would be good enough to tell me why you did it. My rooms
happen to be close by, where we shall be undisturbed."

For a moment or two he hesitated: then he gave a sudden harsh laugh.

"Very well, I will," he said. "On one condition--and one condition only.
That you write down briefly what I am going to say to you, and post it to
your bank or your lawyer to-night in a sealed envelope."

"Well, really--" I began doubtfully.

But now it was he who was insistent.

"Take me to your rooms," he demanded. "It's got to be told--this thing,
and you'll do as well as anyone else."

That he was still in a very excited state was obvious, though he walked
beside me in silence as far as my door. But his hands were twitching, and
there was a queer light in his eyes that made one or two people we met
stare at him curiously. In fact, once or twice I was on the point of
suddenly remembering another appointment. But I didn't--more's the pity.

"Well, let's hear all about it," I said, as soon as we were comfortably
settled. "Would you like a drink?"

"No, thanks," he answered. "Drink is a luxury that people in my financial
position can't afford."

He lay back in his chair, and I waited for him to start. But his eyes
were travelling round the room, and there was a twisted smile on his
lips.

"God! How I envy you this!" He waved a comprehensive hand. "It's what I
was brought up to expect--and look at me. I'm Eton, you know--and
Balliol; though for the Lord's sake don't think I'm begging. Nor do I
want to bore you with the oft-told tale of the gentleman who went wrong.
We'll take all that for granted. Sufficient to say that when I was
twenty-four I came the most almighty mucker, and was driven with oaths
and curses into outer darkness by my family.

"But I didn't go alone; a girl came with me--my wife. And though it's a
good few years ago now, the marvel of her sacrifice has increased rather
than diminished. For she wasn't my wife when she came, you'll understand.
It was just that for some inscrutable reason she had the love for me that
passeth understanding--and that love has endured. Heaven knows how; it
has been tested pretty high. Starvation, cold, even dirt--I've been
through them all. And she's been with me--to make it easier." The queer
look in his eyes had gone, and I turned and stared out of the window.
There are moments when it is not good to look on a man's face.

"Six months ago," he continued abruptly, "I was starving, cold, and
dirty. All three at the same time. I'd tramped the streets the whole day,
and you may take it from me that the London streets in December are not
pleasant places for anyone in the condition I was in. One begins to see
things that aren't there, and hear noises that no one else does. And one
begins to understand revolution and riot.

"It was about ten o'clock that I found myself sitting on a chair in one
of the parks. How I got there I don't know; my last coherent recollection
was passing Romano's, in the Strand, just as a man I had known came out
with a girl. They got into a Rolls and drove away, while I would have
sold my soul for the bits of bread they hadn't eaten."

He laughed shortly. "Don't worry; I won't bore you any more with that
sort of stuff. But I want you to realise the condition I was in; it's
rather important. Well--as I said, I found myself on this chair, and for
how long I sat there I don't know. It can't have been long, because at
eleven o'clock I found myself walking along Great Portland Street. I'd
noticed the time on that clock by the Langham, so I'm sure about that.
Incidentally, you're making notes of the principal points, aren't you?
I'd like you particularly to remember that time.

"I walked on with a curious sense of unreality; you get it, you know,
when your stomach is napping against your backbone. And at last I came to
Sussex Place. I paused for a bit, and I remember wondering what the deuce
I was doing there.

"It was as I was leaning against the railings that I noticed that the
curtains of the lower room of the house opposite were blowing about in
the open window. It was open at the bottom, and every now and then the
flicker of firelight came through the opening.  The street was deserted,
and the thought occurred to me how easy it would be to get in. Warmth, at
any rate; perhaps something small that might be pawned next morning--but
warmth.

"Again my memory closes down; I have no recollection whatever of climbing
into that house. But I got there, and for the next few minutes nothing
mattered except huddling over that fire. Of the risk I ran I thought
nothing; when the primitive necessities of life are wanting one doesn't
worry over risks.

"At last I got up, and there on the table were sandwiches and drinks.
Undoubtedly people who had gone out to some show and were returning
later, I reflected. Well, I could only regret that my need was greater
than theirs, and that if they had a servant who was careless enough to
leave the window open they must take the consequences. And it was as I
put out my hand to seize the food that my foot kicked against something
under the table.

"You must remember that there was very little light in the room at the
time; somewhat naturally I had not turned on the switch. But I can still
feel the pricking at the back of my scalp, the sudden start of fear I
gave at that unexpected contact. For intuitively I knew that there was
something terrible under the table. Don't ask me how; I did. I had to
force myself to bend down and look, and even as I did so I saw a thing
which froze me where I stood--a dark, ominous pool that gleamed red in
the firelight. I backed away step by step until I could see under the
table, and then I almost screamed. A man was lying there, and it needed
no second glance to tell that he was dead.

"How long I stood there staring at him I can't say, but at last my nerves
had steadied themselves enough for me to go and see what had happened. He
was lying with his legs under the table, and the rest of his body
outside. He had on a smoking-jacket and a soft pleated shirt--the front
of which was saturated with blood. His eyes were open and staring, with a
look in them of terrible fear. And by his side there lay a fine-pointed
stiletto, also covered with blood.

"Once again time stood still. It may have been a minute--it may have been
five--before I bent and touched him, to find he was still quite warm. And
then unreasoning panic seized me. The thing had only just been done;
perhaps not two minutes before I had entered the room. The murderer must
be in the house somewhere; possibly in the very room. And once again I
almost screamed. I stared round like a trapped animal; my legs were
powerless to move. I could realise with one side of my mind the ghastly
danger of my position; but my brain wouldn't react as to what I was to
do. It was panic--sheer panic."

He took a handkerchief from his pocket and mopped the sweat from his
forehead with a hand that shook like a leaf.

"At last the power of action came back to me, and I took a step towards
the window. To get away: that was my sole coherent thought. And I had
actually got one leg over the sill, when suddenly the room was flooded
with light and a woman stepped out from behind a screen near the door.
She was staring at me calmly and dispassionately, and for a moment or two
I stared back, taking in every detail of her face. It was beautiful--one
of the most beautiful I have ever seen--but cold and hard. And then, even
as I watched her, a faint triumphant smile curled round her lips. She
took one look at the thing that lay sprawling on the floor, and then,
quite deliberately, she screamed."

He leaned towards me, and the light was blazing in his eyes again. "Make
a strong note of that, my friend; emphasise it in every possible way. Her
scream was not due to what she saw: she knew it was there: she had known
all along. I could read her mind, I tell you; I could trace every thought
in that cold, calculating brain. It was she who had killed that man
herself, and it was I who was to pay the penalty. I could see it as
clearly as I see you now.

"She screamed again and again, and, by God, she could act. Her face now
was distraught with horror as she stood there flattened against the wall.
I heard footsteps outside in the hall, I saw the door opening, and then
with one desperate effort I flung myself through the window and jumped.
Jumped straight into the arms of a waiting policeman.

"'Let me go,' I yelled. 'I'm innocent. She did it.'

"'Maybe she did,' came a gruff voice. 'But we can't have you shouting in
the Park like this. Wake up, and get a move on.'

"I was still sitting on the chair in the Park." He paused and, stretching
out his hand, he took a cigarette. "May I?" he asked quietly.

"Of course," I answered. "Help yourself. But do you mean to tell me that
all this song and dance you've been telling me was nothing but a dream?"

"Nothing but a dream--a terrible dream--until to-day. And so you wonder,
don't you, wherein lies the connection between it and my behaviour in
church? You shall hear. The man who was murdered in my dream was a man
whom I had never seen before. He was a complete stranger to me--he is
still. But to-day I saw him. What twist of Fate took me past that church
I know not; but it's all in keeping, I tell you--all in keeping. The
murdered man was to-day's bridegroom."

I stared at him speechlessly: there didn't seem to be anything to say.

"Mark you, sir," he went on gravely, "this is no question of
hallucination. I make no attempt to explain it. For months that dream has
been just a dream, though vivid to the point of reality in my mind. And
this afternoon I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw the murdered man
going into that church. I waited: I couldn't help it. I had to see the
bride.

"I never had any doubt; during the quarter of an hour I stood there I
never had any doubt. And when the woman who had stepped out from behind
the screen stepped out of her car and took her father's arm it caused me
no surprise. It seemed to me to be inevitable.

"And then--I wonder if you will understand?--I seemed to feel the coils
of Fate closing down on me. I felt I must make a desperate effort to
shake myself free, before it was too late. And some blind impulse
stronger than me drove me into the church and made me do what I did.
Foolish, I admit: I realise now that I've got to go through with it."

"Go through with what?" I cried a little irritably.

"My dream," he answered. "As surely as I am sitting here in this chair
talking to you that woman will murder her husband, by stabbing him
through the heart with a pointed stiletto. It will take place about
half-past eleven one night in the house in Sussex Place, and I shall be
in the room and be arrested for the murder. It won't be a dream next
time."

"But," I cried angrily, "the remedy against that possibility lies in your
own hands. Don't go near Sussex Place; or, if you do, don't break into
any house where a window is open."

"That, I agree, is the only common-sense way of looking at it," he
answered. "But there are other things in this world besides common sense.
It is as surely ordained as the fact that one day both you and I will
die. And when it happens, don't forget what I've told you this afternoon.
You have taken notes: if you will, you can expand them a little. But I
hold you to your promise to send them to your banker. I may need them."

And the next instant he was gone, leaving me in a state of complete
bewilderment. Had I been listening to the ravings of a lunatic? Something
inside me said No. Highly strung--obviously; but the man who had just
left me was no madman. Then what did it mean?

For an hour or so I sat on wondering; then, with a smile at my own
credulity, I amplified the notes I had jotted down more to humour him
than anything else. I dated it and slipped it in an envelope. I sent the
letter with a covering note to my bank. And--that, as I say, was nearly
three years ago.

It was six months later that I left England. The strange interview had
almost faded from my mind; I had seen no further trace of the dreamer.
And when I heard that Mr. William and Lady Alice Scrotton had taken a
large house in Berkeley Square, the small amount of interest that still
remained in my mind evaporated. Evidently a crank and an impostor, I
decided, who had for some reason only known to himself decided to
interrupt the ceremony, and had then pitched me a fantastic yarn to save
himself from being handed over to the police.

Well--you know who I am; you know that I went out with Perrin's Antarctic
Expedition. You know that we were lost for months, and that we only
returned two days ago. As far as the events of the world are concerned,
I've been dead for over two years. And now you're beginning to understand
my dilemma, aren't you? But I'll tell it to you in my own way. Since it
happened a year ago, your own memory may be a little rusty.

I went to the club for luncheon the day after my return. And I fed with
Sullington, the Gunner. We talked of men and matters, and it wasn't till
we were in the smoking-room with cigars and a double old brandy--as
befitted a returned wanderer--that he happened to mention Lady Alice
Selby.

"And who the deuce is Lady Alice Selby?" I asked.

"Good heavens, man," he laughed. "I'd forgotten that there are no papers
in the Antarctic. Scrotton's widow: Lakington's daughter."

"Scrotton's widow!" I gasped. "You mean Scrotton is dead?"

"Somewhat naturally, in order to possess a widow," he answered. "It's a
year ago now. He was brutally murdered. Why--great Scott! man, what is
the matter with you? You're as white as a sheet."

"Begin at the beginning," I said, "and tell me all about it."

"Well, there really isn't very much to tell," he answered. "And I
wouldn't swear to remembering all the details. It seems that Scrotton was
found dead on the floor of one of the downstairs rooms in his house one
night. He'd been stabbed through the heart with some knife or other--"

"A pointed stiletto?" I remarked.

"Now you mention it, I think you're right," he said with a smile. "Been
reading blood-and-thunder stuff down South to keep you warm, I suppose?
However, it appears f that some down-at-heels fellow must have done it.
Lady Alice practically caught him in the act. A ghastly thing for
her--poor woman. Of course, I know that the marriage was hardly a
love-match, but it's a bit over the odds to come suddenly into a room and
find your husband lying dead in a pool of blood, with the murderer
standing over him."

"She screamed--naturally?" I said.

"Oh yes! Like blazes. And the fellow made a dive through the window and
landed straight in the arms of a policeman. Really rather fortunate that
one happened to be there at that hour of the night."

"Yes," I agreed. "Sussex Place is a bit deserted round about midnight."

He nodded, and then he looked at me curiously. "But how the deuce did you
know it happened in Sussex Place? Because, now I come to think of it,
they had only just moved there from Berkeley Square."

"A lucky shot," I answered quietly. "Tell me, Sullington--who and what is
Selby?"

"A fellow in the 10th Lancers." he said. "A very decent chap. And,
strictly between ourselves, I don't think there was much doubt--even
during the late Mr. Scrotton's lifetime--that he and Lady Alice were
rather more than friendly. Of course, that must go no farther, and
they're married now. But--well, you know."

"What happened to the man?" I said.

"They found him guilty and sentenced him to death," he answered. "And
then he went mad or something--I forget exactly what it was. Anyway, I
know he wasn't hanged, and I think he's in Broadmoor."

I finished my coffee, and a few minutes later I left the club. I felt I
wanted to be alone to think things out. The whole affair was so utterly
staggering; one had no previous experience to measure it by. And it was
as I was fumbling with my latch-key that the final blow was dealt me. A
woman darted across the street and, laying her hand on my arm, said:
"Thank God! you've come back at last!"

I gazed at her dully. "Who are you?" I said, though I knew the answer
before she spoke.

"I'm Mrs. Landon," she answered. "And now we can prove his innocence."

"So his name is Landon, is it?" I remarked. "You'd better come inside."

"If you knew how I've scanned the papers," she said, as she sat down.
"Waiting, watching day by day for your return. You see, he didn't know
your name; only the address. And then when it happened I came round here
at once. He'd told me that he'd told a stranger of his dream, and I knew
that if I could get at you it would be all right. And then I found you
were in the Antarctic. Oh! I nearly went mad. But now it's going to be
all right. He's not mad really; you and I know that. But they've put him
in Broadmoor, because he went on talking about his dream. And he was
queer. But I can nurse him all right; I know my Bill. And once that devil
of a woman is found guilty and hanged, he'll get all right again. It's
the feeling that he's innocent and that no one believes it that is doing
all the trouble. Come; let's go now to the Home Secretary or someone and
tell him everything."

"But look here, Mrs. Landon," I said desperately, "what reason did he
give for entering the house at all?"

"Just that something stronger than himself took him there," she cried.
"I've told you he's queer; you know it as well as I do. He's fey--at
times. Why, look at the dream itself. It's come true in every detail. Oh
I come," she went on in an agony; "come at once. Can't you see what every
extra minute of a hell on earth like Broadmoor must mean to him--for it
must be a hell on earth if you're not mad? I want to get him out; I shall
go mad myself if I don't."

She had risen, and, as I still sat on in my chair, a dreadful suspicion
dawned in her eyes. "You've got the paper, haven't you: the paper you
promised to send to your bank?"

"I think so," I temporised. "Yes--I'm sure of it." I had to say it--poor
soul, she was on the rack. "But it's too late to get it this afternoon,"
I went on. "Only, for Heaven's sake, Mrs. Landon, don't build too much on
it. There are difficulties--well-nigh insurmountable difficulties."

I've seen scorn on a person's face before, but I've never withered under
such a look as the one she gave me.

"Difficulties!" she almost gasped. "What do you mean--difficulties? Don't
you realise that that foul woman murdered her husband to get his money
and to be able to marry her lover? And she goes free while my Bill is in
Broadmoor. Difficulties? You're mad."

She turned away to control herself; then she faced me again. "I've said
nothing," she went on quietly. "The truth has been trembling on the tip
of my tongue a score of times, but I've bitten it back. I've realised
that no one would believe me: that I should do more harm than good. But
with you--it's different. There's no reason why they should disbelieve
you--you who hold the proof in that paper. Tomorrow morning I'll come
back. You'll have the paper by then, and we'll go together and get him
out."

And then she left me.

It's midnight now, and I'm still as far off a solution as ever. What on
earth am I to do? The more one looks at the matter, the more utterly
damnable does it become.

I know perfectly well what I should say were I in the position of the
Home Secretary and somebody came to me with such a story.

I should say--"Most interesting; but what does it prove? On your own
showing this man is queer in the head--if not mad. He dreams a dream--a
very vivid dream. In that dream he sees a murdered man and a woman--both
strangers to him. Six months later he states that he saw these two people
being married. Am I really to understand that this man remembered two
dream faces over such a period of time? No, sir--common sense gives me a
totally different solution. He thought he saw a likeness, and the thought
grew to a fixed belief. It amounted to an obsession in his brain, so that
he literally had to act along the lines of that obsession. You say
yourself that something stronger than himself forced him into the house
that night. To me that sounds remarkably like insanity; certainly no
normal man would have done it. He was insane when he went there, and I
see no reason to doubt that in his insanity he killed Scrotton himself.
So he will remain where he is."

That's what I should say, and ninety-nine men out of a hundred would say
the same thing. So what am I to do?

If I take that paper to the authorities, the whole thing will be made
public. Mrs. Landon will see to that. I am convinced that we shall not
benefit Landon, and I shall be in the pleasing position of having accused
Lady Alice of murdering her husband. I don't like her, I admit--but her
friends are mine also.

So what am I to do?

If I thought--honestly and conscientiously--that there was a chance of
getting him out of it, I wouldn't hesitate. But I don't. And yet, in my
own mind, I'm certain he's innocent. The prophecy of Sussex Place must be
more than a mere coincidence. Only I can imagine a clever lawyer on the
point!

He's innocent; but it will take more than a dream to prove it. And
without proof--what's the use? I got the paper from the bank, and I've
held a lighted match near it several times already. Wouldn't it be kinder
in the long run?

In fact, at the moment my only coherent thought is that I wish I were
still in the Antarctic.



THE BARONETS OF MERTONBRIDGE HALL


I do not profess to explain what I am going to set down. I hold no
positive opinion on things psychic, one way or the other. Men of
unassailable integrity have given the world their experience on such
matters, which are open for all to read, and my contribution can add
nothing to the wealth of material already collected. Nevertheless, for
what it is worth, I am committing it to paper. I do it for my own
satisfaction only: for reasons which will be obvious these words must
never see the light of day in print. Because they either tell of a
coincidence so amazing as to be well-nigh incredible, or else Sir Bryan
Mertonbridge, sixteenth Baronet, of Mertonbridge Hall, Sussex, is a
cold-blooded murderer. And since his house parties for Goodwood are
famous throughout the county, it were madness for a humble bank manager
to bring such an accusation against him, when proof is impossible.

It happened four years ago, but let it not be thought that time has
clouded my memory. The incidents of that night in June are as clear in
my mind as if they had occurred yesterday. Sometimes I wake now with the
woman's last dying scream ringing in my ears, and jumping out of bed I
pace up and down; my room asking myself again and again the same old
question. Was it a coincidence, or was it not?

The sea wrack started to blow over the  Downs about eight o'clock on the
evening when it took place. It came like a dense white wall, blotting
out the surrounding landscape, and covering the windscreen with a film
of moisture more difficult to see through than heavy rain. My
destination was Brighton, but never dreaming that such a mist would come
down on me I had left the main coast road, and had taken a narrow inland
one that wound along the foot of the Downs, connecting up a few
scattered farms and hamlets that still escaped the daily ordeal of the
charge of the motor heavy brigade. The road was good but narrow, with a
ditch on each side, so that caution was necessary, owing to the mist
making the grass slippery. The trouble, however, was the bad visibility,
and after a time my rate of progress was reduced to less than ten miles
an hour. Another difficulty was due to indifferent signposting, the few
that there were only showing the next village and no large town.

I had been creeping along for about a quarter of an hour when I came to
four cross roads, and getting out of the car I approached the signpost,
one arm of which fortunately indicated Worthing. Once on the main road
things might be better, so I decided to take it. But having slightly
overshot the mark, I had to back the car, and it was then the mishap
occurred. I reversed too far and the back wheels skidded into the ditch.

At first I thought nothing of it, but after repeated attempts to get her
out, which only resulted in the wheels spinning round, I began to grow
uneasy. And then came the final blow. There was a sharp click, and the
wheels ceased to move though the engine was still running in gear. Either
the cardan shaft or one arm of the back axle had broken. The car was
helpless: it was now a question of being towed out.

I lit a cigarette and sized up the position. My map was a small-scale
one, embracing the whole of England, and I knew the cross roads where I
was would not be marked. The light was failing rapidly: worse still, the
sea wrack was beginning to turn into genuine rain. My chances of finding
a garage, even if I knew where to look for one, which could send out a
breakdown gang at that hour, were remote. In fact, it was evident that
the car at any rate would have to remain where it was till the morning.
But I failed to see why I should keep it company. Sooner or later I must
come to some habitation of sorts, where I. could be directed to an inn,
or whose owner would perhaps put me up for the night. Anyway, I could not
stop where I was, so leaving the car in the ditch I took the road for
Worthing.

