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Title: Simon
Author: Clouston, J. Storer (Joseph Storer), 1870-1944
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Simon" ***

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produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive)



 SIMON

 BY

 J. STORER CLOUSTON

 AUTHOR OF "THE MAN FROM THE CLOUDS," "THE SPY
 IN BLACK," "THE LUNATIC AT LARGE," ETC.

 NEW YORK
 GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY



 COPYRIGHT, 1919,
 BY GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY

 PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA



CONTENTS


 CHAPTER                                                    PAGE

       I. The Solitary Passenger                              9
      II. The Procurator Fiscal                              16
     III. The Heir                                           23
      IV. The Man from the West                              31
       V. The Third Visitor                                  40
      VI. At Night                                           48
     VII. The Drive Home                                     56
    VIII. Sir Reginald                                       67
      IX. A Philosopher                                      74
       X. The Letter                                         80
      XI. News                                               89
     XII. Cicely                                            100
    XIII. The Deductive Process                             106
     XIV. The Question of Motive                            114
      XV. Two Women                                         123
     XVI. Rumour                                            128
    XVII. A Suggestion                                      135
   XVIII. £1200                                             143
     XIX. The Empty Compartment                             148
      XX. The Sporting Visitor                              154
     XXI. Mr. Carrington's Walk                             161
    XXII. Mr. Carrington and the Fiscal                     168
   XXIII. Simon's Views                                     176
    XXIV. Mr. Bisset's Assistant                            185
     XXV. A Telegram                                        196
    XXVI. At Stanesland                                     201
   XXVII. Flight                                            209
  XXVIII. The Return                                        216
    XXIX. Brother and Sister                                224
     XXX. A Marked Man                                      229
    XXXI. The Letter Again                                  240
   XXXII. The Sympathetic Stranger                          247
  XXXIII. The House of Mysteries                            253
   XXXIV. A Confidential Conversation                       261
    XXXV. In the Garden                                     271
   XXXVI. The Walking Stick                                 278
  XXXVII. Bisset's Advice                                   285
 XXXVIII. Trapped                                           291
   XXXIX. The Yarn                                          301
      XL. The Last Chapter                                  312



SIMON



I

THE SOLITARY PASSENGER


The train had come a long journey and the afternoon was wearing on.
The passenger in the last third class compartment but one, looking
out of the window sombrely and intently, saw nothing now but desolate
brown hills and a winding lonely river, very northern looking under
the autumnal sky.

He was alone in the carriage, and if any one had happened to study his
movements during the interminable journey, they would have concluded
that for some reason he seemed to have a singularly strong inclination
for solitude. In fact this was at least the third compartment he had
occupied, for whenever a fellow traveller entered, he unostentatiously
descended, and in a moment had slipped, also unostentatiously, into an
empty carriage. Finally he had selected one at the extreme end of the
train, a judicious choice which had ensured privacy for the last couple
of hours.

When the train at length paused in the midst of the moorlands and for
some obscure reason this spot was selected for the examination of
tickets, another feature of this traveller's character became apparent.
He had no ticket, he confessed, but named the last station as his place
of departure and the next as his destination. Being an entirely
respectable looking person, his statement was accepted and he slipped
the change for half a crown into his pocket; just as he had done a
number of times previously in the course of his journey. Evidently the
passenger was of an economical as well as of a secretive disposition.

As the light began to fade and the grey sky to change into a deeper
grey, and the lighted train to glitter through the darkening moors, and
he could see by his watch that their distant goal was now within an
hour's journey, the man showed for the first time signs of a livelier
interest. He peered out keenly into the dusk as though recognising old
landmarks, and now and then he shifted in his seat restlessly and a
little nervously.

He was a man of middle age or upwards, of middle height, and thickset.
Round his neck he wore a muffler, so drawn up as partially to conceal
the lower part of his face, and a black felt hat was drawn down over
his eyes. Between them could be seen only the gleam of his eyes, the
tip of his nose, and the stiff hairs of a grizzled moustache.

Out of his overcoat pocket he pulled a pipe and for a moment looked at
it doubtfully, and then, as if the temptation were irresistible, he
took out a tobacco pouch too. It was almost flat and he jealously
picked up a shred that fell on the floor, and checked himself at last
when the bowl was half filled. And then for a while he smoked very
slowly, savouring each whiff.

When they stopped at the last station or two, the reserved and exclusive
disposition of this traveller became still more apparent. Not only was
he so muffled up as to make recognition by an unwelcome acquaintance
exceedingly difficult, but so long as they paused at the stations he sat
with his face resting on his hand, and when they moved on again, an air
of some relief was apparent.

But a still more remarkable instance of this sensitive passion for
privacy appeared when the train stopped at the ticket platform just
outside its final destination. Even as they were slowing down, he fell
on his knees and then stretched himself at full length on the floor, and
when the door was flung open for an instant, the compartment was to all
appearances empty. Only when they were well under way again did this
retiring traveller emerge from beneath the seat.

And when he did emerge, his conduct continued to be of a piece with this
curious performance. He glanced out of the window for an instant at the
lights of the platform ahead, and the groups under them, and the arch of
the station roof against the night sky, and then swiftly stepped across
the carriage and gently opened the door on the wrong side. By the time
the train was fairly at rest, the door had been as quietly closed again
and the man was picking his way over the sleepers in the darkness, past
the guard's van and away from the station and publicity. Certainly he
had succeeded in achieving a singularly economical and private journey.

For a few minutes he continued to walk back along the line, and then
after a wary look all round him, he sprang up the low bank at the side,
threw his leg over a wire fence, and with infinite care began to make
his way across a stubble field. As he approached the wall on the further
side of the field his precautions increased. He listened intently,
crouched down once or twice, and when at last he reached the wall, he
peered over it very carefully before he mounted and dropped on the other
side.

"Well," he murmured, "I'm here, by God, at last!"

He was standing now in a road on the outskirts of the town. On the one
hand it led into a dim expanse of darkened country; on the other the
lights of the town twinkled. Across the road, a few villas stood back
amidst trees, with gates opening on to a footpath, the outlying houses
of the town; and the first lamp-post stood a little way down this path.
The man crossed the road and turned townwards, walking slowly and
apparently at his ease. What seemed to interest him now was not his own
need for privacy but the houses and gates he was passing. At one open
gate in particular he half paused and then seemed to spy something ahead
that altered his plans. Under a lamp-post a figure appeared to be
lingering, and at the sight of this, the man drew his hat still more
closely over his face and moved on.

As he drew near the lamp the forms of two youths became manifest,
apparently loitering there idly. The man kept his eyes on the ground,
passed them at a brisk walk and went on his way into the town.

"Damn them!" he muttered.

This incident seemed to have deranged his plans a little for his
movements during the next half hour were so purposeless as to suggest
that he was merely putting in time. Down one street and up another he
walked, increasing his pace when he had to pass any fellow walkers, and
then again falling slow at certain corners and looking round him
curiously as though those dark lanes and half-lit streets were
reminiscent.

Even seen in the light of the infrequent lamps and the rays from thinly
blinded windows, it was evidently but a small country town of a hard,
grey stone, northern type. The ends of certain lanes seemed to open into
the empty country itself, and one could hear the regular cadence of
waves hard by upon a shore.

"It doesn't seem to have changed much," said the man to himself.

He worked his way round, like one quite familiar with the route he
followed, till at length he drew near the same quiet country road whence
he had started. This time he stopped for a few minutes in the thickest
shadow and scanned each dim circle of radiance ahead. Nobody seemed now
to be within the rays of the lamps or to be moving in the darkness
between. He went on warily till he had come nearly to the same open gate
where he had paused before, and then there fell upon his ears the sound
of steps behind him and he stopped again and looked sharply over his
shoulder.

Somebody was following, but at a little distance off, and after
hesitating for an instant, he seemed to make up his mind to risk it, and
turned swiftly and stealthily through the gates. A short drive of some
pretentions ran between trees and then curved round towards the house,
but there was no lodge or any sign of a possible watcher, and the man
advanced for a few yards swiftly and confidently enough. And then he
stopped abruptly. Under the shade of the trees the drive ahead was pitch
dark, but footsteps and voices were certainly coming from the house. In
an instant he had vanished into the belt of plantation along one side of
the drive.

The footsteps and voices ceased, and then the steps began again, timidly
at first and then hurriedly. The belt of shrubs and trees was just thick
enough to hide a man perfectly on a moonless cloudy night like this. Yet
on either side the watcher could see enough of what was beyond to note
that he stood between the dark drive on one hand and a lighter space of
open garden on the other, and he could even catch a glimpse of the
house against the sky. Light shone brightly from the fanlight over the
front door, and less distinctly from one window upstairs and through the
slats of a blind in a downstairs room. For a moment he looked in that
direction and then intently watched the drive.

The footsteps by this time were almost on the run. The vague forms of
two women passed swiftly and he could see their faces dimly turned
towards him as they hurried by. They passed through the gates and were
gone, and then a minute later men's voices in the road cried out a
greeting. And after that the silence fell profound.



II

THE PROCURATOR FISCAL


The procurator fiscal breakfasted at 8.30, punctually, and at 8.30
as usual he entered his severely upholstered dining-room and shut th
door behind him. The windows looked into a spacious garden with a belt
of trees leading up to the house from the gate, and this morning Mr.
Rattar, who was a machine for habit, departed in one trifling particular
from his invariable routine. Instead of sitting straight down to the
business of breakfasting, he stood for a minute or two at the window
gazing into the garden, and then he came to the table very thoughtfully.

No man in that northern county was better known or more widely
respected than Mr. Simon Rattar. In person, he was a thickset man of
middle height and elderly middle age, with cold steady eyes and
grizzled hair. His clean shaved face was chiefly remarkable for the
hardness of his tight-shut mouth, and the obstinacy of the chin beneath
it. Professionally, he was lawyer to several of the larger landowners
and factor on their estates, and lawyer and adviser also to many other
people in various stations in life. Officially, he was procurator fiscal
for the county, the setter in motion of all criminal processes, and
generalissimo, so to speak, of the police; and one way and another, he
had the reputation of being a very comfortably well off gentleman
indeed.

As for his abilities, they were undeniably considerable, of the hard,
cautious, never-caught-asleep order; and his taciturn manner and way of
drinking in everything said to him while he looked at you out of his
steady eyes, and then merely nodded and gave a significant little grunt
at the end, added immensely to his reputation for profound wisdom.
People were able to quote few definite opinions uttered by "Silent
Simon," but any that could be quoted were shrewdness itself.

He was a bachelor, and indeed, it was difficult for the most fanciful to
imagine Silent Simon married. Even in his youth he had not been
attracted by the other sex, and his own qualities certainly did not
attract them. Not that there was a word to be said seriously against
him. Hard and shrewd though he was, his respectability was extreme and
his observance of the conventions scrupulous to a fault. He was an elder
of the Kirk, a non-smoker, an abstemious drinker (to be an out and out
teetotaler would have been a little too remarkable in those regions for
a man of Mr. Rattar's conventional tastes), and indeed in all respects
he trod that sober path that leads to a semi-public funeral and a vast
block of granite in the parish kirkyard.

He had acquired his substantial villa and large garden by a very shrewd
bargain a number of years ago, and he lived there with just the decency
that his condition in life enjoined, but with not a suspicion of display
beyond it. He kept a staff of two competent and respectable girls, just
enough to run a house of that size, but only just; and when he wanted to
drive abroad he hired a conveyance exactly suitable to the occasion from
the most respectable hotel. His life, in short, was ordered to the very
best advantage possible.

Enthusiastic devotion to such an extremely exemplary gentleman was a
little difficult, but in his present housemaid, Mary MacLean, he had a
girl with a strong Highland strain of fidelity to a master, and an
instinctive devotion to his interests, even if his person was hardly the
chieftain her heart demanded. She was a soft voiced, anxious looking
young woman, almost pretty despite her nervous high strung air, and of a
quiet and modest demeanour.

Soon after her master had begun breakfast, Mary entered the dining-room
with an apologetic air, but a conscientious eye.

"Begging your pardon, sir," she began, "but I thought I ought to tell
you that when cook and me was going out to the concert last night we
thought we saw _something_ in the drive."

Mr. Rattar looked up at her sharply and fixed his cold eyes on her
steadily for a moment, never saying a word. It was exactly his ordinary
habit, and she had thought she was used to it by now, yet this morning
she felt oddly disconcerted. Then it struck her that perhaps it was the
red cut on his chin that gave her this curious feeling. Silent Simon's
hand was as steady as a rock and she never remembered his having cut
himself shaving before; certainly not as badly as this.

"Saw 'something'?" he repeated gruffly. "What do you mean?"

"It looked like a man, sir, and it seemed to move into the trees almost
as quick as we saw it!"

"Tuts!" muttered Simon.

"But there was two friends of ours meeting us in the road," she hurried
on, "and they thought they saw a man going in at the gate!"

Her master seemed a little more impressed.

"Indeed?" said he.

"So I thought it was my duty to tell you, sir."

"Quite right," said he.

"For I felt sure it couldn't just be a gentleman coming to see you, sir,
or he wouldn't have gone into the trees."

"Of course not," he agreed briefly. "Nobody came to see me."

Mary looked at him doubtfully and hesitated for a moment.

"Didn't you even hear anything, sir?" she asked in a lowered voice.

Her master's quick glance made her jump.

"Why?" he demanded.

"Because, sir, I found footsteps in the gravel this morning--where it's
soft with the rain, sir, just under the library window."

Mr. Rattar looked first hard at her and then at his plate. For several
seconds he answered nothing, and then he said:

"I did hear some one."

There was something both in his voice and in his eye as he said this
that was not quite like the usual Simon Rattar. Mary began to feel a
sympathetic thrill.

"Did you look out of the window, sir?" she asked in a hushed voice.

Her master nodded and pursed his lips.

"But you didn't see him, sir?"

"No," said he.

"Who could it have been, sir?"

"I have been wondering," he said, and then he threw a sudden glance at
her that made her hurry for the door. It was not that it was an angry
look, but that it was what she called so "queer-like."

Just as she went out she noted another queer-like circumstance. Mr.
Rattar had stretched out his hand towards the toast rack while he spoke.
The toast stuck between the bars, and she caught a glimpse of an angry
twitch that upset the rack with a clatter. Never before had she seen the
master do a thing of that kind.

A little later the library bell called her. Mr. Rattar had finished
breakfast and was seated beside the fire with a bundle of legal papers
on a small table beside him, just as he always sat, absorbed in work,
before he started for his office. The master's library impressed Mary
vastly. The furniture was so substantial, new-looking, and conspicuous
for the shininess of the wood and the brightness of the red morocco
seats to the chairs. And it was such a tidy room--no litter of papers or
books, nothing ever out of place, no sign even of pipe, tobacco jar,
cigarette or cigar. The only concession to the vices were the ornate ash
tray and the massive globular glass match box on the square table in the
middle of the room, and they were manifestly placed there for the
benefit of visitors merely. Even they, Mary thought, were admirable as
ornaments, and she was concerned to note that there was no nice
red-headed bundle of matches in the glass match box this morning. What
had become of them she could not imagine, but she resolved to repair
this blemish as soon as the master had left the house.

"I don't want you to go gossiping about this fellow who came into the
garden, last night," he began.

"Oh, no, sir!" said she.

Simon shot her a glance that seemed compounded of doubt and warning.

"As procurator fiscal, it is my business to inquire into such affairs.
I'll see to it."

"Oh, yes, sir; I know," said she. "It seemed so impudent like of the man
coming into the fiscal's garden of all places!"

Simon grunted. It was his characteristic reply when no words were
absolutely necessary.

"That's all," said he, "don't gossip! Remember, if we want to catch the
man, the quieter we keep the better."

Mary went out, impressed with the warning, but still more deeply
impressed with something else. Gossip with cook of course was not to be
counted as gossip in the prohibited sense, and when she returned to the
kitchen, she unburdened her Highland heart.

"The master's no himsel'!" she said. "I tell you, Janet, never have I
seen Mr. Rattar look the way he looked at breakfast, nor yet the way he
looked in the library!"

Cook was a practical person and apt to be a trifle unsympathetic.

"He couldna be bothered with your blethering most likely!" said she.

"Oh, it wasna that!" said Mary very seriously. "Just think yoursel' how
would you like to be watched through the window at the dead of night as
you were sitting in your chair? The master's feared of yon man, Janet!"

Even Janet was a little impressed by her solemnity.

"It must have taken something to make silent Simon feared!" said she.

Mary's voice fell.

"It's my opinion, the master knows more than he let on to me. The
thought that came into my mind when he was talking to me was just--'The
man feels he's being _watched_!'"

"Oh, get along wi' you and your Hieland fancies!" said cook, but she
said it a little uncomfortably.



III

THE HEIR


At 9.45 precisely Mr. Rattar arrived at his office, just as he had
arrived every morning since his clerks could remember. He nodded curtly
as usual to his head clerk, Mr. Ison, and went into his room. His
letters were always laid out on his desk and from twenty minutes to half
an hour were generally spent by him in running through them. Then he
would ring for Mr. Ison and begin to deal with the business of the day.
But on this morning the bell went within twelve minutes, as Mr. Ison (a
most precise person) noted on the clock.

"Bring the letter book," said Mr. Rattar. "And the business ledger."

"Letter book and business ledger?" repeated Mr. Ison, looking a little
surprised.

Mr. Rattar nodded.

The head clerk turned away and then paused and glanced at the bundle of
papers Mr. Rattar had brought back with him. He had expected these to be
dealt with first thing.

"About this Thomson business--" he began.

"It can wait."

The lawyer's manner was peremptory and the clerk fetched the letter
book and ledger. These contained, between them, a record of all the
recent business of the firm, apart from public business and the affairs
of one large estate. What could be the reason for such a comprehensive
examination, Mr. Ison could not divine, but Mr. Rattar never gave
reasons unless he chose, and the clerk who would venture to ask him was
not to be found on the staff of Silent Simon.

In a minute or two the head clerk returned with the books. This time he
was wearing his spectacles and his first glance through them at Mr.
Rattar gave him an odd sensation. The lawyer's mouth was as hard set and
his eyes were as steady as ever. Yet something about his expression
seemed a little unusual. Some unexpected business had turned up to
disturb him, Mr. Ison felt sure; and indeed, this seemed certain from
his request for the letter book and ledger. He now noticed also the cut
on his chin, a sure sign that something had interrupted the orderly
tenor of Simon Rattar's life, if ever there was one. Mr. Ison tried to
guess whose business could have taken such a turn as to make Silent
Simon cut himself with his razor, but though he had many virtues,
imagination was not among them and he had to confess that it was fairly
beyond James Ison.

And yet, curiously enough, his one remark to a fellow clerk was not
unlike the comment of the imaginative Mary MacLean.

"The boss has a kin' of unusual look to-day. There was something kin'
of suspicious in that eye of his--rather as though he thought someone
was watching him."

Mr. Rattar had been busy with the books for some twenty minutes when his
head clerk returned.

"Mr. Malcolm Cromarty to see you, sir," he said.

Silent Simon looked at him hard, and it was evident to his clerk that
his mind had been extraordinarily absorbed, for he simply repeated in a
curious way:

"Mr. _Malcolm_ Cromarty?"

"Yes, sir," said Mr. Ison, and then as even this seemed scarcely to be
comprehended, he added, "Sir Reginald's cousin."

"Ah, of course!" said Mr. Rattar. "Well, show him in."

The young man who entered was evidently conscious of being a superior
person. From the waviness of his hair and the studied negligence of his
tie (heliotrope with a design in old gold), it seemed probable that he
had literary or artistic claims to be superior to the herd. And from the
deference with which Mr. Ison had pronounced his name and his own
slightly condescending manner, it appeared that he felt himself in other
respects superior to Mr. Rattar. He was of medium height, slender, and
dark-haired. His features were remarkably regular, and though his face
was somewhat small, there could be no doubt that he was extremely good
looking, especially to a woman's eye, who would be more apt than a
fellow man to condone something a little supercilious in his smile.

The attire of Mr. Malcolm Cromarty was that of the man of fashion
dressed for the country, with the single exception of the tie which
intimated to the discerning that here was no young man of fashion
merely, but likewise a young man of ideas. That he had written, or at
least was going to write, or else that he painted or was about to paint,
was quite manifest. The indications, however, were not sufficiently
pronounced to permit one to suspect him of fiddling, or even of being
about to fiddle.

This young gentleman's manner as he shook hands with the lawyer and then
took a chair was on the surface cheerful and politely condescending. Yet
after his first greeting, and when he was seated under Simon's
inscrutable eye, there stole into his own a hint of quite another
emotion. If ever an eye revealed apprehension it was Malcolm Cromarty's
at that instant.

"Well, Mr. Rattar, here I am again, you see," said he with a little
laugh; but it was not quite a spontaneous laugh.

"I see, Mr. Cromarty," said Simon laconically.

"You have been expecting to hear from me before, I suppose," the young
man went on, "but the fact is I've had an idea for a story and I've been
devilish busy sketching it out."

Simon grunted and gave a little nod. One would say that he was studying
his visitor with exceptional attention.

"Ideas come to one at the most inconvenient times," the young author
explained with a smile, and yet with a certain hurried utterance not
usually associated with smiles, "one just has to shoot the bird when he
happens to come over your head, don't you know, you can't send in
beaters after that kind of fowl, Mr. Rattar. And when he does come out,
there you are! You have to make hay while the sun shines."

Again the lawyer nodded, and again he made no remark. The apprehension
in his visitor's eye increased, his smile died away, and suddenly he
exclaimed:

"For God's sake, Mr. Rattar, say something! I meant honestly to pay you
back--I felt sure I could sell that last thing of mine before now, but
not a word yet from the editor I sent it to!"

Still there came only a guarded grunt from Simon and the young man went
on with increasing agitation.

"You won't give me away to Sir Reginald, will you? He's been damned
crusty with me lately about money matters, as it is. If you make me
desperate----!" He broke off and gazed dramatically into space for a
moment, and then less dramatically at his lawyer.

Silent Simon was proverbially cautious, but it seemed to his visitor
that his demeanour this morning exceeded all reasonable limits. For
nearly a minute he answered absolutely nothing, and then he said very
slowly and deliberately:

"I think it would be better, Mr. Cromarty, if you gave me a brief,
explicit statement of how you got into this mess."

"Dash it, you know too well--" began Cromarty.

"It would make you realise your own position more clearly," interrupted
the lawyer. "You want me to assist you, I take it?"

"Rather--if you will!"

"Well then, please do as I ask you. You had better start at the
beginning of your relations with Sir Reginald."

Malcolm Cromarty's face expressed surprise, but the lawyer's was
distinctly less severe, and he began readily enough:

"Well, of course, as you know, my cousin Charles Cromarty died about 18
months ago and I became the heir to the baronetcy--" he broke off and
asked, "Do you mean you want me to go over all that?"

Simon nodded, and he went on:

"Sir Reginald was devilish good at first--in his own patronising way,
let me stay at Keldale as often and as long as I liked, made me an
allowance and so on; but there was always this fuss about my taking up
something a little more conventional than literature. Ha, ha!" The young
man laughed in a superior way and then looked apprehensively at the
other. "But I suppose you agree with Sir Reginald?"

Simon pursed his lips and made a non-committal sound.

"Well, anyhow, he wanted me to be called to the Bar or something of that
kind, and then there was a fuss about money--his ideas of an allowance
are rather old fashioned, as you know. And then you were good enough to
help me with that loan, and--well, that's all, isn't it?"

Mr. Rattar had been listening with extreme attention. He now nodded, and
a smile for a moment seemed to light his chilly eyes.

"I see that you quite realise your position, Mr. Cromarty," he said.

"Realise it!" cried the young man. "My God, I'm in a worse hole----" he
broke off abruptly.

"Worse than you have admitted to me?" said Simon quickly and again with
a smile in his eye.

Malcolm Cromarty hesitated, "Sir Reginald is so damned narrow! If he
wants to drive me to the devil--well, let him! But I say, Mr. Rattar,
what are you going to do?"

For some moments Simon said nothing. At length he answered:

"I shall not press for repayment at present."

His visitor rose with a sigh of relief and as he said good-bye his
condescending manner returned as readily as it had gone.

"Good morning and many thanks," said he, and then hesitated for an
instant. "You couldn't let me have a very small cheque, just to be going
on with, could you?"

"Not this morning, Mr. Cromarty."

Mr. Cromarty's look of despair returned.

"Well," he cried darkly as he strode to the door, "people who treat a
man in my position like this are responsible for--er----!" The banging
of the door left their precise responsibility in doubt.

Simon Rattar gazed after him with an odd expression. It seemed to
contain a considerable infusion of complacency. And then he rang for his
clerk.

"Get me the Cromarty estate letter book," he commanded.

The book was brought and this time he had about ten minutes to himself
before the clerk entered again.

"Mr. Cromarty of Stanesland to see you, sir," he announced.

This announcement seemed to set the lawyer thinking hard. Then in his
abrupt way he said:

"Show him in."



IV

THE MAN FROM THE WEST


Mr. Rattar's second visitor was of a different type. Mr. Cromarty of
Stanesland stood about 6 feet two and had nothing artistic in his
appearance, being a lean strapping man in the neighbourhood of forty,
with a keen, thin, weather-beaten face chiefly remarkable for its
straight sharp nose, compressed lips, reddish eye-brows, puckered into a
slight habitual frown, and the fact that the keen look of the whole was
expressed by only one of his eyes, the other being a good imitation but
unmistakeably glass. The whole effect of the face, however, was
singularly pleasing to the discerning critic. An out of door, reckless,
humorous, honest personality was stamped on every line of it and every
movement of the man. When he spoke his voice had a marked tinge of the
twang of the wild west that sounded a little oddly on the lips of a
country gentleman in these northern parts. He wore an open flannel
collar, a shooting coat, well cut riding breeches and immaculate leather
leggings, finished off by a most substantial pair of shooting boots.
Unlike Mr. Malcolm Cromarty, he evidently looked upon his visit as
expected.

"Good morning, Mr. Rattar," said he, throwing his long form into the
clients' chair as he spoke. "Well, I guess you've got some good advice
for me this morning."

Simon Rattar was proverbially cautious, but to-day his caution struck
his visitor as quite remarkable.

"Um," he grunted. "Advice, Mr. Cromarty? Umph!"

"Don't trouble beating about the bush," said the tall man. "I've been
figuring things out myself and so far as I can see, it comes to
this:--that loan from Sir Reginald put me straight in the meantime, but
I've got to cut down expense all round to keep straight, and I've got to
pay him back. Of course you know his way when it's one of the clan he's
dealing with. 'My dear Ned, no hurry whatever. If you send my heir a
cheque some day after I'm gone it will have the added charm of
surprise!' Well, that's damned decent, but hardly business. I want to
get the whole thing off my chest. Got the statement made up?"

Simon shook his head.

"Very sorry, Mr. Cromarty. Haven't had time yet."

"Hell!" said Mr. Cromarty, though in a cheerful voice, and then added
with an engaging smile, "Pardon me, Mr. Rattar. I'm trying to get
educated out of strong language, but, Lord, at my time of life it's not
so damned--I mean dashed easy!"

Even Simon Rattar's features relaxed for an instant into a smile.

"And who is educating you?" he enquired.

Mr. Cromarty looked a little surprised.

"Who but the usual lady? Gad, I've told you before of my sister's well
meant efforts. It's a stiff job making a retired cow puncher into a high
grade laird. However, I can smoke without spitting now, which is a step
on the road towards being a Lord Chesterfield."

He smiled humorously, stretched out his long legs and added:

"It's a nuisance, your not having that statement ready. When I've got to
do business I like pushing it through quick. That's an American habit I
don't mean to get rid of, Mr. Rattar."

Mr. Rattar nodded his approval.

"Certainly not," said he.

"I've put down my car," his visitor continued. "Drive a buggy now--beg
its pardon, a trap, and a devilish nice little mare I've got in her too.
In fact, there are plenty of consolations for whatever you have to do in
this world. I'm only sorry for my sister's sake that I have to draw in
my horns a bit. Women like a bit of a splash--at least judging from the
comparatively little I know of 'em."

"Miss Cromarty doesn't complain, I hope?"

"Oh, I think she's beginning to see the necessity for reform. You see,
when both my civilised elder brothers died----" he broke off, and then
added: "But you know the whole story."

"I would--er--like to refresh my memory," said Simon; and there seemed
to be a note of interest and almost of eagerness in his voice that
appeared to surprise his visitor afresh.

"First time I ever heard of your memory needing refreshing!" laughed his
visitor. "Well, you know how I came back from the wild and woolly west
and tried to make a comfortable home for Lilian. We were neither of us
likely to marry at our time of life, and there were just the two of us
left, and we'd both of us knocked about quite long enough on our own,
and so why not settle down together in the old place and be comfortable?
At least that's how it struck me. Of course, as you know, we hadn't met
for so long that we were practically strangers and she knew the ways of
civilisation better than me, and I gave her a pretty free hand in
setting up the establishment. I don't blame her, mind you, for setting
the pace a bit too fast to last. My own blamed fault entirely. However,
we aren't in a very deep hole, thank the Lord. In fact if I hadn't got
to pay Sir Reginald back the £1,200 it would be all right, so far I can
figure out. But I want your exact statement, Mr. Rattar, and as quick as
you can let me have it."

Simon nodded and grunted.

"You'll get it." And then he added: "I think I can assure you there is
nothing to be concerned about."

Ned Cromarty smiled and a reckless light danced for a moment in his one
efficient eye.

"I guess I almost wish there were something to be concerned about! Sir
Reginald is always telling me I'm the head of the oldest branch of the
whole Cromarty family and it's my duty to live in the house of my
ancestors and be an ornament to the county, and all the rest of it. But
I tell you it's a damned quiet life for a man who's had his eye put out
with a broken whisky bottle and hanged the man who did it with his own
hands!"