For twenty minutes I trudged along without meeting a soul or seeing the
sign of a house. The rain was now pouring down, and having no mackintosh
I was rapidly becoming wet to the skin. And then, just as I was beginning
to despair of finding anything, the road jinked sharply to the right and
I saw a pair of heavy iron gates in front of me. Beyond them was a small
house--evidently the lodge of some big property.

It was in complete darkness, but at least it was something made of bricks
and mortar, and pushing open one of the gates I approached it and knocked
on the door. There was no answer, and after a while I realised it was
empty. I went all round it in the hope of finding a window unlatched.
Everything was tight shut: short of breaking a pane, there was no hope of
getting in.

By that time the water was squelching in my shoes, and I was seriously
cogitating as to whether it would not be worth while to smash a window,
when it struck me that if this was a lodge, the big house must be fairly
close at hand. So once again I started off up the drive: no one could
refuse a dog shelter on such a night.

It was almost dark and, save for my footsteps on the gravel and the
mournful dripping of the water from the trees, no sound broke the
silence. I seemed to be in a world of my own, with nothing else living
except the drenching rain. Was I never going to reach the house?

At length the trees bordering the drive stopped abruptly, and there
loomed up ahead of me the outlines of a large mansion. But even as I
quickened my pace my heart began to sink, for just as at the lodge I
could see no light in any window. Surely, I reflected, this could not be
empty too.

I found the front door. It was of oak, studded with iron bolts, and by
the light of a match I saw a heavy old-fashioned bell-pull. For a few
moments I hesitated: then, taking my courage in both hands, I gave it a
sharp pull, only to jump nearly out of my skin the next second. For the
bell rang just above my head, and the noise was deafening. Gradually it
died away, and in the silence that followed I listened intently. If there
was anyone in the house surely they must have heard it: to me the row had
seemed enough to wake the dead. But the minutes passed and no one came; I
realised that this house was empty too.

Cursing angrily, I turned away: there was nothing for it but to foot it
back again. And then I saw a thing which pulled me up sharp: a small
window to one side of the front door was open. I thought of that foul
walk along the drive, and I made up my mind without more ado. Ten seconds
later I was inside the house.

The room in which I found myself was a small cloak-room. Hats and coats
hung on pegs around the walls: two shooting sticks and a bag of
golf-clubs stood in one corner. So much I saw by the light of a match,
but another more welcome object caught my eye--an electric-light switch.
I had already made up my mind that should anyone appear I would make no
attempt to conceal myself, but would say frankly who I was and my reasons
for breaking in. And so I had no hesitation in turning on the light as I
left and walked along a passage which led from the room. A door was at
the end of it, and I pushed it open to find myself in a vast panelled
hall.

Holding the door open to get the benefit of the light from the cloak-room
I saw more switches beside me, and in a moment the place was brightly
illuminated. It was even bigger than I had at first thought. At one end,
opposite the front door, was a broad staircase, which branched both ways
after the first flight. Facing me was a large open fireplace with logs
arranged in it--logs which, to my joy, I saw were imitation ones fitted
for an electric fire. In the middle stood a long refectory table, whilst
all round the walls there hung paintings of men in the dress of bygone
days. The family portrait gallery: evidently the house belonged to a man
of ancient lineage. All that, however, could wait: my first necessity was
to get moderately dry.

I fumed off some of the lights, and crossed to the fireplace, where I
found the heat switch without difficulty. By this time I was sure that
the house was empty, and, having returned to the cloak-room to get an
overcoat, I took off my clothes and sat down in an armchair in front of
the glowing logs. (I know these small details seem irrelevant, but I am
putting them down to prove that my recollection of that night is still
perfect.)

The hall was in semi-darkness. Two suits of armour standing sentinel on
each side of the staircase gleamed red in the light of the fire: an
overhead cluster threw a pool of white radiance on the polished table in
the centre. Outside the rain still beat down pitilessly, and as I looked
at my steaming clothes I thanked Heaven for that open window. And after a
while I began to feel drowsy. A leaden weight settled on my eyelids: my
head dropped forward: I fell asleep.

Suddenly, as so often happens when one is beat, I was wide awake again.
Something had disturbed me--some noise, and as I listened intently I
heard it again. It was the sound of wheels on the drive outside, and of
horses. It was as if a coach and four was being driven up to the door,
but the strangeness of such a conveyance at that hour of the night did
not strike me for the moment. I was far too occupied in trying to think
what excuse I was going to make for my presence in such unconventional
garb. And then, even as with a jangling of bits the vehicle pulled up by
the front door, I realised to my amazement that my clothes had been
removed.

I tried to puzzle it out--to collect myself, but before I could think
what I was going to say the door was flung open and a great gust of wind
came sweeping in, making the candles on the table gutter. Candles! Who
had put candles there and turned out the electric light? And who had laid
supper?

I looked again towards the door: a woman had come in, and my
embarrassment increased. She swept towards the table, and stood there,
one hand resting on it, staring straight in front of her. Of me she took
no notice whatever, though it seemed inconceivable that she had not seen
me. And then, as she remained there motionless, my amazement grew: her
dress was that of the Stuart period.

The front door shut and a man came into the circle of light.
Magnificently handsome, with clean-cut, aquiline features he was dressed
as the typical cavalier of King Charles's time. And as he stood drawing
off his driving gauntlets, I realised what had happened. He was the owner
of the house and there had been a fancy dress ball. Still, I was glad I
had a man to explain things to.

He threw his gloves into a chair and came straight towards me. And the
words of explanation were trembling on my tongue when he knelt down
almost at my feet and stretched out his hands towards the blaze. He
seemed oblivious of my presence, but what was even more amazing was the
fire itself. For now great flames roared up the chimney from giant logs
that blazed fiercely.

I glanced again at the woman; she had not moved. But on her face had come
an expression that baffled me. Her eyes were resting on the man's back,
and in them was a strange blending of contempt and fear.

The man rose and turned towards her, and instantly the look vanished, to
be replaced by one of bored indifference.

"Welcome, my love," he said with a bow, "to your future home." Was it my
imagination, or was there a sneer in his voice?

"You honour me, Sir James," she answered with a deep curtsy. "From a
material point of view it leaves nothing to be desired."

"Your Ladyship will perhaps deign to explain?"

"Is it necessary?" she said coldly. "The subject is tedious to a degree."

"Nevertheless," he remarked--and now there was no attempt to conceal the
sneer, "I must insist on an explanation of your Ladyship's remark."

"Ladyship!" Her face was white, and her eyes, for a moment, blazed
hatred. "Would to God I had no right to the title."

He shot his lace ruffles languidly. "Somewhat higher in the social scale,
my love," he murmured, "than Mistress Palmer of Mincing Lane. The latter
is worthy, no doubt--but a trifle bourgeois."

"Perhaps so." Her voice was low and shaking. "At any rate, it was honest
and clean."

He yawned. "They tell me your father is a pillar of respectability. In
fact, I gather there is a talk of his being made an alderman, whatever
that obscure office signifies."

"You coward," she cried tensely. "How dare you sneer at a man whose shoes
you are not worthy to shine."

He raised his eyebrows and began to laugh silently. "Charming, charming!"
he remarked. "I find you vastly diverting, my love, when you are in
ill-humour. I bear no malice to the admirable Palmer, whose goods I am
told are of passing fair quality. But now that you have become my wife, I
must beg you to remember that conditions have changed."

He reverently lifted a bottle, encrusted and cobwebby. "From the
sun-kissed plains of France," he continued. "The only other man in
England who has this vintage is His Grace of Wessex. Permit me."

She shook her head, and stood facing him, her hands clenched. "What made
you marry me, Sir James?" she said in a low voice.

"My dear!" he murmured with simulated surprise. "You have but to look in
yonder mirror for your answer."

"You lie!" she cried. "I have but to look to your bank for my answer."

For a moment his eyes narrowed: the shaft had gone home. Then, with an
elaborate gesture that was in itself an insult, he lifted his glass to
his lips. "What perspicacity!" he murmured. "What deep insight into human
nature! But surely, my dear Laura, you must have realised that a man in
my position would hardly have married so far beneath him without some
compensating advantage."

She turned white to the lips. "So at last you have admitted it," she said
in a voice barely above a whisper. "Dear God! how I hate you."

"The point is immaterial," he cried harshly. "You are now Lady
Mertonbridge: you will be good enough to comport yourself as such."

But she seemed hardly to have heard him: with her eyes fixed on the fire
she went on almost as if talking to herself. And her voice was that of a
dead woman. "Lady Mertonbridge! What a hideous mockery! Two days after
that travesty of a service I found you kissing a common tavern wench. A
week later you were away for two nights, and I overheard your man and my
tirewoman laughing over it. Whose arms did you spend those nights in, Sir
James? Which of your many mistresses? Or was it perchance Lady Rosa?"

He started violently and then controlled himself. "And what," he asked
softly, "may you know of Lady Rosa?"

"There are things that reach even Mincing Lane, Sir James," she answered.
"Even there your infatuation had been heard of and the barrier that stood
between you--no money. I do not know her: I hope I never shall. But at
any rate she has been saved a life that is worse than death."

"Your Ladyship is pleased to be melodramatic," he said angrily. "Shall I
ring for your woman to prepare you for bed?"

"A moment. Sir James," she answered quietly. "This matter had best be
settled now."

He paused, his hand already on the bell rope.  "You do not imagine," she
continued, "that after what you have admitted to-night, I should demean
myself by continuing under your roof. Maybe you think that to be Lady
Mertonbridge of Mertonbridge Hall is enough for an alderman's daughter.
You are wrong. I admit my father was dazzled at the thought of such a
match: I admit that I was deceived by your soft words and your flattery.
But now, after just three weeks, the scales have dropped from my eyes: I
know the truth. You married me for my money, and now you have tossed me
aside like a worn-out glove. So be it: you shall have your money. That is
nothing. But you will have it on my terms."

His face was masklike, though his eyes were smouldering dangerously. "And
they are?"

"To-morrow I return to my father. It is for you to make what excuse you
like. Say," she added scornfully, "that an alderman's daughter felt
herself unfitted for such an exalted position as that of your wife. If
you choose to divorce me--which would doubtless be possible with your
influence--the money will stop. You may remember that that clause was
inserted in the marriage settlement: a pity for you, was it not, that my
father feels so strongly about divorce? So I shall remain, still your
wife, and you will receive your money."

He still stood with his back to her, trying evidently to see how this new
development affected him. And then she continued. "It will at any rate
have the merit of saving Lady Rosa or some other poor woman from the hell
that I have suffered. Even Sir  James Mertonbridge cannot commit bigamy."

And at that he understood, and his expression became that of a devil
incarnate. If he divorced her he lost the money: if he did not she
remained his wife. But when he turned round his face was masklike as
ever. "We will go further into this in the morning, Laura," he said
quietly. "You are tired now, and I insist on your drinking a glass of
wine."

Her strength seemed to have suddenly given out: she sat by the table, her
head sunk on her outstretched arms. And even as I looked at her, with my
heart full of pity, a dreadful change came over the face of the man who
stood by her side. He had just seen the way out, and I stared at him
fascinated, whilst my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth.

Quietly he crossed to a cabinet that stood against the wall, and from it
he took a small exquisitely cut glass bottle. Then he looked at his wife:
she was still sitting motionless. With the bottle in his hand he returned
to the table: then standing with his back to her he poured half its
contents into a glass which he filled with wine. "Drink, my love," he
said softly, and I strove to shout and warn her. But no sound came: I
could only sit and watch helplessly.

She stretched out her hand for the glass with a gesture of utter
weariness: she drank. And on the man's face there dawned a look of
triumph. Once again I tried to shout, to dash from my chair and seize the
glass. But it was too late. For perhaps five seconds she stared at him:
then she sprang to her feet, her features already writhing in agony.
Through the great vaulted hall there rang out one piercing scream--"You
murderer!"--ere she sank down, clutching at the table. And with that,
power of movement returned to me and I rushed at the man, to find myself
lying on the floor bathed in sweat.

I stared round foolishly: the electric lights were still shining above
me. My clothes lay by the glowing logs: the refectory table was bare. The
whole thing had been a dream.

Gradually I pulled myself together, though my hands still shook with the
vividness of it. And then feverishly I began to get back into my clothes.
They were not quite dry, but nothing would have induced me to spend
another minute in that hall. The rain had ceased: the faint light of dawn
was filtering through the windows by the front door. And ten minutes
later, having left everything exactly as I had found it, I was walking
down the drive. Anything to get away from that haunted spot.

For hours I wandered aimlessly, my mind still obsessed with the
nightmare, until at half-past seven I found myself opposite a garage
where a sleepy-eyed lad was beginning to stir himself. He called the
owner, who promised to go out himself and tow in my car. And then I
crossed to the inn across the road and ordered breakfast.

It still seemed impossible to me that I had not actually witnessed that
crime of years ago. In fact, the more I thought about it the more did I
believe that I had done so: that for some strange reason my brain had
been in such a condition that I had seen it re-enacted. They say that
thought impressions can be left on matter: that there are people who can
walk into a house where a murder has been committed hundreds of years
before and reconstruct the crime. Had that been the case with me? I am
not psychic: but perhaps my brain had been so attuned on that occasion
that it had been receptive.

The landlord entered as I finished my meal, and proved communicative.
"Mertonbridge Hall, sir? It's about a mile away."

So I had been walking round in circles since I left.

"Funny you should ask," he continued. "Mr. Parker--the butler--has only
just left. He spent the night here, owing to the rain. The present
baronet, sir? He's abroad at the moment. I gather things are a bit tight:
same as with all of us. And Sir Bryan has always known how to spend his
money. But if you're interested, sir, and you have nothing better to do
you should go up to the Hall this afternoon. It's open to visitors
between three and five every Tuesday, and Mr. Parker takes parties
round."

And so at three o'clock I found myself once more walking up the drive. A
motor-car passed me, full of Americans: another one stood at the front
door. And, majestic in his morning coat, Mr. Parker received his
visitors.

Fascinated I stared round the hall. There was the chair I had sat in:
there was the cabinet from which Sir James had taken the poison. And then
as my eyes glanced along the line of paintings I saw the man himself. He
was the third from the end, and he was wearing the clothes I had seen him
in in my dream.

Mr. Parker droned on: I heard not one word till the name Sir James caught
my ear. "Sir James was the third baronet, ladies and gentlemen: there you
see his portrait. And it was to him that occurred a terrible tragedy in
this very 'all."

He paused impressively, marshalling us with his eye. "Coming 'ome with
his bride he dismissed his servants, and sat down to supper at that
hidentical table you see there in the middle of the room. Now Sir
Humphrey--Sir James's father--whose portrait is hanging next to him, was
a great traveller. And he had collected, in the course of his wanderings,
some rare hantiques, which I am about to show you."

I was standing by the cabinet before he reached it and he looked at me
suspiciously. "You see that bottle, now containing nothing more 'armful
than water. But in those days it was filled with a deadly poison,
manufactured by the Borgias themselves. Now what 'appened is not exactly
clear, but it seems that after Sir James had pointed out the beauties of
the collection to his young bride, he left her for a while to go
upstairs. Suddenly a scream rang out, and dashing down he found her dead
on the floor. Distracted and 'eart-broken he gazed wildly round, and
found the bottle on the table, 'alf empty. What had 'appened can only be
guessed at. Not wishing to frighten her he had not told her that the
bottle was filled with poison. And she, taking it out--it was specially
made to taste good by them Borgias--must have thought it was some rare
old liqueur. Anyway, she drank some: and there on the night of her 'ome
coming she died."

So that was the story he had told--and got away with.

"Months after, when this grief had lessened," he continued, "Sir James
married the Lady Rosa Ferrington, and their eldest son--Sir Thomas--you
see 'anging next his father."

"I suppose," said a voice, "that it was an accident. No question about
its being murder, was there?" They all stared at me, and I realised the
voice was mine.

"The Baronets of Mertonbridge 'All do not murder their wives," said Mr.
Parker icily, regarding me as if I was something a trifle more
insignificant than a cockroach.

"This h'ain't the movies, young man," remarked a stout woman with a
permanent sniff, indignantly following Mr. Parker's flock.

I could have laughed aloud: if only they had known what I knew. And after
a while I slipped quietly away, and left them to it, doubtless confirming
Mr. Parker's opinion of my position in the scheme of things, when he
failed to receive my contribution for his trouble.

The months slipped past into years and, only naturally, the memory of
that dream grew dim. And then one morning I saw in the papers an
announcement that brought it back to my mind.

'SIR BRYAN MERTONBRIDGE, BART., AND MISS J. TOMKINS.

"An engagement is announced between Sir Bryan Mertonbridge, Bart., of
Mertonbridge Hall, Sussex, and Joan, elder daughter of Mr. and Mrs. R.
Tomkins, of Sydney, New South Wales."

And that, too, passed out of my head until the day I lunched with John
Carmichael at his club--the day that I now look back on with a sort of
horrified fascination. For I knew then what was going to happen, as
surely as I knew that the sun was going to set. And yet--what could I
have done?

He was sitting two tables away from us, magnificently handsome, with
clean-cut aquiline features, and I knew the answer before I asked.

"That's Mertonbridge," said Carmichael. "Good looking, isn't he?"

"Not as good looking as the third baronet," I said, "though astoundingly
like him."

"The third baronet! A bit before our time, old boy," he laughed.

"I have seen his portrait," I said briefly. "This fellow is engaged,
isn't he?"

Carmichael nodded and lowered his voice. "Australian girl. The father
rolls in it: wool or something. And it'll put Mertonbridge on his feet:
he's absolutely in Queer Street. Up to his neck with money-lenders. It's
that, of course, that made him do it, because--between ourselves--old
Tomkins is a bit wild and woolly like his sheep, and the girl ain't a
scream of beauty. Very worthy family and all that: pillars of the state,
don't you know, but hardly what one would expect a Mertonbridge to marry
into. What's the matter, old man: you're looking quite queer?"

"Nothing." I said, and my voice sounded strange to me. "By the way,
wasn't there some other girl?"

"Yes: but it's not generally known. He and Lady Janet Pulborough have
been crazy about one another for years. At one time there was a sort of
engagement I believe, but old Storrington hasn't a bean, and if he had
his daughter would see damned little of it. So it fell through. And it
was then that Mertonbridge went abroad, and hooked the wool. By Jove! old
boy, you're looking devilish funny. Are you certain there's nothing
wrong?"

"Quite; thanks, Jack," I said. "I'll have a cup of coffee in the
smoking-room."

Yes: I knew it then. I knew it, I say--and yet what could I do? That was
six months ago, and you all saw it in the papers.

'DREADFUL TRAGEDY AT MERTONBRIDGE HALL

"A shocking tragedy occurred last night at Mertonbridge Hall, the Sussex
seat of Sir Bryan Mertonbridge, Bart. It will be recalled that his
wedding three weeks ago to Miss Joan Tomkins was one of the events of the
season. It appears that the happy pair returned from their honeymoon
yesterday afternoon, and that after dinner Sir Bryan, who is a noted
traveller, was showing his bride some of the trophies he had collected in
the course of his wanderings. Amongst them were some native darts, the
tips of which are soaked in a deadly poison. He warned her particularly
to be careful, and then a sudden call to the telephone took him from the
room. While he was at the instrument, a piercing scream rang out, and
dashing back he found the unfortunate lady writhing on the floor. Half a
minute later she died in her husband's arms.

"What happened is only too clear. By some terrible mischance Lady
Mertonbridge must have pricked her hand with one of the darts: the mark
could be seen. And the poison, which is a native secret, did its deadly
work. The sympathy of everybody will go out to the bereaved husband, who
is quite prostrate with grief.

"An amazing coincidence is the fact that an almost similar tragedy
occurred to one of Sir Bryan's ancestors--the third baronet."

Coincidence! All day long Mr. Parker's words have been ringing in my
head--"The Baronets of Mertonbridge Hall do not murder their wives."

I wonder.



TOUCH AND GO


The fair-haired man in the corner had taken no part in the conversation.
He made the fifth of the group that had gathered itself together in the
corner of the smoking-room, and I don't think any of us even knew his
name. He had come on board the day before at Marseilles with his wife,
and it was she who had attracted my attention at dinner to such an extent
that I had remarked on her to Sturgis of the Gunners, who was sitting
next me.