"Hanged him!" exclaimed the lawyer sharply.

"Oh, it wasn't merely for the eye. That gave the performance a kind of
relish it would otherwise have lacked, being a cold-blooded ceremony and
a little awkward with the apparatus we had. We hanged him for murder, as
a matter of fact. Now, between ourselves, Mr. Rattar, we don't want to
crab our own county, but you must confess that real good serious crime
is devilish scarce here, eh?"

Cromarty's eye was gleaming humorously, and Simon Rattar might have been
thought the kind of tough customer who would have been amused by the
joke. He seemed, however, to be affected unpleasantly and even a little
startled.

"I--I trust we don't," he said.

"Well," his visitor agreed, "as it means that something or somebody has
got to be sacrificed to start the sport of man-hunting, I suppose
there's something to be said for the quiet life. But personally I'd
sooner be after men than grouse, from the point of view of getting
thorough satisfaction while it lasts. My sister says it means I haven't
settled down properly yet--calls me the bold bad bachelor!"

Through this speech Simon seemed to be looking at his visitor with an
attention that bordered on fascination, and it was apparently with a
slight effort that he asked at the end:

"Well, why don't you marry?"

"Marry!" exclaimed Ned Cromarty. "And where will you find the lady
that's to succumb to my fascinations? I'm within a month of forty, Mr.
Rattar, I've the mind, habits, and appearance of a backwoodsman, and
I've one working eye left. A female collector of antique curiosities, or
something in the nature of a retired wardress might take on the job, but
I can't think of any one else!"

He laughed as he spoke, and yet something remarkably like a sigh
followed the laugh, and for a moment after he had ceased speaking his
eye looked abstractedly into space.

Before either spoke again, the door opened and the clerk, seeing Mr.
Rattar was still engaged, murmured a "beg pardon" and was about to
retire again.

"What is it?" asked the lawyer.

"Miss Farmond is waiting to see you, sir."

"I'll let you know when I'm free," said Simon.

Had his eye been on his visitor as his clerk spoke, he might have
noticed a curious commentary on Mr. Cromarty's professed lack of
interest in womankind. His single eye lit up for an instant and he
moved sharply in his chair, and then as suddenly repressed all sign of
interest.

A minute or two later the visitor jumped up.

"Well," said he, "I guess you're pretty busy and I've been talking too
long as it is. Let me have that statement as quick as you like. Good
morning!"

He strode to the door, shut it behind him, and then when he was on the
landing, his movements became suddenly more leisurely. Instead of
striding downstairs he stood looking curiously in turn at each closed
door. It was an old fashioned house and rather a rabbit warren of an
office, and it would seem as though for some reason he wished to leave
no door unwatched. In a moment he heard the lawyer's bell ring and very
slowly he moved down a step or two while a clerk answered the call and
withdrew. And then he took a cigar from his case, bit off the end, and
felt for matches; all this being very deliberately done, and his eye
following the clerk. Thus when a girl emerged from the room along a
passage, she met, apparently quite accidentally, Mr. Cromarty of
Stanesland.

At the first glance it was quite evident that the meeting gave more
pleasure to the gentleman than to the lady. Indeed, the girl seemed too
disconcerted to hide the fact.

"Good morning, Miss Farmond," said he with what seemed intended for an
air of surprise; as though he had no idea she had been within a mile of
him. "You coming to see Simon on business too?" And then taking the cue
from her constrained manner, he added hurriedly, and with a note of
dejection he could not quite hide, "Well, good-bye."

The girl's expression suddenly changed, and with that change the laird
of Stanesland's curious movements became very explicable, for her face
was singularly charming when she smiled. It was a rather pale but fresh
and clear-skinned face, wide at the forehead and narrowing to a firm
little chin, with long-lashed expressive eyes, and a serious expression
in repose. Her smile was candid, a little coy and irresistibly engaging,
and her voice was very pleasant, rather low, and most engaging too. She
was of middle height and dressed in mourning. Her age seemed rather
under than over twenty.

"Oh," she said, with a touch of hesitation at first, "I didn't mean----"
She broke off, glanced at the clerk, who being a discreet young man was
now in the background, and then with lowered voice confessed, "The fact
is, Mr. Cromarty, I'm not really supposed to be here at all. That's to
say nobody knows I am."

Mr. Cromarty looked infinitely relieved.

"And you don't want anybody to know?" he said in his outspoken way.
"Right you are. I can lie low and say nothing, or lie hard and say what
you like; whichever you choose."

"Lying low will do," she smiled. "But please don't think I'm doing
anything very wrong."

"I'll think what you tell me," he said gallantly. "I _was_ thinking
Silent Simon was in luck's way--but perhaps you're going to wig him?"

She laughed and shook her head.

"Can you imagine me daring to wig Mr. Simon Rattar?"

"I guess he needs waking up now and then like other people. He's been
slacking over my business. In fact, I can't quite make him out this
morning. He's not quite his usual self for some reason. Don't be afraid
to wig him if he needs it!"

The clerk in the background coughed and Miss Cicely Farmond moved
towards the door of the lawyer's room, but Ned Cromarty seemed reluctant
to end the meeting so quickly.

"How did you come?" he asked.

"Walked," she smiled.

"Walked! And how are you going back?"

"Walk again."

"I say," he suggested eagerly, "I've got my trap in. Let me drive you!"

She hesitated a moment.

"It's awfully good of you to think of it----"

"That's settled then. I'll be on the look out when you leave old Simon's
den."

He raised his cap and went downstairs this time without any hesitation.
He had forgotten to light his cigar, and it was probably as a substitute
for smoking that he found himself whistling.



V

THE THIRD VISITOR


Miss Cicely Farmond's air as she entered Simon Rattar's room seemed
compounded of a little shyness, considerable trepidation, and yet more
determination. In her low voice and with a fleeting smile she wished him
good morning, like an acquaintance with whom she was quite familiar, and
then with a serious little frown, and fixing her engaging eyes very
straight upon him, she made the surprising demand:

"Mr. Rattar, I want you to tell me honestly who I am."

For an instant Simon's cold eyes opened very wide, and then he was
gazing at her after his usual silent and steadfast manner.

"Who you are?" he repeated after a few seconds' pause.

"Yes. Indeed, Mr. Rattar, I _insist_ on knowing!"

Simon smiled slightly.

"And what makes you think I can assist you to--er--recover your
identity, Miss Farmond?"

"To discover it, not recover it," she corrected.

"Don't you really know that I am honestly quite ignorant?"

Mr. Rattar shook his head cautiously.

"It is not for me to hazard an opinion," he answered.

"Oh please, Mr. Rattar," she exclaimed, "don't be so dreadfully
cautious! Surely you can't have thought that I knew all the time!"

Again he was silent for a moment, and then enquired:

"Why do you come to me now?"

"Because I _must_ know! Because--well, because it is so unsatisfactory
not knowing--for various reasons."

"And why are you so positive that I can tell you?"

"Because all my affairs and arrangements went through your hands, and of
course you know!"

Again he seemed to reflect for a moment.

"May I ask, Miss Farmond," he enquired, "why, in that case, you think I
shouldn't have told you before, and why--also in that case--I should
tell you now?"

This enquiry seemed to disconcert Miss Farmond a little.

"Oh, of course I presume Sir Reginald and you had some reasons," she
admitted.

"And don't you think then we have them still?"

"I can't honestly see why you should make such a mystery of
it--especially as I can guess the truth perfectly easily!"

"If you can guess it----" he began.

"Oh please don't answer me like that! Why won't you tell me?"

He seemed to consider the point for a moment, and then he said:

"I am not at all sure that I am at liberty to tell you, Miss Farmond,
without further consultation."

"Has Sir Reginald really any good reasons for not telling me?"

"Have you asked him that question?"

"No," she confessed. "He and Lady Cromarty have been so frightfully
kind, and yet so--so reserved on that subject, that I have never liked
to ask them direct. But they know that I have guessed, and they haven't
done anything to prevent me finding out more for myself, which means
that they really are quite willing to let me find out if I can."

He shook his head.

"I am afraid I shall require more authority than that."

She pursed her lips and looked at the floor in silence, and then she
rose.

"Well, if you absolutely refuse to tell me _anything_, Mr. Rattar, I
suppose----"

A dejected little shrug completed her sentence, and as she turned
towards the door her eloquent eyes looked at him for a moment beneath
their long lashes with an expression in them that might have moved a
statue. Although Simon Rattar had the reputation of being impervious to
woman's wiles, he may have been moved by this unspoken appeal. He
certainly seemed struck by something, for even as her back was turning
towards him, he said suddenly, and in a distinctly different voice:

"You say you can guess yourself?"

She nodded, and added with a pathetic coaxing note in her low voice:

"But I want to _know_!"

"Supposing," he suggested, "you were to tell me precisely how much you
do know already, and then I could judge whether the rest might or might
not be divulged."

Her face brightened and she returned to her chair with a promptitude
that suggested she was not unaccustomed to win a lost battle with these
weapons.

"Well," she said, "it was only six months ago--when mother died--that I
first had the least suspicion there was any mystery about me--anything
to hide. I knew she hadn't always been happy and that her trouble had
something to do with my father, simply because she hardly ever mentioned
him. But she lived at Eastbourne just like plenty of other widows and we
had a few friends, though never very many, and I was very happy at
school, and so I never troubled much about things."

"And knew nothing up till six months ago?" asked Simon, who was
following her story very attentively.

"Nothing at all. Then, about a month after mother's death, I got a note
from you asking me to go up to London and meet Sir Reginald Cromarty. I
had never even heard of him before! Well, I went and he was simply as
kind as--well, as he always is to everybody, and said he was a kind of
connection of my family and asked me to pay them a long visit to
Keldale."

"How long ago precisely was that?"

She looked a little surprised.

"Oh, you know exactly. Almost just four months ago, wasn't it?"

He nodded, but said nothing, and she went on:

"From the very first it had seemed very strange that I had never heard a
word about the Cromartys from mother, and as soon as I got to Keldale
and met Lady Cromarty, I felt sure there was something wrong. I mean
that I wasn't an ordinary distant relation. For one thing they never
spoke of our relationship and exactly what sort of cousins we were, and
considering how keen Sir Reginald is on his pedigree and all his
relations and everybody, that alone made me certain I wasn't the
ordinary kind. That was obvious, wasn't it?"

"It seems so," the lawyer admitted cautiously.

"Of course it was! Well, one day I happened to be looking over an old
photograph album and suddenly I saw my father's photograph! Mother had a
miniature of him--I have it still, and I was certain it was the same
man. I pulled myself together and asked Sir Reginald in a very ordinary
voice who that was, and I could see that both he and Lady Cromarty
jumped a little. He had to tell me it was his brother Alfred and I
discovered he had long been dead, but I didn't try to get any more
information from them. I applied to Bisset."

She gave a little laugh and looked at him with a touch of defiance. His
inscrutable countenance appeared to annoy her.

"Well?" he remarked.

"Perhaps you think I oughtn't to have gone to a butler about such a
thing, but Bisset is practically one of the family and I didn't give him
the least idea of what I was after. I simply drew him on the subject of
the Cromarty family history and among other things--that didn't so much
interest me--I found that Mr. Alfred Cromarty was never married and
seemed to have had rather a gay reputation."

She looked at him with an expression that would have immediately
converted any susceptible man into a fellow conspirator, and asked in
her most enticing voice:

"Need you ask what I guessed? What is the use in not telling me simply
whether I have guessed right!"

Silent Simon's face remained a mask.

"What precisely did you guess?"

"That my mother wasn't married," she said, her voice falling very low,
"and I am really Sir Reginald's niece though he never can acknowledge
it--and I don't want him to! But I do want to be sure. Dear Mr. Rattar,
won't you tell me?"

Dear Mr. Rattar never relaxed a muscle.

"Your guess seems very probable," he admitted.

"But tell me definitely."

"Why?" he enquired coldly.

"Oh, have you no _curiosity_ yourself--especially about who your parents
were; supposing you didn't know?"

"Then it's only out of curiosity that you enquired?"

"Only!" she repeated with a world of woman's scorn. "But what sort of
motives did you expect? I have walked in the whole way this morning just
to end the suspense of wondering! Of course, I'll never tell a soul you
told me."

She threw on him a moving smile.

"You needn't actually tell me outright. Just use some legal
word--'Alibi' if I am right and 'forgery' if I'm wrong!"

Silent Simon's sudden glance chilled her smile. She evidently felt she
had been taking the law in vain.

"I only meant----" she began anxiously.

"I must consult Sir Reginald," he interrupted brusquely.

She made no further effort. That glance seemed to have subdued her
spirit.

"I am sorry I have bothered you," she said as she went.

As the door closed behind her, Mr. Rattar took out his handkerchief and
wiped his brow and his neck. And then he fell to work again upon the
recent records of the firm. Yet, absorbed though he seemed, whenever a
door opened or shut sharply or a step sounded distinctly outside his
room, he would look up quickly and listen, or that expression would come
into his eye which both Mary MacLean and Mr. Ison had described as the
look of one who was watched.



VI

AT NIGHT


When Simon Rattar came to his present villa, he brought from his old
house in the middle of the town (which had been his father's before him)
a vast accumulation of old books and old papers. Being a man who never
threw away an opportunity or anything else, and also a person of the
utmost tidyness, he compromised by keeping this litter in the spare
rooms at the top of the house. In fact Simon was rather pleased at
discovering this use for his superfluous apartments, for he hated
wasting anything.

On this same morning, just before he started for his office, he had
again called his housemaid and given her particular injunctions that
these rooms were not to be disturbed during the day. He added that this
was essential because he expected a gentleman that evening who would be
going through some of the old papers with him.

Perhaps it was the vague feeling of disquiet which possessed Mary
MacLean this morning that made his injunction seem a little curious.
She had been with the master three years and never presumed or dreamt
of presuming to touch his papers. He might have known that, thought
she, without having to tell her not to. Indeed, she felt a little
aggrieved at the command, and in the course of the morning she made a
discovery that seemed to her a further reflection on her discretion.

When she came to dust the passage in which these rooms opened her eye
was at once caught by a sheet of white paper pinned to each of the three
doors. On each of these sheets was written in her master's hand the
words "This room not to be entered. Papers to be undisturbed." The
result was a warning to those who take superfluous precautions. Under
ordinary circumstances Mary would never have thought of touching the
handles of those doors. Now, she looked at them for a few moments and
then tried the handle nearest to her. The door was locked. She tried the
second and the third, and they stood locked too. And the three keys had
all been removed.

"To think of the master locking the doors!" said she to herself after
failing at each in turn. "As if I'd have tried to open them!"

That top storey was of the semi-attic kind, with roofs that sloped
and a sky-light in one of them and the slates close overhead. It was
a grey windy morning, and as she stood there, alone in that large
house save for the cook far away in the kitchen, with a loose slate
rattling in the gusts, and a glimpse of clouds driving over the
sky-light, she began all at once to feel uncomfortable. Those locked
doors were uncanny--something was not as it should be; there was a
sinister moan in the wind; the slate did not rattle quite like an
ordinary slate. Tales of her childhood, tales from the superstitious
western islands, rushed into her mind. And then, all at once, she
heard another sound. She heard it but for one instant, and then with
a pale face she fled downstairs and stood for a space in the hall
trembling and wondering.

She wondered first whether the sound had really come from behind the
locked doors, and whether it actually was some one stealthily moving.
She wondered next whether she could bring herself to confide in cook
and stand Janet's cheerful scorn. She ended by saying not a word, and
waiting to see what happened when the master came home.

He returned as usual in time for a cup of tea. It was pretty dark by
then and Mary was upstairs lighting the gas (but she did not venture up
to the top floor). She heard Mr. Rattar come into the hall, and then,
quite distinctly this time, she heard overhead a dull sound, a kind of
gentle thud. The next moment she heard the master running upstairs, and
when he was safely past she ran even more swiftly down and burst into
the kitchen.

"There's something in yon top rooms!" she panted.

"There's something in your top storey!" snapped cook; and poor Mary said
no more.

When she brought his tea in to Mr. Rattar, she seemed to read in his
first glance at her the same expression that had disturbed her in the
morning, and yet the next moment he was speaking in his ordinary grumpy,
laconic way.

"Have you noticed rats in the house?" he asked.

"Rats, sir!" she exclaimed. "Oh, no, sir, I don't think there are any
rats."

"I saw one just now," he said. "If we see it again we must get some rat
poison."

So it had only been a rat! Mary felt vastly relieved; and yet not
altogether easy. One could not venture to doubt the master, but it was
a queer-like sound for a rat to make.

Mr. Rattar had brought back a great many papers to-day, and sat
engrossed in them till dinner. After dinner he fell to work again, and
then about nine o'clock he rang for her and said:

"The gentleman I expect this evening will probably be late in coming.
Don't sit up. I'll hear him and let him in myself. We shall be working
late and I shall be going upstairs about those papers. If you hear
anybody moving about, it will only be this gentleman and myself."

This was rather a long speech for silent Simon, and Mary thought it
considerate of him to explain any nocturnal sounds beforehand; unusually
considerate, in fact, for he seldom went out of his way to explain
things. And yet those few minutes in his presence made her uncomfortable
afresh. She could not keep her eyes away from that red cut on his chin.
It made him seem odd-like, she thought. And then as she passed through
the hall she heard faintly from the upper regions that slate rattling
again. At least it was either the slate or--she recalled a story of her
childhood, and hurried on to the kitchen.

She and the cook shared the same bedroom. It was fairly large with two
beds in it, and along with the kitchen and other back premises it was
shut off from the front part of the house by a door at the end of the
hall. Cook was asleep within ten minutes. Mary could hear her heavy
breathing above the incessant droning and whistling of the wind, and she
envied her with all her Highland heart. In her own glen people would
have understood how she felt, but here she dared not confess lest she
were laughed at. It was such a vague and nameless feeling, a sixth sense
warning her that all was not well; that _something_ was in the air. The
longer she lay awake the more certain she grew that evil was afoot; and
yet what could be its shape? Everything in that quiet and respectable
household was going on exactly as usual; everything that any one else
would have considered material. The little things she had noticed would
be considered absurd trifles by the sensible. She knew that as well as
they.

She thought she had been in bed about an hour, though the time passed so
slowly that it might have been less, when she heard, faintly and gently,
but quite distinctly, the door from the hall into the back premises
being opened. It seemed to be held open for nearly a minute, as though
some one were standing there listening. She moved a little and the bed
creaked; and then, as gently as it had been opened, the door was closed
again.

Had the intruder come through or gone away? And could it only be
the master, doing this curious thing, or was it some one--or
something--else? Dreadful minutes passed, but there was not a sound of
any one moving in the back passage, or the kitchen, and then in the
distance she could hear the grating noise of the front door being opened
and the rush of wind that accompanied it. It was closed sharply in a
moment and she could catch the sound of steps in the hall and the
master's voice making some remark. Another voice replied, gruff and
muffled and indistinct, and then again the master spoke. Evidently the
late caller had arrived, and a moment later she heard the library door
shut, and it was plain that he and Mr. Rattar were closeted there.

They seemed to remain in the library about a quarter of an hour before
the door opened again, and in a moment the stairs were creaking faintly.
Evidently one or both were going up for the old papers.

All this was exactly what she had been led to expect, and ought to
have reassured her, yet, for no reason at all, the conviction remained
as intense and disturbing as ever, that something unspeakable was
happening in this respectable house. The minutes dragged by till quite
half an hour must have passed, and then she heard the steps descending.
They came down very slowly this time, and very heavily. The obvious
explanation was that they were bringing down one of those boxes filled
with dusty papers which she had often seen in the closed rooms; yet
though Mary knew perfectly that this was the common sense of the matter,
a feeling of horror increased till she could scarcely refrain from
crying out. If cook had not such a quick temper and such a healthy
contempt for this kind of fancy, she would have rushed across to her
bed; but as it was, she simply lay and trembled.

The steps sounded still heavy but more muffled on the hall carpet,
though whether they were the steps of one man or two she could not feel
sure. And then she heard the front door open again and then close; so
that it seemed plain that the visitor had taken the box with him and
gone away. And with this departure came a sense of relief, as devoid of
rational foundation as the sense of horror before. She felt at last that
if she could only hear the master going upstairs to bed, she might go to
sleep.

But though she listened hard as she lay there in the oppressive dark,
she heard not another sound so long as she kept awake, and that was for
some time, she thought. She did get off at last and had been asleep she
knew not how long when she awoke drowsily with a confused impression
that the front door had been shut again. How late it was she could but
guess--about three or four in the morning her instinct told her. But
then came sleep again and in the morning the last part of her
recollections was a little uncertain.

At breakfast the master was as silently formidable as ever and he never
said a word about his visitor. When Mary went to the top floor later the
papers were off the doors and the keys replaced.



VII

THE DRIVE HOME


Under the grey autumnal sky Miss Cicely Farmond drove out of the town
wrapped in Ned Cromarty's overcoat. He assured her he never felt cold,
and as she glanced a little shyly up at the strapping figure by her
side, she said to herself that he certainly was the toughest looking man
of her acquaintance, and she felt a little less contrition for the loan.
She was an independent young lady and from no one else would she have
accepted such a favour, but the laird of Stanesland had such an off-hand
authoritative way with him that, somewhat to her own surprise, she had
protested--and submitted.

The trap was a high dog cart and the mare a flier.

"What a splendid horse!" she exclaimed as they spun up the first hill.

"Isn't she?" said Ned. "And she can go all the way like this, too."

Cicely was therefore a little surprised when at the next hill this flier
was brought to a walk.

"I thought we were going all the way like that!" she laughed.

Ned glanced down at her.

"Are you in a hurry?" he enquired.

"Not particularly," she admitted.

"No more am I," said he, and this time he smiled down at her in a very
friendly way.

So far they had talked casually on any indifferent subject that came to
hand, but now his manner grew a little more intimate.

"Are you going to stay on with the Cromartys long?" he asked.

"I am wondering myself," she confessed.

"I hope you will," he said bluntly.

"It is very kind of you to say so," she said smiling at him a little
shyly.

"I mean it. The fact is, Miss Farmond, you are a bit of a treat."

The quaintness of the phrase was irresistible and she laughed outright.

"Am I?"

"It's a fact," said he, "you see I live an odd lonely kind of life here,
and for most of my career I've lived an odd lonely kind of life too, so
far as girls were concerned. It may sound rum to you to hear a backwood
hunks of my time of life confessing to finding a girl of your age a bit
of a treat, but it's a fact."

"Yes," she said. "I should have thought I must seem rather young and
foolish."

"Lord, I don't mean that!" he exclaimed. "I mean that _I_ must seem a
pretty uninteresting bit of elderly shoe-leather."

"Uninteresting? Oh no!" she cried in protest, and then checked herself
and her colour rose a little.

He smiled humorously.

"I can't see you out of this glass eye unless I turn round, so whether
you're pulling my leg or not I don't know, but I was just saying to old
Simon that the only kind of lady likely to take an interest in me was a
female collector of antique curiosities, and you don't seem that sort,
Miss Farmond."

She said nothing for a moment, and then asked:

"Were you discussing ladies then with Mr. Rattar?"

He also paused for a moment before replying.

"Incidentally in the course of a gossip, as the old chap hadn't got my
business ready for me. By the way, did you get much change out of him?"

She shook her head a little mournfully.

"Nothing at all. He just asked questions instead of answering them."

"So he did with me! Confound the man. I fancy he has made too much money
and is beginning to take it easy. That's one advantage of not being too
rich, Miss Farmond; it keeps you from waxing fat."

"I'm not likely to wax fat then!" she laughed, and yet it was not quite
a cheerful laugh.

He turned quickly and looked at her sympathetically.

"That your trouble?" he enquired in his outspoken way.

Cicely was not by way of giving her confidences easily, but this
straight-forward, friendly attack penetrated her reserve.

"It makes one so dependent," she said, her voice even lower than usual.

"That must be the devil," he admitted.

"It is!" said she.

He whipped up the mare and ruminated in silence. Then he remarked:

"I'm just wondering."

Cicely began to smile.

"Wondering what?"

"What the devil there can be that isn't utterly uninteresting about
me--assuming you weren't pulling my leg."

"Oh," she said, "no man can be uninteresting who has seen as much and
done as much as you have."

"The Lord keep you of that opinion!" he said, half humorously, but only
half, it seemed. "It's true I've knocked about and been knocked about,
but I'd have thought you'd have judged more by results."

She laughed a little low laugh.

"Do you think yourself the results are very bad?"

"Judging by the mirror, beastly! Judging by other standards--well, one
can't see one's self in one's full naked horror, thank Heaven for it
too! But I'm not well read, and I'm not--but what's the good in telling
you? You're clever enough to see for yourself."

For a man who had no intention of paying compliments, Ned Cromarty had
a singular gift for administering the pleasantest--because it was so
evidently the most genuine--form of flattery. In fact, had he but known
it, he was a universal favourite with women, whenever he happened to
meet them; only he had not the least suspicion of the fact--which made
him all the more favoured.

"I don't know very many men," said Cicely, with her serious expression
and a conscientious air, "and so perhaps I am not a good judge, but
certainly you seem to me quite unlike all the others."

"I told you," he laughed, "that the female would have to be a bit of a
collector."

"Oh," she cried, quite serious still, "I don't mean that in the least. I
don't like freaks a bit myself. I only mean--well, people do differ in
character and experience, don't they?"

"I guess you're pretty wise," said he simply. "And I'm sized up right
enough. However, the trouble at present is this blamed mare goes too
fast!"

On their left, the chimneys and roof of a large mansion showed through
the surrounding trees. In this wind-swept seaboard country, its acres of
plantation were a conspicuous landmark and marked it as the seat of some
outstanding local magnate. These trees were carried down to the road in
a narrow belt enclosing an avenue that ended in a lodge and gates. At
the same time that the lodge came into view round a bend in the road, a
man on a bicycle appeared ahead of them, going in the same direction,
and bent over his handle-bars against the wind.

"Hullo, that's surely Malcolm Cromarty!" said Ned.

"So it is!" she exclaimed, and there was a note of surprise in her
voice. "I wonder where he has been."

The cyclist dismounted at the lodge gates a few moments before the trap
pulled up there too, and the young man turned and greeted them. Or
rather he greeted Miss Farmond, for his smile was clearly aimed at her
alone.

"Hullo! Where have you been?" he cried.

"Where have you?" she retorted as she jumped out and let him help her
off with the driving coat.

They made a remarkably good-looking young couple standing together there
on the road and their manner to one another was evidently that of two
people who knew each other well. Sitting on his high driving seat, Ned
Cromarty turned his head well round so as to bring his sound eye to bear
and looked at them in silence. When she handed him his coat and thanked
him afresh, he merely laughed, told her, in his outspoken way, that all
the fun had been his, and whipped up his mare.

"That's more the sort of fellow!" he said to himself gloomily, and for a
little the thought seemed to keep him depressed. And then as he let the
recollections of their drive have their own way undisturbed, he began to
smile again, and kept smiling most of the way home.

The road drew ever nearer to the sea, trees and hedgerows grew even
rarer and more stunted, and then he was driving through a patch of
planting hardly higher than a shrubbery up to an ancient building on the
very brink of the cliffs. The sea crashed white below and stretched grey
and cold to the horizon, the wind whistled round the battlements and
sighed through the stunted trees, and Ned (who had been too absorbed to
remember his coat) slapped his arms and stamped his feet as he descended
before a nail-studded front door with a battered coat of arms above it.

"Lord, what a place!" he said to himself, half critically, half
affectionately.

The old castle of Stanesland was but a small house as castles, or even
mansions, go, almost devoid of architectural ornament and evidently
built in a sterner age simply for security, and but little embellished
by the taste of more degenerate times. As a specimen of a small early
15th Century castle it was excellent; as a home it was inconvenience
incarnate. How so many draughts found their way through such thick walls
was a perennial mystery, and how to convey dishes from the kitchen to
the dining room without their getting cold an almost insoluble problem.

The laird and his sister sat down to lunch and in about ten minutes Miss
Cromarty remarked,

"So you drove Cicely Farmond home?"

Her brother nodded. He had mentioned the fact as soon as he came in, and
rather wondered why she referred to it again.

Miss Cromarty smiled her own peculiar shrewd worldly little smile, and
said:

"You are very silent, Ned."

Lilian Cromarty was a few years older than her brother; though one
would hardly have guessed it. Her trim figure, bright eyes, vivacity
of expression when she chose to be vivacious, and quick movements
might have belonged to a woman twenty years younger. She had never
been pretty, but she was always perfectly dressed and her smile could
be anything she chose to make it. Until her youngest brother came into
the property, the place had been let and she had lived with her friends
and relations. She had had a good time, she always frankly confessed,
but as frankly admitted that it was a relief to settle down at last.

"I was thinking," said her brother.

"About Cicely?" she asked in her frankly audacious way.

He opened his eyes for a moment and then laughed.

"You needn't guess again, Lilian," he admitted.

"Funny little thing," she observed.

"Funny?" he repeated, and his tone brought an almost imperceptible
change of expression into his sister's eye.

"Oh," she said as though throwing the subject aside, "she is nice and
quite pretty, but very young, and not very sophisticated; is she?
However, I should think she would be a great success as a man's girl.
That low voice and those eyes of hers are very effective. Pass me the
salt, Ned."

Ned looked at her in silence, and then over her shoulder out through the
square window set in the vast thickness of the wall, to the grey horizon
line.

"I guess you've recommended me to marry once or twice, Lilian," he
observed.

"Don't 'guess' please!" she laughed, "or I'll stick my bowie knife or
gun or something into you! Yes, I've always advised you to marry--if you
found the right kind of wife."

She took some credit to herself for this disinterested advice, since, if
he took it, the consequences would be decidedly disconcerting to
herself; but she had never pointed out any specific lady yet, or made
any conspicuous effort to find one for him.

"Well----" he began, and then broke off.