A pretty woman--extremely pretty, and judging by her face somewhere about
thirty. Certainly not more, for there was not a wrinkle to be seen, and
her arms and neck were those of a young woman. It was her hair that
surprised one, and made one wonder if the age estimated was wrong. For
though there was a lot of it, it was snow white.

"Some newfangled fashion," grunted Sturgis in answer to my comment. "Next
year it will be pea-green. I'll bet you that woman is not out of the
twenties yet."

But somehow she didn't look in the least of the type who go in for
freak fancies of that sort. And her husband seemed to be the last
man in the world who would marry one of the type. A more prosaic,
matter-of-fact-looking Englishman I have seldom seen, and he was quiet
to the point of dullness.

It was his first trip out East, we gathered, whereas we calculated that
between the rest of us we had just topped the half-century. Which quite
possibly accounted for his silence: we were talking of seas and places
that, to him, were merely names out of an atlas. And also, as the evening
grew older and tongues grew looser, some pretty tall stories began to fly
around. Some were perfectly true; some--however, I will not labour the
point.

I forget who it was who first started the discussion on tight corners and
terrifying experiences generally. Cartwright spun a fairly useful one
about three days in the company of some Chinese pirates waiting for a
ransom he knew would never come; Sturgis specialised on a singularly
unpleasant sect of priests somewhere up in Tibet. In fact, none of us
disgraced ourselves, and I think we all had a comfortable feeling that
our fair-haired friend was suitably impressed with the perils that lay in
wait for the unwary.

"Of course," said Cartwright reassuringly, "it's only when you get off
the beaten track that there's any danger. Otherwise you're as safe as you
are in England."

The fair-haired man smiled a little thoughtfully. "What age would you put
my wife at, gentlemen?" was his somewhat astounding remark.

"Well, really," said Sturgis, after a slightly embarrassed silence,
"I--er--"

"I think you noticed her at dinner," went on the other quietly. "And I
have a reason for my apparently strange question."

"Twenty-five," I said, determined to err on the right side.

"My wife will be twenty next July," he answered. "And seven months ago,
when she was just nineteen, her hair was as dark as yours. Not illness,
gentlemen: nothing of that sort. But when you made use of the phrase 'as
safe as you are in England,' I couldn't help thinking of that change of
colour."

"You mean she had some terrible shock?" said someone.

"Nothing to compare, of course, with that sect of priests in Tibet," he
answered mildly, and Sturgis became engrossed in the bowl of his pipe.
"Yes, she had a terrible shock."

"Which turned her hair white?" Cartwright looked at him with interest.
"I've heard of such cases second-hand, but--Is it a matter which you can
pass on, sir?"

The fair-haired man was silent for a moment or two. "Well, gentlemen," he
said at length, "you will understand that it's not a thing which I care
to talk about as a general rule. But on the condition that it goes no
farther, and above all on the condition that no allusion should ever be
made to it in front of my wife, I have no objection to telling you what
happened.

"You will understand, of course, that much of it has been pieced together
by me from what she told me after it happened: I was not there at the
time. If I had been--"

His fists clenched suddenly, and a strained look came into his eyes.

"We had been married three months when it took place. Our honeymoon was
over--I couldn't afford the time for a very long one--and we were
settling into the house I had managed to get not far from Sunningdale.

"It was a nice little house--ten bedrooms sort of size, with a
well-laid-out garden and about a couple of acres of rough ground in which
my predecessor had planted a whole lot of prize rhododendrons. It had a
tennis court and a garage, and the marvel to me was that it hadn't been
snapped up the instant it came on the market. We found it by mere chance
when we were motoring to look at another place, and the instant we saw it
we knew that it would do us, and further that we meant to have it. An old
caretaker--a strange-looking old woman--showed us over it, and we found
that the inside was in just as good condition as the exterior. Which was
not to be wondered at, seeing that she told us it had only been
unoccupied about nine months.

"How comes it that it has remained empty all this time?" I asked her, for
nine months in that locality is more than nine years elsewhere.

"She shrugged her shoulders and looked more bovine than before. Yes--the
drains were all right, and the house wasn't damp and there weren't any
rats--she could assure us of that. And the house agents could give us all
other particulars.

"So off we went to the house agent. The rent was eminently satisfactory,
and since he seemed a very decent sort of fellow I decided to put the
matter to him point-blank. 'Look here,' I said, as man to man, 'is there
a catch somewhere? I know it's your job to let the house, but this lady
and I are shortly going to get married, and we don't want to be let down.
And from what I know of the housing problem it's a mighty strange thing
that a house of that type, in this locality, should have remained empty
for nearly a year.'

"He didn't answer for a bit, but just sat at his desk fingering the
plans. 'Are you a stranger to these parts?' he said at length.

"'Complete,' I answered.

"'Well,' he said, 'it's unprofessional, I suppose, but in view of the
circumstances I'll tell you. Mark you, personally I think it's the most
hopeless rot. It's a first-class property in first-class order; of its
type and size it's out and away the best value I have on my books. But
three years ago a singularly brutal murder was committed there.'

"'Three years!' I cried. 'But it's only been empty nine months!'

"'The next party that had it after the crime took place moved to a larger
house,' he answered.

"'And you promise me that that is all there is against it?' I said.

"'Absolutely all', he assured me. 'You may have any tests you like
carried out And then he looked at my fiancee and rubbed his chin. 'Dash
it all,' he burst out, 'I got married myself once upon a time. The real
trouble is--servants. There--I've let the cat out of the bag. You know
what they are: difficult at the best of times these days. But that is
where the rub comes. The party I told you of certainly did move to a
larger house, but I don't think they would have if they had been able to
keep a servant. Silly, hysterical girls--swearing that they saw things
and heard noises: you know the sort of thing.'

"We thanked him warmly for having been so frank with us, and told him
we'd think it over.

"'If I can do anything for you,' were his parting words, 'let me know.
I've got a few possibles on my books, though none of them compares with
that one. But if you do decide to take it, I would not, if I were you,
get your servants locally.'

"Well, we went away, and we thought it over. It may sound perhaps a small
point to some of you fellows--this servant question--but it isn't a small
point to us stay-at-homes. And there was no doubt about it--the drawback
was a very serious one. So serious that for a week we tried to find
something else. But nothing that we saw approached the house at
Sunningdale, either for comfort or convenience. And finally, to cut a
long story short, we made up our minds to chance it.

"So I wrote and told the house agent of our decision, and in the stress
and bustle of getting married, the matter more or less passed from my
mind. Furniture I had in plenty, and it was not until the house had been
completely repapered and fixed-up generally that I went down again.

"I went alone, I remember, as my fiancee was busy that day. It was
principally to get some measurements, and I took down a sandwich lunch
with me. The old caretaker was there, and I thought she eyed me a bit
strangely as she opened the door, though she said nothing. In fact, I
don't think I saw her again until just before I was going, when she came
into the hall and stood looking at me.

"'What is it, Mrs. Gulliver?' I said. 'Do you want to ask me anything?

"'So you've taken the house', she remarked quietly.

"'I certainly have,' I answered. 'And a very charming little house it
is.'

"She nodded her head once or twice, and her eyes never left my face.

"'What's the matter?' I cried irritably. 'Have you got something at the
back of your mind about it? If so, please tell me.'

"'I've nothing at the back of my mind that you would be paying attention
to,' she said. 'But that's not saying that I haven't got something
there.'

"'Well, what is it?' I said. 'I shall certainly pay attention to it if
it's anything serious.'

"'There's death in this house, Mr. Morgan,' she answered gravely. 'It's
hanging over us: I can feel it.'

"Well, gentlemen, I can tell you I was furious. Just the sort of damned
silly fatuous remark which would scare the average servant stiff and send
her flying from the house. At least, that's how it struck me at the time.
Now--well, now I'm not so certain. Looking back on the little interview I
favoured Mrs. Gulliver with in that sunny, fresh-painted hall, there is
one thing that stands out very clearly in my mind. And that was her
impassive demeanour. She never raised her voice, even when I became
thoroughly annoyed. She just stood there listening to what I had to say,
and her quiet, steady eyes never wavered.

"'It's ridiculous,' I cried. 'Perfectly ridiculous. It's remarks like
that which make it impossible to keep servants.'

"'Better that,' she said, 'than the other. For it will be a terrible
death.'

"'But what earthly reason have you for making such a statement?' I
fumed.

"'Maybe it's not earthly,' she answered.

"'Just because a murder was committed here,' I grunted. And then her last
remark struck me. 'What do you mean--not earthly?'

"'There are things, Mr. Morgan, beyond our ken.' she said gravely. 'It
was my mother's gift, and my grandmother's before her, and in turn it has
come to me. Second sight, I believe they call it. But sometimes we know
what is going to happen. And we are never wrong.'

"'And who, might I ask, is going to die?' I said facetiously.

"'Don't mock me, sir,' she said. 'No good ever came of that. I cannot
tell you who is going to be killed, or when it is going to happen. But it
is written.'

"'Be killed?' I repeated. 'Do you mean another murder?'

"'Aye,' she said gravely. 'Another murder. The thoughts come thronging
into my mind sometimes, till I have to get up from my chair and go out of
doors. Then they leave me. But I tell you there is evil threatening this
house and they who live in it. Where it comes from I know not; but always
it is the same thing--death. Death by violence.'

"There was no good saying anything or  trying to argue about it. The
woman was firmly convinced that what she said was right, and I had to
leave it at that. The only thing I did do was to extract a promise from
her that she would not mention the matter to the servants when they came.

"'I'll not mention it,' she said quietly, 'but for all that you won't
keep them.'

"'And why not?' I snapped.

"'The tradesmen,' she answered.. 'When they call of a morning--they'll
talk. They'll tell the cook what happened here three years ago. They'll
tell her that you may hear strange sounds and see strange things in this
house, and she will believe them.'

"'Exactly,' I said bitterly. 'And then  they promptly will begin to hear
strange sounds. Whereas if nothing was said to them they wouldn't.'

"'Maybe,' she answered. 'Maybe not.'

"She took a step towards me, almost her first movement since the
interview had started. 'There's something, Mr. Morgan, that threatens
this house. Don't ask me what it is, for that I can't tell you. I don't
know myself. But it's there--it's always there. That I do know.'

"And the next instant she was gone, and I was alone in the cheerful
sunlight. Now, what would any of you have done in my place? Probably just
what I did--cursed furiously. While she had been with me her strange
personality had impressed me in spite of myself; now that she had gone I
merely remembered the stupid vapourings of a silly woman. And a
servantless future. She wouldn't be able to hold her tongue, for all her
promise to the contrary, when she met the servants. Not she; she wasn't
the type. And there and then I determined that whatever else happened
there should be no overlap. Mrs. Gulliver should be out of the house
before the servants came in, even if it did mean some inconvenience to
us. In ordinary circumstances, of course, we should have had the house
open, with the servants installed, all ready for us on our return from
our honeymoon. Now I decided that we would keep on Mrs. Gulliver until we
came back, and then get rid of her one morning and bring the servants in
in the afternoon. I felt that tradesmen's boys were, at any rate, less
likely to unsettle the staff than that sombre-eyed woman."

The fair-haired man took a sip of his drink and knocked out his pipe.

"Well," he continued, "we returned. Two months ago, almost to a day, we
returned."

Mrs. Gulliver was at the door to meet us, and we spent the afternoon in
exploring the house. Everything was perfectly charming, and my wife was
delighted. In fact, the only fly in the ointment was Mrs. Gulliver's
cooking. I hadn't told my wife of the conversation I had had with the
woman, and I had taken the first opportunity--when I saw Mrs. Gulliver
alone--of telling her that if she said one word to my wife of what she
had said to me a death by violence would occur in the house and her
prophecy would be fulfilled. Because my wife thought that my idea of not
having any overlap was merely due to my wish to prevent Mrs. Gulliver
giving gruesome details of the murder to the servants, which might
unsettle them.

"That, then, was the position when we arrived back at the house. The
servants were due in three days, and until then we should have to put up
with the cooking.

"Well, as I've said before, it was a charming little place. I spent the
next day pottering around with my wife, planning out improvements in the
garden, and the more I saw of it the less I thought of Mrs. Gulliver's
strange words to me a few weeks previously. She had said nothing more,
but then, save for one brief interview when I had sworn her to silence, I
had not seen her alone. Her face was expressionless, and she performed
her work--save the cooking--quietly and efficiently.

"The following day I had to go up to London. There were a lot of arrears
of work waiting for me in the office, and I only just got back in time
for dinner. And the first thing I noticed was that my wife seemed a
little thoughtful and preoccupied.

"'Marjorie Thurston came to see me this afternoon,' she said as we sat
down.

"Mrs. Thurston was a pal of hers who lived at Ascot.

"'And what had she got to say for herself?' I asked.

"'Jack,' she said, 'I rather wish we hadn't taken this house.'

"I swore under my breath, and consigned Mrs. Thurston elsewhere. I could
guess what she had been saying.

"'She gave me the details of the murder," went on my wife. Perfectly
horrible. A brute of a man who lived here and killed his wife. He--and I
could see that she was looking a bit white--'he cut off her head.'

"'Well, my dear,' I said prosaically, 'it seems to me that if you're
going to murder someone it doesn't much matter how you do it. The result
is much the same.'

"'Oh, I know that,' she cried. 'But it all seems so horrible. And they
say that he haunts the place.'

"'Confound Marjorie Thurston,' I said angrily. 'She'd got no right to
fill you up with a cock-and-bull story of that sort. You don't believe
it, of course?'

"'No, of course not,' she answered, but it wasn't a very convincing No.
'It's the servants I'm thinking of. They're bound to hear of it.'

"'Let's leave that trouble till it comes,' I said.

"And on the surface, at any rate, we did leave it. We discussed the
moving of furniture to different places, and what particular car we were
going to buy, and a hundred and one other things, till it was time to go
to bed. In fact, I thought she had forgotten about it, until I noticed
her glance over her shoulder suddenly as we went upstairs. The hall was
in darkness, and she clutched my arm.

"'Jack,' she whispered, 'Jack--don't you feel it?'

"'Feel what?' I said, impressed in spite of myself.

"'Something evil,' she said, and her voice was shaking. 'Horrible and
black. It's gone now, but--'

"With a little shiver she went on up the stairs, and I followed her. And
you can take it from me that for the first time in my life I was annoyed
with her. I had felt absolutely nothing, and I put it down to
imagination. I didn't say anything. I didn't see that there was any good
to be gained by doing so. But the thing annoyed me. If she was going to
give way to these hysterical fears, there certainly would be no chance of
keeping any servants.

"However, she said nothing more, and when the next morning dawned bright
and sunny she seemed to be her normal self again. Which was a relief,
seeing that I had to go up to London again.

"But before I went I asked Mrs. Gulliver if she had said anything to my
wife. She absolutely denied it, and denied it so quietly and convincingly
that I believed her. And in view of what happened, gentlemen, that fact
is an interesting one. Mark you, I advance no explanation, and yet it
seems clear to me that two people--my wife and Mrs. Gulliver--both
experienced the same sensation in that house. I have since asked my wife
if she thought she saw or heard anything in the hall, and her answer is
that she did not. In fact, the nearest that I can get to her sensation is
that she suddenly felt herself opposed by a dreadful malign
influence--one that wished her harm. She is positive that it was not
imagination: she says that the sudden sensation was so marked as to be
almost physical. Now, if her experience on the stairs had been due to
what Mrs. Thurston had told her that afternoon, my contention is that she
would have been affected differently. If it indeed had been imagination,
as I thought at the time, it would have taken a more material form. In
fact, I believe that Mrs. Thurston represented--if I may put it that
way--the errand-boy school of thought, which grew out of idle
tittle-tattle. And I believe that my wife's experience that night was a
manifestation of what Mrs. Gulliver had told me. In short, that the house
was, in the accepted sense of the word, not haunted, but that there was a
sinister influence present--which, if we knew more of the things that lie
on the borderline, should have warned us of the terrible danger we were
in."

The sweat was gleaming in beads on the fair-haired man's forehead, and
his neglected pipe lay beside him on the table.

"Gentlemen," he said, "I still find it difficult to talk calmly of that
next night. I was unavoidably detained in London till the last train, and
what happened has been told me disjointedly by that poor child. God! when
I think of it, it almost drives me mad!

"I'd telephoned through to her to say that I couldn't get down till late.
I asked her how she was, and she assured me she was quite all right. She
was going to bed early, and she was going to have a fire lit in her
bedroom to make it more cosy. Sandwiches and whisky would be left for me
in the dining-room. Mrs. Gulliver was there, and she didn't feel in the
least uneasy. It must have been just imagination the night before, and
anyway I wasn't to dream of coming down early. And with that I left it,
and went back to a business dinner with a quiet mind.

"I've got the rest of it out of her a bit here and a bit there, and I'll
piece it together for you in the telling. She had her dinner at eight
o'clock, and at ten o'clock she went to bed. I had a latchkey, of course,
so she locked the front door, but left the light on in the hall. Then she
went upstairs, and of one thing she is very positive: there was no
repetition of the strange feeling she had experienced the night before.

"The fire was burning brightly in her bedroom, and after she had read for
a bit she began to feel sleepy. So she switched off the light, having
first glanced at the time to see how much longer I should be. It was
eleven o'clock, and twelve-fifteen was the earliest at which I could be
back. Then she dozed off.

"She seemed, she told me, hardly to have been asleep at all when she
found herself wide awake again. Something had disturbed her, but she
doesn't know what. And the time was a quarter to twelve. The fire had
died down a bit and was throwing that flickerings jumping light about the
room which makes it difficult to see clearly.

"She lay there in bed motionless and rigid, conscious only of one
thing--that something was going to happen. And then she heard an
unmistakable creak on the stairs, followed by a strange muttering noise.
Again the stairs creaked and yet again, and she realised that someone was
coming up.

"She knew it couldn't be me: she knew Mrs. Gulliver had gone to bed hours
ago. Who was it--what was it--that was coming up the stairs? Well, it's
easy to sit here in a well-lit smoking-room and ask why she didn't get
out and lock the door. I asked her the same thing myself. The kid was
just too pulverised with terror to move, gentlemen: she lay there in bed
listening to those footsteps coming closer and her legs simply refused to
act.

"And at last the footsteps ceased outside her door. Clear as anything she
could hear the thing--whatever it was--muttering and chuckling to itself,
and she just lay there rigid and sick with fear, staring at the
door--waiting. After a moment or two the handle was cautiously turned and
the door commenced to open. Inch by inch it was pushed back, but since it
didn't open on to the bed she couldn't see who was on the other side. And
then quite suddenly there came a hoarse chuckle.

"She almost screamed; may Heaven be praised that it was only almost! For
the next instant a man came into the room, carrying a bundle in his
hands. He walked slowly past the bed and sat down in a chair by the fire
with his back to my wife. And she realised he hadn't seen her. He was
muttering to himself and laughing, and after a while he deposited the
bundle on the hearth-rug at his feet. It was about the size of a
football, and it was wrapped up in what looked like a towel. And there he
remained for three or four minutes whilst my wife, not daring to move,
watched him from the bed. She tried to make out what he was saying to
himself, but the few words she caught were just meaningless gibberish.

"At last a thought struck her. By the side of the bed was a push which
rang a bell just outside Mrs. Gulliver's room. She glanced at the clock;
it was still twenty minutes before I could hope to be back. And she felt
that she would go mad if she had to endure this any longer. So with
infinite care she stretched out her arm and rang the bell. She knew she
couldn't hear it--it was too far away; but she also knew that it had been
working that evening. So she waited--but nothing happened. She rang again
and again--still nothing. And all the time the man sat there muttering
and chuckling away to himself, whilst every now and then he lifted the
bundle in his hands and held it in front of him.

"Another five minutes passed, and then the strain became too great. She
must have given a little cry or made some sound, for the man swung round
suddenly and stared at her. He stared at her in absolute silence; then he
placed his bundle carefully on the floor and stood up. And I suppose
utter despair and terror gave her the strength to move. For even as the
man took a step towards her she flung the bedclothes off and darted
through the door, banging it behind her. Then she fled downstairs and
into the drawing-room. Behind her pounded the man, and by a second only
did she get the door locked. There were French windows leading into the
garden, and anything--anything to escape from the house."

The fair-haired man mopped his forehead, and his hand was shaking
uncontrollably. "You've seen the fantastic shadows cast by moonlight,
haven't you? Well, there was a moon that night, shining fitfully through
the clouds--and on the windows through which she meant to escape two
great shadows were dancing. There were men there--more men, and, clear
above the mad pounding on the door behind her, she could hear them trying
to force the window. And at that moment she gave up hope. The door was
creaking on its hinges; she could hear the man on the other side hurling
himself against it. And the crash of broken glass and the splintering of
the door came simultaneously. She had a fleeting vision of the man who
had been in her bedroom rushing in with something in his hand that
gleamed, just as the other two men dashed aside the curtains and sprang
into the room also. And the two of them hurled themselves at him
savagely. One took him round the legs and brought him crashing to the
floor; the other hit him a fearful blow behind the head with a loaded
stick. And the man who had been upstairs lay still.

"'Good God, man!' said one of the newcomers, 'that was touch and go.'

"'Who is he?' said my wife faintly. 'He's been in my bedroom for twenty
minutes.'

"The two men looked at one another significantly.

"'Are you all alone in the house, mum?' said the other.

"'My husband ought to be back at any moment.' she answered.

"'Well, I guess we'll stop with you anyway till he comes. Because we'll
have to get a conveyance of some sort to take this bloke away in.'

"And it was just about then that I walked in.

"'A marvellous escape, sir,' said one of them to me when I'd heard
briefly what had happened. 'He's a homicidal maniac, and he gave us the
slip this evening.'

"'You followed him here, I suppose?'

"'Not exactly, sir. We guessed he'd come here. You see, he's the man that
did the murder in this house three years ago. And if we hadn't come in
time there would have been another done to-night."

The fair-haired man paused, and for a while no one spoke.

"What a ghastly experience!" said Sturgis. "I don't wonder your wife's
hair turned white."

The other smiled grimly. "It wasn't that that did it. I was talking to
the two warders below, when I heard scream after scream from my wife's
bedroom. You see, the warders hadn't come in time to prevent a murder.
For when I got to her, I found her staring at something that lay on the
hearth-rug--something from which the coverings had slipped--something
about the size of a football. Mrs. Thurston had been right as to how the
original murder had been committed. He'd cut off his victim's head. And
the only thing that had saved my wife was that the maniac had been to
Mrs. Gulliver's room first. That was why the bell had not been answered."

"Great Scott!" muttered Cartwright. "Great Scott!"

"The psychology of the thing, gentlemen, is beyond me. The foolish talk
about the house being haunted in the accepted sense of the word may be
dismissed. But I do believe firmly that in some way or other beyond our
ken the poor demented mind of that madman was able to project itself
through space and make itself felt by certain personalities at its
destination. How else can you account for the unfortunate housekeeper's
feeling of impending evil--for my wife's sudden vivid li impression as
she went up the stairs? They told me that sometimes he used to lie in a
sort of coma for hours at a time. Was it then that his tortured spirit
fled from his body, going always to the spot which drew it like a magnet?
I know not. But thing I do know. If any of you require a nice unfurnished
house in the Sunningdale district--"

"Holy smoke!" said Sturgis. "I'd sooner have my monastery in Tibet."



THE LOYALTY OF PETER DRAYTON


General Sir Hubert Lovelace, Bart., V.C., K.C.B., etc., etc., stepped out
of his motor-car and ascended the steps to the front door of Lovelace
Towers. As its name implies, it was the baronial seat, and its owner,
having reached the top of the flight, proceeded to do what he always did
do on similar occasions. First he inspected the consistency of the soil
in the two large wooden flower-tubs that flanked the door, to make sure
that his fool of a head gardener had applied neither too much nor too
little water.

Having satisfied himself on this point, and decided that possibly after
all he wouldn't sack the man, he faced about and inspected the ground
that lay in front of him. Not that he expected to find anything new: in
fact, had he done so the result would have been dreadful. He inspected it
partly out of habit and partly out of that ingrained feeling of pride of
possession which is born and bred of ownership. Even so, in days long
gone by, had Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Hubert Lovelace gazed on the
glittering ranks of the 10th Royal Lancers, when that magnificent
regiment was drawn up on parade.

His scrutiny now was interrupted by a girl's voice speaking through an
open window behind him.

"And how is himself? Feeling very much the monarch of all he surveys?"

The soldier's stern, rather aquiline face softened as he turned round.

"Impertinent minx," he remarked. "You'll be for orderly-room to-morrow
morning if you talk to the Commanding Officer like that."

With a laugh she came out and slipped her arm through his. The same clear
blue eyes, the same clear-cut profile proclaimed their relationship, and
the man looked proudly at his daughter as she stood beside him.

"Did you have many for orderly-room today, Daddy?"

"About the same as usual," he answered. "That wretched fellow Griggs been
poaching again; two motoring road-hogs; and Mrs. Panding knocked her
husband down with a rolling-pin during her weekly drunk. Oh! and one of
the usuals, of course."

"Another of them!" cried the girl. "It's funny they all seem to come
here."

"They don't," snorted her father. "The scoundrels are just as bad
everywhere else. And the trouble is that for swine of that type prison is
a good deal more comfortable than knocking about outside. It's what
they're after. Free board and lodging, and then they go on to another
place and get the same. If  I had my way I'd flog 'em. That would soon
stop it."

"Still, there must be some genuine cases, Daddy," said the girl slowly.

"Then let 'em produce their papers, and papers that will stand the test
of examination," said her father. "Not one man, Una, has been sent to
prison by me or the bench without a thorough verification. And as for
this impudent rascal to-day "--the worthy warrior plucked at his
collar--"I--why, for two pins I'd have flogged him myself."

The girl glanced at him gravely, though a tiny smile flickered round the
corners of her lips. She adored her father: she knew by heart the story
of the episode that had entitled him to write those first two letters
after his name: and she knew by heart also the real nature of the man. As
did all his staff, who would willingly have lain down and let him walk
over them. And when a man has reached that position with regard to those
around him, what matter if he pretends to be a ferocious fellow?

"Bombastico furioso," she remarked, and her smile broadened. "What did
this impudent rascal do to-day?"

But for once in a way her father failed to respond to her chaff. His face
remained stern and set, and the girl realised that he was serious.

"He was begging, of course," said the General after a while. "No visible
means of sustenance--the usual thing. But the case was aggravated by the
medals he had the impudence to show. At least, by one of them. He dared
to wear the D.C.M. 'Where are your discharge papers?' I asked him. He
hadn't got any: they were lost. 'What Records Office will substantiate
your claim?' I said to him."

"He couldn't tell me; he'd served in a Colonial unit, and didn't know if
they even had such a thing as a Records Office. I asked him what Colonial
contingent he had been with; he wouldn't say. I asked him where he won
his D.C.M.; he wouldn't say. All he would say was that his name was John
Brownlow. And then I read the Riot Act over him. I told him that it
wasn't because he wouldn't, but because he couldn't. That he was an
impudent impostor who had either stolen the medals or picked them up
cheap in a pawnshop. I asked him if he realised that the D.C.M. in the
Great War was worth many a V.C. before it, and how dare he masquerade
with such a medal on his worthless chest?"

"What did he say. Daddy?" asked the girl.

"Nothing; he couldn't. He just stood there silent: a convicted impostor.
I ordered him there and then to hand over his decorations, and told him
that I would return them to him when he brought me some proof that he was
entitled to wear them. And there they are." With a snort he produced them
from his pocket.

"What did you give him, Daddy?" said his daughter.

"A month without the option," grunted the General. "Not that there was
any option in his case: he hadn't a bean in his pocket. But it was "--he
hesitated a moment--"it was the Colonial part that stuck."

Abruptly he turned and went indoors, and the girl, left to herself, sat
down on the stone balustrade and stared over the park. It was many moons
now since her father had alluded to the great overwhelming sorrow of his
life--greater almost than the death, ten years ago, of his wife.

He was not a man who wore his heart on his sleeve, but she knew full well
why it had been the Colonial part that stuck. For Jack--her only
brother--had gone to France with the Australians and had died there. And
in dying he had performed the most meritorious act of his life.

It was just one of those tragedies which sometimes happen so
inexplicably. By all the laws of upbringing and heredity, Jack Lovelace
should have been a top-notcher. Instead of that he had proved a permanent
and continual disgrace and a drunkard. Expulsion from Eton had
effectually prevented him from obtaining a commission in his father's old
regiment, which would otherwise have been his automatically. And after
that had occurred scrape after scrape--drink, always drink the cause.
None of them was actually dishonest: in his queer, distorted way Jack had
been the soul of honour. Until--there came one: the final one. That had
been dishonest--legally. Morally: well--there's a difference. And it
happened thus.

Amongst the varied assortment of men with whom he consorted was one Peter
Drayton. And Peter Drayton was Jack's own particular friend: the worst of
the whole bunch, as Sir  Hubert frequently said. Their tastes were
similar: their outlook on life the same. And they had been born a hundred
years too late: that was their trouble.

In the old East India days they would undoubtedly have gone to that
delectable country, amassed huge fortunes by methods of which the less
said the better, and finally died in an odour of sanctity and gout
somewhere in England. Unfortunately, that particular safety valve was
denied them. The spirit was willing: the opportunities weak. London was
their hunting-ground, and virgin forest in the tropics is safer.

To come back to it. Peter, finding his need for ready money rather more
pressing than usual, went to the old-established firm of Jones & Jones
and borrowed--how he did it is one of the world's insoluble
mysteries--one thousand of the best at five per cent. Completely
staggered at his success he omitted to notice that it was five per cent.
per week.

Messrs. Jones & Jones, however, were not so forgetful, and the position
shortly became acute. Having paid the first instalment of interest with
the last fifty remaining of the capital, a deadlock ensued. And here Jack
came in. An elderly aunt had just died, leaving him precisely a thousand
pounds.

Now what was Jack's was Peter's, and what was Peter's was Jack's.
Together they repaired to Jones & Jones to explain matters and repay the
sum borrowed. Unfortunately, as Mr. Jones pointed out, there was a little
question of three weeks more interest--a matter of one hundred and fifty
pounds. The fact that the rate of interest was monstrous left him cold:
had not Mr. Drayton signed the agreement? So with one accord they broke
up the office, paying particular attention to the classical, if somewhat
Hebraic features of Mr. Jones.

While it lasted it must have been great. They'd locked the door, and when
they'd finished the poker looked like a hairpin. After that they each did
six months' hard.

It was the end. The General gave his son five hundred pounds, packed him
off to Australia, and forbade his name ever to be mentioned again. With a
stiff upper lip the old soldier had carried on, and not even his wife
quite realised the aching blank that was left in his life. No one to
carry on: the line would pass--or go to a disgraced man. For in some
things the father's code of honour was almost puritanical.

And then had come the atonement in France. For Jack had
died--wonderfully. No more wonderfully perhaps than thousands of others;
but he'd died with his back to the wall--in an isolated post--without
thought of surrender. And the General's back had straightened since he'd
heard the news; he was that manner of man.

It was Peter Drayton who had written to him--telling him the details.
He'd been with Jack at the time--had been, in fact, the sole survivor.

"If ever," the letter had concluded, "a man deserved the V.C. it was your
son. His behaviour in the face of what seemed certain death was
magnificent, and but for him, and his example, the post would not have
been held."

Una knew the letter by heart, and it came back to her now as she sat
staring over the park. For there had been no question officially of
recommending Jack for any decoration: the only intimation received had
been the bald announcement of his death, and a colourless letter of
regret from his platoon commander. And it had hurt her father. Not, as
he had said on the only occasion she had ever heard him refer to the
matter, that he attached any importance to the getting of a decoration.
Enough for him that the boy had died as one of his line should die. He
had done his duty, and that was enough. But still, in view of what
Drayton had written, it seemed--odd. Surely he must have told the
Commanding Officer. And if so, it was strange that nothing had been
done. It would have been rather fine--though wild horses would not have
dragged such an admission from the General--to have two V.C.'s in the
family.

With a little sigh the girl rose and went indoors. "It was the Colonial
part that stuck." Her father's words were ringing in her ears, and she
wondered who the man was, who was even now doing his one month's
hard--the man who had masqueraded with a D.C.M.

There had been so much of it--this old soldier stunt, and though, at
first, her naturally soft heart had impelled her to take them all at
their face value, gradually she had come round to her father's point of
view. If they were genuine--let them prove it. Then there was always
something for them at Lovelace Towers. If they weren't--it was a
despicable form of fraud, and they deserved all they got. Particularly
when they dared to use a medal for conspicuous gallantry. That made
matters a thousand times worse. It seemed like robbing the dead of their
honour.

She met her father as she crossed the hall. "I'm glad you gave that man a
month, Daddy," she said. "I wish you'd given him more."


John Brownlow stood in the street outside the jail, looking about him
with a faint smile. The prison authorities had returned him one shilling
and four coppers, which represented his entire worldly wealth. They had
also given him some excellent advice concerning the reprehensibility of
his mode of life, and the advisability of at once finding some honest
work. As to where it was to be obtained they were a little less concise,
but when all is said and done, free advice and a free shave are more than
a lot of us get during life.

There was some free information he'd had also given him by the prison
doctor, a kindly man with a shrewd face. But that information was
stale--stale and unprofitable. And useless, too, for a man whose capital
is one shilling and fourpence.

After a while he turned and strolled towards the town that lay in the
hollow below the prison. The smile was still on his lips as he jingled
his fortune in his pocket--an introspective smile, the smile of a man who
possesses that most wonderful of gifts--a real sense of humour. After
all, there are worse things than having a clean chin and one and
fourpence.

He walked on slowly down the main street of the country town. The shops
were just beginning to open, and after mature consideration he entered a
tobacconist's and bought a threepenny packet of cigarettes. One and a
penny. Still, that was a shilling more than he'd had for some time now.
In fact, it might almost be described as affluence. Shifting six loads of
wood at threepence a load was certainly the way to become a millionaire.

Suddenly he stopped abruptly: a car was coming towards him. A girl was
driving, and by her side sat General Sir Hubert Lovelace, Bart. The car
passed him, and still he stood there staring with a strange look in his
keen grey eyes.

"A fine old man," said the voice of the tobacconist behind him. "And a
fine girl. Pity the boy turned out a wrong un."

"He did, did he?" said Brownlow.

"Terrible," remarked the tobacconist. "Fell in with all sorts of bad
companions, he did. Robbed and stole and was sent to prison. And drank,
too--so I've been told. Fair broke his father up for a time--him only
having the one son, too. That was his daughter with him."

"The son is dead, is he?" said Brownlow quietly.

"Killed in the War. And a good job too. But he died, I'm told, as a
Lovelace should die, surrounded by dead 'Uns."  A faint smile flickered
over his listener's lips and was gone. "Yes--he died well. And my
niece--wot was in service up at Lovelace Towers at the time--says as how
he ought to have been given a medal. Miss Una--that's the daughter--told
her as much. It's made the General a bit stern. If there's one thing that
sends him off the deep end it's a man masquerading with medals that ain't
his, to get people's sympathy. Sort of feels his son not having one, I
suppose. Well, good morning to you."

He turned back into his shop, and with no fixed idea in his mind John
Brownlow swung round and walked in the direction the car had gone.
Masquerading with medals that weren't his! And suddenly the humour of the
situation struck him and he smiled. Truly life was a gorgeous jest if you
took it the right way--and had he not got a shilling and a penny in his
pocket? Far more, he reflected gravely, than many men who had betted in
monkeys.

Suddenly he paused and leant up against some railings. One of his
paroxysms was coming on, and they left him so terribly exhausted. This
one was mild--only about two minutes, and luckily there was no one to
see. For John Brownlow, when he started to cough, was not a pretty sight.

He rested for a little: then he strolled on again. And as he rounded a
bend in the road he saw the Lovelace car drawn up outside the station.
The girl was getting in, and the London train which was even then
steaming out of the station evidently contained her father. And a moment
later she drove past him, all unconscious of the broken-down waster who
stared at her so intently from the pavement, with that faint smile
twitching once more round his lips.

He watched her disappear from sight; then realising that he was in a
cul-de-sac which only led to the station, he turned and followed the car.
It was all one to him.

For an hour he walked along briskly until, rounding a bend in the road,
he came on a sight that made him pause abruptly and then go forward at a
run. The car was standing by the side of the road, and peering into the
bonnet was Una Lovelace. But it wasn't that which had caused his haste:
it was the appearance of an unpleasant-looking tramp, who was creeping up
behind the unsuspecting girl's back. The tramp was so intent on his
victim that he never noticed John Brownlow, and he had his hands on her
before the other man could get up.

With a little cry she swung round, though there was no sign of fear on
her face. And the next instant, with a sound like the crack of two
billiard balls, Brownlow's fist took the tramp on the jaw. He staggered
back with a snarl, but he was a powerful brute, and, what was more to the
point, he had a heavy stick in his hand. And the next two minutes were
rapid ones.

An unarmed man is at a disadvantage against one with a cudgel, and when
in addition the unarmed man has red-hot knives going through his chest,
the thing becomes hopeless. He tried to close, but the tramp was too
wary. And with a sudden sinking feeling he realised that all the odds
were on the tramp. If only the swine had been unarmed.

"Get the car going, Miss Lovelace, if you can," he said tensely. "And
clear out...Damn."

The tramp had seized his opportunity, and only Brownlow's hastily
flung-up arm had saved his head. And his "Damn" announced the result. It
wasn't the first time he'd had an arm broken, and only too well he knew
the meaning of that sickening numbness.

"Quick," he gasped. "Quick--for God's sake! I'm all right."

And then suddenly Brownlow's eyes grew bright He forgot the pain: forgot
everything save the strategy necessary for the moment. For the girl had
come round the back of the car with a heavy spanner in her hand. She was
behind the tramp, and at all costs he must be prevented from looking
round. So with one wild dart, broken arm and all, John Brownlow sprang
forward. Thud came the stick on his head and he felt something wet
trickling down his neck; crack came the spanner on the tramp's jaw and he
dropped without a sound into the road.

"Beautiful," said Brownlow weakly. "Beautiful." And he swayed
dangerously.

"Into the car," said the girl quietly. "You're going to faint in a
minute, and I can't lift you."

And then she made a little dart forward to hold him up, but it was too
late. With a little sigh John Brownlow collapsed on to the dusty road and
lay still.

"Good Lord, old thing! What's the new game?'"

"Thank Heaven, you've come. Tony," cried the girl, as a large young man
got rapidly out of his car. "The situation was getting a bit beyond me.
That object"--she continued, pointing to the tramp--"attacked me as I was
trying to adjust the magneto. And then that other object came on the
scene and attacked the tramp." She indicated Brownlow with the spanner.

"Good for him," said the large young man.

"The tramp knocked him out, just as I knocked the tramp out. With this."
She brandished the spanner. "And, Tony, I think I'll sit down a moment."
His arm was round her waist in an instant, and she gave a little laugh
that was half a sob. "He seems to know me, Tony," she said at length.
"But I'm sure I don't know him."

"Some labourer, old thing," said the large young man soothingly. "Look
here--leave it all to me. Are you fit to drive your bus home? You are.
Good! Then pop along. I'll take this sportsman straight off to the
hospital; and I'll take the other swine straight off to the
police-station. And then I'll come along up and see you."

Which was how I, being in charge of the aforesaid hospital, came into the
picture, and decided that after due reflection to tell this story. Not
that I thought, when Tony Barston delivered a dusty wreck with a
bloodstained head at the door, that there was any story in it. It all
seemed most prosaic. But subsequently--However, all in due course.

It was three hours later that he recovered consciousness and turned a
pair of puzzled grey eyes on me.

"You're in hospital, my man," I said. "Broken arm and a clip on the head.
But you did well. My congratulations."

"How is Miss Lovelace?" he asked, and I looked at him quickly. For the
voice was the voice of a man who had been to an English public school.

"Quite all right," I said. "And now--for purposes of verification--I'd
like some particulars about you. What's your name?"

"Brownlow," he answered. "John Brownlow." And then he smiled faintly.
"I'm on a walking tour."

"Where you ought to be is in a sanatorium," I said shortly. "I've been
overhauling you while you were unconscious."

"Deuced kind of you. Doctor," he remarked. "My trouble is that most of
these English sanatoria are so cheap and nasty that they're quite
impossible for a man of my means."

And then he started to cough. My God! how that poor devil racked himself:
it was pitiful to watch.

"Bellows to mend," he spluttered at length. "But they're beyond mending
now."

"When did it start?" I said.

"France--gas." he whispered, and lay back exhausted.

There was a knock on the door behind me and a policeman entered. "Can I
get an account from him now, sir, as to what happened? We've got the
other bloke in the cells." He stopped short and gave a little whistle.
"Well, I'm blowed." And he was staring at John Brownlow's face.

"Do you know him?" I said, leading him from the room.

"He was only let out this morning, sir," he answered. "The General gave
him a month for sleeping in Giles's barn and being in possession of
medals that wasn't his."

"Is that so?" I said thoughtfully. "Anyway, he's not fit to talk now; you
must come back later." And with that I went to John Brownlow. "Look here,
Brownlow," I said, "I don't want to pry into your private affairs. But I
don't suppose I shall be saying anything you don't know when I tell you
that you're a pretty sick man."