"You're not thinking of Cicely, are you?" she asked, still in the same
bright light way, but with a quick searching look at him.

"It seems a bit absurd. I don't imagine for an instant she'd look at
me."

"Wouldn't look----!" she began derisively, and then pulled herself up
very sharply, and altered her tactics on the instant. "She might think
you a little too old for her," she said in a tone of entire agreement
with him.

"And also that I've got one too few eyes, and in fact several other
criticisms."

His sister shrugged her shoulders.

"A girl of that age might think those things," she admitted, "but it
seems to me that the criticism ought to be on the other side. Who is
she?"

Ned looked at her and she broke into a laugh.

"Well," she said, "I suppose we both have a pretty good idea. She's
somebody's something--Alfred Cromarty's, I believe; though of course
her mother may have fibbed, for she doesn't look much like the
Cromartys. Anyhow that pretty well puts her out of the question."

"Why?"

"If you were a mere nobody, it mightn't make so much difference, but
your wife must have some sort of a family behind her. One needn't be
a snob to think that one mother and a guess at the father is hardly
enough!"

"After all, that's up to me. I wouldn't be wanting to marry her
great-mothers, even if she had any."

She shrugged her shoulders again.

"My dear Ned, I'm no prude, but there's always some devilment in the
blood in these cases."

"Rot!" said he.

"Well, rot if you like, but I know more than one instance."

He said nothing for a moment and as he sat in silence, a look of keen
anxiety came into her eye. She hid it instantly and compressed her
lips, and then abruptly her brother said:

"I wonder whether she's at all taken up with Malcolm Cromarty!"

She ceased to meet his eye, and her own became expressionless.

"They have spent some months in the same house. At their age the
consequences seem pretty inevitable."

She had contrived to suggest a little more than she said, and he started
in his chair.

"What do you know?" he demanded.

"Oh, of course, there would be a dreadful row if anything was actually
known abroad. Sir Reginald has probably other ideas for his heir."

"Then there _is_ something between them?"

She nodded, and though she still did not meet his eye, he accepted the
nod with a grim look that passed in a moment into a melancholy laugh.

"Well," he said, rising, "it was a pretty absurd idea anyhow. I'll go
and have a look at myself in the glass and try to see the funny side of
it!"

His sister sat very still after he had left the room.



VIII

SIR REGINALD


Cicely Farmond and Malcolm Cromarty walked up the avenue together, he
pushing his bicycle, she walking by his side with a more than usually
serious expression.

"Then you won't tell me where you've been?" said he.

"You won't tell me where you've been!"

He was silent for a moment and then said confidentially:

"We might as well say we've been somewhere together. I mean, if any one
asks."

"Thank you, I don't need to fib," said she.

"I don't mean I need to. Only----" he seemed to find it difficult to
explain.

"I shall merely say I have been for a walk, and you need only say you
have been for a ride--if you don't want to say where you have really
been."

"And if you don't want to mention that you were driving with Ned
Cromarty," he retorted.

"He only very kindly offered me a lift!"

She looked quickly at him as she spoke and as quickly away again. The
glint in her eye seemed to displease him.

"You needn't always be so sharp with me, Cicely," he complained.

"You shouldn't say stupid things."

Both were silent for a space and then in a low mournful voice he said:

"I wish I knew how to win your sympathy, Cicely. You don't absolutely
hate me, do you?"

"Of course I don't hate you. But the way to get a girl's sympathy is not
always to keep asking for it."

He looked displeased again.

"I don't believe you know what I mean!"

"I don't believe you do either."

He grew tender.

"_Your_ sympathy, Cicely, would make all the difference to my life!"

"Now, Malcolm----" she began in a warning voice.

"Oh, I am not asking you to love me again," he assured her quickly. "It
is only sympathy I demand!"

"But you mix them up so easily. It isn't safe to give you anything."

"I won't again!" he assured her.

"Well," she said, though not very sympathetically, "what do you want to
be sympathised with about now?"

"When you offer me sympathy in that tone, I can't give you my
confidence!" he said unhappily.

"Really, Malcolm, how can I possibly tell what your confidence is going
to be beforehand? Perhaps it won't deserve sympathy."

"If you knew the state of my affairs!" he said darkly.

"A few days ago you told me they were very promising," she said with a
little smile.

"So they would be--so they are--if--if only you would care for me,
Cicely!"

"You tell me they are promising when you want me to marry you, and
desperate when you want me to sympathise with you," she said a little
cruelly. "Which am I to believe?"

"Hush! Here's Sir Reginald," he said.

The gentleman who came through a door in the walled garden beside the
house was a fresh-coloured, white-haired man of sixty; slender and not
above middle height, but very erect, and with the carriage of a person a
little conscious of being of some importance. Sir Reginald Cromarty was,
in fact, extremely conscious of his position in life, and the rather
superior and condescending air he was wont to assume in general society
made it a little difficult for a stranger to believe that he could
actually be the most popular person in the county; especially as it was
not hard to discover that his temper could easily become peppery upon
provocation. If, however, the stranger chanced to provide the worthy
baronet with even the smallest opening of exhibiting his extraordinary
kindness of heart--were it only by getting wet in a shower or mislaying
a walking stick, he would quickly comprehend. And the baronet's sympathy
never waited to be summoned; it seemed to hover constantly over all men
and women he met, spying for its chance.

He himself was totally unconscious of this attribute and imagined the
respect in which he was held to be due to his lineage, rank, and
superior breeding and understanding. Indeed, few people in this world
can have cut a more dissimilar figure as seen from his own and from
other men's eyes; though as both parties were equally pleased with Sir
Reginald Cromarty, it mattered little.

At the sight of Cicely his smile revealed the warmth of his feelings in
that direction.

"Ah, my dear girl," said he, "we've been looking for you. Where have you
been?"

"I've been having a walk."

She smiled at him as she answered, and on his side it was easy to see
that the good gentleman was enraptured, and that Miss Farmond was not
likely to be severely cross-examined as to her movements. Towards
Malcolm, on the other hand, though his greeting was kindly enough, his
eye was critical. The young author's tie seemed to be regarded with
particular displeasure.

"My God, Margaret, imagine being found dead in such a thing!" he had
exclaimed to his wife, after his first sight of it; and time had done
nothing to diminish his distaste for this indication of a foreign way of
life.

Lady Cromarty came out of the garden a moment later; a dark thin-faced
lady with a gracious manner when she spoke, but with lips that were
usually kept very tight shut and an eye that could easily be hard.

"Nearly time for lunch," she said. "You two had better hurry up!"

The young people hurried on to the house and the baronet and his lady
walked slowly behind.

"So they have been away all morning together, Reginald," she remarked.

"Oh, I don't think so," said he. "He had his bicycle and she has been
walking."

"You are really too unsuspicious, Reggie!"

"A woman, my dear, is perhaps a little too much the reverse where a
young couple is concerned. I have told you before, and I repeat it now
emphatically, that neither Cicely nor Malcolm is in a position to
contemplate matrimony for an instant."

"He is your heir--and Cicely is quite aware of it."

"I assure you, Margaret," he said with great conviction, "that Cicely is
not a girl with mercenary motives. She is quite charming----"

"Oh, I know your opinion of her, Reggie," Lady Cromarty broke in a
trifle impatiently, "and I am fond of her too, as you know. Still, I
don't believe a girl who can use her eyes so effectively is quite as
simple as you think."

Sir Reginald laughed indulgently.

"Really, my love, even the best of women are sometimes a trifle
uncharitable! But in any case Malcolm has quite enough sense of his
future position to realise that his wife must be somebody without the
blemish on her birth, which is no fault of dear Cicely's, but--er--makes
her ineligible for this particular position."

"I wish I could think that Malcolm is the kind of young man who would
consult anything but his own wishes. I have told you often enough,
Reggie, that I don't think it is wise to keep these two young people
living here in the same house for months on end."

"But what can one do?" asked the benevolent baronet. "Neither of them
has any home of their own. Hang it, I'm the head of their family and I'm
bound to show them a little hospitality."

"But Malcolm has rooms in town. He needn't spend months on end at
Keldale."

The baronet was silent for a moment. Then he said:

"To tell the truth, my dear, I'm afraid Malcolm is not turning out quite
so well as I had hoped. He certainly ought to be away doing something.
At the same time, hang it, you wouldn't have me turn my own kinsman and
heir out of my house, Margaret; would you?"

Lady Cromarty sighed, and then her thin lips tightened.

"You are hopeless, Reggie. I sometimes feel as though I were here merely
as matron of a home for lost Cromartys! Well, I hope your confidence
won't be abused. I confess I don't feel very comfortable about it
myself."

"Well, well," said Sir Reginald. "My own eyes are open too, I assure
you. I shall watch them very carefully at lunch, in the light of what
you have been saying."

The baronet was an old Etonian, and as his life had been somewhat
uneventful since, he was in the habit of drawing very largely on his
recollections of that nursery of learning. Lunch had hardly begun before
a question from Cicely set him going, and for the rest of the meal he
regaled her with these reminiscences.

After luncheon he said to his wife:

"Upon my word, I noticed nothing whatever amiss. Cicely is a very
sensible as well as a deuced pretty girl."

"I happened to look at Malcolm occasionally," said she.

Sir Reginald thought that she seemed to imply more than she said, but
then women were like that, he had noticed, and if one took all their
implications into account, life would be a troublesome affair.



IX

A PHILOSOPHER


During luncheon an exceedingly efficient person had been moving briskly
behind the chairs. His face was so expressionless, his mouth so tightly
closed, and his air of concentration on the business in hand so intense,
that he seemed the perfect type of the silent butler. But as soon as
lunch was over, and while Cicely still stood in the hall listening with
a dubious eye to Malcolm's suggestion of a game of billiards, Mr. James
Bisset revealed the other side of his personality. He came up to the
young couple with just sufficient deference, but no more, and in an
accent which experts would have recognised as the hall mark of the
western part of North Britain, said:

"Excuse me, miss, but I've mended your bicycle and I'll show it you if
ye like, and just explain the principle of the thing."

There was at least as much command as invitation in his tones. The
billiard invitation was refused, and with a hidden smile Cicely followed
him to the bicycle house.

Expert knowledge was James Bisset's foible. Of some subjects, such as
buttling, carpentry, and mending bicycles, it was practical; of others,
such as shooting, gardening, and motoring, it was more theoretical. To
Sir Reginald and my lady he was quite indispensable, for he could repair
almost anything, knew his own more particular business from A to Z, and
was ready at any moment to shoulder any responsibility. Sir Reginald's
keeper, gardener, and chauffeur were apt however to be a trifle less
enthusiastic, Mr. Bisset's passion for expounding the principles of
their professions sometimes exceeding his tact.

In person, he was an active, stoutly built man (though far too energetic
to be fat), with blunt rounded features, eyes a little protruding, and
sandy hair and a reddish complexion which made his age an unguessable
secret. He might have been in the thirties or he might have been in the
fifties.

"With regard to these ladies' bicycles, miss--" he began with a
lecturer's air.

But by this time Cicely was also an expert in side-tracking her friend's
theoretical essays.

"Oh, how clever of you!" she exclaimed rapturously. "It looks as good as
ever!"

The interruption was too gratifying to offend.

"Better in some ways," he said complacently. "The principle of these
things is----"

"I did miss it this morning," she hurried on. "In fact I had to have
quite a long walk. Luckily Mr. Cromarty of Stanesland gave me a lift
coming home."

"Oh, indeed, miss? Stanesland gave ye a lift, did he? An interesting
gentleman yon."

This time she made no effort to divert Mr. Bisset's train of thought.

"You think Mr. Cromarty interesting, then?" said she.

"They say he's hanged a man with his ain hands," said Bisset
impressively.

"What!" she cried.

"For good and sufficient reason, we'll hope, miss. But whatever the way
of it, it makes a gentleman more interesting in a kin' of way than the
usual run. And then looking at the thing on general principles, the
theory of hanging is----"

"Oh, but surely," she interrupted, "that isn't the only reason why Mr.
Cromarty--I mean why you think he is interesting?"

"There's that glass eye, too. That's very interesting, miss."

She still seemed unsatisfied.

"His glass eye! Oh--you mean it has a story?"

"Vera possibly. He says himself it was done wi' a whisky bottle, but
possibly that's making the best of it. But what interests me, miss,
about yon eye is this----"

He paused dramatically and she enquired in an encouraging voice:

"Yes, Bisset?"

"It's the principle of introducing a foreign substance so near the man's
brain. What's glass? What's it consist of?"

"I--I don't know," confessed Cicely weakly.

"Silica! And what's silica? Practically the same as sand! Well now if ye
put a handful of sand into a man's brain--or anyhow next door to it,
it's bound to have some effect, bound to have some effect!"

Bisset's voice fell to a very serious note, and as he was famous for the
range of his reading and was generally said to know practically by heart
"The People's Self-Educator in Science and Art," Cicely asked a little
apprehensively:

"But what effect can it possibly have?"

"It might take him different ways," said the philosopher cautiously
though sombrely. "But it's a good thing, anyway, Miss Farmond, that the
laird of Stanesland is no likely to get married."

"Isn't he?" she asked, again with that encouraging note.

Bisset replied with another question, asked in an ominous voice:

"Have ye seen yon castle o' his, miss?"

Cicely nodded.

"I called there once with Lady Cromarty."

"A most interesting place, miss, illustrating the principle of thae
castles very instructively."

Mr. Bisset had evidently been studying architecture as well as science,
and no doubt would have given Miss Farmond some valuable information on
the subject. But she seemed to lack enthusiasm for it to-day.

"But will the castle prevent him marrying?" she enquired with a smile.

"The lady in it will," said the philosopher with a sudden descent into
worldly shrewdness.

"Miss Cromarty! Why?"

"She's mair comfortable there than setting off on her travels again.
That's a fac', miss."

"But--but supposing he----" Cicely began and then paused.

"Oh, the laird's no the marrying sort anyhow. He says to me himself one
day when I'd taken the liberty of suggesting that a lady would suit the
castle fine--we was shooting and I was carrying his cartridges, which I
do for amusement, miss, whiles--'Bisset,' says he, 'the lady will have
to be a damned keen shot to think me worth a cartridge. I'm too tough
for the table,' says he, 'and not ornamental enough to stuff. They've
let me off so far, and why the he--' begging your pardon, miss, but
Stanesland uses strong expressions sometimes. 'Why the something,' says
he, 'should they want to put me in the bag now? I'm happier free--and
so's the lady.' But he's a grand shot and a vera friendly gentleman,
vera friendly indeed. It's a pity, though, he's that ugly."

"Ugly!" she exclaimed. "Oh, I don't think him ugly at all. He's very
striking looking. I think he is rather handsome."

Bisset looked at her with a benevolently reproving eye.

"Weel, miss, it's all a matter of taste, but to my mind Stanesland is a
fine gentleman, but the vera opposite extreme from a Venus." He broke
off and glanced towards the house. "Oh, help us! There's one of thae
helpless women crying on me. How this house would get on wanting
me----!"

He left Miss Farmond to paint the gloomy picture for herself.



X

THE LETTER


It was a few days later that Cicely looked up from the local paper she
was reading and asked:

"Who was George Rattar?"

Sir Reginald laid down his book and looked at her in some surprise.

"George Rattar? What do you know about him?"

"I see the announcement of his death. 'Son of the late John Simon
Rattar' he's called."

"That's Silent Simon's brother!" exclaimed Sir Reginald. "Where did he
die?"

"In New York, it says."

Sir Reginald turned to his wife.

"We can hardly send our sympathies to Simon on this bereavement!"

"No," she said significantly. "I suppose congratulations would be more
appropriate."

The baronet took the paper from Cicely and studied it himself.

"Died about a fortnight ago, I see," he observed. "I wonder whether
Simon put this announcement in himself, or whether brother George
arranged it in his will? It would be quite like the fellow to have this
posthumous wipe at Simon. George had a certain sense of humour--which
Simon lacks. And there was certainly no love lost between them!"

"Why should it annoy Mr. Rattar?" asked Cicely.

"Because brother George was not a member of his family he would care to
be reminded of. Though on the other hand, Simon is as hard as whinstone
and has as much sentiment as this teapot, and he may have put the notice
in himself simply to show the world he was rid of the fellow."

"What was George Rattar then?" enquired Cicely.

"He was once Simon Rattar's partner, wasn't he, Reginald?" said Lady
Cromarty. "And then he swindled him, didn't he?"

"Swindled several other people as well," said Sir Reginald, "myself
included. However, the thing was hushed up, and brother George
disappeared. Then he took to forgery on his own account and among other
people's signatures he imitated with remarkable success was Simon's.
This let old Simon in for it again and there was no hushing it up a
second time. Simon gave evidence against him without mercy, and since
then George has been his Majesty's guest for a number of years. So if
you meet Mr. Simon Rattar, Cicely, you'd better not tell him how sorry
you are to hear of poor George's decease!"

"I wish I could remember him more distinctly," said Lady Cromarty. "I'm
afraid I always mix him up with our friend Mr. Simon."

"It's little wonder," her husband replied. "They were twins. George was
the one with a moustache; one knew them apart by that. Extraordinary
thing, it has always seemed to me, that their natures should have been
so different."

"Perhaps," suggested Cicely compassionately, with her serious air, "it
was only that George was tempted."

Sir Reginald laughed heartily.

"You little cynic!" he cried. "You mean to insinuate that if you tempted
Simon, he'd be as bad a hat as his brother?"

"Oh, no!" cried Cicely. "I meant----"

"Tempt him and see!" chuckled the baronet. "And we'll have a little bet
on the result!" He was glancing at the paper as he laughed, and now he
suddenly stopped laughing and exclaimed, "Hullo! Here's a much more
serious loss for our friend. Would you like to earn £1, Cicely?"

"Very much," said she.

"Well then if you search the road very carefully between Mr. Simon
Rattar's residence and his office you may find his signet ring and
obtain the advertised, and I may say princely, reward of one pound."

"Only a pound!" exclaimed Lady Cromarty, "for that handsome old ring of
his?"

"If he had offered a penny more, I should have taken my business out of
his hands!" laughed Sir Reginald. "It would have meant that Silent Simon
wasn't himself any longer. A pound is exactly his figure; a respectable
sum, but not extravagant."

"What day did he lose it?" asked Cicely.

"The advertisement doesn't say."

"He wasn't wearing it----" Cicely pulled herself up sharply.

"When?" asked Lady Cromarty.

"Where can I have seen him last?" wondered Cicely with an innocent air.

"Not for two or three weeks certainly," said Lady Cromarty decisively.
"And he can't have lost it then if this advertisement is only just put
in."

"No, of course not," Cicely agreed.

"Well," said Sir Reginald, "he'll miss his ring more than his brother!
And remember, Cicely, you get a pound for finding the ring, and you win
a pair of gloves if you can tempt Simon to stray from the paths of
honesty and virtue! By Jingo, I'll give you the gloves if you can even
make him tell a good sporting lie!"

When the good baronet was in this humour no man could excel him in
geniality, and, to do him justice, a kindly temper and hearty spirits
were the rule with him six days out of seven. On the other hand, he was
easily ruffled and his tempers were hot while they lasted. Upon the very
next morning there arose on the horizon a little cloud, a cloud that
seemed at the moment the merest fleck of vapour, which upset him, his
family thought, quite unduly.

It took the form of a business letter from Mr. Simon Rattar, a letter
on the surface perfectly innocuous and formally polite. Yet Sir Reginald
seemed considerably disturbed.

"Damn the man!" he exclaimed as he cast it on the breakfast table.

"Reggie!" expostulated his wife gently. "What's the matter?"

"Matter?" snapped her husband. "Simon Rattar has the impudence to tell
me he is letting the farm of Castleknowe to that fellow Shearer after
all!"

"But why not? You meant to some time ago, I know."

"Some time ago, certainly. But I had a long talk with Simon ten days ago
and told him what I'd heard about Shearer and said I wouldn't have the
fellow on my property at any price. I don't believe the man is solvent,
in the first place; and in the second place he's a socialistic,
quarrelsome, mischievous fellow!"

"And what did Mr. Rattar think?"

"He tried to make some allowances for the man, but in the end when he
saw I had made up my mind, he professed to agree with me and said he
would look out for another tenant. Now he tells me that the matter is
settled as per my instructions of the 8th. That's weeks ago, and not a
word does he say about our conversation cancelling the whole
instructions!"

"Then Shearer gets the farm?"

"No, he doesn't! I'm dashed if he does! I shall send Mr. Simon a letter
that will make him sit up! He's got to alter the arrangement somehow."

He turned to Malcolm and added:

"When your time comes, Malcolm, beware of having a factor who has run
the place so long that he thinks it's his own property! By Gad, I'm
going to tell him a bit of my mind!"

During the rest of breakfast he glanced at the letter once or twice, and
each time his brows contracted, but he said nothing more in presence of
Cicely and Malcolm. After he had left the dining room, however, Lady
Cromarty followed him and said:

"Don't be too hasty with Mr. Rattar, Reggie! After all, the talk may
have slipped his memory."

"Slipped his memory? If you had heard it, Margaret, you'd know better. I
was a bit cross with him for a minute or two then, which I hardly ever
am, and that alone would make him remember it, one would think. We
talked for over an hour on the business and the upshot was clear and
final. No, no, he has got a bit above himself and wants a touch of the
curb."

"What are you going to do?" she asked.

"I'm going to send in a note by car and tell him to come out and see me
about the business at once."

"Let me see the letter before you send it, Reggie."

He seemed to growl assent, but when she next saw him the letter had
gone; and from the baronet's somewhat crusty explanation, she suspected
that it was a little sharper than he knew she would have approved.

When the car returned his annoyance was increased again for a space. Mr.
Rattar had sent a brief reply that he was too busy to come out that
afternoon, but he would call on Sir Reginald in the morning. For a time
this answer kept Sir Reginald in a state of renewed irritation, and then
his natural good humour began to prevail, till by dinner time he was
quite calm again, and after dinner in as genial humour as he had been in
the day before.

He played a game of pyramids with Cicely and Malcolm in the billiard
room, and then he and Cicely joined Lady Cromarty in the drawing room
while the young author went up to his room to work, he declared. He had
a large bedroom furnished half as a sitting room where he retired each
night to compose his masterpieces as soon as it became impossible to
enjoy Miss Farmond's company without having to share it in the drawing
room with his host and hostess. At least, that was the explanation of
his procedure given by Lady Cromarty, whose eye was never more critical
than when it studied her husband's kinsman and heir.

Lady Cromarty's eye was not uncritical also of Cicely at times, but
to-night she was so relieved to see how Sir Reginald's temper improved
under her smiles and half shy glances, that she let her stay up later
than usual. Then when she and the girl went up to bed, she asked her
husband if he would be late.

"The magazines came this morning," said he. "I'd better sleep in my
dressing room."

The baronet was apt to sit up late when he had anything to read that
held his fancy, and the procedure of sleeping in his dressing room was
commonly followed then.

He bade them good-night and went off towards the library, and a few
minutes later, as they were going upstairs, they heard the library door
shut.

When they came to Lady Cromarty's room, Cicely said good-night to her
hostess and turned down the passage that led to her own bedroom. A door
opened quietly as she passed and a voice whispered:

"Cicely!"

She stopped and regarded the young author with a reproving eye.

"Is anything the matter?" she asked.

"I just wanted to speak to you!" he pleaded.

"Now, Malcolm," she said severely, "you know quite well that Lady
Cromarty trusts us _not_ to do this sort of thing!"

"She's in her room, isn't she?"

"What does that matter?"

"And where's Sir Reginald?"

"Still in the library."

"Sitting up late?"

"Yes, but that doesn't matter either. Good night!"

"Wait just one minute, Cicely! Come into my room--I won't shut the
door!"

"Certainly not!" she said emphatically.

"Well then, don't speak so loudly! I must confide in you, Cicely; I'm
getting desperate. My position is really serious. Something's got to
happen! If you would only give me your sympathy----"

"I thought you were writing," she interrupted.

"I've been trying to, but----"

"Well, write all this down and read it to me to-morrow," she smiled.
"Good night!"

"The blame be on your head!" began the author dramatically, but the slim
figure was already moving away, throwing him a parting smile that seemed
to wound his sensitive soul afresh.



XI

NEWS


Even in that scattered countryside of long distances by windy roads,
with scarcely ever a village as a focus for gossip, news flew fast. The
next morning Ned Cromarty had set out with his gun towards a certain
snipe marsh, but while he was still on the high road he met a man on a
bicycle. The man had heard strange news and stopped to pass it on, and
the next moment Ned was hurrying as fast as his long legs could take him
back to the castle.

He saw his sister only for a moment.

"Lilian!" he cried, and the sound of his voice made her start and stare
at him. "There's a story that Sir Reginald was murdered last night."

"Murdered!" she repeated in a low incredulous voice. "Ridiculous, Ned!
Who told you?"

"I only know the man by sight, but he seemed to believe it right
enough."

"But how--who did it?"

Her brother shook his head.

"Don't know. He couldn't tell me. My God, I hope it's not true! I'm off
to see."

A few minutes later he was driving his mare headlong for his kinsman's
house. It had begun to rain by this time, and the mournful wreaths of
vapour that swept over the bare, late autumnal country and drove in fine
drops against his face sent his spirits down ever lower as the mare
splashed her way along the empty miles of road. The melancholy thrumming
of the telegraph wires droned by his side all the while, and as this
dirge waxed for the moment as they passed each post, his eye would
glance grimly at those gaunt poles. Very suitable and handy for a
certain purpose, they struck him--if by any possibility this tale were
true.

He knew the worst when he saw Bisset at the door.

"Thank God, you've come, sir," said the butler devoutly. "The master
would have expected it of you."

"How did it happen? What does it mean? Do you mean to say it's actually
_true_?"

Bisset shook his head sombrely.

"Ower true," said he. "But as to how it happened, come in to the
library, sir. It was in his ain library he was killed! The Fiscal and
Superintendent is there now and we've been going into the circumstantial
evidence. Most extraordinary mystery, sir--most extraordinary!"

In the library they found Simon Rattar and Superintendent Sutherland.
The Superintendent was a big burly red-moustached man; his face a
certificate of honesty, but hardly of the intellectual type. Ned looked
round him apprehensively for something else, but Bisset said:

"We've taken him upstairs, sir."

For a moment as he looked round that spacious comfortable room with its
long bookcases and easy chairs, and on the tables and mantel-piece a
hundred little mementoes of its late owner, the laird of Stanesland was
unable to speak a word, and the others respected his silence. Then he
pulled himself together sharply and asked:

"How did it happen? Tell me all about it!"

Perhaps there might have been for a moment in Simon's eye a hint that
this demand was irregular, but the superintendent evidently took no
exception to the intrusion. Besides being a considerable local magnate
and a kinsman of the dead baronet, Stanesland had a forcible personality
that stood no gainsaying.

"Well, sir," said the superintendent, "Mr. Rattar could perhaps explain
best----"

"Explain yourself, Sutherland," said Simon briefly.

The superintendent pointed to a spot on the carpet a few paces from the
door.

"We found Sir Reginald lying there," he said. "His skull had been fairly
cracked, just over the right eye, sir. The blow would have been enough
to kill him I'd think myself, but there were marks in his neck too,
seeming to show that the murderer had strangled him afterwards to make
sure. However, we'll be having the medical evidence soon. But there's no
doubt that was the way of it, and Mr. Rattar agrees with me."

The lawyer merely nodded.

"What was it done with?"

The superintendent pursed his lips and shook his head.

"That's one of the mysterious things in the case, sir. There's no sign
of any weapon in the room. The fire irons are far too light. But it was
an unco' heavy blow. There was little bleeding, but the skull was fair
cracked."

"Was anything stolen?"

"That's another mystery, sir. Nothing was stolen anywhere in the house
and there was no papers in a mess like, or anything."

"When was he found?" asked Ned.

"Seven-fifty this morning, sir," said Bisset. "The housemaid finding the
door lockit came to me. I knew the dining-room key fitted this door too,
so I opened it--and there he lay."

"All night, without any one knowing he hadn't gone to bed?"

"That's the unfortunate thing, sir," said the superintendent. "It seems
that Sir Reginald had arranged to sleep in his dressing room as he was
going to be sitting up late reading."

"Murderer must have known that," put in Simon.

"Almost looks like it," agreed the superintendent.

"And nobody in the house heard or saw anything?"

"Nobody, sir," said the superintendent.

"That's their statement," added the lawyer in his driest voice.

"Was anybody sitting up late?"

"Nobody admits it," said the lawyer, again very drily.

"Thirteen," said Bisset softly.

They turned towards him, but it seemed that he was talking to himself.
He was, in fact, quietly taking measurements with a tape.

"Go on," said Cromarty briefly.

"Well, sir," said the superintendent. "The body was found near the door
as I was pointing out, but it's a funny thing that a small table had
been upset apparently, and Bisset tells us that that table stood near
the window."

"Humph," grunted Simon sceptically.

"I'm quite sure of it, Mr. Rattar," said Bisset confidently, looking
round from his work of measurement.

"No positive proof it was upset," said the lawyer.

"Did you find it upset?" asked Ned.

The lawyer shook his head emphatically and significantly, and the
superintendent agreed.

"No, it was standing just where it is now near the wall."

"Then why do you think it was upset?"

"I picked up yon bits of sealing wax and yon piece of India rubber,"
said Bisset, looking round again. "I know they were on the wee table
yesterday and I found them under the curtain in the morning and the
table moved over to the wall. It follows that the table has been cowpit
and then set up again in another place, and the other things on it put
back. Is that not a fair deduction, sir?"

Ned nodded thoughtfully.

"Seems to me so," he said.

"It seems likely enough," the superintendent also agreed. "And if that's
the case there would seem to have been some kind of ongoings near the
window."

The Procurator Fiscal still seemed unconvinced.

"Nothing to go on. No proper evidence. It leads nowhere definitely," he
said.

"Well now," continued the superintendent, "the question is--how did the
murderer get into the room? The door was found locked and the key had
been taken away, so whether he had locked it from the inside or the
outside we can't tell. There's small chance of finding the key, I doubt,
for a key's a thing easy hidden away."

"So he might have come in by the door and then left by the door and
locked it after him," said Ned. "Or he might have come in by the window,
locked the door and gone out by the window. Or he might have come in by
the window and gone out by the door, locking it after him. Those are all
the chances, aren't they?"

"Indeed, that seems to be them all," said the superintendent with a note
of admiration for this clear exposition that seemed to indicate he was
better himself at details than deductions.

"And now what about the window? Was that open or shut or what?"

"Shut but not snibbed, sir."

Ned turned to Bisset.

"Did Sir Reginald ever forget to snib the windows, supposing one
happened to be open?"

"Practically never, sir."

"Last thing before he left the room, I suppose?" said the lawyer.

The butler hesitated.

"I suppose so, sir," he admitted, "but of course I was never here to
see."

"Exactly!" said Simon. "Therefore one can draw no conclusions as to
whether the window had been standing all the time just as it is now, or
whether it had been opened and shut again from the outside; seeing that
Sir Reginald was presumably killed before his usual time for looking to
the windows."

"Wait a bit!" said Ned. "I was assuming a window had been open. But were
the windows fastened before Sir Reginald came in to sit here last
thing?"

"Certainly they were that," said the butler emphatically.

"It was a mild night, he might have opened one himself," replied the
Procurator Fiscal. "Or supposing the man had come in and left again by
the door, what's more likely than that he unsnibbed the window to make
people think he had come that way?"

"He would surely have left it wide open," objected Ned.

"Might have thought that too obvious," replied the lawyer, "or might
have been afraid of the noise. Unsnibbing would be quite enough to
suggest entry that way."

Ned turned his keen eye hard on him.

"What's your own theory then?"

"I've none," grunted Simon. "No definite evidence one way or the other.
Mere guesses are no use."

Ned walked to the window and looked at it carefully. Then he threw it up
and looked out into the garden.

"Of course you've looked for footsteps underneath?" he asked.

"Naturally," said Simon. "But it's a hard gravel path and grass beyond.
One could fancy one saw traces, but no definite evidence."

The window was one of three together, with stone mullions between. They
were long windows reaching down nearly to the level of the floor, so
that entrance that way was extremely easy if one of them were open.
Cromarty got out and stood on the sill examining the middle sash.

Simon regarded him with a curious caustic look for a moment in his eye.

"Looking for finger marks?" he enquired.

"Yes," said Ned. "Did you look for them?"

For a single instant the Procurator Fiscal seemed a little taken aback.
Then he grunted with a half laugh:

"Don't believe much in them."

"Experienced criminals, that's been convicted before, frequently wears
gloves for to prevent their finger prints being spotted," said the
learned Bisset.

Mr. Rattar shot him a quick ambiguous glance, and then his eyes assumed
their ordinary cold look and he said:

"No evidence anybody ever opened that window from the outside. If they
had, Sir Reginald would have heard them."

"Well," said Ned, getting back into the room, "there are no finger marks
anyhow."

"The body being found near the door certainly seems to be in favour of
Mr. Rattar's opinion," observed the superintendent.

"I thought Mr. Rattar had formed no opinion yet," said Cromarty.

"No more I have," grunted the lawyer.

The superintendent looked a trifle perplexed.

"Before Mr. Cromarty had come in, sir, I understood you for to say
everything pointed to the man having come in by the door and hit Sir
Reginald on the head as he came to see who it was when he heard him
outside."

"I merely suggested that," said Simon Rattar sharply. "It fits the
facts, but there's no definite evidence yet."

Ned Cromarty had turned and was frowning out of the window. Now he
wheeled quickly and exclaimed:

"If the murderer came in through the window while Sir Reginald was in
the room, either the window was standing open or Sir Reginald opened it
for him! Did Sir Reginald ever sit with his window open late at night at
this time of year?"

"Never once, sir," said Bisset confidently. "He likit fresh air outside
fine but never kept his windies open much unless the weather was vera
propitious."

"Then," said Ned, "why should Sir Reginald have opened the window of his
own accord to a stranger at the dead of night?"

"Exactly!" said Mr. Rattar. "Thing seems absurd. He'd never do it."

"That's my own opinion likewise, sir," put in Bisset.

"It's only common sense," added the superintendent.

"Then how came the window to be unfastened?" demanded Ned.

"I've suggested a reason," said Simon.

"As a blind? Sounds to me damned thin."

Simon Rattar turned away from him with an air that suggested that he
thought it time to indicate distinctly that he was in charge of the case
and not the laird of Stanesland.

"That's all we can do just now, Sutherland," he said. "No use disturbing
the household any longer at present."

Cromarty stepped up to him suddenly and asked:

"Tell me honestly! Do you suspect anybody?"

Simon shook his head decidedly.

"No sufficient evidence yet. Good morning, Mr. Cromarty."

Ned was following him to the door, his lips compressed and his eyes on
the floor, when Bisset touched his arm and beckoned him back.

"Excuse me, sir," said he, "but could you not manage just to stop on for
a wee bit yet?"

Ned hesitated.

"They won't be wanting visitors, Bisset."

"They needn't know if you don't want them to, sir. Lady Cromarty is shut
up in her room, and the others are keeping out of the way. If you
wouldn't mind my giving you a little cold luncheon in my sitting room,
sir, I'd like to have your help. I'm making a few sma' bits of
investigation on my own. You're one of the family, sir, and I know
you'll be wanting to find out who killed the master."

Ned's eye flashed suddenly.

"By God, I'll never rest in this world or the next till I do! All right,
I'll wait for a bit."



XII

CICELY


Ned Cromarty waited in the hall while Bisset went to the door with the
Procurator Fiscal and Superintendent of Police. As he stood there in the
darkened silence of the house, there came to his ears for an instant the
faint sound of a voice, and it seemed to be a woman's. With that the
current of his thoughts seemed to change, and when Bisset returned he
asked, though with marked hesitation:

"Do you think, Bisset, I could do anything for any of them, Mr. Malcolm
Cromarty, or--er--Miss Farmond?"

Bisset considered the point judicially. It was clear he felt that the
management of the household was in his hands now.

"I am sure Miss Farmond would be pleased, sir--poor young lady!"

"Do you really think so?" said Ned, and his manner brightened visibly.
"Well, if she won't mind----"

"I think if you come this way, sir, you will find her with Sir Malcolm."

"_Sir_ Malcolm!" exclaimed Ned. "My God, so he is!"

To himself he added:

"And she will soon be Lady Cromarty!"

But the thought did not seem to exhilarate him.

He was led towards the billiard room, an addition to the house which lay
rather apart. The door was half open and through it he could see that
the blinds had been drawn down, and he could hear a murmur of voices.

"They are in there, sir," said Bisset, and he left him.

As Ned Cromarty entered he caught the words, spoken by the new baronet:

"My dear Cicely, I depend on your sympathy----"

He broke off as he heard a footstep, and seemed to move a little apart
from the chair where Cicely was sitting.

The two young people greeted their visitor, Cicely in a voice so low
that it was scarcely audible, but with a smile that seemed, he thought,
to welcome him; Sir Malcolm with a tragic solemnity which no doubt was
quite appropriate to a bereaved baronet. The appearance of a third party
seemed, however, to afford him no particular gratification, and after
exchanging a sentence or two, he begged, in a very serious tone, to be
excused, and retired, walking softly and mournfully. Ned noticed then
that his face was extraordinarily pale and his eye disturbed.

"I was afraid of disturbing you," said Ned. He was embarrassed, a rare
condition with him, which, when it did afflict him, resulted in an
impression of intimidating truculence.

Cicely seemed to shrink a little, and he resolved to leave instantly.

"Oh no!" she said shyly.

"I only wanted to say that if I could do anything for you--well, you've
only to let me know."

"It's awfully kind of you," she murmured.

There was something so evidently sincere in this murmur that his
embarrassment forthwith left him.

"Thank Heaven!" he said after his outspoken habit. "I was afraid I was
putting my foot in it. But if you really don't mind my seeing you for a
minute or two, I'd just like to say----"

He broke off abruptly, and she looked up at him questioningly.

"Dash it, I can't say it, Miss Farmond! But you know, don't you?"

She murmured something again, and though he could not quite hear what it
was, he knew she understood and appreciated.

Leaning against the corner of the shrouded billiard table, with the
blinds down and this pale slip of a girl in deep mourning sitting in a
basket chair in the dim light, he began suddenly to realise the tragedy.

"I've been too stunned till now to grasp what's happened," he said in a
moment. "Our best friend gone, Miss Farmond!"

He had said exactly the right thing now.

"He certainly was mine!" she said.

"And mine too. We may live to be a brace of Methuselahs, but I guess
we'll never see his like again!"

His odd phrase made her smile for a moment despite herself. It passed
swiftly and she said:

"_I_ can't believe it yet."

Again there was silence, and then he said abruptly:

"It's little wonder you can't believe it. The thing is so extraordinary.
It's incredible. A man without an enemy in the world--no robbery
attempted--sitting in his own library--in just about the most peaceful
and out of the way county in Scotland--not a sound heard by anybody--not
a reason that one can possibly imagine--and yet murdered!"

"But it must have been a robber surely!"

"Why didn't he rob something then?"

"But how else----?"

"How indeed! You've not a suspicion of any one yourself, Miss Farmond?
Say it right out if you have. We don't lynch here. At least," he
corrected himself as he recalled the telegraph posts, "it hasn't been
done yet."

"I _can't_ suspect any one!" she said earnestly. "I never met any one in
my life that I could possibly imagine doing such a thing!"

"No," he said. "I guess our experiences have been pretty different. I've
met lots, but then there are none of those boys here. Who is there in
this place?"

He paused and stared into space.

"It must have been a tramp--some one who doesn't belong here!"

"I was trying to think whether there are any lunatics about," he said in
a moment. "But there aren't any."

There was silence for some minutes. He was thinking; she never moved.
Then he heard a sound, and looking down saw that she had her
handkerchief in her hand. He had nearly bent over her before he
remembered Sir Malcolm, and at the recollection he said abruptly:

"Well, I've disturbed you too long. If I can do anything--anything
whatever, you'll let me know, won't you?"

"You are very, very kind," she murmured, and a note in her voice nearly
made him forget the new baronet. In fact, he had to retire rather
quickly to be sure of himself.

The efficiency of James Bisset was manifest at every conjuncture.
Businesslike and brisk he appeared from somewhere as Cromarty reached
the hall, and led him from the front regions to the butler's sitting
room.

"I will bring your lunch in a moment, sir," he murmured, and vanished
briskly.

The room looked out on a courtyard at the back, and through the window
Ned could see against the opposite buildings the rain driving in clouds.
In the court the wind was eddying, and beneath some door he could hear
it drone insistently. Though the toughest of men, he shivered a little
and drew up a wicker chair close in front of the fire.

"It's incredible!" he murmured, and as he stared at the flames this
thought seemed to haunt him all the time.

Bisset laid the table and another hour passed. Ned ate a little lunch
and then smoked and stared at the fire while the wind droned and
blustered without ceasing, and occasionally a cross gust sent the rain
drops softly pattering on the panes.

"I'm damned if I see a thing!" he suddenly exclaimed half aloud, and
jumped to his feet.

Before he had time to start for the door, Bisset's mysterious efficiency
was made manifest again. Precisely as he was wanted, he appeared, and
this time it was clear that his own efforts had not been altogether
fruitless. He had in fact an air of even greater complacency than usual.

"I have arrived at certain conclusions, sir," he announced.



XIII

THE DEDUCTIVE PROCESS


Bisset laid on the table a sheet of note paper.

"Here," said he, "is a kin' of bit sketch plan of the library. Observing
this plan attentively, you will notice two crosses, marked A and B. A is
where yon wee table was standing--no the place against the wall where it
was standing this morning, but where it was standing before it was
knocked over last night. B is where the corp was found. You follow that,
sir?"

Ned nodded.

"I follow," said he.

"Now, the principle in a' these cases of crime and detection," resumed
the philosopher, assuming his lecturer's air, "is noticing such sma'
points of detail as escape the eye of the ordinar' observer, taking full
and accurate measurements, making a plan with the principal sites
carefully markit, and drawing, as it were, logical conclusions. Applying
this method now to the present instance, Mr. Cromarty, the first point
to observe is that the room is twenty-six feet long, measured from the
windie, which is a bit recessed or set back, as it were, to the other
end of the apartment. Half of 26 is 13, and if you take the half way
line and draw approximate perpendiculars to about where the table was
standing and to as near as one can remember where the middle of the corp
roughly was lying, you get exactly six feet ten and five-eighths inches,
in both cases."

"An approximate perpendicular to roughly about these places gives this
exact measurement?" repeated Cromarty gravely. "Well, what next?"

"Well, sir, I'll not insist too much on the coincidence, but it seems to
me vera remarkable. But the two significant features of this case seem
to me yon table being upset over by the windie and the corp being found
over by the door."

"You're talking horse sense now," murmured Ned.

"Now, yon table was upset by Sir Reginald falling on it!"

Ned looked at him keenly.

"How do you know?"

"Because one of the legs was broken clean off!"

"What, when we saw it this morning?"

"We had none of us noticed it then, sir; but I've had a look at it
since, and there's one leg broken fair off at the top. The break was
half in the socket, as it were, leaving a kind of spike, and if you
stick that into the socket you can make the table look as good as new.
It's all right, in fac', until you try to move it, and then of course
the leg just drops out."

"And it wasn't like that yesterday?"

"I happened to move it myself not so long before Sir Reginald came into
the room, and that's how I know for certain where it was standing and
that it wasn't broken. And yon wee light tables dinna lose their legs
just with being cowped, supposing there was nothing else than that to
smash them. No, sir, it was poor Sir Reginald falling on top of it that
smashed yon leg."

"Then he was certainly struck down near the window!"

"Well, we'll see that in a minute. It's no in reason, Mr. Cromarty, to
suppose he deliberately opened the windie to let his ain murderer in.
And it's a' just stuff and nonsense to suggest Sir Reginald was sitting
on a winter's night--or next door to winter onyhow, with his windie wide
open. I'm too well acquaint with his habits to believe that for a
minute. And it's impossible the man can have opened a snibbed windie and
got in, with some one sitting in the room, and no alarm given. So it's
perfectly certain the man must have come in at the door. That's a fair
deduction, is it not, sir?"

Ned Cromarty frowned into space in silence. When he spoke it seemed to
be as much to himself as to Bisset.

"How did the window get unsnibbed? Everything beats me, but that beats
me fairly."

"Well, sir, Mr. Rattar may no be just exac'ly as intellectual as me and
you, but I think there's maybe something in his idea it was done to put
us off the scent."

"Possibly--but it strikes me as a derned feeble dodge. However, what's
your next conclusion?"

"My next conclusion is, sir, that Simon Rattar may not be so vera far
wrong either about Sir Reginald hearing some one at the door and
starting to see who it was. Then--bang!--the door would suddenly open,
and afore he'd time to speak, the man had given him a bat on the heid
that finished him."

"And where does the table come in?"

"Well, my explanation is just this, that Sir Reginald suspected
something and took the wee table as a kind of weapon."

"Rot!" said Ned ruthlessly. "You think he left the fireplace and went
round by the window to fetch such a useless weapon as that?"

James Bisset was not easily damped.

"That's only a possibility, sir. Excluding that, what must have
happened? For that's the way, Mr. Cromarty, to get at the fac's; you
just exclude what's not possible and what remains is the truth. If you'd
read----"

"Well, come on. What's your theory now?"

"Just that Sir Reginald backed away from the door with the man after
him, till he got to the table. And then down went him and the table
together."

"And why didn't he cry out or raise the alarm in some way while he was
backing away?"

"God, but that fits into my other deductions fine!" cried Bisset. "I
hadna thought of that. Just wait, sir, till you see how the case is
going to hang together in a minute."

"But how did Sir Reginald's body come to be lying near the door?"

The philosopher seemed to be inspired afresh.

"The man clearly meant to take it away and hide it somewhere--that'll be
just it! And then he found it ower heavy and decided to leave it after
all."

"And who was this man?"

"That's precisely where proper principles, Mr. Cromarty, lead to a
number of vera interesting and instructive discoveries, and I think
ye'll see, sir, that the noose is on the road to his neck already. I've
not got the actual man, mind! In fac' I've no idea who he is, but I can
tell you a good few things about him--enough, in fac', to make escape
practically impossible. In the first place, he was one well acquaint
with the ways of the house. Is that not a fair deduction, sir?"

"Sure!" said Ned. "I've put my bottom dollar on that already."

"He came from inside this house and not outside it. How long he'd been
in the house, that I cannot say, but my own deductions are he'd been in
the house waiting for his chance for a good while before the master
heard him at yon door. Is that not a fair deduction too, sir?"

"It's possible," said Ned, though not with great conviction.

"And now here's a point that accounts for Sir Reginald giving no
alarm--Sir Reginald knew the man and couldna believe he meant
mischief!"

Ned looked at him quickly and curiously.

"Well?" said he.

"Is that not a fair deduction, Mr. Cromarty?"

"Seems to fill the bill."

"And now, here's a few personal details. Yon man was a fair active
strong man to have dealt with the master the way he did. But he was not
strong enough to carry off the corp like a sack of potatoes; he was no a
great muckle big giant, that's to say. And finally, calculating from the
distance the body was from the door and the number of steps he would be
likely to take to the door, and sae arriving at his stride and deducing
his height accordingly, he'd be as near as may be five feet nine inches
tall. Now, sir, me and you ought to get him with a' that known!"

Ned Cromarty looked at him with a curious gleam in his eye.

"What's your own height, Bisset?" he enquired.

"Five feet nine inches," said the reasoner promptly, and then suddenly
his mouth fell open but his voice ceased.

"And now," pursued Ned with a grimly humorous look, "can you not think
of a man just that height, pretty hefty but not a giant, who was
certainly in the house last night, who knew all the ways of it, and who
would never have been suspected by Sir Reginald of meaning mischief?"

"God!" exclaimed the unfortunate reasoner. "I've proved it was mysel'!"

"Well, and what shall I do--string you up now or hand you over to the
police?"

"But, Mr. Cromarty--you don't believe that's right surely?"

Tragic though the occasion was, Ned could not refrain from one brief
laugh. And then his face set hard again and he said:

"No, Bisset, I do not believe it was you. In fact, I wouldn't believe it
was you if you confessed to it. But I'd advise you not to go spreading
your deductions abroad! Deduction's a game that wants a bit more
practice than you or I have had."

It is possible that James Bisset had never looked quite so crestfallen
in his life.

"Then that's all nonsense I've been talking, sir?" he said lugubriously.

"No," said Ned emphatically. "I'll not say that either. You've brought
out some good points--that broken table, the place the body was found,
the possible reason why Sir Reginald gave no alarm; seems to me those
have something to them. But what they mean--what to conclude; we're as
far off that, Bisset, as ever!"

The philosopher's self esteem was evidently returning as fast as it had
gone.

"Then you wouldn't think there would be any harm, sir, in my continuing
my investigations?"

"On your present lines, the only harm is likely to be to yourself. Keep
at it--but don't hang yourself accidentally. And let me know if you
discover anything else--mind that."

"I'll mind on it, no fears, Mr. Cromarty!"

Ned left him with an expression on his countenance which indicated that
the deductive process had already been resumed.

Till he arrived at his own door, the laird of Stanesland was unconscious
of a single incident of his drive home. All the way his eye stared
straight into space. Sometimes a gleam would light it for an instant,
and then he would shake his head and the gleam would fade away.

"I can see neither a damned head nor a damned tail to it!" he said to
himself as he alighted.



XIV

THE QUESTION OF MOTIVE


Two days later Mr. Ison entered Mr. Simon Rattar's room and informed him
that Mr. Cromarty of Stanesland wished to see him on particular
business. The lawyer was busy and this interruption seemed for the
moment distinctly unwelcome. Then he grunted:

"Show him in."

In the minute or two that passed before the laird's entrance, Simon
seemed to be thinking intently and finally to come to a decision, which,
to judge from his reception of his client, was on rather different lines
from his first thoughts when Mr. Cromarty's name was announced. To
describe Simon Rattar at any time as genial would be an exaggeration,
but he showed his nearest approach to geniality as he bade his client
good-morning.

"Sorry to interrupt you," said Ned, "but I can't get this business out
of my head, night or day. Whether you want me or not, I've got to play a
hand in this game; but it's on your side, Mr. Rattar, and maybe I might
be able to help a little if I could get something to go on."

The lawyer nodded.

"I quite understand. Glad to have your help, Mr. Cromarty. Dreadful
affair. We're all trying to get to the bottom of it, I can assure you."

"I believe you," said Ned. "There never was a man better worth avenging
than Sir Reginald."

"Quite so," said Simon briefly, his eyes fixed on the other's face.

"Any fresh facts?"

Simon drew a sheet of paper from his desk.

"Superintendent Sutherland has given me a note of three--for what they
are worth, discovered by the butler. The first is about that table. It
seems a leg has been broken."

"Bisset told me that before I left the house."

"And thought it was an important fact, I suppose?"

"What its importance is, it's hard to say, but it's a fact, and seems to
me well worth noting."

"It is noted," said the Procurator Fiscal drily. "But I can't see that
it leads anywhere."

"Bisset maintains it implies Sir Reginald fell over it when he was
struck down; and that seems to me pretty likely."

Simon shook his head.

"How do we know Sir Reginald hadn't broken it himself previously and
then set it up against the wall--assuming it ever stood anywhere else,
which seems to want confirmation?"

"A dashed thin suggestion!" said Ned. "However, what are the other
discoveries?"

"The second is that one or two small fragments of dried mud were found
under the edge of the curtain, and the third is that the hearth brush
was placed in an unusual position--according to Bisset."

"And what are Bisset's conclusions?"

"That the man, whoever he was, had brought mud into the room and then
swept it up with the hearth brush; these fragments being pieces that he
had swept accidentally under the curtain and so overlooked."

"Good for Bisset!" exclaimed Ned. "He has got there this time, I do
believe."

Simon smiled sceptically.

"Sir Reginald was in the library in his walking boots that afternoon.
Naturally he would leave mud, and quite likely he swept it up himself
then, though the only evidence of sweeping is Bisset's statement about
the brush. And what proof is that of anything? Does your hearth brush
always stay in the same position?"

"Never noticed," said Ned.

"And I don't believe anybody notices sufficiently closely to make their
evidence on such a point worth a rap!" said Simon.

"A servant would."

"Well, Mr. Cromarty, make the most of the hearth brush then."

There seemed for an instant to be a defiant note in the Procurator
Fiscal's voice that made Ned glance at him sharply. But he saw nothing
in his face but the same set and steady look.

"We're on the same side in this racket, Mr. Rattar," said Ned. "I'm
only trying to help--same as you."

Simon's voice seemed now to have exactly the opposite note. For him, his
tone of acquiescence was even eager.

"Quite so; quite so, Mr. Cromarty. We are acting together; exactly."

"That's all the new evidence then?"

Simon nodded, and a few moments of silence followed.

"Tell me honestly," demanded Ned at last, "have you actually no clue at
all? No suspicion of any kind? Haven't you got on the track of any
possible reason for the deed?"

"Reason?" repeated Simon. "Now we come to business, Mr. Cromarty. What's
the motive? That's the point."

"Have you found one?"

Simon looked judicially discreet.

"At this moment all I can tell you is to answer the question: 'Who
benefits by Sir Reginald Cromarty's death?'"

"Well--who did? Seems to me every one who knew him suffered."

"Sentimentally perhaps--but not financially."

Ned looked at him in silence, as if an entirely new point of view were
dawning on his mind. But he compressed his lips and merely asked:

"Well?"

"To begin with, nothing was stolen from the house. Therefore no outside
thief or burglar gained anything. I may add also that the police have
made enquiries throughout the whole county, and no bad characters are
known to be in the place. Therefore there is no ground for supposing the
deed was the work of a robber, and to my mind, no evidence worth
considering to support that view. The only people that gained anything,
Mr. Cromarty, are those who will benefit under Sir Reginald's will."

Cromarty's expression did not change again. This was evidently the new
point of view.

Simon opened a drawer and took from it a document.

"In the ordinary course of events Sir Reginald's will would not be known
till after his funeral to-morrow, but if I may regard this conversation
as confidential, I can tell you the principal facts so far as they
affect this case."

"I don't want you to do anything you shouldn't," said Ned quickly. "If
it's not the proper game to read the will now, don't."

But Silent Simon seemed determined to oblige this morning.

"It is a mere matter of form delaying till to-morrow, and I shall not
read it now; merely tell you the pertinent facts briefly."

"Fire away then. The Lord knows I want to learn every derned pertinent
fact--want to badly!"

"In the first place," the lawyer began, "Lady Cromarty is life rented in
the mansion and property, less certain sums to be paid to other people,
which I am coming to. She therefore lost her husband and a certain
amount of income, and gained nothing that we know of."

"That's a cold-blooded way of putting it," said Ned with something like
a shiver. "However, what next?"

"Sir Malcolm gets £1,000 a year to support him during the life time of
Lady Cromarty, and afterwards falls heir to the whole estate. He
therefore gains a baronetcy and £1,000 a year immediately, and the
estate is brought a stage nearer him. Miss Farmond gets a legacy of
£2,000. She therefore gained £2,000."

"Not that she'll need it," said Ned quickly. "That item doesn't count."

Simon looked at him curiously.

"Why not?" he enquired.

Ned hesitated a moment.

"Perhaps I oughtn't to have said anything," he said, "but this
conversation is confidential, and anyhow the fact will be known soon
enough now, I guess. She is engaged to Sir Malcolm."

For a moment Simon continued to look at him very hard. Then he merely
said:

"Indeed?"

"Of course you won't repeat this till they care to make it known
themselves. I told you so that you'd see a legacy of two thousand pounds
wouldn't count much. It only means an income of--what?"

"One hundred pounds at five per cent; eighty pounds at four."

"Well, that will be neither here nor there now."

Again Simon stared in silence for a moment, but rather through than at
his visitor, it seemed. Then he glanced down at the document again.

"James Bisset gets a legacy of three hundred pounds. There are a few
smaller legacies to servants, but the only two that might have affected
this case do not actually do so. One is John Robertson, Sir Reginald's
chauffeur, but on the night of the crime he was away from home and an
alibi can be established till two in the morning. The other is Donald
Mackay, the gardener, but he is an old man and was in bed with
rheumatism that night."

"I see," observed Ned, "you are giving everybody mentioned in the will
credit for perhaps having committed the murder, supposing it was
physically possible?"

"I am answering the question--who that could conceivably have committed
it, had a motive for doing so? And also, what was that motive?"

"Is that the whole list of them?"

Mr. Rattar glanced at the will again.

"Sir Reginald has cancelled your own debt of twelve hundred pounds, Mr.
Cromarty."

"What!" exclaimed Ned, and for a moment could say no more. Then he said
in a low voice: "It's up to me more than ever!"

"That is the full list of persons within the vicinity two nights ago who
gained by Sir Reginald's death," said Simon in a dry voice, as he put
away the will.

"Including me?" said Ned. "Well, all I've got to say is this, Mr.
Rattar, that my plain common sense tells me that those are no motives at
all. For who knew what they stood to gain by this will? Or that they
stood to gain any blessed thing at all? I hadn't the foggiest notion Sir
Reginald meant to cancel that debt!"

"You may not have known," said Simon still very drily, "and it is quite
possible that Bisset may not have known of his legacy. Though, on the
other hand, it is likely enough that Sir Reginald mentioned the fact
that he would be remembered. But Lady Cromarty presumably knew his
arrangements. And it is most unlikely that he should have said nothing
to his heir about his intention to make him an adequate allowance if he
came into the title and Lady Cromarty was still alive and life rented in
the place. Also, it is highly probable that either Sir Reginald or Lady
Cromarty told Miss Farmond that some provision would be made for her."

Ned Cromarty said nothing for a few moments, but he seemed to be
thinking very hard. Then he rose from his chair and remarked:

"Well, I guess this has all got to be thought over."

He moved slowly to the door, while Simon gazed silently into space. His
hand was on the handle when the lawyer turned in his chair and asked:

"Why was nothing said about Sir Malcolm's engagement to Miss Farmond?"

"Well," said Ned, "the whole thing is no business of mine, but Sir
Reginald had pretty big ideas in some ways and probably one of them was
connected with his heir's marriage."

"A clandestine engagement then?"

Ned Cromarty seemed to dislike the term.

"It's none of my business," he said shortly. "There was no blame on
anyone, anyhow; and mind you, this is absolutely confidential."

The door closed behind him and Simon was left still apparently thinking.



XV

TWO WOMEN


On the day after the funeral Lady Cromarty for the first time felt able
to see the family lawyer. Simon Rattar came out in the morning in a
hired car and spent more than a couple of hours with her. Then for a
short time he was closeted with Sir Malcolm, who, referring to the
interview afterwards, described him as "infernally close and
unsatisfactory"; and finally, in company with the young baronet and
Cicely Farmond, he ate a hurried lunch and departed.

Ever since the fatal evening, Lady Cromarty had been shut up in her own
apartments and the two young people had taken their meals together. Sir
Malcolm at his brightest and best had been capricious company. He was
now moody beyond all Cicely's experience of him. His newborn solemnity
was the most marked feature of his demeanour, but sometimes it dissolved
into pathetic demands for sympathy, and then again froze into profound
and lugubrious silence. He said that he was sleeping badly, and the
pallor of his face and the darkness beneath his eyes seemed to confirm
this. Several times he appeared to be on the point of some peculiarly
solemn disclosure of his feelings or his symptoms, but always ended by
upbraiding his fellow guest for her lack of sympathy, and then relapsing
into silence.