He grinned feebly. "How long do you give me, Doctor?"

"If it hadn't been for this show this morning--a few months with
reasonable care. As it is--it's weakened you badly. Now, how comes it
that you, with about the quarter of one lung left as the result of gas,
and so many bullet wounds in your body that you look like a slice of plum
cake, were sent to prison for a month by Sir Hubert? You could have
proved your case a genuine one."

"Think so?" he answered casually. "Perhaps I didn't want to." And then he
raised himself on his elbow and stared at me. "There comes a time,
Doctor, when one sees things in their true perspective. I came to these
parts on my--on my walking tour, by pure chance. I didn't even know
Lovelace Towers was in the district. But there is a destiny that shapes
our ends--though I didn't believe it once. And maybe this morning's
little effort will help to pay--a big debt."

And not another word could I get out of him.

It was when I got back in the evening that I noticed the change. The
nurse told me he'd been light-headed during the afternoon, and then she
looked at me curiously. "He's done nothing but talk about Sir Hubert,
Doctor," she said. "And that son of his. Keeps on saying that he should
have had the D.C.M.--and swearing at someone else--somebody called
Milligan."

I glanced at John Brownlow, and the change that betokens the coming of
the Big Sleep was much more apparent. And even as I looked at him he sat
up in bed.

"By God! Joe Milligan," he cried, "if you tell the old man, I'll murder
you. I taught him, I say: I taught him. It's my fault."

"Steady, old man," I said. "Steady."

"To hell with you!" he shouted. "Do you promise?"

"Yes; I promise," I answered, and it pacified him at once.

"He's been like that the whole time,' she whispered, and I nodded.

"It's not for much longer, nurse. I don't think he can last the night."

It was about eight o'clock that John Brownlow opened his eyes, and they
were sane once more.

"I want to see Sir Hubert," he whispered, as I bent over his bed. "Please
get him. It's urgent."

"I'll try," I said, and went to the telephone.

I explained matters to the General and he said he'd come at once. Then I
went back to Brownlow, and he nodded his head as if satisfied. He didn't
speak for a while, but just lay there in bed staring out of the window.

"It's the last time I'll see that, isn't it, Doctor?" he said at length.

"Humanly speaking, it is." I answered quietly, and a faint smile crossed
his face.

"Tell me about Sir Hubert's son," was his next remark, and I looked at
him in astonishment.

"He was killed in the War," I said, and he shook his head irritably.

"I know that," he cried. "But what does his father think about it? He
heard, didn't he? He got a letter telling him."

"He got a letter from a man called Drayton," I answered. "Saying that
Jack had died finely. And that he ought to have been given a decoration."

"Good," muttered Brownlow. And with that he closed his eyes once more and
lay motionless. Once, in fact, I thought he'd gone, but he opened them
again and shook his head. "Not yet, Doc.; but I wish the General would
come."

He came ten minutes later, and Una was with him. And the old man had
brought John Brownlow's decorations with him.

"I want to thank you," said the girl very gently, "for what you did for
me this morning. I don't know what would have happened if you hadn't come
along."

"I guess you'd have still laid the blighter out," answered Brownlow, with
a smile. "It was the peach of a blow, Miss Lovelace."

And then the General stepped forward. "My man," he said gravely, "the
doctor has told me of your condition. I fear I did you a grave injustice
the other day when I sentenced you to a month's imprisonment. But you may
remember that you refused to give any particulars of yourself, which is
my only excuse. May I try and make amends now by returning you the medals
which I am sure you have every right to wear, and thanking you from the
bottom of my heart for your splendid action this morning."

He laid the medals in John Brownlow's hand, and I thought that, for an
instant, a strange look of pride shone in the dying man's face. His hand
closed round them; then he dropped them on the blanket. "I guess I'd
sooner you kept them, General," he said clearly. "You deserve them far
more than I do--at least, the only one that counts. That should have been
your son's by right."

"What do you mean?" said the General, and his voice shook a little.

"You had a letter, didn't you, from a man called Drayton--Peter
Drayton--telling you of the magnificent manner in which your son died?"
And now we were all staring at him tensely. "When Drayton was killed," he
went on quietly--"you knew that, didn't you?--I read that letter. And I
very nearly didn't send it. I thought you might write and make inquiries
as to why no award had been made to your son. You see, I was the sole
survivor, and if there was a medal going, I wanted it. Not that I'd done
anything to deserve it--your son had. But he was dead--and I was alive.
In fact, it was only because he was dead, that I was alive--he'd saved my
life at the risk of his own."

John Brownlow shrugged his shoulders. "I've no excuses to offer; I got my
medal. For I was the only person who was alive to tell the story. And I
told--mine."

"I see," said the General quietly. "Well, there's no more to be said
about it. Once again I thank you for your action this morning."

"There's one more thing I have to say," went on Brownlow. "I saw a good
deal of Drayton and your son during the War, and I formed my own
conclusions for what they're worth. I guess that we were none of us
plaster saints, but of one thing I'm sure. If it hadn't been for
Drayton's rotten influence, your boy would have turned out very
differently."

He lay back on his pillows exhausted, and I signed to Sir Hubert and his
daughter to go. And it wasn't till he heard the sound of their car as it
drove away that Brownlow reopened his eyes. He looked at the medals still
lying on the bed; then he looked at me.

"Ever been out East, Doctor?" he muttered. "If so--you'll understand. Tid
apa."

"Tid apa." (Nothing matters.)

And two hours later John Brownlow died.

Which would have been the end as far as I was concerned, save for a
strange coincidence. A pointless end to a pointless story, as so many
ends and stories are--apparently. It's so rare that one gets below the
surface, and finds out the truth.

It was some three months later, and I was up in London for a dinner given
by the Overseas Club. I went with a pal and it wasn't until half-way
through the meal that I spoke to the man on my right. And automatically I
glanced at the card in front of him.

"Mr. J. Milligan."

The name seemed vaguely familiar, and yet for the moment I couldn't place
it. Milligan--J. Milligan--We talked in a desultory fashion for a few
minutes--music-hall and boxing, I think--when suddenly it came to me.

"By God! Joe Milligan, if you tell the old man, I'll murder you."

The words came back to me as dearly as if they'd been spoken aloud, and
acting on an impulse I asked Mr. Milligan a question.

"Excuse me," I said. "But is your name Joe?"

He looked at me surprised. "It is. Why?"

"Did you ever know a man called John Brownlow?"

"John Brownlow," he said thoughtfully. "Not that I'm aware of."

"Or Peter Drayton?"

"Drayton," he cried. "Good Lord! I should think I did. A tough nut was
Master Peter--very tough. But a gallant scoundrel. I was his platoon
commander for months in France. I wonder what has become of the
blackguard."

It was my turn now to look surprised. "I gather he was killed, wasn't he?
Killed in '16."

"Well, I saw him in '20 very much alive," he answered. "But he was a
hopeless wrong 'un. And yet he had his redeeming features. He was the
most extraordinarily loyal fellow to his pals, which is an attribute you
don't often meet in the type. Great Scott, yes. Know Drayton; I should
think I did. Why, I nearly court-martialled him once. He came into my
bivouac when we pulled out after a stunt and threatened to murder me if I
didn't glorify one of his pals who'd been killed."

I didn't interrupt him, and after a while he laughed.  "That, mark you,
to a man who had just recommended him for a V.C., though they only gave
him a D.C.M. I couldn't be angry with the blighter, so I did what he
asked me and escaped death. But they're boring today--those old tales."

"Not always," I said quietly. "What sort of a man to look at was this
fellow Drayton?"

"Medium height; pair of very grey eyes. He was as full of bullet wounds
as a colander is of holes, and he got the most frightful gassing on this
very show I'm talking about. He stopped on in an isolated post after I'd
given orders for everyone to retire, and, by God! he held it--alone. And
when we counter-attacked we found him there--gassed and sick and shot to
ribbons. How he ever pulled through I don't know. But the funny part of
the yarn is why he stayed. It was just that strange loyalty I
mentioned--loyalty to an even worse waster than himself. Fellow called
Lovelace. Got a father who is a General and a V.C. man. And I was so wild
at the time that for two pins I'd have written the old man and told him
what manner of a rotter his son was. But Drayton made me promise not
to--so I let it go. I'm glad now I did."

"And what," I asked, "was the particular crime of Lovelace?"

"He was drunk. Hopelessly, utterly, irredeemably drunk. But then he
frequently was. I'd like to know what has become of Drayton. Funny you
should think he was dead."



THE MADNESS OF CHARLES TRANTER


On a certain warm day in June a cat was taking its evening walk through
Huckleberry Mews. The cat was not particularly prepossessing, nor,
incidentally, was the scene of its promenade. So the matter would hardly
be worth while recording but for the fact that that stroll was the direct
cause of a man being murdered. And this was the way of it.

The cat having explored several dustbins without any great success, came
in due course to an open window, from which there exuded a smell so
appetising that after a cautious look round puss jumped on to the sill.
And not being greeted by a saucepan at her head she remained there
prospecting. The smell came from a pot that sizzled on the range, but her
attention did not turn as far afield as that. There, literally under her
nose, was a succulent fillet of fish, and what more could any cat desire?
Wherefore it came about that as the door opened and Mrs. Rubicon entered,
she was just in time to see the cat and the fillet disappearing through
the window at speed.

I will refrain from quoting Mrs. Rubicon's remarks, but shortly
afterwards the good lady might have been seen to leave the house on her
way to the nearest fish shop. It was getting late, and at any moment Mr.
Rubicon would return and demand his supper in no uncertain voice. Which
was why his wife did not take quite her usual care when she selected a
portion of haddock to replace the stolen fillet. And it is also why both
she and Mr. Rubicon awoke in the middle of the night in considerable
pain. The haddock had done it on them, and Mr. Rubicon's language would
have appalled the lady members of the Princess Club, which, as all the
world knows, is a very exclusive mansion in the heart of the West End.

At this point it may well be asked why the lady members of the Princess
Club should betray the smallest interest in Mr. Rubicon, or his remarks,
and the matter shall be cleared up at once. Mr. Rubicon was the
hall-porter, and daily sat in his office, controlling with genial
firmness the destinies of mere men who ventured through the portals, the
destinies of the members themselves, and above all, the destinies of
their correspondence. And it was the last of these three items on which
he prided himself most. Looking back over his ten years' service he could
conscientiously say that he had never made a mistake. Letters which
should be forwarded were forwarded at once, and letters which were not
intended to be forwarded were safely pigeonholed. For it is a regrettable
fact that quite a number of letters were wont to arrive for members which
were marked "To await arrival" or "Not to be forwarded," and that almost
invariably they were in male handwriting. The safety and discretion of
Mr. Rubicon were well known, and further comment is unnecessary.

And so it transpired that the next morning, while Mr. Rubicon was still
saying unprintable things in Huckleberry Mews, a letter arrived at the
Princess Club addressed to Mrs. C. Tranter, and marked with both the
warnings given above. Which should have been sufficient. Unfortunately
Mr. Rubicon's assistant, who was temporarily holding the fort, was under
notice to leave because of his extreme uncleanliness. And Mrs. C. Tranter
was one of the several members who had on past occasions commented
audibly on the dirt of his finger-nails. So the temporary arbiter of fate
seized a pen and, with black malice, deliberately readdressed the letter
to Mrs. C. Tranter's home in Surrey. Then, with exultation in his heart,
and muttering words, one of which at any rate was more applicable to the
canine breed than to Mrs. C. Tranter, he dropped the letter in the
post-box. And from that moment cats, Rubicons, and temporary assistants
fade out of the picture, and the timbre of the story must change. Up to
date, certain levity has been not only permissible but almost necessary;
now a more serious note must be struck.

Mr. Charles Tranter was not a very pleasant individual. He was fifty, so
that he was in the early thirties when things were occurring in France.
And for a man of that age to have made a fortune on indispensable work at
home was not a good thing. But Charles Tranter did so, and once again
further comment is unnecessary. He made it in something to do with
chemicals, and he had the mind and appearance of the conventional chemist
of fiction. He wore pince-nez and had a slight stoop, and owing to his
being short-sighted he had a habit of thrusting his head forward when he
spoke to one, so that he rather resembled a bird of prey.

However, a man cannot be blamed for his physical appearance, though it is
frequently a guide to what lies underneath. And it was in his mental
make-up that Charles Tranter failed to inspire any enthusiasm. His income
was great; his meanness greater. And though, when he wished, he could be
quite pleasant, he rarely wished. He was a bad mixer, and very touchy
over what he considered his rights. All things which were hidden from
Janet Fenton when she married him shortly after the War.

Why she did so is one of those mysteries which none of her friends could
fathom. He had money, of course, and she had none. But no one could have
put her in that category. Personally, I believe she was genuinely fond of
him: it was one of those strange--to the onlooker--aberrations of mind
which are unaccountable. But whatever the cause she married him, and in
due course became the mistress of his house near Dorking.

The marriage, without being a failure, was not a success. He was still
actively concerned in his business and went up to London every day; she,
after a brief period of disillusionment, proceeded to make the best of
things. Always a cheerful little soul, she realised that though she had
made a bad bargain, it was not too bad to carry on with. He was kind
according to his lights; in fact, but for one thing, she would have been
quite happy. His jealousy was inconceivable.

At first she could hardly believe it. The most harmless conversation at a
dinner party with the man next to her was sufficient to upset her
husband; an occasion on which she had danced three times with the same
partner caused a scene which lasted well into the small hours. And during
that scene she told Charles Tranter one or two home truths; she was not a
girl who baulked at her fences. She said nothing that caused a break, but
she informed him quite clearly that she had not the slightest intention
of giving up any of her friends, female or male; and that if he objected
to her talking to a man for twenty minutes at a garden party it was his
funeral. In fact, she handled the situation exactly as it should have
been handled, and outwardly her husband acquiesced. Inwardly the leopard
had not changed its spots. And so, when the leopard, who now only went to
London twice a week, examined the afternoon post on the day following the
events in Huckleberry Mews, he received a very definite shock. Why should
a letter addressed to his wife at her club, in a handwriting unknown to
him, but which looked more like a man's than a woman's be marked "To
await arrival"? Why should "Not to be forwarded" be underlined twice?
Obviously the hall-porter had blundered, but that had nothing to do with
the letter he held in his hand.

Charles Tranter looked round the hall--it was deserted. And temptation
grew on him. Janet was playing tennis with friends and would not be back
for hours: it so happened that he himself had taken the letters from the
box. And the temptation grew still more.

After a while he put his wife's other letters on the table and went to
his study. He opened his own pile more slowly and methodically than
usual: he docketed three receipts: he filed two bills. He even read
through an advertisement for a patent manure...And all the while
temptation grew and grew and grew. "To await arrival": "Not to be
forwarded"...Who was it from?

He lit a cigarette, and found that his hand was shaking a little. Who was
writing to Janet at the Princess Club? He picked up the letter and turned
it over: there was no seal. He studied the postmark: N--something--BURY.
Newbury! Janet had been to Newbury races some weeks previously: had
stopped with friends. At least, so she had said: he did not know them
himself. She had been several times lately: the wife was a very sick
woman.

He put down the letter, and found that his hand was still shaking a
little. And his mouth was dry. Why had the letter been sent to the club?
There could only be one answer to that question--an answer he did not
like. A clandestine correspondence which he would never have discovered
but for this error on the part of one of the club staff. And Charles
Tranter's eyes fumed to the ring of the gas-fire on which stood a kettle
of water...Should he steam the letter open?

He pressed out his cigarette: the house seemed strangely still. The
servants were at the other end: he would not be disturbed for hours. Time
in plenty to do it, and then put back the refastened envelope. Janet
would never know: no one would ever know.

Suddenly he made up his mind. If there was nothing in the contents that
mattered no harm would have been done: if there was something, then it
was his duty to find out about it. It was his plain right as Janet's
husband to know what it was. And so Charles Tranter yielded to temptation
and lit the gas in the ring.

The envelope opened more easily than he had expected: not the slightest
suspicion of a tear, he reflected, with satisfaction. Naturally, the flap
was damp, but it would soon dry. And then with the help of a gum bottle
no trace of any tampering would be left. Of course, there was nothing in
the letter: he knew Janet far too well. Some friend writing about frocks:
women always plastered instructions on envelopes. Someone who did not
know her home address, or had forgotten it...Someone who...And at that
moment the whole room went black: he had seen the opening sentence.

"My utterly adored woman."

The letter dropped from his shaking hands, and lay on the carpet at his
feet. A pulse that almost choked him was hammering in his throat: a wave
of physical nausea swept over him.

"My utterly adored woman."

That, to his wife, from another man...

At last he controlled himself sufficiently to stoop down and pick up the
letter. And then, with a certain grim deliberation, he read, very slowly,
every single damning sentence that the man had written. He read them a
second time: he read them a third. And having done so, he put the letter
on the desk in front of him with hands that had ceased to shake.

There are sentences and sentences: there are phrases which can be taken
in two ways, and phrases which can mean only one thing. And every single
word of that letter came into the latter category. I know: I read it
myself. Not the very faintest shadow of doubt could exist in anyone's
mind as to what the relationship was between the writer who signed
himself "Jacko" and the woman to whom it was written. He was her lover,
and what he had written burned white hot.

The afternoon wore on and Charles Tranter sat motionless at his desk. The
kettle had scorched a ring on the leather: the gas still burned in the
grate. Every now and then he would pick up the letter and torture himself
afresh, until he writhed with the mental agony of it and his nails bit
into his flesh. His imagination grew more and more vivid, and gradually
in his subconscious mind the certainty of what he was going to do took
form. But it would have to be done carefully.

He replaced the kettle and turned out the gas. Then, putting the letter
and envelope in his pocket, he rang the bell.

"Pack a suitcase for me, Garton," he said, when the butler appeared. "And
tell Mrs. Tranter when she returns that I have been suddenly called up to
London and shall be away for a couple of nights."

"Very good, sir," answered the man. "But Williams is over with the
mistress."

"I will drive myself," said Tranter curtly, and the butler concealed his
surprise. It was a new departure for Tranter to drive himself--generally
he detested taking the wheel. So when, half an hour later, he watched his
master turn into the main road, he voiced his feelings aloud.

"Wonder what's happened," he muttered to himself. "I've never seen the
bloke look like he does this evening. Queer fish."

But had he known the cause of the bulge in the queer fish's pocket he
might not have returned whistling to his pantry.

Now I want to be fair to Charles Tranter, and I like to think that his
madness began that afternoon, when all the devils of jealousy assailed
him in his study. Even to an ordinary man that letter would have been
hell: to him it must have meant the uttermost depths of the pit. It was
all so painfully clear: the sick friend--the visits to Newbury. Once he
had telephoned her there, and the wife had answered. Janet was out, but
she rang up shortly after, and he had suspected nothing. Why should he?
But now he saw it all: the two women hanging together as women always
did.

"Come round, darling: your fool of a husband has just rung up. I've told
him you're out, but you'd better put a call through to him to keep him
quiet."

His grip tightened on the steering wheel till his knuckles showed white
and the car swerved dangerously. Steady! That sort of thing would not do:
there must be no question of his being laid out by an accident now. Not,
at any rate, until he had killed the man who signed himself Jacko.

He thought out his plans as he drove along. The address was on the paper,
so that there would be no difficulty in finding him, and since he had got
away from his own house without seeing Janet, she would not be able to
warn her lover. That was why he had gone before her return: he could
never have kept his knowledge from her quick eye. She could be dealt with
later: he had not made up his mind yet what he was going to do with her.
For the present Jacko was enough.

He arrived at Newbury about eight o'clock and, registering under the name
of Johnson, he took a room at the Bull. Then, having ordered a large
whisky and soda and some sandwiches, he sat down with the local telephone
book in front of him. He had to find out the name of the man he was going
to murder.

The number was 005, and he methodically went down every column. At last
he came to it. 'Captain Jack Featherston, of Avondale Farm. That was the
address on the letter: he had got his man.

He rose and went into the bar, leaving his sandwiches untouched. There
was no hurry now; he could afford to bide his time. Another whisky and
soda was what he wanted, and, taking it from the girl, he crossed to a
corner. Two men by the bar looked at him covertly: Charles Tranter did
not know that his face was like that of a corpse save for his eyes. And
his eyes were not good to look on. Suddenly the name Avondale caught his
ears, and something about old Feathers. So that was the devil's nickname,
was it, Feathers?

He listened intently: a morbid curiosity possessed him to learn all he
could about this man who had stolen his wife. But the men began talking
of other things, and after a while he got up and joined them at the bar.