Every now and then on such occasions Cicely caught him staring at her
with an expression she had never seen before, and then looking hurriedly
away; a disconcerting habit that made her own lot none the easier. So
far as the observant Bisset could judge, the baronet seemed, indeed, to
be having so depressing an effect upon the young lady that as her friend
and counsellor he took the liberty of advising a change of air.

"We'll miss you vera much, Miss Farmond," he was good enough to say,
"but I'm thinking that what you want is a seaside resort."

She smiled a little sadly.

"I shall have to make a change very soon, Bisset," she said. "Indeed,
perhaps I ought to have let Lady Cromarty know already that I was ready
to go the moment I was sure I could do nothing more for her."

She began her packing on the morning of Simon's visit. At lunch her air
was a little livelier at first, as if even Simon Rattar were a welcome
variety in a régime of undiluted baronet. Sir Malcolm, too, endeavoured
to do the honours with some degree of cheerfulness; but short though the
meal was, both were silent before the end and vaguely depressed
afterwards.

"I can't stand the old fellow's fishy eye!" declared Sir Malcolm. "I'd
as soon lunch with a cod-fish, dash it! Didn't you feel it too, Cicely?"


"He seemed to look at one so uncomfortably," she agreed. "I couldn't
help feeling he had something on his mind against me, though I suppose
he really doesn't trouble his head about my existence."

"I'm hanged if I like the way he looks at me!" muttered the baronet, and
once again Cicely caught that odd expression in his eye.

That afternoon Bisset informed Miss Farmond that her ladyship desired to
see her. Lady Cromarty's face looked thinner than ever and her lips more
tightly compressed. In her deep mourning and with her grave air, she
seemed to Cicely a monumental figure of tragedy. Her thinness and pallor
and tight lips, she thought only natural, but there was one note that
seemed discordant with pure desolation. The note was sounded by Lady
Cromarty's eyes. At all times they had been ready to harden upon an
occasion, but Cicely thought she had never seen them as hard as they
were now.

"What are your plans, Cicely?" she asked in a low, even voice that
showed no feeling one way or the other.

"I have begun to pack already," said the girl. "I don't want to leave so
long as I can be of any use here, but I am ready to go at any time."

She had expected to be asked where she was going, but Lady Cromarty
instead of putting any question, looked at her for a few moments in
silence. And it was then that a curious uncomfortable feeling began to
possess the girl. It had no definite form and was founded on no reason,
beyond the steady regard of those hard dark eyes.

"I had rather you stayed."

Cicely's own eyes showed her extreme surprise.

"Stayed--here?"

"Yes."

"But are you sure? Wouldn't you really rather be alone? It isn't for my
sake, is it? because--"

"It is for mine. I want you to remain here and keep me company."

She spoke without a trace of smile or any softening of her face, and
Cicely still hesitated.

"But would it really be convenient? You have been very kind to me, and
if you really want me here--"

"I do," interrupted Lady Cromarty in the same even voice. "I want you
particularly to remain."

"Very well then, I shall. Thank you very much--"

Again she was cut short.

"That is settled then. Perhaps you will excuse me now, Cicely."

The girl went downstairs very thoughtfully. At the foot the young
baronet met her.

"Have you settled where to go?" he asked.

"Lady Cromarty has asked me to stay on with her."

His face fell.

"Stay on in this house of mourning? Oh, no, Cicely!"

"I have promised," she said.

The young man grew curiously agitated.

"Oh, don't stay here!" he besought her. "It keeps me in such dreadful
suspense!"

"In suspense!" she exclaimed. "Whatever do you mean, Malcolm?"

Again she saw that look in his eye, and again he raised a
sympathy-beseeching wail. Cicely's patience began to give way.

"Really, Malcolm!" she cried tartly, "if you have anything to say, say
it, but don't go on like a baby!"

"Like a baby!" repeated the deeply affronted baronet. "Heavens, would
you liken me to _that_, of all things! I had meant to confide in you,
Cicely, but you have made it impossible. Impossible!" he repeated
sombrely, and stalked to the door.

Next morning, Sir Malcolm left for London, his confidence still locked
in his breast, and Cicely was alone with Lady Cromarty.



XVI

RUMOUR


One windy afternoon a man on a bicycle struggled up to the door of
Stanesland Castle and while waiting for an answer to his ring, studied
the front of that ancient building with an expression which would at
once have informed his intimates that he was meditating on the
principles of Scottish baronial architecture. A few minutes later Mr.
Bisset was shown into the laird of Stanesland's smoking room and
addressed Mr. Cromarty with a happy blend of consciousness of his own
importance and respect for the laird's.

"I have taken the liberty of calling, sir, for to lay before you a few
fresh datas."

"Fire away," said the laird.

"In the first place, sir, I understand that you have been making
enquiries through the county yourself, sir; is that not so?"

"I've been through this blessed county, Bisset, from end to end to see
whether I could get on the track of any suspicious stranger. I've been
working both with the police and independent of the police, and I've
drawn blank."

Bisset looked distinctly disappointed.

"I've heard, sir, one or two stories which I was hoping might have
something in them."

"I've heard about half a dozen and gone into them all, and there's
nothing in one of them."

"Half a dozen stories?" Bisset's eye began to look hopeful again. "Well,
sir, perhaps if I was to go into some of them again in the light of my
fresh datas, they might wear, as it were, a different aspect."

"Well," said Ned. "What have you found? Have a cigar and let's hear what
you've been at."

The expert crackled the cigar approvingly between his fingers, lit it
with increased approval, and began:

"Yon man was behind the curtains all the time."

"The devil he was! How do you know?"

"Well, sir, it's a matter of deduction. Ye see supposing he came in by
the door, there are objections, and supposing he came in by the windie
there are objections. Either way there are objections which make it
difficult for to accept those theories. And then it struck me--the man
must have been behind the curtains all the while!"

"He must have come either by the door or window to get there."

"That's true, Mr. Cromarty. But such minor points we can consider in a
wee while, when we have seen how everything is otherwise explained. Now
supposing we have the murderer behind the curtains; that brings him
within six feet of where the wee table was standing. How did he get Sir
Reginald to come to the table? He made some kind of sound. What kind of
sound? Some imitation of an animal; probably of a cat. How did Sir
Reginald not cry out when he saw the man? Because he never did see the
man! How did he not see him?"

"Man was a ventriloquist and made a sound in the other direction,"
suggested Ned with extreme gravity.

"God, but that's possible, Mr. Cromarty! I hadna thought of that! Well,
it'll fit into the facts all right, you'll see. My theory was that
either the man threw something at the master and knocked him down that
way, or he was able to reach out and give him a bat on the heid without
moving from the curtains."

"He must have been an awkward customer."

"He was that! A great tall man with long arms. And what had he at the
end of them? Either a club such as savages use or something to throw
like a boomerang. And he could imitate animals, and as you say, he was
probably a ventriloquist. And he was that active and strong he could get
into the house through one of the windies, just like a great monkey. Now
what's the history of that man?"

"Pretty wild, I guess."

"Ah, but one can say more than that, sir. He was not an ordinary
Englishman or Scotchman. He was from the Colonies or America or one of
thae wild places! Is that not a fair deduction, sir?"

"It all points to that," said Ned, with a curious look.

"It points to that indeed, sir. Now where's he hidden himself? It should
not be difficult to find him with all that to go on."

"A tall active strong man who has lived in the Colonies or America; one
ought to get him. Has he only one eye, by any chance?"

The reasoner gazed petrified at his counsellor.

"God, but I've just described yoursel', sir!" he cried in an unhappy
voice.

"You're determined to hang one of us, Bisset."

For a moment Bisset seemed to find conversation difficult. Then he said
miserably:

"So it's no good, and all the alternatives just fa' to pieces."

The extreme dejection of his voice struck the other sharply.

"Alternatives to what?" he asked.

For a few seconds Bisset did not answer.

"What's on your mind, man?" demanded Cromarty.

"The reason, sir, I've got that badly off the rails with my deductions
is just that I _had_ to find some other theory than the story that's
going about."

"What story?"

"You've no heard it, sir?"

Ned shook his head.

"I hardly like to repeat it, sir; it's that cruel and untrue. They're
saying Sir Malcolm and Miss Farmond had got engaged to be married."

"Well?" said Ned sharply, and he seemed to control his feelings with an
effort.

"A secret engagement, like, that Sir Reginald would never have allowed.
But there I think they're right, sir. Sir Reginald was unco' taken up
with Miss Farmond, but he'd have looked higher for his heir. And so as
they couldn't get married while he was alive--neither of them having any
money, well, sir, this story says--"

He broke off and neither spoke for an instant.

"Good God!" murmured Cromarty. "They actually accuse Malcolm Cromarty
and Miss Cicely of--?"

He paused too, and Bisset nodded.

"Who is saying this?"

"It seems to be the clash of the haill country by this time, sir."

He seemed a little frightened at the effect of his own words; and it was
small wonder. Ned Cromarty was a nasty looking customer at that moment.

"Who started the lie?"

"It's just ignorance and want of education of the people, I'm thinking,
Mr. Cromarty. They're no able to grasp the proper principles--"

"Lady Cromarty must be told! She could put a stop to it--"

Something in Bisset's look pulled him up sharply.

"I'm afraid her ladyship believes it herself, sir. Maybe you have heard
she has keepit Miss Farmond to stay on with her."

"I have."

"Well, sir," said Bisset very slowly and deliberately, "I'm
thinking--it's just to watch her."

Ned Cromarty had been smoking a pipe. There was a crack now as his teeth
went through the mouthpiece. He flung the pipe into the fire, jumped up,
and began pacing the room without a word or a glance at the other. At
last he stopped as abruptly as he had started.

"This slander has got to be stopped!"

And then he paced on.

"Just what I was saying to myself, sir. It was likely a wee thing of
over anxiety to stop it that made me think o' the possibility of a wild
man from America, which was perhaps a bit beyond the limits of what ye
might call, as it were, scientific deduction."

"When did Lady Cromarty begin to take up this attitude?"

"Well, the plain truth is, sir, that her ladyship has been keeping sae
much to herself that it's not rightly possible to tell what's been in
her mind. But it was the afternoon when Mr. Rattar had been at the house
that she sent for Miss Farmond and tellt her then she was wanting her to
stop on."

"That would be after she knew the contents of the will! I wonder if the
idea had entered her head before, or if the will alone started it? Old
Simon would never start such a scandal himself about his best client. He
knows too well which side his bread is buttered for that! But he might
have talked his infernal jargon about the motive and the people who
stood to gain by the death. That might have been enough to set her
suspicions off."

"Or I was thinking maybe, sir, it was when her ladyship heard of the
engagement."

"Ah!" exclaimed Ned, stopping suddenly again, "that's possible. When did
she hear?"

Bisset shook his head.

"That beats me again, sir. Her own maid likely has been telling her
things the time we've not been seeing her."

"Did the maid--or did you know about the engagement?"

"Servants are uneducated creatures," said Bisset contemptuously. "And
women at the best have just the ae' thought--who's gaun to be fool
enough to marry next? They were always gossiping about Mr. Malcolm and
Miss Cicely, but there was never what I should call a data to found a
deduction on; not for a sensible person. I never believed it myself, but
it's like enough her ladyship may have suspected it for a while back."

"I suppose Lady Cromarty has been nearly distracted?"

"Very near, sir."

"That's her only excuse. But the story is such obvious nonsense, Bisset,
that surely no one in their proper senses really believes it?"

The philosopher shook a wise head.

"I have yet to learn, Mr. Cromarty, what folks will not believe."

"They've got to stop believing this!" said Ned emphatically.



XVII

A SUGGESTION


Next morning Simon Rattar was again informed that Mr. Cromarty of
Stanesland wished to see him, and again the announcement seemed to be
unwelcome. He was silent for several seconds before answering, and when
he allowed Mr. Cromarty to be shown in, it was with an air which
suggested the getting over a distasteful business as soon as possible.

"Well, Mr. Cromarty?" he grunted brusquely.

Mr. Cromarty never beat about the bush.

"I've come to see you about this scandalous story that's going round."

The lawyer glanced at the papers he had been busy with, as if to
indicate that they were of more importance than scandals.

"What story?" he enquired.

"That Sir Malcolm and Miss Farmond were concerned in Sir Reginald's
murder."

There was something compelling in Ned's directness. Simon pushed aside
the papers and looked at him fixedly.

"Oh," he said. "They say that, do they?"

"Haven't you heard?"

Simon's grunt was non-committal.

"Well anyway, this derned story is going about, and something's got to
be done to stop it."

"What do you suggest?"

"Are you still working the case for all you know how?"

Simon seemed to resent this enquiry a little.

"I am the Procurator Fiscal. The police make the actual enquiries. They
have done everything they could."

"'They have done'? Do you mean that they have stopped looking for the
murderer?"

"Certainly not. They are still enquiring; not that it is likely to be
much further use."

There seemed to be a sardonic note in his last words that deepened
Cromarty's frown and kindled his eye.

"You mean to suggest that any conclusion has been reached?"

"Nothing is absolutely certain," said Simon.

Again the accent on the "absolutely" seemed to rouse his visitor's ire.

"You believe this story, do you?"

"If I _believed_ it, I should order an arrest. I have just told you
nothing is absolutely certain."

"Look here," said Cromarty, "I don't want to crab Superintendent
Sutherland or his men, but you want to get somebody better than them on
to this job."

Though the Procurator Fiscal kept his feelings well in hand, it was
evident that this suggestion struck him more unfavourably than anything
his visitor had said yet. He even seemed for one instant to be a little
startled by its audacity.

"I disagree," he muttered.

"Now don't you take offence, Mr. Rattar," said Ned with a sudden smile.
"I'm not aiming this at you, but, hang it, you know as well as I do that
Sutherland is no great shakes at detection. They are all just country
bobbies. What we want is a London detective."

Simon seemed to have recovered his equanimity during this speech. He
shook his head emphatically, but his voice was as dispassionately
brusque as ever.

"London detective? Much over-rated people, I assure you. No use in a
case of this kind."

"The very kind of case a real copper-bottomed expert would be some use
in!"

"You are thinking of detectives in stories, Mr. Cromarty. The real men
are no better than Sutherland--not a bit. I believe in Sutherland.
Better man than he looks. Very shrewd, most painstaking. Couldn't have a
better man. Useless expense getting a man from London."

"Don't you trouble about the expense, Mr. Rattar. That can be arranged
all right. I want a first class man engaged."

The sudden glance which the lawyer shot at him, struck Ned as unusual in
his experience of Simon Rattar. He appeared to be startled again, and
yet it was not mere annoyance that seemed to show for the fraction of a
second in his eye. And then the next instant the man's gaze was as cold
and steady as ever. He pursed his lips and considered his answer in
silence before he spoke.

"You are a member of the family, Mr. Cromarty; the actual head of it, in
fact, I believe."

"Going by pedigrees, I believe I am, but being a member is reason enough
for my wanting to get daylight through this business--and seeing
somebody swing for it!"

"What if you made things worse?"

"Worse! How could they be?"

"Mr. Cromarty, I am the Procurator Fiscal in charge of this case. But I
am also lawyer and factor to the Cromarty family, and my father was
before me. If there was evidence enough--clear and proper evidence--to
convict any person of this crime, it would be my duty as Procurator
Fiscal to convict them. But there is no definite evidence, as you know
yourself. All we can do, if we push this matter too far, is to make a
family scandal public. Are you as the head of the Cromarty family, and I
as their factor, to do this?"

It was difficult to judge with what feelings Ned Cromarty heard this
deliberate statement and appeal. His mouth was as hard as the lawyer's
and his eye revealed nothing.

"Then you propose to hush the thing up?"

"I said nothing about hushing up. I propose to wait till I get some
_evidence_, Mr. Cromarty. It is a little difficult perhaps for a layman
to realise what evidence means, but I can tell you--and any lawyer, or
any detective, would tell you--we have nothing that can be called
evidence yet."

"And you won't get any till you call in somebody a cut above
Sutherland."

"The scent is too cold by this time--"

"Who let it cool?" interrupted Ned.

For a moment the lawyer's eyes looked unpleasant.

"Every effort was made to find a clue; by yourself as well as by the
police. And let me tell you, Mr. Cromarty, that our efforts have not
been as fruitless as you seem to think."

"What have we discovered?"

"In the first place that there was no robbery committed and no sign of
anybody having entered the house from the outside."

Ned shook his head.

"That's a lot too strong. I believe the man _did_ come in by the
window."

"You admit there is no proof?"

"Sure," said Ned candidly. "I quite admit there is no proof of
anything--yet."

"No robbery, no evidence of anyone having come in by the window--"

"No proof," corrected Ned. "I maintain that the window being unsnibbed
and that mud on the floor and the table near the window being upset is
evidence; but not proof positive."

Simon's patience had by this time become exemplary. His only wish seemed
to be to convince by irresistible argument this obstinate objector. It
struck the visitor, moreover, that in this effort the lawyer was
displaying a fluency not at all characteristic of silent Simon.

"Well, let us leave it at that. Suppose there be a possibility that
entry was actually made by the window. It is a bare possibility against
the obvious and easy entrance by the door,--near which, remember, the
body was found. Then, as I have pointed out, there was no robbery, and
not a trace has been found of anybody outside that house with a motive
for the crime."

"Except me."

"Unless you care to except yourself. But neither you nor the police have
found any bad characters in the place."

"That's true enough," Ned admitted reluctantly.

"On the other hand, there were within the house two people with a very
strong motive for committing the crime."

"I deny that!" cried Ned with a sudden gleam of ferocity in his eye that
seemed to disconcert the lawyer.

"Deny it? You can scarcely deny that two young people, in love with one
another and secretly engaged, with no money, and no chance of getting
married, stood to gain everything they wanted by a death that gave them
freedom to marry, a baronetcy, a thousand a year, and two thousand in
cash besides?"

"Damn it, Mr. Rattar, is the fact that a farmer benefits by a shower any
evidence that he has turned on the rain?"

"I have repeatedly said, Mr. Cromarty, that there is no definite
evidence to convict anybody. But nothing would have been easier than
making an end of Sir Reginald Cromarty, to anybody inside that house
whom he would never suspect till they struck the blow. All the necessary
conditions are fulfilled by this view of the case, whereas every other
view--every other view, mind you, Mr. Cromarty--is confronted with these
difficulties:--no robbery, no definite evidence of entry, no explanation
of Sir Reginald's extraordinary silence when the man appeared, no bad
characters in the neighbourhood, and, above all, no motive."

At the end of this speech Simon shut his mouth tight and leaned back in
his chair. For a moment it seemed as though Ned Cromarty was impressed
by the lawyer's view of the case. But when he replied, his voice, though
deliberate had a fighting ring in it, and his single eye, a fighting
light.

"Then you propose to leave this young couple under the most damnable
cloud of suspicion that a man and a woman could lie under--simply leave
'em there, and let that be the end of it?"

Simon seemed to be divided between distaste for this way of putting the
case, and anxiety still to convince his visitor.

"I propose to avoid the painful family scandal which further disclosures
and more publicity would almost certainly bring about; so long as I am
justified as Procurator Fiscal in taking this course. And until I get
more evidence, I am not only justified but forced to take this course."

Ned suddenly jumped to his feet.

"I'm no lawyer," said he, "but to me you seem to be arguing in the
damnedest circle I ever met. You won't do anything because you can't
get more evidence. And you won't look for more evidence because you
don't want to do anything."

There was more than a hint of temper in Simon's eye and his answer was
rapped out sharply.

"I certainly do not _want_ to cause a family scandal. I haven't said all
I could say about Sir Malcolm if I were pressed."

"Why not?"

"I've told you. Suspicion is not evidence, but if I do get evidence,
those who will suffer by it had better beware!"

Ned turned at the door and surveyed him with a cool and caustic eye.

"That's talk," he said, "and something has got to be _done_."

He was gone, and Simon Rattar was left frowning at the closed door
behind him. The frown remained, but became now rather thoughtful than
indignant. Then he sprang up and began to pace the floor, deliberately
at first, and then more rapidly and with increasing agitation.



XVIII

£1200


Ned Cromarty had returned home and was going upstairs, when he heard a
voice cry:

"Ned!"

The ancient stone stair, spiralling up round the time-worn pillar that
seemed to have no beginning or end, gave at intervals on to doors which
looked like apertures in a cliff. Through one of these he turned and at
the end of a brief passage came to his sister's sitting room. In that
mediæval setting of ponderous stone, it looked almost fantastic in its
daintiness. It was a small room of many cushions and many colours, its
floor covered with the softest rugs and its walls with innumerable
photographs, largely of country houses where Miss Cromarty had visited.

Evidently she was a lady accustomed to a comfortable life in her roving
days, and her sitting room seemed to indicate very distinctly that she
proposed to live up to this high standard permanently.

"Oh Neddy dear, I want to talk to you about something," she began in her
brisk way and with her brightest smile.

Her brother, though of a simple nature, was by this time aware that when
he was termed "Neddy dear" the conversation was apt to turn on Miss
Cromarty's requirements.

"Well," said he, "how much is the cheque to be this time?"

"How clever you're getting!" she laughed. "But it isn't a cheque I want
this time. It's only a motor car."

He looked at her doubtfully for a moment.

"Pulling my leg; or a real car?"

"Real car of course--nice one too!"

"But, my dear girl, we've just put down our car. You agreed it was
necessary."

"I agreed then; but it isn't necessary now."

"Have you come into a fortune? I haven't!"

"You've come into £1200."

Again he looked at her, and this time his expression changed.

"That's only a debt wiped out."

"Well, and your great argument for economy was that you had to pay back
that debt. Now you haven't. See, Neddy dear?"

Her brother began to shake his head, and her smile became a little less
bright.

"I don't want to get my affairs into a tangle again just yet."

"But they weren't in a bad tangle. Cancelling that debt makes us
absolutely all right again. It's absurd for people like us not to have a
car! Look at the distances from our neighbours! One can't go anywhere.
I'll undertake to keep down the household expenses if you get the car."

Her brother frowned out of the window.

"No," he said, "it's too soon to get a car again."

"But you told me you had got part of that £1200 in hand and hoped to
make up the rest very soon. What are you going to do with the money
now?"

He glanced at her over his shoulder for an instant and then his mouth
assumed a grim and obstinate look she knew too well.

"I may need the money," he said briefly. "And I'm not much in the mood
at this moment for buying things."

Behind his back Lilian made a little grimace. Then in a tone of sisterly
expostulation she said:

"You are worrying too much over this affair, Ned. You've done all you
can----"

He interrupted her brusquely:

"And it's dashed little! What have I actually done? Nothing! One needs a
better man than me."

"Well, there's your friend Silent Simon, and all the police--"

"A fat lot of good they are!" said Ned.

His sister looked a little surprised at his unusual shortness of temper.
To her he was very rarely like this.

"You need a good day's shooting to take your mind off it for a little,"
she suggested.

He turned upon her hotly.

"Do you know the story that's going about, Lilian?"

"Sir Malcolm and the Farmond girl? Oh, rather," she nodded.

"Is that how it strikes you?"

Lilian Cromarty jumped. There was something very formidable in her
brother's voice.

"My dear Ned, don't frighten me! Eat me if you like, but eat me quietly.
I didn't say I believed the story."

"I hope not," he said in the same grim tone, "but do you mean to say it
doesn't strike you as the damnedest slander ever spread?"

"Between myself I hadn't called it the 'damnedest' anything. But how do
I know whether it's a slander?"

"You actually think it might conceivably be true?"

She shrugged her well-gowned shoulders.

"I never could stand Malcolm Cromarty--a conceited little jackanapes. He
hasn't a penny and he was head over ears in debt."

It was his turn to start.

"Was he?"

"Oh, rather! Didn't you know? Owed money everywhere."

"But such a crime as that!"

"A man with ties and hair like his is capable of anything. You know
quite well yourself he is a rotter."

"Anyhow you can't believe Cicely Farmond had anything to do with it?"

Again she shrugged her shoulders.

"My dear Ned, I'm not a detective. A pretty face is no proof a woman is
a saint. I told you before that there was generally something in the
blood in those cases."

As he stared at her, it seemed as though her words had indeed rushed
back to his memory, and that they hit him hard.

"People don't say that, do they?" he asked in a low voice.

"Really, Ned, I don't know everything people say: but they are not
likely to overlook much in such a case."

He stood for a moment in silence.

"She--I mean they've both got to be cleared!" he said, and strode out of
the room.



XIX

THE EMPTY COMPARTMENT


It was on this same evening that Superintendent Sutherland was almost
rewarded for his vigilance by having something distinctly suspicious to
report. As it happened, it proved a disappointing incident, but it gave
the superintendent something to think about.

He was going a few stations down the line to investigate a rumour of a
suspicious person seen in that neighbourhood. It was a vague and
improbable rumour and the superintendent was setting out merely as a
matter of form, and to demonstrate his vigilance and almost abnormal
sense of duty. Darkness had already fallen for an hour or two when he
strode with dignified gait down the platform, exchanging a greeting with
an acquaintance or two, till he came to the front carriage of the train.
He threw open the door of the rear compartment, saw that it was empty,
and was just going to enter when glancing over his shoulder he perceived
his own cousin Mr. MacAlister upon the platform. Closing the door, he
stepped down again and greeted him.

Mr. MacAlister hailed him with even more than usual friendliness, and
after a few polite preliminaries drew him insidiously towards the far
side of the platform. An intelligent, inveterate and persevering
curiosity was Mr. MacAlister's dominating characteristic, and as soon as
he had got his distinguished kinsman out of earshot of the herd, he
inquired in a hushed voice:

"And what's doing aboot the murder noo, George?"

The superintendent pursed his lips and shook his head.

"Aye, man, yon's a proper puzzle," said he.

"But you'll have gotten a guid idea whae's din it by noo, George?" said
Mr. MacAlister persuasively.

"Weel," admitted the superintendent, "we maybe have our notions, but
there's no evidence yet, Robbie; that's the fair truth. As the fiscal
says, there's no evidence."

"I'd like fine to hae a crack wi' you aboot it, George," sighed Mr.
MacAlister. "I may tell you I've notions of ma own; no bad notions
either."

"Well," said the superintendent, moving off, "I'd have enjoyed a crack
myself if it wasna that I've got to be off by this train--"

"Man!" cried his kinsman, "I'm for off by her mysel'! Come on, we'll hae
our crack yet."

The tickets had already been taken and the doors were closed as the two
recrossed the platform.

"This carriage is empty," said the superintendent, and threw open the
door of the same compartment he had almost entered before.

But it was not empty now. In one of the further corners sat a man
wrapped in a dark coloured ulster. A black felt hat was drawn down over
his eyes, and his muffled face was resting on his hand. So much the
superintendent saw in the brief moment during which he stood at the open
door, and it struck him at once that the man must be suffering from
toothache. And then his cousin caught him by the arm and drew him back.

"Here, man, the carriage next door is empty!" cried he, and the
superintendent closed the door and followed him.

It was scarcely more than a minute later when the whistle blew and they
were off, and Mr. MacAlister took out his pipe and prepared himself to
receive official confidences. But the miles went by, and though he plied
his questions incessantly and skilfully, no confidences were
forthcoming. The superintendent, in fact, had something else to think
about. All at once he asked abruptly:

"Robbie, did ye see yon man next door sitting with his face in his
hands?"

"Aye," said Mr. MacAlister, "I noticed the man."

"Did ye ken who he was?"

"No," said Mr. MacAlister, "I did not."

"Had ye seen him on the platform?"

"No," said Mr. MacAlister, "I had not."

"I didna see him myself," said the superintendent musingly. "It seems
funny-like a man dressed like yon and with his face wrapped up too--and
a man forbye that's a stranger to us both, coming along the platform
and getting into that carriage, and me not noticing him. I'm not used
not to notice people, Robbie."

"It's your business, George," said Mr. MacAlister, and then as he gazed
at his cousin's thoughtful face, his own grew suddenly animated.

"You're not thinking he's to dae wi' the murder, are you!" he cried.

"I'm not sure what to think till I've had another look into yon
carriage," said the superintendent cautiously.

"We're slowing doon the noo!" cried Mr. MacAlister, "God, George, I'll
come and hae a look wi' you!"

The train was hardly in the platform before the superintendent was out,
with Mr. MacAlister after him, and the door of the next compartment
was open almost as soon as the train was at rest. Never had the
superintendent been more vigilant; and never had his honest face
looked blanker.

"God! It's empty!" he murmured.

"God save us!" murmured Mr. MacAlister, and then he was visited by an
inspiration which struck his relative afterwards as one of the
unhappiest he had ever suffered from. "This canna be the richt
carriage!" he cried. "Come on, Geordie, let's hae a look in the ithers!"

By the time they had looked into all the compartments of the carriage,
the guard was waving his flag and the two men climbed hurriedly in
again. The brooding silence of the superintendent infected even Mr.
MacAlister, and neither spoke for several minutes. Then the
superintendent said bitterly:

"It was you hurrying me off to look in thae other carriages, Robbie!"

"What was?" inquired Mr. MacAlister a little nervously.

"I ought to have stopped and looked under the seats!"

Mr. MacAlister shook his head and declared firmly:

"There was naething under the seats. I could see that fine. And onyhow
we can hae a look at the next stop."

"As if he'll be waiting for us, now he kens we're looking for him!"

"But there was naething there!" persisted Mr. MacAlister.

"Then what's come over the man? Here were we sitting next the platform.
He can't have got out afore we started, or we'd have seen him. Folks
don't disappear into the air! I'll try under the seats, though I doubt
the man will have been up and out while we were wasting our time in yon
other carriages."

At the next station they searched that mysterious compartment earnestly
and thoroughly, but there was not a sign of the muffled stranger, under
the seats or anywhere else. Again the superintendent was silent for a
space, and then he said confidentially:

"I'm just wondering if it's worth while reporting the thing, Robbie. The
fiscal might have a kin' of unpleasant way of looking at it. Besides,
there's really naething to report. Anyhow I'll think it over. And that
being the case, the less said the better. I can tell ye all that's known
about the case, Robbie; knowing that you'll be discreet."

"Oh, you can trust me," said Mr. MacAlister earnestly,--"I'll no breathe
a word o' yon man. Weel, now, you were saying you'd tell me the haill
story."

By this judicious arrangement Mr. MacAlister got his money's worth of
sensational disclosures, and the superintendent was able to use his
discretion and think the incident over. He thought over it very hard and
finally decided that he was demonstrating his vigilance quite
sufficiently without mentioning the trifling mystery of the empty
compartment.



XX

THE SPORTING VISITOR


In summer and autumn, visitors were not uncommon in this remote
countryside; mostly shooting or fishing people who rented the country
houses, raised the local prices, and were described by the tradesmen as
benefiting the county greatly. But in late autumn and winter this
fertilising stream ceased to flow, and when the trains from the south
crawled in, the porters and the boots from the hotels resigned
themselves to welcoming a merely commercial form of traveller.

It was therefore with considerable pleasure and surprise that they
observed one afternoon an unmistakeably sporting gentleman descend from
a first class compartment and survey them with a condescending yet
affable eye.

"Which is the best of these hotels?" he demanded with an amiable smile,
as he surveyed through a single eyeglass the names on the caps of the
various boots.

His engaging air disarmed the enquiry of embarrassment, and even when he
finally selected the Kings Arms Hotel, the other boots merely felt
regret that they had not secured so promising a client. His luggage
confirmed the first favourable impression. It included a gun case, a
bag of golf clubs, and one or two handsome leather articles. Evidently
he meant to make more than a passing visit, and as he strolled down the
platform, his leisurely nonchalant air and something even in the way in
which he smoked his cigarette in its amber holder, suggested a gentleman
who, having arrived here, was in no hurry to move on. On a luggage label
the approving boots noted the name of "F. T. Carrington."

When he arrived at the Kings Arms, Mr. Carrington continued to produce
favourable impressions. He was a young man, apparently a little over
thirty, above middle height, with a round, ingenuous, very agreeable
face, smooth fair hair, a little, neatly trimmed moustache, and a
monocle that lent just the necessary touch of distinction to what might
otherwise have been a too good-humoured physiognomy. His tweed suit was
fashionably cut and of a distinctly sportive pattern, and he wore a pair
of light spats. In short, there could be no mistaking him for anything
but a gentleman of position and leisure with strong sporting
proclivities, and his manner amply confirmed this. It was in fact almost
indolent in its leisurely ease.

Miss Peterkin, the capable manageress of the Kings Arms, was at
first disposed to think Mr. Carrington a trifle too superior, and,
as she termed it, "la-de-da," but a very few minutes' conversation
with the gentleman completely reassured her. He was so polite and so
good-humoured and so ready to be pleased with everything he saw and
anything she suggested, that they became firm friends within ten minutes
of his arrival, and after Mr. Carrington had disposed of his luggage in
the bedroom and private sitting room which he engaged, and partaken of a
little dinner, she found herself welcoming him into her own sitting room
where a few choice spirits nightly congregated.

It is true that these spirits, though choice, were hardly of what she
called Mr. Carrington's "class," but then in all her experience she had
never met a gentleman of such fashion and such a superior air, who
adapted himself so charmingly to any society. In fact, "charming" was
the very adjective for him, she decided.

About his own business he was perfectly frank. He had heard of the
sporting possibilities of the county and had come to look out for a bit
of fishing or shooting; preferably fishing, for it seemed he was an
enthusiastic angler. Of course, it was too late in the season for any
fishing this year, but he was looking ahead as he preferred to see
things for himself instead of trusting to an agent's description. He had
brought his gun just on the chance of getting a day somewhere, and his
club in case there happened to be a golf links. In short, he seemed
evidently to be a young man of means who lived for sport; and what other
question could one ask about such a satisfactory type of visitor?
Absolutely none, in Miss Peterkin's opinion.

As a matter of fact, she found very early in the evening, and continued
to find thereafter, that the most engaging feature of Mr. Carrington's
character was the interest he took in other people's business, so that
the conversation very quickly strayed away from his own concerns--and
remained away. It was not that he showed any undue curiosity; far from
it. He was simply so sympathetic and such a good listener and put
questions that showed he was following everything you said to him in a
way that really very few people did. And, moreover, in spite of his
engaging frankness, there was an indefinable air of discretion about him
that made one feel safe to tell him practically everything. She herself
told him the sad story of her brother in Australia (a tale which, as a
rule, she told only to her special intimates) before he had been in her
room half an hour.

But with the arrival of three or four choice spirits, the conversation
became more general, and it was naturally not long before it turned on
the greatest local sensation and mystery within the memory of man--the
Cromarty murder. Mr. Carrington's surprise was extreme when he realised
that he was actually in the county where the tragedy had occurred,
within a very few miles of the actual spot, in fact. Of course, he had
read about it in the papers, but only cursorily, it seemed, and he had
no idea he was coming into the identical district that had acquired such
a sinister notoriety.

"By Jove!" he exclaimed more than once when he had made this discovery,
"I say, how interesting!"

"Oh," said Miss Peterkin with becoming pride, "we are getting quite
famous, I can assure you, Mr. Carrington."

"Rather so!" cried he, "I've read quite a lot about this Carnegie
case----"

"Cromarty," corrected one of the spirits.

"Cromarty, of course, I mean! I'm rather an ass at names, I'm afraid."
The young man smiled brightly and all the spirits sympathised. "Oh yes,
I've seen it reported in the papers. And now to think here I am in the
middle of it, by George! How awfully interesting! I say, Miss Peterkin,
what about these gentlemen having another wee droppie with me, all
round, just to celebrate the occasion?"

With such an appreciative and hospitable audience, Miss Peterkin and the
choice spirits spent a long and delightful evening in retailing every
known circumstance of the drama, and several that were certainly unknown
to the authorities. He was vastly interested, though naturally very
shocked, to hear who was commonly suspected of the crime.

"Do you mean to say his own heir--and a young girl like that----? By
Jove, I say, how dreadful!" he exclaimed, and, in fact, he would hardly
believe such a thing conceivable until all the choice spirits in turn
had assured him that there was practically no doubt about it.

The energetic part played by Mr. Simon Rattar in unravelling the dark
skein, or at least in trying to, was naturally described at some length,
and Mr. Carrington showed his usual sympathetic, and, one might almost
say, entranced appreciation of the many facts told him concerning that
local celebrity.

Finally Miss Peterkin insisted on getting out the back numbers of the
local paper giving the full details of the case, and with many thanks he
took these off to read before he went to bed.

"But mind you don't give yourself the creeps and keep yourself from
going to sleep, Mr. Carrington!" she warned him with the last words.

"By Jove, that's an awful thought!" he exclaimed, and then his eyes
twinkled. "Send me up another whisky and soda to cure the creeps!" said
he.

Miss Peterkin thought he was quite one of the pleasantest, and promised
to be one of the most profitable gentlemen she had met for a very long
time.

Next morning he assured her he had kept the creeps at bay sufficiently
to enjoy an excellent night's sleep in a bed that did the management
credit. In fact, he had thoroughly enjoyed reading the mystery and had
even begun to feel some curiosity to see the scene of the tragedy. He
proposed to have a few walks and drives through the neighbouring
country, he said, looking at its streams and lochs with an eye to
sporting possibilities, and it would be interesting to be able to
recognise Keldale House if he chanced to pass near it.

Miss Peterkin told him which road led to Keldale and how the house might
be recognised, and suggested that he should walk out that way this very
morning. He seemed a little doubtful; spoke of his movements as things
that depended very much on the whim of the moment, just as such an
easy-going young man would be apt to do, and rather indicated that a
shorter walk would suit him better that morning.

And then a few minutes later she saw him saunter past her window,
wearing a light gray felt hat at a graceful angle and apparently taking
a sympathetic interest in a small boy trying to mount a bicycle.



XXI

MR. CARRINGTON'S WALK


Mr. Carrington's easy saunter lasted till he had turned out of the
street on which the Kings Arms stood, when it passed into an easy walk.
Though he had seemed, on the whole, disinclined to go in the Keldale
direction that morning, nevertheless he continued to head that way till
at last he was on the high road with the little town behind him; and
then his pace altered again. He stepped out now like the sportsman he
was, and was doing a good four miles an hour by the time he was out of
sight of the last houses.

For a man who had come out to gather ideas as to the sporting
possibilities of the country, Mr. Carrington seemed to pay singularly
little attention to his surroundings. He appeared, in fact, to be
thinking about something else all the time, and the first sign of
interest he showed in anything outside his thoughts was when he found
himself within sight of the lodge gates of Keldale House, with the
avenue sweeping away from the road towards the roofs and chimneys amid
the trees. At the sight of this he stopped, and leaning over the low
wall at the road side gazed with much interest at the scene of the
tragedy he had heard so much of last night. The choice spirits, had
they been there to see, would have been gratified to find that their
graphic narratives had sent this indolent looking gentleman to view the
spot so swiftly.

From the house and grounds his eye travelled back to the road and then
surveyed the surrounding country very attentively. He even stood on top
of the wall to get a wider view; and then all of a sudden he jumped down
again and adopted the reverse procedure, bending now so that little more
than his head appeared above the wall. And the reason for this change of
plan appeared to be a figure which had emerged from the trees and began
to move along a path between the fields.

Mr. Carrington studied this figure with concentrated attention, and as
it drew nearer and became more distinct, a light leapt into his eye that
gave him a somewhat different expression from any his acquaintances of
last night had observed. He saw that the path followed a small stream
and ran at an angle to the high road, joining it at last at a point some
little distance back towards the town. He looked quickly up and down the
road. Not a soul was in sight to see his next very curious performance.
The leisurely Mr. Carrington crossed to the further side, where he was
invisible from the path, and then set out to run at a rapid pace till he
reached the junction of path and road. And then he turned down the path.

But now his bearing altered again in a very extraordinary way. His gait
fell once more to a saunter and his angling enthusiasm seemed suddenly
to have returned, for he frequently studied the burn as he strolled
along, and there was no sign of any thoughtfulness on his ingenuous
countenance. There were a few willows beside the path, and the path
itself meandered, and this was doubtless the reason why he appeared
entirely unconscious of the approach of another foot passenger till they
were within a few yards of one another. And then Mr. Carrington stopped
suddenly, seemed to hesitate, pulled out his watch and glanced at it,
and then with an apologetic air raised his hat.

The other foot passenger was face to face with him now, a slim figure in
black, with a sweet, serious face.

"Excuse me," said Mr. Carrington, "but can you tell me where this path
leads?"

He was so polite and so evidently anxious to give no offence, and his
face was such a certificate to his amiable character that the girl
stopped too and answered without hesitation:

"It leads to Keldale House."

"Keldale House?" he repeated, and then the idea seemed to arouse
associations. "By Jove!" he exclaimed. "Really? I'm an utter stranger
here, but isn't that the place where the murder took place?"

Had Mr. Carrington been a really observant man, one would think he would
have noticed the sudden change of expression in the girl's face--as if
he had aroused painful thoughts. He did seem to look at her for an
instant as he asked the question, but then turned his gaze towards the
distant glimpse of the house.

"Yes," she murmured and looked as though she wanted to pass on; but Mr.
Carrington seemed so excited by his discovery that he never noticed this
and still stood right in her path.

"How very interesting!" he murmured. "By Jove, how very interesting!"
And then with the air of passing on a still more interesting piece of
news, he said suddenly, "I hear they have arrested Sir Malcolm
Cromarty."

This time he kept his monocle full on her.

"Arrested him!" she cried. "What for?"

This question, put with the most palpable wonder, seemed to disconcert
Mr. Carrington considerably. He even hesitated in a very unusual way for
him.

"For--for the murder, of course."

Her eyes opened very wide.

"For Sir Reginald's murder? How ridiculous!"

Again Mr. Carrington seemed a little disconcerted.

"Er--why is it ridiculous?" he asked. "Of course, I--I know nothing
about the gentleman."

"Evidently!" she agreed with reproach in her eyes. "If Sir Malcolm
really has been arrested, it can only have been for something quite
silly. He couldn't commit a murder!"

The fact that this tribute to the baronet's innocence was not wholly
devoid of a flavour of criticism seemed to strike Mr. Carrington, for
his eye twinkled for an instant.

"You are acquainted with him then?" said he.

"I am staying at Keldale; in fact, I am a relation."

There was no doubt of her intention to rebuke the too garrulous
gentleman by this information, and it succeeded completely. He passed at
once to the extreme of apology.

"Oh! I beg your pardon!" he exclaimed. "I had no idea. Really, I hope
you will accept my apologies, Miss--er--Cromarty."

"Miss Farmond," she corrected.

"Miss Farmond, I mean. It was frightfully tactless of me!"

He said it so nicely and looked so innocently guilty and so contrite,
that her look lost its touch of indignation.

"I still can't understand what you mean about Sir Malcolm being
arrested," she said. "How did you hear?"

"Oh, I was very likely misinformed. An old fellow at the hotel last
night was saying so."

Her eye began to grow indignant again.

"What old fellow?"

"Red hair, shaky knees, bit of a stammer, answers to the name of Sandy,
I believe."

"Old Sandy Donaldson!" she exclaimed. "That drunken old thing! He was
simply talking nonsense as usual!"

"He seemed a little in liquor," he admitted, "but you see I am a mere
stranger. I didn't realise what a loose authority I quoted. There is
nothing in the report, I am certain. And this path leads only to Keldale
House? Thank you very much. Good morning!"

How Mr. Carrington had obtained this erroneous information from a person
whose back he had merely seen for a couple of minutes the night before,
as the reprobate in question was being ejected from the Kings Arms, he
did not stop to explain. In fact, at this point he showed no inclination
to continue the conversation, but bowing very politely, continued his
stroll.

But the effect of the conversation on him remained, and a very marked
effect it appeared to be. He took no interest in the burn any longer,
but paced slowly on, his eyes sometimes on the path and sometimes
staring upwards at the Heavens. So far as his face revealed his
sensations, they seemed to be compounded of surprise and perplexity.
Several times he shook his head as though some very baffling point had
cropped up in his thoughts, and once he murmured:

"I'm damned!"

When the path reached the policies of the house, he stopped and seemed
to take some interest in his surroundings once more. For a moment it was
clear that he was tempted to enter the plantations, and then he shook
his head and turned back.

All the way home he remained immersed in thought and only recovered his
nonchalant air as he entered the door of the Kings Arms. He was the same
easy-going, smiling young man of fashion as he passed the time of day
with Miss Peterkin; but when he had shut the door of his private sitting
room and dropped into an easy chair over the fire, he again became so
absorbed in thought that he had to be reminded that the hour of luncheon
had passed.

Thought seemed to vanish during lunch, but when he had retired to his
room again, it returned for another half hour. At the end of that time
he apparently came to a decision, and jumping up briskly, repaired to
the manageress' room. And when Miss Peterkin was taken into his
confidence, it appeared that the whole problem had merely concerned the
question of taking either a shooting or a fishing for next season.

"I have been thinking," said he, "that my best plan will perhaps be to
call upon Mr. Simon Rattar and see whether he knows of anything to let.
I gather that he is agent for several estates in the county. What do you
advise?"

Miss Peterkin decidedly advised this course, so a few minutes later Mr.
Carrington strolled off towards the lawyer's office.



XXII

MR. CARRINGTON AND THE FISCAL


The card handed in to Mr. Simon Rattar contained merely the name "Mr. F.
T. Carrington" and the address "Sports Club." Simon gazed at it
cautiously and in silence for the better part of a minute, and when he
glanced up at his head clerk to tell him that Mr. Carrington might be
admitted, Mr. Ison was struck by the curious glint in his eye. It seemed
to him to indicate that the fiscal was very wide awake at that moment;
it struck him also that Mr. Rattar was not altogether surprised by the
appearance of this visitor.

The agreeable stranger began by explaining very frankly that he thought
of renting a place for next season where he could secure good fishing
and a little shooting, and wondered if any of the properties Mr. Rattar
was agent for would suit him. Simon grunted and waited for this overture
to develop.

"What about Keldale House?" the sporting visitor suggested. "That's the
place where the murder was committed, isn't it?" and then he laughed.
"Your eye betrays you, Mr. Rattar!" said he.

The lawyer seemed to start ever so slightly.

"Indeed?" he murmured.

"Look here," said Carrington with a candid smile, "let's put our cards
on the table. You know my business?"

"Are you a detective?" asked the lawyer.

Mr. Carrington smiled and nodded.

"I am; or rather I prefer to call myself a private enquiry agent. People
expect so much of a detective, don't they?"

Simon grunted, but made no other comment.

"In a case like this," continued Carrington, "when one is called in
weeks too late and the household broom and scrubbing brush and garden
rake have removed most of the possible clues, and witnesses'
recollections have developed into picturesque legends, it is better to
rouse as few expectations as possible, since it is probably impossible
to find anything out. However, in the capacity of a mere enquiry agent I
have come to pick up anything I can. May I smoke?"

He asked in his usual easy-going voice and with his usual candid smile,
and then his eye was arrested by an inscription printed in capital
letters, and hung in a handsome frame upon the office wall. It ran:

                    "MY THREE RULES OF LIFE,

               "1. I DO NOT SMOKE.
                2. I LAY BY A THIRD OF MY INCOME.
                3. I NEVER RIDE WHEN I CAN WALK."

Beneath these precepts appeared the lithographed signature of an eminent
philanthropist, but it seemed reasonable to assume that they also formed
the guiding maxims of Mr. Simon Rattar.

His visitor politely apologised for his question.

"I had not noticed this warning," said he.

"Smoke if you like. My clients sometimes do. I don't myself," said the
lawyer.

His visitor thanked him, placed a cigarette in his amber holder, lit it,
and let his eyes follow the smoke upwards.

Mr. Rattar, on his part, seemed in his closest, most taciturn humour.
His grunt and his nod had, in fact, seldom formed a greater proportion
of his conversation. He made no further comment at all now, but waited
in silence for his visitor to proceed.

"Well," resumed Carrington, "the simple facts of the case are these. I
have been engaged through a certain firm of London lawyers, whose name I
am not permitted to mention, on behalf of a person whose name I don't
know."

At this a flash of keen interest showed for an instant in Simon's eye;
and then it became as cold as ever again.

"Indeed?" said he.

"I am allowed to incur expense," continued the other, "up to a certain
figure, which is so handsome that it gives me practically a free hand,
so far as that is concerned. On the other hand, the arrangement entails
certain difficulties which I daresay you, Mr. Rattar, as a lawyer, and
especially as a Procurator Fiscal accustomed to investigate cases of
crime, will readily understand."

"Quite so; quite so," agreed Mr. Rattar, who seemed to be distinctly
relaxing already from his guarded attitude.

"I arrived last night, put up at the Kings Arms--where I gathered
beforehand that the local gossip could best be collected, and in the
course of the evening I collected enough to hang at least two people;
and in the course of a few more evenings I shall probably have enough to
hang half a dozen--if one can believe, say, a twentieth of what one
hears. This morning I strolled out to Keldale House and had a look at it
from the road, and I learned that it was a large mansion standing among
trees. That's all I have been able to do so far."

"Nothing more than that?"

Mr. Carrington seemed to have a singularly short memory.

"I think that's the lot," said he. "And what is more, it seems to me the
sum total of all I am likely to do without a little assistance from
somebody in possession of rather more authentic facts than my friend
Miss Peterkin and her visitors."

"I quite understand," said the lawyer; and it was plain that his
interest was now thoroughly enlisted.

"Well," continued Mr. Carrington, "I thought things over, and rightly or
wrongly, I came to this decision. My employer, whoever he is, has made
it an absolute condition that his name is not to be known. His reasons
may have been the best imaginable, but it obviously made it impossible
for me to get any information out of _him_. For my own reasons I always
prefer to make my enquiries in these cases in the guise of an
unsuspected outsider, whenever it is possible; and it happens to be
particularly possible in this case, since nobody here knows me from
Adam. But I must get facts--as distinguished from the Kings Arms'
gossip, and how was I to get them without giving myself away? That was
the problem, and I soon realised that it was insoluble. I saw I must
confide in somebody, and so I came to the decision to confide in you."

Simon nodded and made a sound that seemed to indicate distinctly his
opinion that Mr. Carrington had come to a sensible decision.

"You were the obvious person for several reasons," resumed Carrington.
"In the first place you could pretty safely be regarded as above
suspicion yourself--if you will pardon my associating even the word
suspicion with a Procurator Fiscal." He smiled his most agreeable smile
and the Fiscal allowed his features to relax sympathetically. "In the
second place you know more about the case than anybody else. And in the
third place, I gather that you are--if I may say so, a gentleman of
unusual discretion."

Again he smiled pleasantly, and again Mr. Rattar's features relaxed.

"Finally," added Carrington, "I thought it long odds that you were
either actually my employer or acting for him, and therefore I should
be giving nothing away by telling you my business. And when I mentioned
Keldale House and the murder I saw that I was right!"

He laughed, and Simon permitted himself to smile. Yet his answer was as
cautious as ever.

"Well, Mr. Carrington?" said he.

"Well," said Carrington, "if you actually are my employer and we both
lay our cards on the table, there's much to be gained, and--if I may say
so--really nothing to be lost. I won't give you away if you won't give
me."

The lawyer's nod seemed to imply emphatic assent, and the other went on:

"I'll keep you informed of everything I'm doing and anything I may
happen to discover, and you can give me very valuable information as to
what precisely is known already. Otherwise, of course, one could hardly
exchange confidences so freely. Frankly then, you engaged me to come
down here?"

Even then Simon's caution seemed to linger for an instant. The next he
answered briefly but decidedly:

"Yes."

"Very well, now to business. I got a certain amount of literature on the
case before I left town, and Miss Peterkin gave me some very valuable
additions in the shape of the accounts in the local papers. Are there
any facts known to you or the police beyond those I have read?"

Simon considered the question and then shook his head.

"None that I can think of, and I fear the local police will be able to
add no information that can assist you."

"They are the usual not too intelligent country bobbies, I suppose?"

"Quite so," said Simon.

"In that case," asked Mr. Carrington, still in his easy voice, but with
a quick turn of his eyeglass towards the lawyer, "why was no outside
assistance called in at once?"

For a moment Simon Rattar's satisfaction with his visitor seemed to be
diminished. He seemed, in fact, a little disconcerted, and his reply
again became little more than a grunt.

"Quite satisfied with them," seemed to be the reading of his answer.

"Well," said Carrington, "no doubt you knew best, Mr. Rattar."

His eyes thoughtfully followed the smoke of his cigarette upwards for a
moment, and then he said:

"That being so, my first step had better be to visit Keldale House and
see whether it is still possible to find any small point the local
professionals have overlooked."

Mr. Rattar seemed to disapprove of this.

"Nothing to discover," said he. "And they will know what you have come
about."

Mr. Carrington smiled.

"I think, Mr. Rattar, that, on the whole, my appearance provokes no
great amount of suspicion."

"Your appearance, no," admitted Simon, "but--"

"Well, if I go to Keldale armed with a card of introduction from you, to
make enquiry about the shootings, I think I can undertake to turn the
conversation on to other matters without exciting suspicion."

"Conversation with whom?" enquired the lawyer sceptically.

"I had thought of Mr. Bisset, the butler."

"Oh--" began Mr. Rattar with a note of surprise, and then pulled himself
up.

"Yes," smiled Mr. Carrington, "I have picked up a little about the
household. My friends of last night were exceedingly communicative--very
gossipy indeed. I rather gather that omniscience is Mr. Bisset's foible,
and that he is not averse from conversation."

The look in Simon's eye seemed to indicate that his respect for this
easy-going young man was increasing; though whether his liking for him
was also increased thereby was not so manifest. His reply was again a
mere grunt.

"Well, that can easily be arranged," said Carrington, "and it is
obviously the first thing to do."

He blew a ring of smoke from his lips, skilfully sent a second ring in
chase of it, and then turning his monocle again on the lawyer, enquired
(though not in a tone that seemed to indicate any very acute interest in
the question):

"Who do you think yourself murdered Sir Reginald Cromarty?"



XXIII

SIMON'S VIEWS


"Well," said Mr. Rattar deliberately, "I think myself that the actual
evidence is very slight and extremely inclusive."

"You mean the direct evidence afforded by the unfastened window,
position of the body, table said to have been overturned, and so forth?"

"Exactly. That evidence is slight, but so far as it goes it seems to me
to point to entry by the door and to the man having been in the house
for some little time previously."

"Well?" said Carrington in an encouraging voice.

"So much for the direct evidence. I may be wrong, but that is my decided
opinion. No bad characters are known to the police to have been in the
county at that time, and there was no robbery."

"Apparently confirming the direct evidence?"

"Decidedly confirming it--or so it seems to me."

"Then you think there is something in the popular theory that the
present baronet and Miss Farmond were the guilty parties?"

Simon was silent for a moment, but his face was unusually expressive.

"I fear it looks like it."

"An unpleasant conclusion for you to come to," observed Mr. Carrington.
"You are the family lawyer, I understand."

"Very unpleasant," Mr. Rattar agreed. "But, of course, there is no
absolute proof."

"Naturally; or they'd have been arrested by now. What sort of a fellow
is Sir Malcolm?"

"My own experience of him," said the lawyer drily, "is chiefly confined
to his visits to my office to borrow money of me."

"Indeed?" said Carrington with interest. "That sort of fellow, is he? He
writes, I understand."

Simon nodded.

"Any other known vices?"

"I know little about his vices except that they cost him considerably
more than he could possibly have paid, had it not been for Sir
Reginald's death."

"So the motive is plain enough. Any evidence against him?"

Simon pursed his lips and became exceedingly grave.

"When questioned next morning by the superintendent of police and
myself, he led us to understand that he had retired to bed early and was
in no position to hear or notice anything. I have since found that he
was in the habit of sitting up late."

"'In the habit,'" repeated Carrington quickly. "But you don't suggest
he sat up that night in particular?"

"Undoubtedly he sat up that night."

"But merely as he always did?"

"He might have been waiting for his chance on the previous nights."

Carrington smoked thoughtfully for a moment and then asked:

"But there is no evidence that he left his room or was heard moving
about that night, is there?"

"There is not yet any positive evidence. But he was obviously in a
position to do so."

"Was his room near or over the library?"

"N--no," said the fiscal, and there seemed to be a hint of reluctance in
his voice.

Carrington glanced at him quickly and then gazed up at the ceiling.

"What sort of a girl is Miss Farmond?" he enquired next.

"She is the illegitimate daughter of a brother of the late Sir
Reginald's."

Carrington nodded.

"So I gathered from the local gossips. But that fact is hardly against
her, is it?"

"Why not?"

Carrington looked a little surprised.

"Girls don't generally murder their uncles for choice, in my own
experience; especially if they are also their benefactors."

"This was hardly the usual relationship," said the lawyer with a touch
of significance.

"Do you suggest that the irregularity is apt to breed crime?"

Simon's grunt seemed to signify considerable doubt as to the morals of
the type of relative.

"But what sort of girl is she otherwise?"

"I should call Miss Farmond the insinuating type. A young man like
yourself would probably find her very attractive--at first anyhow."

Mr. Carrington seemed to ponder for a moment on this suggestive
description of Miss Farmond's allurements. And then he asked:

"Is it the case that she is engaged to Sir Malcolm?"

"Certainly."

"You are sure?"

Something in his voice seemed to make the lawyer reflect.

"Is it called in question?" he asked.

Carrington shook his head.

"By nobody who has spoken to me on the subject. But I understand that it
has not yet been announced."

"No," said Simon. "It was a secret engagement; and marriage would have
been impossible while Sir Reginald lived."

"So there we get the motive on her part. And you yourself, Mr. Rattar,
_know_ both these young people, and you believe that this accusation
against them is probably well founded?"

"I believe, Mr. Carrington, that there is no proof and probably never
will be any; but all the evidence, positive and negative, together with
the question of motive, points to nobody else. What alternative is
possible?"

"That is the difficulty, so far," agreed Carrington, but his thoughts at
the moment seemed to be following his smoke rings up towards the
ceiling. For a few moments he was silent, and then he asked:

"What other people benefited by the will and to what extent?"

The lawyer went to his safe, brought out the will, and read through the
legacies to the servants, mentioning that the chauffeur and gardener
were excluded by circumstances from suspicion.

"That leaves Mr. Bisset," observed Carrington. "Well, I shall be seeing
him to-morrow. Any other legatees who might conceivably have committed
the crime?"

Simon looked serious and spoke with a little reluctance that he seemed
to make no effort to conceal.

"There is a relative of the family, a Mr. Cromarty of Stanesland, who
certainly benefited considerably by the will and who certainly lives in
the neighbourhood--if one once admitted the possibility of the crime
being committed by some one outside the house. And I admit that it is a
possibility."

"Ah!" said Carrington. "I heard about him last night, but so far
suspicion certainly hasn't fastened on him. What sort of a fellow is
he?"

"He has lived the greater part of his life in the wilder parts of
America--rather what one might call a rough and ready customer."

It was apparent that Mr. Carrington, for all his easy-going air, was
extremely interested.

"This is quite interesting!" he murmured. "To what extent did he benefit
by the will?"

"£1,200."

"£1,200!" Carrington repeated the words with an odd intonation and
stared very hard at the lawyer. There was no doubt that his interest was
highly excited now, and yet it seemed to be rather a different quality
of interest this time.

"A considerable sum," said Simon.

"That is the only point about it which strikes you?"

Simon was manifestly puzzled.

"What else?" he enquired.

"No coincidence occurs to you?"

The lawyer's puzzled look remained, and the next instant Carrington
broke into a hearty laugh.