"Excuse me, gentlemen," he said, "but I could not help overhearing one of
your remarks about Avondale Farm. Is it, by any chance, a Captain Jack
Featherston who lives there?"

"That's right," said one of them.

"I wonder if it is a man I knew. Tall and dark--about forty."

"Wrong bird," answered the other promptly. "This Featherston is fair, and
not a day more than thirty."

"Married?" queried Tranter, casually.

"No," was the answer. "Poor old Feathers can't afford the luxury of a
wife."

"But he could afford the luxury of someone else's," thought Tranter.
"Does he live there alone?" he asked.

"Yes, except for a deaf old woman who looks after him."

Tranter turned away, lest they should see the triumph in his eyes. Only
one deaf old woman. And as he left the bar the two men glanced at each
other.

"Rum customer." said one. "Seemed damned curious about Feathers."

"Rather too curious," answered the other uneasily. "I didn't like his
looks at all. Still, Feathers is quite able to take care of himself. Do
you know that fellow who has just gone out, Maud?"

The barmaid shook her head. "Just arrived," she said. "Name of Johnson.
And that dial of his would turn the milk sour."

Quite unconscious of the interest he had aroused, Charles Tranter went to
the garage. Alone--save for one old deaf woman! Luck was with him.

"Avondale Farm, sir?" said the man in charge. "Captain Featherston's.
It's about five miles out on the Andover road. Will you be coming back
to-night?"

"I shall," answered Tranter, and drove out of the yard. He drove slowly.
Now that the moment had arrived he felt strangely cool. His scheme was
mapped out in its main outline: details would have to take care of
themselves. It was going to be a nuisance if Featherston had people
dining with him, but it would only mean postponing it for two or three
hours. And he did not mind waiting.

A notice-board loomed up, announcing that fresh eggs could be bought at
Avondale Farm, a hundred yards farther on, and Charles Tranter stopped
the car. He would walk the last bit, he decided, as he fingered the
revolver in his pocket for the hundredth time. It was easier to
reconnoitre on foot, and he must make sure Featherston was alone.

The farm stood back some fifty yards from the road, and for a while he
stood by the gate, examining it. Light was streaming out from one of the
downstairs rooms. Seated in a chair was a man with his feet on the
leather fender that ringed the fireplace. He was smoking a pipe, and a
reading lamp stood on a table beside him. Fair, with a short clipped
moustache, he sat studying a small book in which he occasionally jotted
something down.

Suddenly with a weary little gesture he flung it on the table, and,
standing up, he stretched himself. Then he turned to a wireless set, and
a moment later the time signal from Greenwich sounded. Nine o'clock.

"This is the National programme from London...Here is an S O S..."

A thin smile hovered round Tranter's lips as he stood in the shadow of
some bushes on the other side of the drive. S O S! One would be wanted
here soon. And then he began to shake with overmastering rage. There,
standing by the open window, with his hands in his pockets, was the devil
who had wrecked his life. In that very room Janet had sat: had been
kissed. But never again. Nemesis was at hand. Not too quickly, of course:
he would first play with "Jacko" a little. And with a great effort he
pulled himself together and stepped out on to the drive.

The man at the window leaned forward. "Who's that?" he called out
sharply. Tranter came into the light and Featherston stared at him.

"Good Lord!" he said. "Are you ill?" It was not a surprising question.
Tranter looked like a man consumed with fever.

"Am I disturbing you?" Try as he would he could not prevent his voice
from shaking, and Featherston whistled softly under his breath.
Undoubtedly a very sick man.

"Disturbing me!" he laughed. "Not a bit. I've been balancing up my
budget, and after that anything is an anti-climax. It strikes me you'd
better have a drink."

He stopped the wireless, while Tranter climbed in through the window.
Then, leaving the door open, Featherston went out of the room, to return
a few moments later with tantalus and glasses. A queer-looking sort of
tiger, he reflected, this sudden arrival out of the blue. But the man
looked like death, and common humanity dictated asking him in. "Brandy or
whisky?" he said genially. "They're both here. Help yourself."

But Tranter made no reply: with his hand gripping the revolver in his
pocket, he stared at Featherston and went on staring. And at length
Featherston frowned: sick his unexpected visitor might be, and
undoubtedly was, but the fellow was proving a damned bore.

"When you've quite finished staring at me," he said curtly, "you might
let me know what I can do for you. You don't appear to want a drink."

And Tranter spoke. "Are you Captain Featherston?"

Featherston raised his eyebrows. "I am. Who are you?"

"Do you ever sign your letters. 'Jacko'?"

Featherston stiffened, his pipe half-way to his mouth. "What the devil
has that got to do with you?" he said slowly. "Are you crazy?"

"To do with me." croaked Tranter. "That's a good one, you swine: that's a
good one."

He threw back his head and laughed: then, taking the letter from his
pocket, he brandished it in front of Featherston.

"Do you recognise that, Jacko?" he shouted. "'My own adored woman.' And
who is your own adored woman, you devil? My wife. I'm Tranter--"

"Put it away, you fool," roared Featherston, as Tranter's other hand came
out of his pocket. Came a sharp report--then silence.

Curiously, dispassionately, Tranter stared at the body lying at his feet.
Now that he had done it; now that he had killed his man, he felt
strangely cool and collected. Featherston was quite dead: the bullet had
gone through his heart. A motor-bus rumbled by on the road and Tranter
went to the window. There was no one to be seen. All he had to do was to
walk out of the house, get into his car and drive away. Everything had
been so easy as to be almost laughable. Just one shot, and the man who
had stolen his wife was dead. Of regret he felt not the slightest twinge:
Captain Jack Featherston had richly deserved all he got. He would have
liked to prolong things a little, but perhaps it had been better as it
was. And "Jacko" had known before he died who it was who was going to
kill him.

Moreover, he was safe: who would identify Mr. Johnson of the Bull,
Newbury, with Charles Tranter of Dorking? He had no intention whatever of
returning to the hotel: the body would almost certainly be discovered
before he could get away in the morning. So by then he proposed to be at
his club in London, having spent the night there. Safe! And with one last
gloating look at the dead man sprawling on the floor, Charles Tranter
turned out the light and left the house.

Now it is just conceivable that he might have got away with it for a time
but for the fact that the man in charge of the garage at the Bull had
noted, as was his invariable custom, the number of his car. And that
being so, the chase was the swiftest on record. In fact, it was just
before lunch next day that an inspector and a sergeant of police arrived
at Charles Tranter's house. I was having a cocktail with Janet at the
time.

"XYZ23," she said, in reply to their question. "Yes: that's the number of
one of our cars. My husband has it in London at the moment. Why do you
ask?"

"Your husband, madam? Is that Mr. Charles Tranter?"

"Yes," said Janet. And then, with quick alarm: "The poor old dear hasn't
had an accident, has he?"

"Oh no, madam. Might I ask you to describe your husband?"

"Of course. He's fifty: tall, grey, with a stoop. And he wears
pince-nez."

The inspector stared at the sergeant: the sergeant stared at the
inspector. And for a space no one spoke.

"What is all the mystery, Inspector?" cried Janet irritably. "Why are you
asking these questions?"

"Mrs. Tranter," said the inspector gravely, "do you know a man called
Featherston? Captain Jack Featherston, who has a house near Newbury?"

"Featherston! Newbury! As a matter of fact I do--very slightly. I met him
at my club the other day. There's another Mrs. Tranter who has just
joined: and what is so confusing is that she is Mrs. C. Tranter, too.
Mrs. Cyril Tranter. We're continually getting one another's letters. And
the last time I was at the club, this Captain Featherston came to see her
and was brought to me in mistake by a page-boy. She came up almost at
once and called him Jack. So that must be the man you mean, though what
it has to do with me I can't imagine."

She found out very soon. One of the most dreadful sounds I have ever
heard came from just outside the open window. It rose and fell in hideous
cachinnations--peal upon peal of wild, maniacal laughter. And while
Janet, white-faced, shrank back in her chair, I followed the two
policemen outside.

Charles Tranter had returned: Charles Tranter had learned the truth--too
late. He was sitting on the grass with a revolver in one hand and the
letter in the other. And he offered no resistance to the two officers
when they took both things away from him. He only laughed and went on
laughing. As he still does in Broadmoor, where he is detained during His
Majesty's pleasure.



A STUDENT OF THE OBVIOUS


Mavis Houghton laid down her magazine and stared out of the window at the
flat Thames valley. It was a non-stop run to Swindon, and then another
hour by a slow train before she reached her destination. And what was the
good of a magazine when the time could be spent so much more pleasantly
in dreaming?

Even now she could hardly believe it true. Up to date her Christmases had
been spent in No. 11, Pileditch Road, N.W.94, where her father saw panel
patients daily and swore genially in the intervals. His heart was in
research work, but that costs money; and with Robin at a public school
and John at a preparatory, the research work had to wait. And so panel
patients came and went, and Mavis--whose mother had died at John's
appearance--looked after the house.

Then had come the letter. It had arrived a week ago, and her father,
having read it, at once overrode her objections. "Not leave us for
Christmas, Kidlet? Of course you will. It's about time Jane did do
something beyond sending out cards with frosted angels on 'em. She's not
a bad old thing really, and Hoxted Grange is just the place for a party."

So she went, though she'd almost chucked it up at Paddington. Robin had
seen her off, and though he was an absolute sportsman he couldn't help
looking just a little--well, dash it all, Pileditch Road and Hoxted
Grange! But he scoffed at her when she half suggested it and talked rot
continuously till the train started.

And now they were roaring through Maidenhead, and--marvel of
marvels!--the country was white. There was literally snow, instead of the
prevalent yellow ooze of N.W.94. Would it last? Were they really going to
have the Christmas of fiction instead of the usual one of fact? They
must: it would be too cruel if it all went and melted. And dances, and a
big party and--

"It's good to feel like that, isn't it?"

A man's voice cut into her thoughts, and she turned round with a start.
In her absorption she had forgotten all about the other occupant of her
third-class carriage, though she had noticed him vaguely before they
started. And now she found herself looking into the smiling face of a
young man in the opposite corner. He was a large young man, and quite
obviously a gentleman.

Mavis Houghton frowned. "I beg your pardon," she said coldly.

"I said that it was good to feel that everything was just top-hole, and
that there's snowballing and dancing and a cheery house-party in sight."
He still smiled, and suddenly so did she: she couldn't help it.

"May I ask how you discovered my thoughts?" she asked.

"Not very hard," he answered. "You see, I couldn't help overhearing some
of your conversation with your brother at Paddington; and, for the rest,
your face is expressive." He added that it was also singularly
pretty--but the addition was mental.

"My brother," she remarked. "You seem very observant."

"When a boy who is exactly like you calls you a silly ass," said the man,
"the conclusion is fairly obvious."

"Still," she persisted, "I know a lot of people who wouldn't have
noticed."

"So do I," he agreed. "But then I know a lot of people who wouldn't
notice their own noses. And who wouldn't have noticed that your mother is
dead, your father is a doctor inclined to be untidy, and your brother is
left-handed and keen on fives."

"But," she stammered, "how on earth...?"

He grinned and held out his cigarette-case to her tentatively.

"No, thank you," she said. "But please smoke yourself. Now tell me how
you guessed all that?"

"Am I right?" he demanded.

"Perfectly."

"Well--first your mother. Everything you said to your brother showed that
you usually run the house. You alluded specifically to your presents for
your father and brother, but you never mentioned your mother. Had she
been an invalid you would have done. Therefore I assumed she was dead.
Secondly, you mentioned your father's stethoscope, and told your brother
where it was. Now a doctor who doesn't know where his stethoscope is is
inclined to be untidy. Thirdly, the skin on the palm of your brother's
left hand is extremely hard, and he kept on rubbing the ball of his
thumb. I've played fives myself and I know how a bruise there
hurts--though I admit that was a bit of a fluke."

"You're the most disconcerting person," said the girl. "Are you a
detective?"

"Not exactly," he laughed. "I assure you that it would be quite
impossible for me to tell you in the fashion of Mr. Sherlock Holmes that
the man who is just coming to look at our tickets is an ex-sergeant-major
of Marines and that his wife keeps hens. But it's always been a hobby of
mine ever since I was a boy. It amuses me to try and see things that
other people don't. And it's astonishing, as I said before, how much they
don't."

"You aren't an ex-sergeant-major of Marines, by any chance, are you?"

The ticket-collector paused in the door and stared at him. "I am not,
sir. Why?"

"I only wondered. Does your wife keep hens?"

"I haven't got a wife, sir."

"Good: I mean, bad. Or whichever way you like. Happy Christmas!"

"My reputation shattered, you see," said the man gravely as the door
closed.

"I think you're mad," she laughed helplessly.

"But joking apart," he went on, "it really is astonishing what people
overlook. And it's almost always the obvious. The average person doesn't
pay any attention to what is ordinary. If they saw an elephant walking
down the Strand pulling a motor-bus they'd notice it at once."

"Yes; but that would be interesting." objected the girl.

"You don't think ordinary things are interesting?"

"I don't think the obvious is very interesting."

"Don't you?" he said with a cryptic smile. "I wonder."

He changed the conversation, and for Mavis Houghton the journey to
Swindon passed all too quickly. Young men had not been plentiful in
Pileditch Road, and those that had come were not particularly
enthralling. But this stranger seemed to have been everywhere and to know
everybody. Moreover, he was essentially not the type of man for whom a
girl's programme is full when he asks her to dance.

"This is your train," he said, as he deposited her bag in a corner seat.
"And you get to the station for Hoxted Grange in fifty minutes."

"Not caught this time," she laughed. "You saw it on the label."

"You're improving," he grinned. "And don't forget during the next few
days what you said about the obvious."

The train started, and he stood bareheaded on the platform, watching it
go. Then he turned and walked quickly away, and the girl leant back in
her seat with a vague feeling of disappointment. He hadn't volunteered
his name; after all, she reflected, why should he? They were just passing
train acquaintances; it was more than unlikely that she would ever see
him again. And yet she couldn't help hoping that amongst the Hon. Jane
Frosdick's large circle of acquaintances, a large young man with very
blue eyes was to be found. And further, that the aforesaid large young
man would decide to call at Hoxted Grange during the next few days.

The house-party consisted of twelve, including herself, and she hadn't
been in the house three hours before she knew she was going to enjoy
herself. As her father had said, Aunt Jane was not a bad old thing, and
she had the happy knack of keeping things going without giving people the
impression that they were marshalled about like a personally conducted
tour.

"It seems years since I've seen you. Mavis, my dear," she said as she
went up with her to her bedroom. "And I only wish I could have asked
young Robin. But I haven't got a spare corner. And, of course, we're
short of servants. I can't get another housemaid for love or money, and
only by the merest fluke did I manage to get a footman."

She rattled on, while her shrewd eyes took in every detail of her niece.
"Pretty," she  reflected, "very pretty. Wants dressing, but could carry
her clothes well. Must really try and do something for her. Like her
father; and a bit like Mary too. A fool, Mary; threw herself away, poor
dear. Still, sisters and all that: girl was one of the family. What about
Mark Terrill? Seemed to have plenty of money; knew the right people:
thirty-five years old; good-looking. Send 'em in to dinner together."

"I'll have your tea sent up, my dear," she said at this juncture in her
thoughts, "and then when you've changed I'll introduce you to the
others."

"Thank you, Aunt Jane, so much."

The door closed behind her relative and Mavis sank into the arm-chair by
the fire with a sigh of content. In Pileditch Road there were gas-stoves
in the bedrooms. And suddenly she found herself thinking of the last
remark the large young man had made to her on Swindon platform.

"Don't forget what you said about the obvious during the next few days."

At the moment it hadn't made very much impression on her; now, for some
reason or other it came back to her mind. What had he meant? She had said
that the obvious wasn't interesting. Well, why on earth was she not to
forget that? A maid brought in the tea, and as she drank it, her mind was
still busy. Could it mean that in some way or other he was going to be
there? Why it should was beyond her; and yet, if there was any meaning at
all in the remark, it must surely imply that he was involved in some way
with those next few days. And if so--

However, at that point she took a pull at herself, changed out of her
travelling clothes, and went downstairs. Her aunt, who was writing a
letter, rose and met her at the foot of the stairs.

"You look charming, my dear child, perfectly charming. Come along to the
billiard-room; they're playing slosh or fives or something. Hum! it's
evidently something." she added grimly, as a loud crash of breaking glass
heralded their arrival. "Really, you two are incorrigible. What have you
smashed this time?"

The Heavenly Twins--Janet and Paul Wetherby--confronted them
hand-in-hand.

"Now that's a most tactless moment to enter, Mrs. Frosdick," remarked
Paul sadly. "It's the last pane of glass in that bookcase, and if you'd
come in a minute later I could have blamed Terrill."

A man seated on the leather-topped fender laughed. "And probably got away
with it, too," he said. "I can compete with one of you, but not with both
combined."

He got up and bowed as his hostess introduced Mavis, and the
irrepressible twins metaphorically hurled themselves upon her. "Come and
play cork pool, snooker, slosh, pot the pink--anything you like," they
chanted.

"I don't think I know any of them," she said doubtfully.

"Doesn't matter; you play with Terrill. He's far too good otherwise."

"Would you like to play, Miss Houghton?" said Terrill, rising. "Between
us, let us beat the Heavenly Horrors."

"If you like," laughed Mavis. "But I warn you, I'm hopeless."

She was, but her partner wasn't. Even to her inexperienced eye, his skill
was obvious. He carried her comfortably, though she only scored once and
that by a fluke, and they won as they liked.

"Thanks so much," he said as he took her cue from her to put it in the
rack. "We must have another some time." For a moment his eyes--dark brown
unfathomable eyes--held hers, and then he strolled out of the room.

"Rum devil that!" said Paul Wetherby thoughtfully.

"I don't like him," said his sister decisively. "He always reminds me of
a panther."

"He's very good at billiards." put in Mavis.

"There's nothing he isn't good at," said Paul, lighting a cigarette.
"He's a marvellous shot; he's a plus man at golf; he rides as if he were
part of his horse."

"For all that, young fellah," returned his sister, "I don't like the
bird. Well, it's time for this child to dress for dinner."

True to her resolve, her aunt sent Mavis in to dinner with Terrill, and
though the conversation was more or less general he contrived to devote
himself pretty exclusively to entertaining her. And he was a very
entertaining individual when he chose to exert himself. In a dark,
somewhat foreign way he was very good-looking, and he had that gift of
the good conversationalist of making his audience talk. Before dinner was
half over there was nothing he didn't know of Pileditch Road and the
family that lived under the roof of Number 11. And Aunt Jane, casting an
occasional glance in their direction, congratulated herself on the course
of events. Of course, she didn't know much about him; still, you always
met him at decent houses, and really little Mavis ought to be thankful
for anything.

"What's that, General?" She fumed to the man on her left. "My rubies:
you'd like to see them? Certainly. I'll get Tom to show them to you after
dinner."

"Bit dangerous keeping such historic stones in a country house like this,
isn't it, Mrs. Frosdick?" Mark Terrill leant across towards his hostess.
"I should say it was a burglar's paradise--a house of this sort," he
continued.

"Why?" chorused the Heavenly Twins.

"I don't speak professionally," he smiled, "but with all these
ground-floor windows, I should say entrance would be easy. Jove! General,
do you remember Lampiter House?"

"I do, indeed," answered the soldier. "And as far as I know they never
laid hands on the fellow."

"You mean the Duchess's emeralds?" said Tom Frosdick. "I remember reading
about it in the papers."

"What happened?" asked Mavis eagerly.

"A burglary," said Terrill, smiling. "And a singularly daring one. It was
just such a house-party as this, only a little larger. Nobody ever went
to bed much before three o'clock, and there were swarms of servants all
over the house. Nevertheless, the emeralds disappeared, and have never
been heard of from that day to this. Nor have they ever caught the man.
And it's not the only case, you know, Miss Houghton. During the last
three or four years there have been several big robberies of that
type--robberies where some big, very valuable piece of stuff has
disappeared. The thief or thieves evidently specialise in precious
stones--"

"You think it's the same man?" asked the girl.

He nodded. "I do--and Scotland Yard does too. In fact, it was a friend of
mine--one of the Commissioners--who told me they were sure of it. It's
the work, they think, of a singularly skilful man, who, so far--though
they're a bit diffident over admitting that--has not left a single clue
behind him. Apparently he won't touch gold owing to the difficulty of
getting away with it: he sticks entirely to jewels. There were the
emeralds we've just been talking about, and Lady Archer's pearls, and the
diamonds belonging to Isaac Goldstein's wife, and three or four more as
well."