"I beg your pardon, Mr. Rattar," he cried. "What an owl I am! I have
just been dealing lately with a case where that sum of money was
involved, and for the moment I mixed the two up together!" He laughed
again, and then resuming his businesslike air, asked: "Now, what else
about this Mr. Cromarty? You say he is a relation. Near or distant?"

"Oh, quite distant. Another branch altogether."

"Younger branch, I presume."

"Poorer but not younger. He is said to be the head of the family."

"Really!" exclaimed Mr. Carrington, and this information seemed to have
set him thinking again. "He is the head of the family, and I hear he
took up the case with some energy."

Simon's grunt seemed to be critical.

"He got in our way," he said.

"Got in your way, did he?"

Carrington was silent for a few moments, and then said:

"Well I am afraid I have taken up a great deal of your time. May I have
a line of introduction to Mr. Bisset before I go?"

While the line was being written he walked over to the fire and cleared
the stump of his last cigarette out of the holder. This operation was
very deliberately performed, and through it his eyes seemed scarcely to
note what his hands were doing.

He put the note in his pocket, shook hands, and then, just as he was
going, he said:

"I want to understand the lie of the land as exactly as possible. Your
own attitude, so far has been, I take it--no proof, therefore no arrest;
but a nasty family scandal left festering, so you decided to call me in.
Now, I want to know this--is there anybody else in the neighbourhood who
knows that I have been sent for?"

Mr. Rattar replied with even more than his usual deliberation, and after
what is said by foreigners to be the national habit, his reply
consisted of another question.

"You say that your employer made a particular point of having his
identity concealed?"

"Yes, a particular point."

"Doesn't that answer your question, Mr. Carrington?"

"No," said Carrington, "not in the least. I am asking now whether there
is any other employer in this neighbourhood besides yourself. And I may
say that I ask for the very good reason that it might be awkward for me
if there were and I didn't know him, while if I did know him, I could
consult with him if it happened to be advisable. Is there any one?"

He seemed to hang on the lawyer's answer, and Simon to dislike making
the answer.

Yet when he did make it, it was quite emphatic.

"No," he replied.

"That's all right then," said Mr. Carrington with his brightest smile.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Rattar."

The smile faded from his ingenuous face the moment the door had closed
behind him, and it was a very thoughtful Mr. Carrington who slowly went
downstairs and strolled along the pavement. If his morning's interview
had puzzled him, his afternoon's interview seemed to have baffled him
completely. He even forgot to relapse into the thoughtless young
sportsman when he entered the hotel, and his friend the manageress,
after eyeing him with great surprise, cried archly:

"A penny for your thoughts, Mr. Carrington! About shooting or fishing,
I'm sure!"

Mr. Carrington recovered his pleasant spirits instantly.

"Quite right," said he. "I was thinking about fishing--in very deep
waters."



XXIV

MR. BISSET'S ASSISTANT


At eleven o'clock next morning a motor car drove up to Keldale House and
an exceedingly affable and pleasing stranger delivered a note from Mr.
Simon Rattar to Mr. James Bisset. Even without an introduction, Mr.
Carrington would have been welcome, for though Mr. Bisset's sway over
Keldale House was by this time almost despotic, he had begun to find
that despotism has its lonely side, and to miss "the gentry." With an
introduction, Mr. Carrington quickly discovered that Mr. Bisset and the
mansion he supervised were alike entirely at his disposal.

The preliminary discussion on the sporting possibilities of the estate
and the probability of its being let next season impressed Mr. Bisset
very favourably indeed with his visitor; and then when the conversation
had passed very naturally to the late tragedy in the house, he was still
further delighted to find that Mr. Carrington not only shared his own
detective enthusiasm, but was vastly interested in his views on this
particular mystery.

"Come along here, sir," said he, "we can just have a look at the
library and I'll explain to you the principles of the thing."

"I'd like to see the actual scene of the crime immensely!" cried Mr.
Carrington eagerly. "You are sure that Lady Cromarty won't object?"

"Not her," said Bisset. "She's never in this part of the house now.
She'll be none the wiser anyhow."

This argument seemed to assure Mr. Carrington completely, and they went
along to the library.

"Now," began Bisset, "I'll just explain to you the haill situation. Here
where I'm laying this sofie cushion was the corp. Here where I'm
standing the now was the wee table, and yon's the table itself."

To the disquisition that followed, Mr. Carrington listened with the most
intelligent air. Bisset had by this time evolved quite a number of new
theories, but the one feature common to them all was the hypothesis that
the murderer must have come in by the window and was certainly not an
inmate of the household. His visitor said little till he had finished,
and then he remarked:

"Well, Bisset, you don't seem to put much faith in the current theory, I
see."

"Meaning that Sir Malcolm and Miss Farmond were concerned?" said Bisset
indignantly. "That's just the ignorance of the uneducated masses, sir!
The thing's physically impossible, as I've just been demonstrating!"

Carrington smiled and gently shook his head.

"I don't know much about these things," said he, "but I'm afraid I can't
see the physical impossibility. It was very easy for any one in the
house to come downstairs and open that door, and if Sir Reginald knew
him, it would account for his silence and the absence of any kind of a
struggle."

"But yon table and the windie being unfastened! And the mud I picked up
myself--and the hearth brush!"

"They scarcely make it impossible," said Carrington.

"Well, sir," demanded the butler, "what's your own theory?"

Carrington said nothing for several minutes. He strolled up and down the
room, looked at the table and the window, and at last asked:

"Do you remember quite distinctly what Sir Reginald looked like when you
found him--the position of the body--condition of the clothes--and
everything else?"

"I see him lying there every night o' my life, just as plain as I see
you now!"

"The feet were towards the door, just as though he had been facing the
door when he was struck down?"

"Aye, but then my view is the body was moved----"

He was interrupted by a curious performance on Mr. Carrington's part.
His visitor was in fact stretching himself out on the floor on the spot
where Sir Reginald was found.

"He lay like this?" he asked.

"Aye, practically just like that, sir."

"Now, Bisset," said the recumbent visitor, "just have a very good look
at me and tell me if you notice any difference between me and the body
of Sir Reginald."

Bisset looked for a few seconds and then exclaimed:

"Your clothes are no alike! The master's coat was kind of pulled up like
about his shoulders and neck. Oh, and I mind now the tag at the back for
hanging it up was broken and sticking out."

Carrington sprang to his feet with a gleam in his eye.

"The tag was not broken before he put on the coat?"

"It certainly was not that! But what's your deduction, sir?"

Carrington smiled at him.

"What do you think yourself, Bisset? You saw how I threw myself down
quite carelessly and yet my coat wasn't pulled up like that."

"God, sir!" cried the butler. "You mean the corp had been pulled along
the floor by the shoulders!"

Carrington nodded.

"Then he had been killed near the windie!"

"Not too fast, not too fast!" smiled Carrington. "Your own first
statement which I happened to read in a back number of the newspaper
the other day said that the windows were all fastened when Sir Reginald
came into the room."

"Ah, but I've been altering my opinion on that point, sir."

Carrington shook his head.

"I'm afraid because a fastened window doesn't suit your theory."

"But the master might have opened it to him, thinking it was some one he
knew."

"Sounds improbable," said Carrington thoughtfully.

"But not just absolutely impossible."

"No," said Carrington, still very thoughtfully, "not impossible."

"Sir Reginald might never have seen it was a stranger till the man was
fairly inside."

Carrington smiled and shook his head.

"Thin, Bisset; very thin. Why need the man have been a stranger at all?"

Bisset's face fell.

"But surely you're not believing yon story that it was Sir Malcolm and
Miss Farmond after a'?"

His visitor stood absolutely silent for a full minute. Then he seemed
suddenly to banish the line of thought he was following.

"Is it quite certain that those two are engaged?" he asked.

Bisset's face showed his surprise at the question.

"They all say so," said he.

"Have either of them admitted it?"

"No, sir."

"Why don't they acknowledge it now and get married?"

"They say it's because they daurna for fear of the scandal."

"'They' say again!" commented Carrington. "But, look here, Bisset, you
have been in the house all the time. Did you think they were engaged?"

"Honestly, sir, I did not. There's nae doubt Sir Malcolm was sweet on
the young lady, but deil a sign of sweetness on him did I ever see in
her!"

"Do they correspond now?"

Bisset shook his head.

"Hardly at a'. But of course folks just say they are feared to now."

"Has anybody asked either of them if they are--or ever were--engaged?"

"No, sir. But if they denied it now, folks would just say the same
thing."

"Yes. I see--naturally. Lady Cromarty believes it and is keeping Miss
Farmond under her eye, the gossips tell me. Is that so?"

"Oh, that's true right enough, sir."

"Who told Lady Cromarty?"

"That I do not know, sir."

Again the visitor seemed to be thinking, and again to cast his thoughts
aside and take up a new aspect of the case.

"Supposing," he suggested, "we were to draw the curtains and light these
candles for a few minutes? It might help us to realise the whole
thing."

This suggestion pleased Mr. Bisset greatly and in a minute or two the
candles were lit and the curtains drawn.

"Put the table where it stood," said Carrington. "Now which was Sir
Reginald's chair? This?"

He sat in it and looked slowly round the darkened, candle-lit library.

"Now," said he, "suppose I was Sir Reginald, and there came a tap at
that window, what would I do?"

"If you were the master, sir, you'd go straight to the windie to see who
it was."

"I wouldn't get in a funk and ring the bell?"

"No fears!" said Bisset confidently.

"And any one who knew Sir Reginald at all well could count on his not
giving the alarm then if they tapped at the window?"

"They could that."

Carrington looked attentively towards the window.

"Those curtains hang close against the window, I see," he observed. "A
very slight gap in them would enable any one to get a good view of the
room, if the blinds were not down. Were the blinds down that night?"

Bisset slapped his knee.

"The middle blind wasn't working!" he cried. "What a fool I've been not
to think on the extraordinar' significance of that fac'! My, the
deductions to be drawn! You've made it quite clear now, sir. The man
tappit at that windie----"

"Steady, steady!" said Carrington, smiling and yet seriously. "Don't you
go announcing that theory! If there's anything in it--mum's the word!
But mind you, Bisset, it's only a bare possibility. There's no good
evidence against the door theory yet."

"Not the table being cowpit and the body moved?"

"They might be explained."

He was thoughtful for a moment and then said deliberately:

"I want--I mean you want certain evidence to exclude the door theory.
Without that, the window theory remains a guess. Sir Malcolm is in
London, I understand?"

"Yes, sir."

"Likely to be coming north soon?"

"No word of it, sir."

Mr. Carrington reflected for a moment and then rose and went towards the
window.

"We can draw back the curtains now," said he.

He drew them as he spoke and on the instant stepped involuntarily back
and down went the small table. Miss Cicely Farmond was standing just
outside, evidently arrested by the drawn curtains. Her eyes opened very
wide indeed at the sight of Mr. Carrington suddenly revealed. Her lips
parted for an instant as though she would cry out, and then she hurried
away.

Mr. Carrington seemed more upset by this incident than one would expect
from such a composed, easy-going young man.

"What will they think of me!" he exclaimed. "You must be sure to tell
Miss Farmond--and Lady Cromarty too if she hears of this--that I came
solely to enquire about the shootings and not to poke my nose into their
library! Make that very explicit, Bisset."

Even though assured by Bisset that the young lady was the most amiable
person imaginable, he was continuing to lay stress on the point when his
attention was abruptly diverted by the sight of another lady in deep
black walking slowly away from the house.

"Is that Lady Cromarty?" he asked, and no sooner had Bisset said "yes"
than the window was up and Mr. Carrington stepping out of it.

"I really must explain and apologise to her ladyship," said he.

"Her ladyship will never know----!" began Bisset, but the surprising
visitor was already hastening after the mourning figure. Had the worthy
man been able to hear the conversation which ensued he would have been
more surprised still.

"Lady Cromarty, I believe?" said the stranger in a deferential voice.

She turned quickly, and her eyes searched him with that hard glance they
wore always nowadays.

"Yes, I am Lady Cromarty," she said.

"Pardon me for disturbing you," said he. "It is a mere brief matter of
business. I represent an insurance company to which Sir Malcolm Cromarty
has made certain proposals. We are not perfectly satisfied with his
statements, and from other sources learn that he is engaged to be
married. I have come simply to ascertain whether that is the case."

Lady Cromarty was (as Mr. Carrington had shrewdly divined) no better
versed in the intricate matter of insurance than the majority of her
sex, and evidently perceived nothing very unusual in this enquiry. It
may be added in her excuse that the manner in which it was put by the
representative of the company was a perfect example of how a business
man should address a lady.

"It is the case," said she.

"May I ask your ladyship's authority--in strict confidence of course?"
enquired the representative firmly, but very courteously.

"I learned it from my own man of business," said she.

"Thank you," said the insurance representative. "I beg that your
ladyship will say nothing of my call, and I shall undertake not to
mention the source of my information," and with an adequate bow he
returned to the house.

Before disappearing through her library window, Mr. Carrington saw that
her ladyship's back was turned, and he then gave this candid, if
somewhat sketchy, account of his interview to her butler.

"It suddenly struck me," said he, "that Lady Cromarty might think it
somewhat unseemly of me to come enquiring about shooting so soon after
her bereavement; so I gave her a somewhat different explanation. She is
not likely to make any further enquiries about me and so you need say
nothing about my visit."

He was careful however to impress on his friend Mr. Bisset that he
actually had come from purely sporting motives. In fact he professed
some anxiety to get in touch with Sir Malcolm on the subject, even
though assured that the young baronet had nothing to do with the
shootings.

"Ah, but it will gratify him, Bisset," said he, "and I think it is the
nice thing to do. Could you give me his London address?"

He jotted this down in his pocket book, and then as he was leaving he
said confidentially:

"You tell me that you think Sir Malcolm is interested in Miss Farmond,
though she seemed not so keen on him?"

"That was the way of it to my thinking," said Bisset. "And what
deduction would you draw from that, sir?"

"I should deduce," said this sympathetic and intelligent visitor, "the
probable appearance of certain evidence bearing on our theories,
Bisset."

Mr. Bisset thought he had seldom met a pleasanter gentleman or a more
helpful assistant.



XXV

A TELEGRAM


The car took Mr. Carrington straight back to the town and dropped him at
the door of Mr. Rattar's office.

"I shall want you again at two o'clock sharp," he said to the chauffeur,
and turned in to the office.

He caught the lawyer just before he went out to lunch and said at once:

"I want to see Sir Malcolm Cromarty. Can you arrange for him to run up
here for a day?"

Simon stared at him hard, and there seemed to be even more caution than
usual in his eye; almost, indeed, a touch of suspicion. The lawyer was
not looking quite as well as usual; there was a drawn look about the
upper part of the face and a hint of strain both in eyes and mouth.

"Why do you want to see Sir Malcolm?" he enquired.

"Well," said Carrington, "the fact of the matter is, Mr. Rattar, that,
as you yourself said, the direct evidence is practically nil, and one is
forced to go a good deal by one's judgment of the people suspected or
concerned."

Simon grunted sceptically.

"Very misleading," he said.

"That depends entirely on one's judgment, or rather on one's instinct
for distinguishing bad eggs from good. As a matter of observation I
don't find that certain types of men and women commit certain actions,
and I do find that they are apt to commit others. And contrariwise with
other types."

"Very unsafe doctrine," said Simon emphatically.

"Extremely--in the hands of any one who doesn't know how to apply it. On
the other hand, it can be made a short and commonsense cut to the truth
in many cases. For instance, the man who suspected Mr. Bisset of
committing the crime would simply be wasting his time and energy, even
if there seemed to be some evidence against him."

"Any man can commit any crime," said Simon dogmatically.

Carrington smiled and shook his head.

"Personally," said he, "if you had a young and pretty wife, I am capable
of running away with her, and possibly even of letting her persuade me
to abscond with some of your property, but I am not capable of laying
you out in cold blood and rifling that safe. And a good judge of men
ought to be able to perceive this and not waste his time in trying to
convict me of an offence I couldn't commit. On the other hand, if the
crime was one that my type is apt to commit he would be a fool to acquit
me off-hand, even if there was next to no evidence against me."

"Then you simply go by your impressions of people?"

"Far from it. A complete absence of motive would force me to acquit even
the most promising looking blackguard, unless of course there were some
form of lunacy in his case. One must have motive and one must have
evidence as well, but character is the short cut--if the circumstances
permit you to use it. Sometimes of course they don't, but in this case
they force me to depend on it very largely. Therefore I want to see Sir
Malcolm Cromarty."

The lawyer shook his head.

"No, no, Mr. Carrington," he said, "I can't bring him down here on such
trivial grounds."

"But you yourself suspect him!"

For a moment the lawyer was silent.

"I think suspicion points to him; but what is wanted is _evidence_. You
can't get evidence merely by bringing him here. You don't suppose he
will confess, do you?"

"Have you ever studied the French methods of getting at the truth?"
enquired Carrington, and when Simon shook his head contemptuously, he
added with some significance: "We can learn a good deal from our
neighbours."

"Trivial grounds!" muttered Simon. "No, no!"

Carrington became unusually serious and impressive.

"I am investigating this case, Mr. Rattar, and I want to see Sir
Malcolm. Will you send for him or not?"

"He wouldn't come."

"It depends on the urgency of the message."

"I can't invent bogus urgent messages to my clients."

Carrington smiled.

"I might do the inventing for you."

Again the lawyer stared at him and again there was the same extreme
caution in his eye, mingled with a hint of suspicion.

"I'll think about it," he said.

"I want to see him immediately."

"Call again to-morrow morning."

Carrington's manner altered at once into his usual easy-going air.

"Very well, then, Mr. Rattar," said he as he rose.

"By the way," said Simon, "you have been out at Keldale this morning, I
presume?"

"Yes," said Carrington carelessly, "but there is really nothing new to
be found."

Simon looked at him hard.

"No fresh evidence?"

Carrington laughed.

"Not likely, after you and your sleuth hounds had been over the ground!"

He went to the door, and there Simon again spoke.

"What are you doing next?"

"Upon my word, I am rather wondering. I must think about it. Good
morning."

For a man who was rather wondering, Mr. Carrington's next movements were
remarkably prompt. He first went straight to the Post Office and
dispatched a wire. It was addressed to Sir Malcolm Cromarty and it
ran--"Come immediately urgent news don't answer please don't delay." The
only thing that seemed to indicate a wondering and abstracted mind was
the signature to this message. Instead of "Carrington" he actually wrote
"Cicely Farmond."

He then hurried to the hotel, which he reached at one-fifty. In ten
minutes he had bolted a hasty lunch and at two o'clock was sitting in
the car again.

"To Stanesland Castle," he commanded. "And be as quick as you can."



XXVI

AT STANESLAND


Mr. Carrington's interview with the laird of Stanesland began on much
the same lines as his talk with Bisset. The amiable visitor was shown
into the laird's smoking room--an apartment with vast walls like a
dungeon and on them trophies from the laird's adventurous days, and
proceeded to make enquiry whether Mr. Cromarty was disposed to let his
shootings for next season, or, if not, whether he could recommend any
others.

As the visitor was in no hurry, he declared, to fix anything up, it was
very natural that this conversation, like the morning's, should
eventually turn on to the subject of the great local mystery. Through it
all Mr. Carrington's monocle was more continually fixed on the other
than usual, but if he were looking for peculiarities in the laird's
manner or any admissions made either by tongue or eye, he was
disappointed. Cromarty was as breezy and as direct as ever, but even
when his visitor confessed his extreme interest in such cases of
remarkable crime, he (to all seeming) scented nothing in this beyond a
not uncommon hobby. There was no doubt, however, of his keenness to
discuss the subject. Carrington gave him an entertaining account of his
efforts to assist Mr. Bisset, and then Ned asked:

"Well, what do you think of his theory that the man came in by the
window?"

Carrington smiled.

"Bisset is evidently extremely anxious to save the credit of the
family."

Ned Cromarty was aroused now.

"Good God!" he cried. "But do you mean to say that you think that story
will hold water?"

"What story?" enquired Carrington mildly.

"You know what I mean--the scandal that Sir Malcolm and--and a lady were
concerned in the murder."

"They are said to have actually committed it, aren't they?"

Ned's eye began to look dangerous.

"Do you think it's credible?" he asked brusquely.

"You know them better than I. Do you think it is?"

"Not for an instant!"

"I haven't met Sir Malcolm," said Carrington, wiping his eyeglass on his
handkerchief. "I can't judge of him. What sort of a fellow is he?"

"A bit of a young squirt," said Ned candidly. "But I'll not believe he's
a murderer till I get some proof of it."

"And Miss Farmond? Is she at all a murderous lady?"

He fixed his monocle in his eye just in time to see his host control
himself after what seemed to have been a somewhat violent spasm.

"I'll stake my life on her innocence!" said Ned, and it was hard to know
whether his manner as he said this should be termed fierce or solemn.

For the space of perhaps two seconds Carrington's eyeglass stared very
straight at him, and immediately afterwards was taken out for cleaning
again, while its owner seemed to have found some new food for thought.
The silence was broken by Ned asking brusquely:

"Don't you believe me?"

Again his visitor fixed the monocle in his eye, and he answered now very
quietly and deliberately:

"I happened to meet a young lady one afternoon, whom I discovered to be
Miss Farmond. My own impression--for what it is worth--is that it would
be a mere waste of time to investigate the suspicion against her,
supposing, that is, that one were a detective or anything of that kind
engaged in this case."

"You think she is innocent?" asked Ned eagerly.

"I am quite certain of it, so far as I am any judge."

Ned heaved a sigh of relief, and for an instant a smile flitted across
Carrington's face. It seemed as though he were amused at such a tribute
to the opinion of a mere chance visitor.

"And Sir Malcolm?" enquired Ned.

Carrington shook his head.

"I have no means of judging--yet."

Ned glanced at him quickly.

"Do you expect to get hold of a means?"

Carrington's smile was his only answer to the question. And then, still
smiling, he said:

"I rather wonder, Mr. Cromarty, that you who have taken so much interest
in this case, and who are, I am told, the head of the family, don't get
some professional assistance to help you to get at the bottom of it."

Ned's mouth shut hard and his eyes turned to the fire. He said nothing
for a moment and then remarked:

"Well, I guess that's worth thinking over."

Carrington's shoulders moved in an almost imperceptible shrug, but he
made no comment aloud. In a moment Ned said:

"Supposing those two are scored out, there doesn't seem to be anybody
else inside the house who could have committed the crime, does there?
You wouldn't suspect Lady Cromarty or Bisset, would you?"

"Lady Cromarty is physically incapable of giving her husband the blow he
must have received. Besides, they were a very devoted couple, I
understand, and she gained nothing by his death--lost heavily, in fact.
As for Bisset----" Carrington let his smile finish the sentence.

"Then it must have been some one from outside--but who?"

"Can you think of any one?" asked Carrington.

Ned shook his head emphatically.

"Can you?" he asked.

"Me?" said his visitor with an innocent air, and yet with a twinkle for
an instant in his eye. "I am a mere stranger to the place, and if you
and Mr. Rattar and the police are baffled, what can I suggest?"

Ned seemed for a moment a trifle disconcerted. Then he said:

"That's so, of course, Mr. Carrington. But since we happen to be talking
about it--well, I guess I'm quite curious to know if any ideas have just
happened to occur to you."

"Well," said the other, "between ourselves, Mr. Cromarty, and speaking
quite confidentially, one idea has struck me very forcibly."

"What's that?" asked Ned eagerly.

"Simply this, that though it _might_ be conceivable to think of somebody
or other, the difficulty that stares me in the face is--motive!"

Ned's face fell.

"Well, that's what has struck all of us."

"Sir Reginald was a popular landlord, I hear."

"The most popular in the county."

"This isn't Ireland," continued Carrington. "Tenants don't lay out their
landlords on principle, and in this particular instance they would
simply stand to lose by his death. Then take his tradesmen and his agent
and so on, they all stand to lose too. An illicit love affair and a
vengeful swain might be a conceivable theory, if his character gave
colour to it; but there's not a hint of that, and some rumour would
have got about for certain if that had been the case."

"You may dismiss that," said Ned emphatically.

"Then there you are--what's the motive?"

"If one could think of a possible man, one could probably think of a
possible motive."

On Carrington's face a curious look appeared for an instant.

"I only wish one could," he murmured.

A gong sounded and Ned rose.

"That means tea," said he. "I always have it in my sister's room. Come
up."

They went up the stone stair and turned into Miss Cromarty's boudoir. On
her, Mr. Carrington produced a favourable impression that was evident at
once. At all times she liked good-looking and agreeable gentlemen, and
lately she had been suffering from a dearth of them. She had been
suffering also from her brother's pig-headed refusal to reconsider his
decision not to buy a car; and finally from the lack of some one to
sympathise with her in this matter. In the opulent-looking and
sportingly attired Mr. Carrington she quickly perceived a kindred
spirit, and having a tongue that was not easily intimidated even by the
formidable looking laird, she launched into her grievance. They had been
talking about the long distances that separated most of the mansions in
the county.

"Isn't it ridiculous, Mr. Carrington," said she, "we haven't got a car!"

"Absurd," agreed Mr. Carrington, helping himself to cake.

"Do you know, this brother of mine here has actually come into a
fortune, and yet he won't buy me even one little motor car!"

Ned frowned and muttered something that might have checked their
visitor's reply, had he noticed the laird's displeasure, but for the
moment he seemed to have become very unobserving.

"Come into a fortune?" said he. "What a bit of luck! How much--a
million--two million?"

"Oh, not as much as that, worse luck! But quite enough to buy at least
three decent cars if he was half a sportsman! And he won't get one!"

Mr. Carrington was now trying to balance his cake in his saucer and was
evidently too absorbed in his efforts to notice his host's waxing
displeasure.

"In my experience," said he, "you can't get a decent car much under four
hundred."

"Well," said she, "that's just the figure it would bring it to."

"Lilian!" muttered her brother wrathfully.

But at that moment Mr. Carrington coughed, evidently over a cake crumb,
and failed to hear the expostulation.

"But perhaps he is going to buy you something even handsomer instead,"
he suggested.

"Is he!" she scoffed, with a defiant eye on her brother. "I believe he's
going to blue it in something too scandalous to talk about in mixed
society! Anyhow it's something too mysterious to tell me!"

By this time Ned's face was a thundercloud in which lightning was
clearly imminent, but Mr. Carrington now recovered his wonted tact as
suddenly as he had lost it.

"That reminds me of a very curious story I heard at my club the other
day," he began, and in a few minutes the conversation was far away from
Miss Cromarty's grievances. And then, having finished his cup of tea, he
looked at his watch with an exclamation and protested that he must
depart on the instant.

As he lay back in his car he murmured with a satisfied smile:

"That's settled anyhow!"

And then for the whole drive home he fell very thoughtful indeed. Only
one incident aroused him, and that but for a moment. It was quite dark
by this time, and somewhere between the Keldale House lodge and the
town, the lamps of the car swept for an instant over a girl riding a
bicycle in the opposite direction. Carrington looked round quickly and
saw that she was Miss Cicely Farmond.



XXVII

FLIGHT


On the morning after his visit from Mr. Carrington, Ned Cromarty took
his keeper with him and drove over to shoot on a friend's estate. He
stayed for tea and it was well after five o'clock and quite dark when he
started on his long drive home. The road passed close to a wayside
station with a level crossing over the line, and when they came to this
the gates were closed against them and the light of the signal of the up
line had changed from red to white.

"Train's up to time," said Ned to the keeper. "I thought we'd have got
through before she came."

There was no moon, a fine rain hung in the air, and the night was
already pitch dark. Sitting there in the dogcart before the closed
gates, behind the blinding light of the gig lamps, they were quite
invisible themselves; but about thirty yards to their left they saw the
station platform plainly in the radiance of its lights, and, straight
before them in the radiance of their own, they could see less distinctly
the road beyond the line.

At first, save for the distant rumble of the southward bound train,
there was no sign of life or of movement anywhere, and then all at once
a figure on a bicycle appeared on the road, and in a moment dismounted
beside the station. It was a girl in black, and at the sight of her, Ned
bent forward suddenly in his driving seat and stared intently into the
night. He saw her unstrap a small suit case from the bicycle and lead
the bicycle into the station. A minute or two passed and then she
emerged from the ticket office on to the platform carrying the suit case
in her hand. The bicycle she had evidently left in the station, and it
seemed manifest that she was going by this train.

"That's Miss Farmond, sir, from Keldale House!" exclaimed the keeper.

His master said nothing but kept his eye intently fixed on the girl. One
of the platform lamps lit her plainly, and he thought she looked the
most forlorn and moving sight that had ever stirred his heart. There was
something shrinking in her attitude, and when she looked once for a few
moments straight towards him, there seemed to be something both sad and
frightened in her face. Not another soul was on the platform, and seen
in that patch of light against an immensity of dark empty country and
black sky, she gave him such an impression of friendlessness that he
could scarcely stay in his seat. And all the while the roar of the
on-coming train was growing louder and ever louder. In a few minutes she
would be gone--"Where?" he asked himself.

"I'm wondering where she'll be going at this time o' night with nae
mair luggage than yon," said the keeper.

That decided it.

"Take the trap home and tell Miss Cromarty not to expect me to-night,"
said his master, quickly. "Say I've gone--oh, anywhere you derned well
like! There's something up and I'm going to see what it is."

He jumped quietly on the road just as the engine thundered between the
gates in front. By the time the train was at rest, he was over the gate
and making his way to the platform. He stopped in the darkness by the
rear end of the train till he saw the figure in black disappear into a
carriage, and then he stepped into a compartment near the guard's van.

"Haven't got a ticket, but I'll pay as I go along," he said to the guard
as he passed the window.

The guard knew Mr. Cromarty well and touched his cap, and then the train
started and Mr. Cromarty was embarked upon what he confessed to himself
was the blindest journey he had ever made in all his varied career.