"But how perfectly thrilling!" said the girl, and at that moment she
happened to glance across the table. The footman was handing something to
Janet Wetherby, and for the first time she noticed his face. It was the
large young man with the blue eyes who had travelled down with her from
London. And just for a moment those blue eyes met hers and twinkled
slightly: then they were lowered deferentially once more.

Fortunately Terrill had fumed to the woman on his other side:
fortunately, also, her aunt gave the signal for the ladies to rise very
shortly after. So she made an excuse and fled upstairs to her room. The
impertinence of it: the supreme impertinence! He must have known that she
was a guest at the house in which he was going to take a situation. How
dared he talk to her as he had done? She grew hot at the mere thought of
their conversation on the way down. He'd offered her a cigarette...

And then came the next pressing point: how on earth was she to treat him?
Supposing she met him in the passage or something when there was no one
else about? Oh! the situation was intolerable. She couldn't tell her
aunt, and besides, what was there to tell? It's not a crime to talk to
someone in a railway carriage, and the man had seemed a gentleman. And
then his parting remark came back to her. So that was what he had meant
about the obvious, was it? So be it: it was obvious that he was a
footman, and she didn't find it interesting.

With that she went downstairs where they had begun dancing. She danced
four times with Mark Terrill, and three times with Paul Wetherby, and
tried to persuade herself that it was beneath her dignity to think about
the matter any more. If she happened to meet him alone she would give him
a condescending nod and a cutting word or two, and the episode would be
closed.

It was just before a general exodus to bed occurred that the ghastly
suspicion dawned on her. She had been dancing with Terrill, who did
it--as he did everything else--divinely.

"Perfect," he whispered. "Quite perfect. It's heaven to dance with you.
Hullo!" he continued, glancing towards the end of the room, "here's your
chance of seeing the Frosdick rubies. Though I expect you've seen them
often."

"I haven't," she said. "Do let's go and have a look!"

They joined the little crowd which was standing round Tom Frosdick, and
Mavis gave a little gasp as she saw the wonderful stones. They were
historic, of course, as everyone knew, and their owner was expatiating on
the story--with relish. It was a pastime that never bored him, and he had
just got to the bit about the Indian Rajah and the series of strange
murders, when, for the second time that evening. Mavis noticed the
footman. He had come in with the butler, carrying a tray and drinks, and
as she saw him she noticed that his eyes, gleaming strangely, were fixed
on the rubies.

She never heard another word of the story: dimly she realised that her
uncle had finished; mechanically she took the necklace in her hands and
murmured some words of admiration.

It was clear: there wasn't a doubt about it in her own mind. Her
travelling acquaintance was the mysterious burglar, of whom Mr. Terrill
had been telling her at dinner. True, she had no proof, but she had a
woman's intuition, which was far better. It accounted for everything--his
charm, his cultured manner, his strange power of observation. They were
impossible characteristics in a footman. But in a gentleman burglar, who
had disguised himself as a footman, they were not only possible but
likely. And suddenly she remembered that the cigarette case he had
offered her in the train was of gold...

"Interesting," said Mark Terrill's voice in her ear, "but I'd far sooner
have danced with you again. Miss Houghton."

She smiled at him almost mechanically, and asked him to bring her some
lemonade. She wanted to be alone to think out this new development,
though she couldn't help feeling flattered at his obvious interest in
her. And as soon as she could, on the plea of being tired, she left him
and went upstairs.

What was she going to do? It was one thing to have talked intimately to a
footman coming down in the train: it was quite different when he turned
out to be a burglar. She ought to tell her aunt; she knew she ought to
tell her. And yet somehow she felt strangely reluctant to do so. She
didn't try to analyse why she felt reluctant; she would have indignantly
scouted the idea that it was anything to do with a pair of lazy blue eyes
and a mouth which was permanently twisted in a cheery grin. Of course
not; nothing whatever to do with it. It was simply because her aunt would
be sleepy, and anyway she wasn't quite certain of the way to her room.
She was sure nothing would happen that night; burglars always wanted time
to spy out their ground. And to-morrow, somehow or other, she'd speak to
him: tell him that she knew everything and that unless he left the house
at once she would tell Mr. Frosdick, and he would send for the police. Or
perhaps she would ask Mr. Terrill in confidence what he advised her to
do...

With which resolve firmly taken. Mavis Houghton fell asleep. And it
seemed to her that there was no perceptible gap between her last waking
thought of a large young man with blue eyes and the arrival of a
scared-looking maid with her early morning tea.

"A terrible thing, miss," said the girl. "The rubies have been stolen."

"What?" Mavis sat up in bed, staring at her with dilated eyes.

"Stolen in the night, miss," went on the girl. "The police are here, and
no one's allowed to leave the house."

Mavis lay back on her pillows; it seemed to her as if the maid would be
able to read her thoughts, so plainly must they be showing on her face.
From outside came the sound of men's voices; the whole household was
evidently up and about.

"Have they found--do they suspect anyone?" she asked the girl, a little
faintly.

"Not so far, miss. There's a window open downstairs, which Charles--he's
the new footman, miss--is positive he shut last night."

"How was it discovered, Elsie?"

"The master, miss, was down early this morning. He was a-going to take
them with him to London to have something done to one of the fastenings,
and when he opened the safe they was gone."

She dismissed the girl, and began to dress feverishly. Now that the thing
she dreaded had happened, she felt conscious of only one thought. She
didn't care if it was right or wrong, but she felt she must give him a
chance if she could. See him alone, make him return the stones, and if he
did so, she would promise not to give him away. He could emigrate to
Australia or something, and try to earn an honest living.

She went downstairs to find the Heavenly Twins disconsolately seated in
the hall.

"We're not allowed to leave the house," remarked Janet, "and we want to
go ratting."

"I've confessed twice that I took 'em," said her brother, "and the second
time the large, strong, square-faced man in charge got quite huffy."

Mavis fumed as her uncle came out of the library. Somewhat naturally he
was looking worried, and with him were Terrill and the gentleman just
alluded to by Paul Wetherby.

"It's quite obvious, Mr. Frosdick," Terrill was saying, "that there is
only one thing to be done--make a complete search of everyone's
belongings in the house. We should all prefer it, and if the guests don't
object, surely the servants won't. If nothing is found, we can more or
less assume that it is an outside agency. Don't you agree, Inspector?"

The inspector nodded. "It can do no harm, Mr. Frosdick."

"I don't like it, I tell you," he said. "'I would no more dream, of
suspecting any of my quests than I would myself, and as for the
servants--why, they've been with me for years." He paused suddenly. "Good
Heavens! I forgot. The footman! He only came yesterday." For a moment
Mavis felt as if her heart had stopped beating. "He had splendid
references." Her uncle was speaking again. "Came from Lord Ditchling. And
he seems excellent at his job."

"References can be forged," remarked the Inspector drily.

"Anyway, Mr. Frosdick," put in Terrill, "no one is accusing the man as
yet. He will be in the same boat with all of us."

"That's true," agreed his host.

"But I think it will do no harm to send a wire to Lord Ditchling, giving
a description of the man," said the Inspector. "If, by any chance, we
should find that he is not the servant referred to in the references, I
should feel justified in arresting him, even if we find no trace of the
rubies. And now would it be possible, Mr. Frosdick, to get everyone
together in some room and tell them what we propose to do?"

"Well, if I must, I must. Though I don't like it."

With a smile, Mark Terrill had crossed to Mavis.

"An extraordinary coincidence, isn't it," he said, "that only last night
we were talking of this very thing?"

"Do you think, Mr. Terrill," she said, "that this is one of the same
series of robberies that you were telling me about? Done by the same
man?"

He shrugged his shoulders. "Impossible to tell. Miss Houghton. It looks
rather like it. There's no trace of a finger-mark on the safe--not even a
scratch, which shows, according to the Inspector, that it's the work of
an expert. I've suggested to your uncle that there should be an
exhaustive search of all our belongings, though, frankly, I fear that we
shan't get much out of it. A criminal as clever as this one evidently is,
doesn't leave his loot lying on the middle of the table."

"I heard you say something about the new footman," she said, and despite
all her efforts, she felt that her voice shook a little. But apparently
the man noticed nothing; he merely shrugged his shoulders once again.

"If the thing has been done by someone in the house; or if, as I think
far more likely, it was done from outside by the help of a confederate in
the house, it is only natural that the finger of suspicion should tend to
point at a man who only arrived yesterday. Though, of course, it may be
absolutely unfounded. I certainly hope so; he's a most excellent valet."

The search, as Mark Terrill had prophesied, produced nothing. When Mr.
Frosdick had made his embarrassed little speech to the whole household,
Mavis had kept on glancing at the footman. But no trace of guilt or fear
had shown in his face; he had stood with the rest of the servants
listening, so it had seemed to her, almost indifferently. And now it was
all over; no trace of the rubies had been found. She was angry with
herself at her feeling of relief; she was angry with herself that she
should care one way or the other. But she knew that she hadn't expected
them to be discovered in his possession; she felt he was far too clever
for that. It was the answer to the telegram that she dreaded.

It came at three o'clock, and her uncle told the assembled house party
the news.

"Afraid there's no doubt the new footman had a hand in it," he said
gravely. "He doesn't tally in the slightest degree with Ditchling's
description. The Inspector has gone off to get a warrant for his arrest."

So it was all over. She went upstairs to her room, feeling sick and
miserable. If only he hadn't been so charming: if only--And then she saw
him. He was in Mark Terrill's room tidying up, and the door was open.

For a moment she hesitated: then she made up her mind and went in.
"They've gone for a warrant for your arrest," she said breathlessly. "Oh!
go, go while there's time!"

He swung round and stared at her with a peculiar look in his eyes. "It's
very sweet of you to warn me. Miss Houghton. You think I'm the burglar,
do you?"

"Don't waste time," she implored. "I promise I won't say anything about
meeting you in the train yesterday, and your--your being so different."

His mouth twisted into one of his lazy smiles. "I'm not a bit different,"
he said. "I'm just looking for the obvious. The trouble is that I can't
find it."

She stared at him in amazement, as his keen, eager eyes went searching
round the room. Assuredly, if this man were the thief his nerves must be
of steel. And then suddenly on his face there dawned a look of suppressed
excitement.

"What is it?" she cried.

He was staring at a row of cut-glass bottles which stood on Mark
Terrill's dressing-table. There was hair lotion, and tooth-wash, and
lavender water, and each bottle was ornately labelled.

"I've got it!" he almost shouted.

"Got what?"

"The obvious."

And at that moment her uncle, Mark Terrill and the Inspector appeared in
the door.

"Mavis--what on earth?" began her uncle in amazement. Then he fumed
furiously on the footman. "You scoundrel!" he cried, "what do you think
you're doing?"

"Looking for your rubies, Mr. Frosdick," answered the other calmly.
Unconsciously she glanced at Mark Terrill, and his eyes had narrowed to
pin-pricks. "Moreover, I've found them."

"What!" shouted Mr. Frosdick. "Found 'em. Where?"

"In that bottle of tooth-wash."

For a moment there was dead silence, and then with a snarl of rage
Terrill hurled himself at the speaker. But the large young man had a
large young fist, and it and Mark Terrill's jaw met to the detriment of
the jaw. In fact, the owner of the jaw remained blissfully unconscious on
the floor during the next few minutes. And when he did finally stagger to
his feet as well as a pair of handcuffs would allow, it was to find the
ten wonderful Frosdick rubies ranged on the washstand, while in the basin
beside them reposed his ruby red tooth-wash.

"There's your bird, Inspector," said the large young man quietly.
"Incidentally this will be enough, but you might ask him about the
Duchess of Lampiter's emeralds, and Lady Archer's pearls and a few other
trifles."

"Who are you?" snarled Terrill.

"A student of the obvious." answered the large young man with a smile.
"And it ought to afford you some amusement during the next few weeks to
try and find out in what obvious point you gave yourself away."

Half an hour later, clothed normally once again, the large young man sat
down to tea. "I feel I owe you an apology in the first place, Mrs.
Frosdick," he remarked, "for substituting my unworthy self for your
perfectly good footman. I may say that I'm on the staff of the Tribune,
and newspaper men, as you know, are quite unscrupulous. However, to come
to the goods! You probably know that during the last two or three years
there have been about half a dozen really big jewel robberies. Our friend
mentioned the Duchess of Lampiter's emeralds himself last night at
dinner. That was one of them.

"Now off and on I've done a good deal of crime reporting, and it
interests me. Moreover, I know one or two men at the Yard. And owing to
certain points of similarity we became convinced that they were all the
work of the same man. I forget who got the idea first, but one day
someone took the trouble to get the lists of guests at each of the houses
where the robberies had taken place. Some names occurred twice: some even
three times, but only one occurred in every list--that of Mr. Mark
Terrill. So we began to make inquiries about the gentleman. He apparently
knew everybody worth knowing, but who he was and what his parents had
been we couldn't find out. He seemed to have emerged into post-War
society out of the blue. Before that his history was a blank.

"Well, as we all know, a good-looking bachelor with money can go to most
places to-day. When, in addition, he's a first-class shot and athlete
generally he becomes positively in demand. And Terrill was undoubtedly
persona grata at most of the big houses. Moreover, there was absolutely
nothing against him except the one suspicious fact that he was present at
each of the robberies.

"A few days ago I found out that he was coming here for Christmas. And
since the Frosdick rubies are well known, I wondered if there was any
connection between the two facts. So I thought I'd come too, and try to
find out. The difficulty was that, doubtless through an oversight, I
hadn't received an invitation. And then there occurred one of those
Heaven-sent chances that you read of in books but rarely meet in life.
Your new footman is the son of the couple who keep the rooms in Clarges
Street where I live.

"Nothing could have suited me better. As footman I knew I'd have to valet
Terrill, which was exactly what I wanted to do. So I persuaded him to let
me take his place. I had the dickens of a job to do so--he's a
first-class fellow: but finally, after taking him round to Scotland Yard
to prove I was all right, he consented.

"I got him to give me a few lessons in deportment, applied for leave from
the chief, and came here instead of him. And my very first night the
rubies disappeared. Well, it was a bit awkward for me. Personally I felt
absolutely convinced that Terrill had taken them--the coincidence was
altogether too extraordinary. But to feel convinced and have proof are
two very different things. And it was quite obvious that suspicion was
bound to fall on me. I could have cleared myself, I know--but it might
have taken a day or two. And that day or two would have been fatal to any
hopes of success. I had to get Terrill with the rubies in his possession.
And the point was--where were they? Where had he hidden them?' I knew he
had them, but where had he put them?

"Now, in his dressing-case I had discovered a pair of very fine forceps,
of the type used by jewellers for gold and silver work. So I guessed that
in all probability he had removed the rubies from their setting and
disposed of the latter. It was fine work, as I noticed last night, and he
could easily have broken it up into small pieces and got rid of it down
the bath plug. That left only the separate rubies to hide--a much easier
matter for him, and a much harder one for me.

"It was obvious--the hiding-place; it must be. Nothing was locked in his
room; I'd examined every drawer. And I was almost in despair. Supposing,
now that the search was over, he had them on him. I couldn't accuse him;
being the object of suspicion myself it would have looked like a stupid
bluff.

"And then suddenly it came to me. There it was right under my nose--the
big cut-glass bottle of red tooth-wash. Not that I could see a sign of
the rubies; the facets of the crystal and the colour of the liquid
prevented that. In fact, it was a marvellous hiding-place, as the obvious
generally is. But I knew the rubies were there."

"A very lucky guess," said Mr. Frosdick.

The large young man smiled and lit a cigarette. "No, Mr. Frosdick, not a
guess but a certainty."

"But you said you couldn't see 'em."

"Correct," agreed the other. "I couldn't see 'em. But I could see
something else which was just as good. Tooth-wash may be for use, and it
may be for show. In the first case the level in the bottle diminishes,
and in the second it remains stationary. But in neither case does it rise
three inches."

"Young fellah," said Mr. Frosdick after a pause, "put it there." He held
out his hand. "And since we now have a spare bedroom, the oversight about
your invitation is remedied."

That evening Mavis Houghton danced twice with Paul Wetherby and five
times with Kenneth Stretton.

"Terrill has one peculiarity which I didn't mention," remarked the latter
gravely. "He generally makes love to someone in the house who is closely
connected with his hostess. I think it is done professionally to avert
suspicion."

"Indeed," she murmured. "How very unromantic."

"Any chance for an amateur?"

Her lips twitched slightly. "The least that a new guest can do is to
endeavour to supply the gap left by the departure of his predecessor."

And suddenly he leant towards her. "Mavis--why did you warn me?"

"For a student of the obvious," she murmured, "you seem to be singularly
dense."



THE SECOND RIDE


"The man who monkeys round with another man's wife is asking for
trouble," said the ship's doctor. "And sooner or later he'll get it. He
may even have to marry her."

Around us twinkled the lights of Naples: the summit of Vesuvius hung red,
glowing in the darkness astern. And peace reigned on board. The ship's
bore, with a boat-load of victims, had gone ashore to see the sights; we
had the smoking-room to ourselves.

"Mit divorce and all its attendant mud," remarked Murgatroyd, of the
Indian Army. "That's the foul part of it."

I knew Murgatroyd's history, and why he spoke feelingly. But that, as
Kipling would say, is another story.

"Divorce is a filthy business," he continued. "Surely to Heaven if a
marriage is a mistake and both parties know it, they should be able to
make other arrangements without screaming stinking fish to the world at
large! Instead of that they have to employ lawyers and intermediaries and
pay through the nose for doing so."

"You're talking rot, old man." said the doctor, who did not know
Murgatroyd's history. "You must have some basis for society which can't
be broken just because a man dislikes his wife's face in the morning."

Murgatroyd laughed. "Don't be a fool. Doc. But if two married people have
ceased to care about one another, and the woman meets another man whom
she does love, surely they should be able to fix things between them a
little less vulgarly than they can at present. To me it's inconceivable
that once a man realises he has lost his wife he should want to keep
her."

And then Sinclair spoke for the first time. He was a tall, spare man,
with that hardbitten look about him that tells of a life most certainly
not spent behind an office desk. A quiet sort of customer, through
natural inclination and not from lack of material, one felt sure. I had
had one or two short ones with him since leaving Tilbury, but had got no
further.

"You suggest," he said, "that the three of them should discuss things as
amicably as possible in the circumstances?"

"Emphatically," cried Murgatroyd.

"Without any lawyer to act as go-between?"

"Even more emphatically."

Sinclair leaned forward and tapped out his pipe, while a faint smile
twitched round his lips. "And yet at times an intermediary has its
advantages."

The Doctor held up his hand.

"Sinclair, that smile bewrayeth thee. I scent a story. The night is yet
young; the horde of horrors will not be back for an hour at least.
Steward, remove these dead men, and repeat the dose. Now, sir..."

You must go back twenty years (Sinclair began, when his pipe was drawing
to his satisfaction) for the beginning of my tale. The madness had not
then come upon Europe, and the world to most youngsters in their twenties
seemed a pretty good place. Particularly the colonies. There was hope in
a man's breast then--not the dry-rot that exists to-day. And if money was
burned quicker, it was more quickly replaced.

I don't suppose I need waste my breath describing the Rand Club at
Jo'burg to any of you fellows. And then, even as now, that big
three-sided bar was as fruitful a spot for the burning as is to be found
on any map. The millionaire of the day before rubbed shoulders with the
millionaire of the moment. The man who was down and out bought a book of
chits with his last remaining half-sovereign. And in that atmosphere
there met two men.

They were of a type: both young, both as hard as nails. Both had been in
the country for three or four years; both had tried their hands at a good
many different things before finally settling down to farming down White
River way. They were introduced to one another by a friend and found at
once that they had a certain amount in common. Their farms were some
thirty miles apart, and blasphemy against the Government on the water
question formed one mutual grouse. But though, during the ten days they
were in Jo'burg, they saw quite a lot of one another, they never became
really intimate. Their characters and their outlook on life generally
were too widely divergent.

Robert Caterham was slightly the elder of the two. He was a good-looking,
powerfully built man, and very good company when he chose. But he had a
violent temper, and was apt at times to become morose and surly.
Especially if he had a little drink in him. Not that he drank--he didn't;
in fact, he was rather abstemious. But if he did get one or two inside
him he was liable to get angry if anyone contradicted him.

The other man's name was--er--Jack Somerset. (And if Sinclair paused
slightly as he came to that name--well, it saves a lot of trouble not to
tell a story in the first person.) Jack Somerset was a much more cheerful
kind of customer; the sort of fellow who was in his element in a mess on
a guest night when horse-play tricks demanding strength and a disregard
of clothing are the order of the day. And it was during just such an
evening with the regiment in Pretoria that one of the fundamental
differences between the two men revealed itself.

Have you ever stood with your back to the edge of an open door and your
hands clasped together over the top? The trick is to draw yourself up
from that position until you are sitting astride the door. Now it is not
a particularly easy thing to do. It requires considerable strength and
knack; moreover, it can be distinctly painful to certain portions of
one's anatomy.

Ragging about after mess one of the officers did the trick and then
challenged the guests to go and do likewise. And to cut a long story
short, Somerset succeeded and Caterham didn't. There was nothing to it:
in five minutes the thing was forgotten and everyone was cock fighting.
Forgotten, that is, by everyone except Caterham. He didn't say anything,
naturally, but you could tell it by the expression on his face. He was
furious at having been beaten even over such a trifling thing as that;
and the fact that only two of the other officers managed it didn't alter
the fact that Somerset had done it and he hadn't.

"Entirely knack, that fool door trick, I suppose," he said in the car,
when they were motoring back to Jo'burg four hours later.

"What door trick?" answered Somerset, who had forgotten all about it.

"You must have done it before," persisted Caterham.

"Never seen it in my life till to-night," said Somerset.

"That's a good 'un," sneered Caterham, and Somerset sat up with a jerk.

"What the devil are you getting at?" he said quietly. "I repeat that I
have never seen that trick before to-night."

Caterham mumbled an apology, and Somerset said no more. The thing was too
small to quarrel over. But it revealed a certain angle in Caterham's
composition that, up till then, Somerset had not suspected. And not a
very pretty one.

The months passed by, and the two men--who had returned to White River
two days after the guest-night episode--met fairly frequently at a club
half-way between their farms. It was a typical small club which
automatically forms itself in districts where white men are widely
scattered. All right and excellent in their way: admirable meeting places
to ventilate the eternal grumbles which men who farm give tongue to
against everything in heaven and earth: absence of water; presence of
locusts--and that hardy annual, the Government.

But they are dangerous places for men who have not got the essential gift
of give and take. Tempers are apt to get a bit soured with a lonely life,
and it is well to remember that though the man next to you has
temporarily lost his, you, in all probability, were in the same condition
yourself a week before. And that was the trouble with Caterham. As I
mentioned before, he was a man who did not like argument when he'd had a
couple, and the net result was that gradually he quarrelled with
practically every member of the club. Except, funnily enough, Somerset.

The quarrels never amounted to anything serious, you'll understand; but
after a while other fellows began to avoid him. They would pass the time
of day if they met him in the bar, but you never saw him forming one of
the cheery bunch dicing for the next round in a corner. Which was not for
the good of Caterham's soul. And it was, therefore, with a feeling of
real relief that Somerset heard one day that Caterham had gone to Durban
to meet a girl who had come out from England to marry him.

"I never even knew he was engaged," said Somerset to the man who told
him.

"Funny-tempered devil," grunted the other. "Can't say I envy the wench.
Still, I shan't grumble if she keeps him away from the club a bit more.
He's not my idea of a pleasant evening."

"He's not a bad fellow really," said Somerset. "And she may improve him.
It's only when he gets a bit ginned up."

"Ginned up be blowed! You can't call three sundowners ginned up. And
that's all he'd had a few nights ago when he was pulling out that darned
sarcastic stuff of his with little Bill Taunton. What he wants is a
cauliflower ear, and if he don't watch it, he'll get it one of these
days."

It was a fortnight before Somerset saw Caterham again.

"I hear you've gone and done the trick," he said. "Congratulations and
all the usual stuff."

"Thanks," answered Caterham without any wild enthusiasm. "Come over and
have a meal some time."

"I'd like to," said Somerset. "Must leave your wife time to get settled in
first."

"I wouldn't wait so long as that," was Caterham's somewhat cryptic reply.
"Come next Friday."

And at that it was left. Caterham got into his car, leaving Somerset
wondering.

Far be it from me (continued Sinclair after a pause) to deliver a homily
on matrimony. But when considering a ceremony which, even under the most
favourable conditions, so frequently goes wrong, there ought to be a law
insisting on certain rudimentary precautions being taken before two
people tie themselves up for good. Apparently the Caterham affair had
been fixed up about a year previously, when he had been back to England
for a few months settling some business matters. And it had been an
affair of love at first sight, which, I am told, frequently proves a
winner and as frequently does not. This came into the latter category.

Given, more favourable circumstances all might have been well. But South
Africa is a hard country and a ruthless mistress, and from the very start
Ruth Caterham hated it. The loneliness ate into her soul; those long,
scorching hours, when her husband was out and she had nobody to talk to
except the Kaffir boys, got on her nerves.

Naturally, that was not apparent to Jack Somerset the first time he went
there. All he saw was a singularly lovely girl, trying, with pathetic
eagerness, to fit into surroundings which were completely strange, to
her. It wasn't her fault; it wasn't Caterham's. But if only one of the
rudimentary precautions to which I've alluded had been taken, if only she
had come and stayed with some married woman out there before taking the
final step, it might all have been avoided. At any rate, she would have
had a chance of discovering what life on a lonely farm was like, and
whether she could stand it or not.

There was another factor in the situation, too--even more important than
that. If a woman is really in love with a man she will put up with almost
anything for his sake. And she will act so well that he will never
realise that she is putting up. Ruth was not in love with her husband;
she never had been. But as other people had done before, she had mistaken
a somewhat hectic flirtation in the middle of a London season for the
genuine article. And so the menage started in conditions about as
unfavourable as could well be devised.

(Once again Sinclair paused and stared over the water, twinkling with the
reflection of a thousand lights.)

I hold no brief for Jack Somerset (he went on thoughtfully), but he did
try to fight against it. When he realised how things were with him, and
that he loved Ruth Caterham as he had never believed it possible to love
a woman, he kept away from their farm. It took him weeks before he did
realise it--weeks during which he had been there frequently, weeks during
which he had seen things getting more and more strained between Ruth and
her husband. The farm was not going well, which made Caterham
increasingly irritable, and increasingly inclined to take those two or
three extra drinks that constituted his poison. In fact, it was obvious
that something had to break somewhere.

As so often happens, the break came unexpectedly, and over a trifle. The
three of them were sitting on the stoep after dinner, and Caterham made
some remark about the boy's foul cooking. And that night Ruth had cooked
the dinner herself. Admittedly it was a bad gaffe, on his part, but a
laugh and a jest would have turned the whole thing off. Instead of which
he said: "I didn't notice any difference." And that was the remark of a
cad as well as a fool.

Then it started. She burst out crying, and between her tears said things
she didn't really mean. He sneered back. And the third member of the
party, feeling acutely uncomfortable, got up to leave. But the Fates
wouldn't allow even that; the stage was set, the puppets had to perform.

"Don't go, for God's sake!" said Caterham, in a rasping voice. "You stop
here and comfort her. I'm sick to death of it."

And he disappeared into the darkness.

"I say, dear," stammered Somerset, and then found he was staring into her
eyes, with both her hands in his. And gradually her sobs ceased, and she
stared back at him. Outside, the tree beetles kept up their endless
chorus; inside, on that dimlit veranda, two of the marionettes danced to
the pulling of the strings.

He didn't kiss her; he didn't touch her--save to hold her hands more
tightly. And after a while he got up and moved away.

"Are you quite sure?" he said slowly.

"Quite," she answered.

"We must be, you know; we must be." He repeated it over and over again.
"Quite, quite sure. I will go away, dear, so that we'll be certain. And
then..."

"Yes, Jack." she whispered. "And then...?"

"I'll come back, and we'll tell him. Stick it till then, my darling."

He was away two months, leaving his farm in the charge of an assistant.
As a matter of fact, he didn't mind very much about the farm. He was
going to sell it, in any event. Things were occurring at home which made
it necessary for him to go back to England in the near future. And not
the least important of those things was that he had quite unexpectedly
come into enough money to render him independent of work for the rest of
his life.

At the end of the two months he went back. He knew--so far as a man may
know; a glance at her face told him that she knew too. And so, for the
first time, he took her in his arms and kissed her on the lips. Then they
sat down to wait for Caterham.

"He'll take it hard, Jack," she said. "Not because he loves me--he
doesn't. But his pride will be hurt. He loathes thinking someone else has
beaten him."

He nodded. "I know, dear. I spotted that once before at a guest night in
Pretoria."

"And he's jealous of you."

He looked at her quickly. "Of me? Why should he be?"

"I'm afraid I may have given things away that night. One can't help
it--when one is very happy."

There was the short interlude, somewhat natural after such a remark, and
then she grew serious again. "What are you going to say to him, Jack?"

The man gave a short laugh. "Tell him the truth, darling. That we love
one another and that, therefore, things cannot continue as they are."

"Indeed? How vastly interesting!" They swung round; Caterham was standing
behind them on the stoep. He was in soft slippers, so that they had not
heard him approach, and a drink was in his hand. And, in spite of the
sneering remark, there was a puzzled look on his face as if he could not
believe his ears. "Might I trouble you to repeat that remark?" he
continued.

"Certainly," said Somerset quietly. "I suppose I should say I'm sorry
about it, Caterham, but Ruth and I are in love with one another."

The puzzled look had gone; a very different one had taken its place. And
without a word he flung the contents of his glass in Somerset's face.

"You swine!" he said thickly.

Somerset kept his temper.  "Can we discuss this matter without that sort
of melodrama?" he remarked. "I realise it must be an infernal shock to
you, but the thing has got to be faced. And since we aren't children, we
might as well face it in a reasonable manner."

Caterham's answer was a whistling upper-cut that caught Somerset on the
point of the jaw and knocked him down. Which brought the situation back
to Nature. Lawyers, and prying chambermaids, and divorce courts may fill
the bill in England, but when men are living in the crude places of the
world they settle their differences crudely. And so, as the sun began to
dip towards the horizon, those two men fought with the savage fighting
that knows no Queensberry rules. And the woman watched, as woman has done
through the ages.

I suppose that if this were a story intended for the Sunday afternoon
consumption of the young, the outraged husband should have triumphed over
the dissolute scoundrel who was trying to wreck his home. I fear I cannot
oblige. Somerset beat him fairly and squarely, though the victor's face
wasn't a pretty sight by the time he had finished. Blood was streaming
from a cut over one eye, and his nose felt as if it were broken. But the
man on the ground, propped on one elbow and snarling like a mad dog, had
had enough.

"Now will you discuss it?" muttered Somerset.

Caterham didn't answer. With murder in his eyes, he scrambled to his feet
and lurched through a group of terrified boys into the house. And
suddenly the woman gave a scream.

"Jack! He's getting a rifle."

Then things moved. Somerset's car was by the door, and in an instant he
had bundled her into the dickey.

"Lie on the floor, Ruth," he shouted, "and shut the top."

The engine started and he was away down the so-called drive, bumping and
rocking from side to side. A bullet spat through the hood close to his
head, followed by another. And then they were out on the open track and
clear of the house. Not quite the film hero stuff, perhaps, but when a
man who is temporarily mad with rage is looking at you from the wrong end
of a gun and you have no weapon yourself, it is well not to stand on the
order of your going.

Jack Somerset covered ten miles before he stopped, and the girl, white
and shaken, got in beside him. Just behind her head was one of the bullet
holes; putting her in the dickey had saved her life. But he said nothing,
and with his arm round her shoulders they drove on.

"I want you to stay with Mrs. Sidmouth to-night, darling," he said after a
while. "Say what you like to her, but, of course, this affair is bound to
come out. The boys will talk. And then to-morrow we'll discuss things,
when he's cooled down a bit."

"Where are you going, Jack?"

"I'll stop at the pub."

"Darling, I'm frightened. He'll be crazy to-night, and if he starts
drinking..."

"Don't worry, my sweet. I'll see that you're O.K."

"I wasn't thinking of myself," she cried.

Jack Somerset laughed shortly.

"Dear heart--I'll have a gun of my own, once we get to town." And then a
little inconsequently he added: "Poor devil."

He left her with Mrs. Sidmouth--a woman of understanding who could be
trusted not to ask too many fool questions--and went to the local drug
store for something for his face. That the whole story would be public
property by the next day he knew, but he thought it possible that
Caterham himself might come in that night. And so he went to the club. If
Caterham did come that was where he would go, and Somerset was not
shirking a meeting.

There were several men there when he arrived who stared at him
curiously--the chemist had not been over-successful. But wisely they
forebore to make any comment. His expression did not invite chaff.

He dined there and waited till eleven, but there was no sign of Caterham.
Then he went to the hotel and to bed--but not to sleep. It was, of
course, impossible to leave things as they were, and the sooner they were
settled the better. He blamed Caterham not at all for fighting him. He
could even bring himself to forgive the shooting, since no damage had
been done. But what was exercising his mind was whether the blood-letting
had done any good. Would Caterham--now that his first fury was over--be
prepared to discuss the matter calmly?

He tried to argue out the rights and wrongs of the case as he lay in bed
and stared up into the darkness. To the world it would be just the old
eternal triangle and, shorn of trappings, that was exactly what it was.
But those trappings did count, so far as the triangle itself was
concerned. There had been nothing between Ruth and himself, except one
kiss; the instant they were sure how things stood between them he had
spoken to Caterham. There had been nothing clandestine about it; no blame
could be attached to him on that score. True he had, according to the old
tag, eaten the husband's salt; but one of the things Somerset had never
yet fathomed was how a man could get to know a woman without eating at
her house. And he had had no meal there since he had realised the truth.
He never would have one again.

The night dragged wearily by, and always did his thoughts come back to
the same point: how would Caterham square up with the situation? Would
he--and this was the fear that haunted him most--would he refuse to
divorce her? No ordinary man would do such a thing; but was Caterham
ordinary? His wild rage of the previous afternoon was not extraordinary,
but now that that was over, what was his reaction going to be? For Ruth
was still his wife. He could not force her to return to his roof, and as
she had money of her own she was independent of him financially. She
could go back to England, as could Somerset. But if Caterham refused to
set her free, what then?

Light was streaming through the window before he finally fell into a
troubled sleep, and when he was called his brain again began turning over
the problem. In any event, the whole thing would have to be gone into
that day. He would go to Caterham's farm, leaving Ruth with Mrs.
Sidmouth, and if Caterham shot him on sight--well, it was a risk that had
to be run. So after breakfast he wrote her a note telling her what his
plans were, and sent it round by one of the boys; he felt it was better
not even to see her till matters were settled one way or the other. Then
he got into his car and started, off for Caterham's farm.

It seemed strangely silent as he drove up to the door; there was no sign
of a boy anywhere, and no sound of movement. He had no weapon with him;
he had decided that it was better to go unarmed. If Caterham wished to
shoot him, he could do so from a distance, and no revolver would help.
And if he was in a reasonable mood the fact that Somerset was defenceless
would help to keep him so.

There was still no sign of life as he walked round the house, and his
footsteps rang loud as he reached the stoep. And then, quite suddenly, he
saw Caterham seated at the dining-room table with his head between his
hands. And in front of him was a bottle of whisky. For a moment Somerset
paused; then he stepped into the room.

"A little earlier than I expected, Mr. Somerset," said Caterham without
looking up, and he realised the interview was going to be difficult.

"Shall we talk this over quietly, Caterham?" he said.

"Is there anything to talk over?"

"A lot. In the first place, I want you to realise that there has been
absolutely nothing wrong between Ruth and me."

Caterham raised his head and stared at him, and there was a look of such
maniacal rage in his eyes that involuntarily Somerset recoiled a step.

"You liar," said Caterham, speaking through set lips.

"I am not a liar," repeated Somerset, controlling his temper. "If you
will throw your mind back some weeks you may remember a night I dined
here--the last night before I went away. You were foully rude to Ruth in
front of me, and it was after you had gone that we found out how things
were."

Caterham threw back his head and laughed discordantly.

"Because of that," continued Somerset, "I went away. We both thought it
unfair to you that I should be over here until we were sure."

"And now you are sure," sneered Caterham.

"Exactly," said Somerset gravely. "We are sure. And I told you yesterday
afternoon, which was the first possible occasion."

"Most considerate of you, Mr. Somerset. I appreciate it. And what do you
propose should happen next?"

"That is what I am here to discuss. Presumably, now that you know the
facts, you will divorce her as soon as it can be arranged."

"You presume a lot, Mr. Somerset."

"For God's sake, drop the Mister and talk sense. I'm sorry this has
happened, but the thing is not so unique as all that. It's not the first
time that a tangle of this sort has occurred. And in this case the matter
is simplified by the fact that you don't love her."

"That doesn't alter the fact that you came here and stole my wife."

"You admit, then, that you don't love her?"

"She was my wife--mine. How dared you take her away in your car?"

"Because you were set for murder, Caterham. That's why I took her. And if
she hadn't been in the dickey you would have murdered her. One of your
shots would have gone through her head."

And once again Caterham threw back his head and laughed a laugh that it
was not good to hear. Then he seized the whisky bottle and tipped the raw
spirit down his throat.

"What a pity!" he cried. "It would have saved a lot of trouble, wouldn't
it--if she hadn't been in the dickey. D'you think she'll ever go in your
dickey again, Somerset?"

Somerset frowned. If Caterham got drunk nothing more could be done that
morning.

"For Heaven's sake, man, listen!" he said. "Quit boozing whisky, and
let's get down to it. Will you or will you not start divorce
proceedings?"

"Of course I will, Somerset, just as soon as you ask me to."

Somerset stared at him. What was the meaning of this sudden change?

"Then I ask you now to do so."

"You must talk it over again with Ruth first," said Caterham. "I insist
upon that. And you must write me a joint letter on the subject."

His voice was getting thick, and Somerset cursed under his breath.
Caterham was getting drunk.

"Just wait here a moment, Somerset, while I write a note. I want you to
give it to Ruth with my love. And I hope you'll both be very happy."

He rose unsteadily and went out of the room, leaving Somerset to pace up
and down with quick, jerky steps. Did he mean it, or was it merely a
drunken whim which would be forgotten in a few hours? It was that final
gulp of neat whisky that had done the mischief, and when he returned
about ten minutes later Somerset saw he was worse.

"Can't write letter," he announced, as he stood swaying by the door. "So
you tell my dear wife, Somerset, that I should like to hear from her on
the subject. And don't forget one thing. Very partic--particular thish.
Ask her to take--second ride in dickey."

He burst into roars of laughter, and Somerset eyed him with disgust.
There was no good prolonging the interview; he could only hope that the
man would stick to what he had said. So he went back to his car and drove
off. And, as he took a last glance at the farm, he saw Caterham standing
by the door staring after him intently.

He drove straight to Mrs. Sidmouth's house. Ruth would want to know what
had happened as soon as possible. And the first thing he saw as he walked
through the hall was his note to her lying unopened. He was looking at
it, puzzled, when Mrs. Sidmouth joined him.

"Has Ruth gone out?" he asked.

"Come in here, young man," she said severely. "You're going to get a
scolding." She closed the door. "What do you mean by running away with
another man's wife quite as precipitately as you did yesterday? It was
really very naughty of you."

"Dear Mrs. Sidmouth," he said with a smile. "I know you're perfectly
right. And you shall tick me off as much as you like later. Just now,
though, I'm very anxious to see Ruth. Please tell her I'm here."

"I can't, because she isn't here herself. She did what I suggested when
Mr. Caterham came here last night. He'd found out somehow that you'd
brought her here to me. And so--Mr. Somerset, what are you looking like
that for?"

Jack Somerset stood very still. Every atom of blood seemed to have
drained from his heart, hideous foreboding gripped him. And then he heard
a voice speaking. It was his own.

"You--didn't--let--her--go--back," said the voice jerkily.

"A tiff--a bad tiff...Only fair to him--"

The words followed him as he crossed the hall, walking like a palsied
man. And then, for an eternity, he stood on the front door steps staring
at his car below. He was dimly conscious that Mrs. Sidmouth was talking,
and then the voice spoke again.

"The dickey," it croaked. "The dickey. Open the dickey."

Wonderingly, she did so. Ruth Caterham was inside. She had taken her
second ride wedged round with sacks, and with a bullet through her brain.

Sinclair passed his hand over his forehead, and for a space no one spoke.

"We found out afterwards," he went on after a while, "that he'd shot her
early that morning, and it was then that the boys had run away. They'd
been arguing all the night, and then I suppose something snapped, when he
realised she wouldn't go back to him. And he'd put the body in the car
when he'd pretended to write the note."

"Did they hang him?" asked someone.

Sinclair shook his head and rose. "No. He had used another bullet by the
time they reached his farm. Which all seems to show that there are
advantages in employing an intermediary, Murgatroyd. Even a man of
Caterham's peculiar disposition would hardly have murdered a respectable
solicitor and put his body in a taxi."



THE END



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