Where was she going--and why was she going? He asked himself these
questions over and over again as he sat with a cigar between his teeth
and his long legs stretched out on the opposite seat, and the train
drove on into an ever wilder and more desolate land. It would be very
many miles and a couple of hours or more before they reached any sort of
conceivable destination for her, and as a matter of fact this train did
not go beyond that destination. Then it struck him sharply that up till
the end of last month the train had continued its southward journey. The
alteration in the timetable was only a few days old. Possibly she was
not aware of it and had counted on travelling to--where? He knew where
she had got to stop, but where had she meant to stop? Or where would she
go to-morrow? And above all, why was she going at all, leaving her
bicycle at a wayside station and with her sole luggage a small suit
case? Ned shook his head, tried to suck life into his neglected cigar,
and gave up the problem in the meanwhile.

As to the question of what business he had to be following Miss Farmond
like this, he troubled his head about it not at all. If she needed him,
here he was. If she didn't, he would clear out. But very strong and very
urgent was the conviction that she required a friend of some sort.

The stations were few and far between and most desolate, improbable
places as endings for Cicely Farmond's journey. He looked out of the
window at each of them, but she never alighted.

"She's going to find herself stuck for the night. That's about the size
of it," he said to himself as they left the last station before the
journey ended.

Though their next stop was the final stop, he did not open the carriage
door when the train pulled up. He did not even put his head far out of
the window, only just enough to see what passed on the platform ahead.

"I'm not going to worry her if she doesn't need me," he said to himself.

He saw the slip of a figure in black talking to the stationmaster, and
it was hardly necessary to hear that official's last words in order to
divine what had happened.

"Weel, miss," he overheard the stationmaster say, "I'm sorry ye're
disappointed, but it's no me that has stoppit the train. It's aff for
the winter. If ye turn to the left ye'll fin' the hotel."

The girl looked round her slowly and it seemed to Ned that the way she
did it epitomised disappointment and desolation, and then she hurried
through the station buildings and was gone.

He was out of the carriage and after her in an instant. Beyond the
station the darkness was intense and he had almost passed a road
branching to the left without seeing it. He stopped and was going to
turn down it when it struck him the silence was intense that way, but
that there was a light sound of retreating footsteps straight ahead.

"She's missed the turning!" he said to himself, and followed the
footsteps.

In a little he could see her against the sky, a dim hurrying figure, and
his own stride quickened. He had never been in this place before, but he
knew it for a mere seaboard village with an utterly lonely country on
every inland side. She was heading into a black wilderness, and he took
his decision at once and increased his pace till he was overhauling her
fast.

At the sound of his footsteps he could see that she glanced over her
shoulder and made the more haste till she was almost running. And then
as she heard the pursuing steps always nearer she suddenly slackened
speed to let him pass.

"Miss Farmond!" said he.

He could hear her gasp as she stopped short and turned sharply. She was
staring hard now at the tall figure looming above her.

"It's only me--Ned Cromarty," he said quietly.

And then he started in turn, for instead of showing relief she gave a
half smothered little cry and shrank away from him. For a moment there
was dead silence and then he said, still quietly, though it cost him an
effort.

"I only mean to help you if you need a hand. Are you looking for the
hotel?"

"Yes," she said in a low frightened voice.

"Well," said he, "I guess you'd walk till morning before you reached an
hotel along this road. You missed the turning at the station. Give me
your bag. Come along!"

She let him take the suit case and she turned back with him, but it
struck him painfully that her docility was like that of a frightened
animal.

"Where are you bound for?" he enquired in his usual direct way.

She murmured something that he could not catch and then they fell
altogether silent till they had retraced their road to the station and
turned down towards a twinkling light or two which showed where the
village lay.

"Now, Miss Farmond," said he, "we are getting near this pub and as we've
both got to spend the night there, you'll please observe these few short
and simple rules. I'm your uncle--Uncle Ned. D'you see?"

There was no laugh, or even a smile from her. She gave a little start of
surprise and in a very confused voice murmured:

"Yes, I see."

"My full name is Mr. Ned Dawkins and you're Louisa Dawkins my niece.
Just call me 'Uncle Ned' and leave me to do the talking. We are touring
this beautiful country and I've lost my luggage owing to the derned
foolishness of the railroad officials here. And then when we've had a
little bit of dinner you can tell me, if you like, why you've eloped and
why you've got a down on me. Or if you don't like to, well, you needn't.
Ah, here's the pub at last."

He threw open the door and in a loud and cheerful voice cried:

"Well, here we are, Louisa. Walk right in, my dear!"



XXVIII

THE RETURN


His friends would scarcely have picked out Mr. Ned Cromarty of
Stanesland as likely to make a distinguished actor, but they might have
changed their opinion had they heard him breezily announce himself as
Mr. Dawkins from Liverpool and curse the Scottish railways which had
lost his luggage for him. It is true that the landlord looked at him a
trifle askance and that the landlady and her maid exchanged a knowing
smile when he ordered a room for his niece Louisa, but few people shut
up in a little country inn with such a formidable looking, loud voiced
giant, would have ventured to question his statements openly, and the
equanimity of Mr. Dawkins remained undisturbed.

"Sit right down, Louisa!" he commanded when dinner was served; and then,
addressing the maid, "You needn't wait. We'll ring when we need you."

But the moment she had gone he checked a strong expression with an
effort.

"Damn--confound it!" he cried. "I ought to have remembered to say grace!
That would have given just the finishing touch to the Uncle Ned
business. However, I don't think they've smelt any rats."

Cicely smiled faintly and then her eyes fell and she answered nothing.
Their only other conversation during dinner consisted in his
expostulations on her small appetite and her low-voiced protests that
she wasn't hungry. But when it was safely over, he pushed back his
chair, crossed his knees, and began:

"Now, Louisa, I'm going to take an uncle's privilege of lighting my pipe
before I begin to talk, if you don't mind."

He lit his pipe, and then suddenly dropping the rôle of uncle
altogether, said gently:

"I don't want to press you with any questions that you don't want to
answer, but if you need a friend of any sort, size, or description, here
I am." He paused for a moment and then asked still more gently: "Are you
afraid of me?"

For the first time she let her long-lashed eyes rest full on his face
and in her low voice, she answered:

"Partly afraid."

"And partly what else?"

"Partly puzzled--and partly ashamed."

"Ashamed!" he exclaimed with a note of indignant protest. "Ashamed of
what?"

"The exhibition I've made of myself," she said, her voice still very
low.

"Well," he smiled, "that's a matter of opinion. But why are you afraid?"

"Oh," she exclaimed. "You know of course!"

He stared at her blankly.

"I pass; I can't play to that!" he replied. "I honestly do not know,
Miss Farmond."

Her eyes opened very wide.

"That's what I meant when I said I was puzzled. You _must_ know--and
yet----!"

She broke off and looked at him doubtfully.

"Look here," said he, "some one's got to solve this mystery, and I'll
risk a leading question. Why did you run away?"

"Because of what you have been doing!"

"_Me_ been doing! And what have I been doing?"

"Suspecting me and setting a detective to watch me!"

Ned's one eye opened wide, but for a moment he said not a word. Then he
remarked quietly:

"This is going to be a derned complicated business. Just you begin at
the beginning, please, and let's see how things stand. Who told you I
was setting a detective on to you?"

"I found out myself I was being watched."

"How and when?"

She hesitated, and the doubtful look returned to her eyes.

"Come, Louisa!" he said. "No nonsense this time! We've got to have this
out--or my name's Dawkins!"

For the first time she smiled spontaneously, and the doubtful look
almost vanished. Just a trace was left, but her voice, though still very
low, was firmer now.

"I only discovered for the first time the wicked suspicion about poor
Malcolm," she said, "when I met a gentleman a few days ago who told me
he had heard Malcolm was arrested for the murder of Sir Reginald."

"But that's not true!" cried Ned.

"No, and he admitted it was only a story he had heard at the hotel, but
it suddenly seemed to throw light on several things I hadn't been able
to understand. I spoke to Lady Cromarty about it, and then I actually
found that I was suspected too!"

"Did she tell you so?"

"Not in so many words, but I knew what was in her mind. And then the
very next day I caught the same man examining the library with Bisset
and I saw him out of the window follow Lady Cromarty and speak to her,
and then I knew he was a detective!"

"How did you know?"

"Oh, by instinct, and I was right! The position was so horrible--so
unbearable, that I went in to see Mr. Rattar about it."

"Why Rattar?"

"Because he is the family lawyer and he's also investigating the case,
and I thought of course he was employing the detective. And Mr. Rattar
told me you were really employing him. Are you?"

There was a pleading note in this question--a longing to hear the answer
"No" that seemed to affect Ned strangely.

"It's all right, Miss Farmond!" he said. "Don't you worry! I got that
man down here to clear you--just for that purpose and no other!"

"But----" she exclaimed, "Mr. Rattar said you suspected Malcolm and me
and were determined to prove our guilt!"

"Simon Rattar said that!"

There was something so menacing in his voice that Cicely involuntarily
shrank back.

"Do you mean to tell me, honour bright, that Simon Rattar told you that
lie in so many words?"

"Yes," she said, "he did indeed. And he said that this Mr. Carrington
was a very clever man and was almost certain to trump up a very strong
case against us, and so he advised me to go away."

He seemed almost incapable of speech at this.

"He actually advised you to bolt?"

She nodded.

"To slip away quietly to London and stay in an hotel he recommended till
I heard from him. He said you had sworn to track down the criminals and
hang them with your own hands, and so when I saw you suddenly come up
behind me in that dark road to-night--oh, you've no idea how terrified I
was! Mr. Rattar had frightened away all the nerve I ever had, and then
when I thought I was safely away, you suddenly came up behind me in that
dark road!"

"You poor little----" he began, laying his hand upon hers, and then he
remembered Sir Malcolm and altered his sentence into: "You know now
that was all one infernal pack of lies, don't you?"

Though he took away his hand, she had not moved her own, and she gave
him now a look which richly rewarded him for his evening's work.

"I believe every word you tell me," she said.

"Well then," said Ned, "I tell you that I got this fellow Carrington
down to take up the case so that I could clear you in the first place
and find the right man in the second. So as to give him an absolutely
clear field, he wasn't told who was employing him, and then he could
suspect me myself if he wanted to. As a matter of fact, I rather think
he has guessed who's running him. Anyhow, yesterday afternoon he told me
straight and emphatically that he knew you were innocent. So you've run
away a day too late!"

She laughed at last, and then fell serious again.

"But what did Mr. Rattar mean by saying you had engaged the detective
because you suspected Malcolm and me?"

"That's precisely what I want to find out," said Ned grimly. "He could
guess easy enough who was employing Carrington, because I had suggested
getting a detective, only Simon wouldn't rise to it. But as to saying I
suspected you, he knew that was a lie, and I can only suspect he's
getting a little tired of life!"

They talked on for a little longer, still sitting by the table, with her
eyes now constantly smiling into his, until at last he had to remind
himself so vigorously of the absent and lucky baronet that the pleasure
began to ebb. And then they said good-night and he was left staring
into the fire.

       *       *       *       *       *

Next morning they faced one another in a first class carriage on a
homeward bound train.

"What shall I say to Lady Cromarty?" she asked, half smiling, half
fearfully.

He reflected for a few minutes.

"Tell her the truth. Lies don't pay in the long run. I can bear witness
to this part of the story, and to the Carrington part if necessary,
though I don't want to give him away if I can help it."

"Oh no!" she said, "we mustn't interfere with him. But supposing Lady
Cromarty doesn't believe----"

"Come straight to Stanesland! Will you?"

"Run away again?"

"It's the direction you run in that matters," said he. "Now, mind you,
that's understood!"

She was silent for a little and then she said:

"I can't understand why these horrible stories associate Malcolm and me.
Why should we have conspired to do such a dreadful thing?"

He stared at her, and then hesitated.

"Because--well, being engaged to him----"

"Engaged to Malcolm!" she exclaimed. "Whatever put that into people's
heads?"

"What!" he cried. "Aren't you?"

"Good gracious no! Was _that_ the reason then?"

He seemed too lost in his own thoughts to answer her; but they were
evidently not unhappy thoughts this time.

"Who can have started such a story?" she demanded.

"Who started it?" he repeated and then was immersed in thought again;
only now there was a grim look on his face.

"Well anyhow," he cried, in a minute or two, "we're out of that wood!
Aren't we, Louisa?"

"Yes, Uncle Ned," she smiled back.

He stirred impulsively in his seat and then seemed to check himself, and
for the rest of the journey he appeared to be divided between content
with the present hour and an impulse to improve upon it. And then before
he had realised where they were, they had stopped at a station, and she
was exclaiming:

"Oh, I must get out here! I've left my bike in the station!"

"Look here," said he, with his hand on the door handle, "before you go
you've got to swear that you'll come straight to Stanesland if there's
another particle of trouble. Swear?"

"But what about Miss Cromarty?" she smiled.

"Miss Cromarty will say precisely the same as I do," he said with a
curiously significant emphasis. "So now, I don't open this door till you
promise!"

"I promise!" said she, and then she was standing on the platform waving
a farewell.

"I half wish I'd risked it!" he said to himself with a sigh as the train
moved on, and then he ruminated with an expression on his face that
seemed to suggest a risk merely deferred.



XXIX

BROTHER AND SISTER


Ned Cromarty found his sister in her room.

"Well, Ned," she asked, "where on earth have you been?"

He shut the door before he answered, and then came up to the fireplace,
and planted himself in front of her.

"Who told you that Cicely Farmond was engaged to Malcolm Cromarty?" he
demanded.

She made a little grimace of comic alarm, but her eye was apprehensive.

"Don't eat my head off, Neddy! How can I remember?"

"You've got to remember," said her brother grimly. "And you'd better be
careful what you tell me, for I'll go straight to the woman, or man, you
name."

She looked at him boldly enough.

"I don't know if you are aware of it, but this isn't the way I'm
accustomed to be talked to."

"It's the way you're being talked to now," said he. "Who told you?"

"I absolutely refuse to answer if you speak to me like that, Ned!"

"Then we part company, Lilian."

There was no doubt about the apprehension in her eye now. For a moment
it seemed to wonder whether he was actually in earnest, and then to
decide that he was.

"I--I don't know who told me," she said in an altered voice.

"Did anybody tell you, or did you make it up?"

"I never actually said they were engaged."

He looked at her in silence and very hard, and then he spoke
deliberately.

"I won't ask you why you deceived me, Lilian, but it was a low down
trick to play on me, and it has turned out to be a damned cruel trick to
play on that girl. I mentioned the engagement as a mere matter of course
to somebody, and though I mentioned it confidentially, it started this
slander about Malcolm Cromarty and Cicely Farmond conspiring to
murder--to _murder_, Lilian!--the man of all men they owed most to.
That's what you've done!"

By this time Lilian Cromarty's handkerchief was at her eyes.

"I--I am very sorry, Ned," she murmured.

But he was not to be soothed by a tear, even in the most adroit lady's
eye.

"The latest consequence has been," he said sternly, "that through a
mixture of persecution and bad advice she has been driven to run away.
Luckily I spotted her at the start and fetched her back, and I've told
her that if there is the least little bit more trouble she is to come
straight here and that you will give her as good a welcome as I shall.
Is that quite clear?"

"Yes," she murmured through her handkerchief.

"Otherwise," said he, "there's no room for us both here. One single
suggestion that she isn't welcome--and you have full warning now of the
consequences!"

"When is she coming?" she asked in an uncertain voice.

"When? Possibly never. But there's some very fishy--and it looks to me,
some very dirty business going on, and this port stands open in case of
a storm. You fully understand?"

"Of course I do," she said, putting away her handkerchief. "I'm not
quite a fool!"

And indeed, none of her friends or acquaintances had ever made that
accusation against Lilian Cromarty.

"Well, that's all," said Ned, and began to move across the room.

But now the instinct for finding a scapegoat began to revive.

"Who did you tell it to, Ned?" she asked.

"Simon Rattar."

"Then _he_ has spread this dreadful story!" she exclaimed with righteous
indignation.

Her brother stopped and slowly turned back.

"By heaven, I've scarcely had time to think it all out yet--but it looks
like it!"

"It _must_ be that nasty grumpy old creature! If you told nobody
else--well, it can't be anybody else!"

"But why should he go and spread such a story?"

"Because he wants to shelter some one else!"

"Who?"

"Ah, that's for the police to find out. But I'm quite certain, Ned, that
that pig-headed old Simon with his cod-fish eyes and his everlasting
grunt is at the bottom of it all!"

He stared thoughtfully into space.

"Well," he said slowly, "he has certainly been asking for trouble in one
or two ways, and this seems another invitation. But he'll get it, sure!
At the same time--what's his object?"

His sister had no hesitation.

"Either to make money or hide something disgraceful. You really must
enquire into this, Ned!"

He dropped into a chair and sat for a few minutes with his face in his
hands. At last he looked up and shook his head.

"I'm out of my depth," he said. "I guess I'd better see Carrington."

"Mr. Carrington?" she exclaimed.

"I had a long talk with him," he explained. "He seems an uncommon shrewd
fellow. Yes, that's the proper line!"

She looked at him curiously but evidently judged it tactful in the
present delicate situation to ask no more. He rose now and went, still
thoughtful, to the door.

"What a dreadful thing of Simon Rattar to do! Wasn't it, Ned?" she said
indignantly, her eyes as bright as ever again.

He turned as she went out.

"The whole thing has been damnable!"

As the door closed behind him she made a little grimace again and then
gave a little shrug.

"He's going to marry her!" she said to herself, and acting immediately
on a happy inspiration, sat down to write a long and affectionate letter
to an old friend whose country house might, with judicious management,
be considered good for a six months' visit.



XXX

A MARKED MAN


The unexpected energy displayed by her charming guest in bustling all
over the country had surprised and a little perplexed Miss Peterkin, but
she now decided that it was only a passing phase, for on the day
following his visits to Keldale and Stanesland he exhibited exactly the
same leisurely calm she had admired at first. He sought out the local
golf course and for an hour or two his creditable game confirmed his
reputation as a sportsman, and for the rest of the time he idled in a
very gentlemanly manner.

In the course of the afternoon he strolled out and gradually drifted
through the dusk towards the station. Finding the train was, as usual,
indefinitely late, he strolled out again and finally drifted back just
as the signals had fallen at last. It was quite dark by this time and
the platform lamps were lit, but Mr. Carrington chanced to stand
inconspicuously in a background of shadows. As the engine hissed
ponderously under the station roof and the carriage doors began to open,
he still stood there, the most casual of spectators. A few passengers
passed him, and then came a young man in a fur coat, on whom some very
curious glances had been thrown when he alighted from his first class
compartment. Mr. Carrington, however, seemed to take no interest either
in him or anybody else till the young man was actually passing him, and
then he suddenly stepped out of the shadows, touched him on the shoulder
and said in a much deeper and graver voice than usual:

"Sir Malcolm Cromarty, I believe!"

The young man started violently and turned a pale face.

"Ye--es, I am," he stammered.

"May I have a word with you?" said Carrington gravely.

With a dreadfully nervous air Sir Malcolm accompanied him out into the
dark road, neither speaking, and then the young man demanded hoarsely:

"What do you want with me?"

Carrington's voice suddenly resumed its usual cheerful note.

"Forgive me," he said, "for collaring you like this, but the fact is I
am very keen to see you about the Keldale shootings."

Sir Malcolm gave a gasp of relief.

"Thank Heaven!" he exclaimed. "Good Lord, what a fright you gave me!"

"I say I'm awfully sorry!" said Carrington anxiously. "How frightfully
stupid I must have been!"

The young man looked at him, and, like most other people, evidently
found his ingenuous face and sympathetic manner irresistibly confidence
inspiring.

"Oh, not at all," he said. "In fact you must have wondered at my manner.
The fact is Mr.--er----"

"Carrington."

"Mr. Carrington, that I'm in a most awful position at present. You know
of course that I'm suspected of murder!"

"No!" exclaimed Carrington, with vast interest. "Not really?"

"It's an absolute fact--suspected of murder! Good God, just imagine it!"

The young baronet stopped and faced his new acquaintance dramatically.
In spite of his nervousness, it was evident that his notoriety had
compensations.

"Yes," he said, "I--the head of an ancient and honourable house--am
actually suspected of having murdered my cousin, Sir Reginald Cromarty!"

"What, that murder!" exclaimed Carrington. "By Jove, of course, I've
heard a lot about the case. And you are really suspected?"

"So much so," said the baronet darkly, "that when you touched me on the
shoulder I actually thought you were going to arrest me!"

Carrington seemed equally astounded and penitent at this unfortunate
reading of his simple and natural action in stepping suddenly out of the
dark and tapping a nervous stranger on the shoulder.

"How very tactless of me!" he repeated more than once. "Really, I must
be more careful another time!"

And then he suddenly turned his monocle on to the baronet and enquired:

"But how do you know you are suspected?"

"How do I know! My God, all fingers are pointing at me! Even in my club
in London I feel I am a marked man. I have discussed my awful position
with all my friends, and by this time they tell me that everybody else
knows too!"

"That is--er--not unnatural," said Carrington drily. "But how did you
first learn?"

The young man's voice fell almost to a whisper and he glanced
apprehensively over his shoulder as he spoke.

"I knew I should be suspected the moment I heard of the crime! The very
night before--perhaps at the actual moment when the deed was being
done--I did a foolish thing!"

"You don't say so!" exclaimed his new friend with every appearance of
surprise.

"Yes, you may not believe me, but I acted like a damned silly ass. Mind
you, I am not as a rule a silly ass," the baronet added with dignity,
"but that night I actually confided in a woman!"

"What woman?"'

"My relative Miss Cicely Farmond--a charming girl, I may mention; there
was every excuse for me, still it was a rotten thing to do, I quite
admit. I told her that I was hard up and feeling desperate, and I even
said I was going to sit up late! And on top of that Sir Reginald was
murdered that very night. Imagine my sensations for the next few days,
living in the same house with the woman who had heard me say _that_! She
held my fate in her hands, but, thank God, she evidently had such faith
in my honour and humanity that she forebore to--er----"

"Peach," suggested Carrington, "though as a matter of fact, I fancy she
had forgotten all about the incident."

"Forgotten my words!" exclaimed the baronet indignantly. "Impossible! I
can never forget them myself so long as I live!"

"Well," said Carrington soothingly, "let us suppose she remembered them.
Anyhow she said nothing, and, that being so, how did you first actually
know that you were suspected?"

"My own man of business thought it his duty to drop me a hint!" cried
the baronet.

This piece of information seemed to produce quite as much impression on
his new acquaintance as his first revelation, though he took it rather
more quietly.

"Really!" said he in a curious voice. "And what course of action did he
advise?"

"He advised me to keep away from the place. In fact he even suggested I
should go abroad--and, by Gad, I'm going too!"

To this, Carrington made no reply at all. His thoughts, in fact, seemed
to have wandered entirely away from Sir Malcolm Cromarty. The baronet
seemed a trifle disappointed at his lack of adequate interest.

"Don't you sympathise with me," he enquired.

"I beg your pardon," said Carrington, "my thoughts were wandering for
the moment. I do sympathise. By the way, what are you going to do now?"

The baronet started.

"By Gad, my own thoughts are wandering!" said he, "though I certainly
have some excuse! I must get down to the Kings Arms and order a trap to
take me out to Keldale House as quickly as I can." And then he added
mysteriously, "I only came down here because I was urgently wired for by
some one who--well, I couldn't refuse."

"I'm going to the Kings Arms, too. We'll walk down together, if you
don't mind."

"Delighted," said the baronet, "if you don't mind being seen with such a
marked man."

"I rather like them marked," smiled Carrington.

All the way to the hotel the notorious Sir Malcolm pursued what had
evidently become his favourite subject:--the vast sensation he was
causing in society and the pain it gave a gentleman of title and
position to be placed in such a predicament. When they reached the Kings
Arms, his new acquaintance insisted in a very friendly and confident way
that there was no immediate hurry about starting for Keldale, and that
the baronet must come up to his sitting room first and have a little
refreshment.

The effect of a couple of large glasses of sloe gin was quickly
apparent. Sir Malcolm became decidedly happier and even more
confidential. He was considerably taken aback, however, when his host
suddenly asked, with a disconcertingly intense glance:

"Are you quite sure you are really innocent?"

"Innocent!" exclaimed the baronet, leaping out of his chair. "Do you
mean to tell me you doubt it? Do you actually believe I am capable of
killing a man in cold blood? Especially the honoured head of my own
house?"

Carrington seemed to suppress a smile.

"No," said he, "I don't believe it."

"Then, sir," said the baronet haughtily, "kindly do not question my
honour!"

This time Carrington allowed his smile to appear.

"Sit down, Sir Malcolm," he said, "pull yourself together, and listen to
a few words."

Sir Malcolm looked extremely surprised, but obeyed.

"What I am going to say is in the strictest confidence and you must give
me your word not to repeat one single thing I tell you."

His serious manner evidently impressed the young man.

"I give you my word, sir," said he.

"Well then, in the first place, I am a detective."

For a few seconds Sir Malcolm stared at him in silence and then burst
into a hearty laugh.

"Good egg, sir!" said he. "Good egg! If I had not finished my sloe gin
I should drink to your health!"

It was Carrington's turn to look disconcerted. Recovering himself he
said with a smile:

"You shall have another glass of sloe gin when you have grasped the
situation. I assure you I am actually a detective--or, rather, a private
enquiry agent."

Sir Malcolm shook a knowing head.

"My dear fellow," said he, "you can't really pull my leg like that. I
can see perfectly well you are a gentleman."

"I appreciate the compliment," said Carrington, "but just let me tell
you what was in the telegram which has brought you here. It ran--'Come
immediately urgent news don't answer please don't delay. Cicely
Farmond.'"

Sir Malcolm's mouth fell open.

"How--how do you know that?" he asked.

"Because I wrote it myself. Miss Farmond is quite unaware it was sent."

The baronet began to look indignant.

"But--er--why the devil, sir----"

"Because I am a detective," interrupted Carrington, "and I wished to see
you."

Sir Malcolm evidently began to grasp the situation at last.

"What about?" he asked, and his face was a little paler already.

"About this murder. I wanted to satisfy myself that you were--or were
not--innocent."

"But--er--how?"

"By your actions, conversation, and appearance. I am now satisfied, Sir
Malcolm."

"That I am innocent."

"Yes."

"Then will this be the end of my--er--painful position?"

"So far as your own anxiety goes; yes. You need no longer fear arrest."

The first look of relief which had rushed to the young man's face became
clouded with a suggestion of chagrin.

"But won't people then--er--talk about me any longer?"

"I am afraid I can't prevent that--for a little longer."

The last of the baronet's worries seemed to disappear.

"Ah!" he said complacently. "Well, let them talk about me!"

Carrington rose and rang the bell.

"You deserve a third sloe gin!" said he.

While the third sloe gin was being brought, he very deliberately and
very thoughtfully selected and lit a cigarette, and then he said:

"You tell me specifically that Mr. Rattar was the first person to inform
you that suspicion was directed against you, and that he advised you to
keep away, and for choice to go abroad. There is no doubt about that, is
there?"

"Well," said Sir Malcolm, "he didn't specifically advise me to go
abroad, but certainly his letter seemed to suggest it."

"Ah!" said Carrington and gazed into space for a moment.

"I am now going to take the liberty of suggesting your best course of
action," he resumed. "In the first place, there is no object in your
going out to Keldale House, so I think you had better not. In the second
place, you had better call on Mr. Rattar first thing to-morrow and
consult him about any point of business that strikes you as a sufficient
reason for coming so far to see him. I may tell you that he has given
you extremely bad advice, so you can be as off-hand and brief with him
as you like. Get out of his office, in fact, as quick as you can."

"That's what I always want to do," said the baronet. "I can't stick the
old fellow at any price."

"If he asks you whether you have seen me, say you have just seen me but
didn't fancy me, and don't give him the least idea of what we talked
about. You can add that you left the Kings Arms because you didn't care
for my company."

"But am I to leave it?" exclaimed the young man.

Carrington nodded.

"It's better that we shouldn't stay in the same hotel. It will support
your account of me. And finally, get back to London by the first train
after you have seen Mr. Rattar."

"Then aren't you working with old Simon?" enquired Sir Malcolm.

"Oh, in a sense, I am," said Carrington carelessly, "but I daresay you
have found him yourself an arbitrary, meddlesome old boy, and I like to
be independent."

"By Gad, so do I," the baronet agreed cordially. "I am quite with you
about old Silent Simon. I'll do just exactly as you suggest. He won't
get any change out of me!"

"And now," said Carrington, "get your bag taken to any other hotel you
like. I'll explain everything to Miss Peterkin."

Sir Malcolm by this time had finished his third sloe gin and he said
farewell with extreme affability, while his friend Mr. Carrington
dropped into the manageress' room and explained that the poor young man
had seemed so nervous and depressed that he had advised his departure
for a quieter lodging. He added with great conviction that as a sporting
man he would lay long odds on Sir Malcolm's innocence, and that between
Miss Peterkin and himself he didn't believe a word of the current
scandals.

That evening Mr. Carrington joined the choice spirits in the manageress'
room, and they had a very long and entertaining gossip. The conversation
turned this time chiefly on the subject of Mr. Simon Rattar, and if by
the end of it the agreeable visitor was not fully acquainted with the
history of that local celebrity, of his erring partner, and of his
father before him, it was not the fault of Miss Peterkin and her
friends. Nor could it fairly be said to be the visitor's fault either,
for his questions were as numerous as they were intelligent.



XXXI

THE LETTER AGAIN


On the morning after Sir Malcolm's fleeting visit to the Kings Arms, the
manageress was informed by her friend Mr. Carrington that he would like
a car immediately after breakfast.

"I really must be a little more energetic, or I'll never find anything
to suit me," he smiled in his most leisurely manner. "I am thinking of
running out to Keldale to have another look at the place. It might be
worth taking if they'd let it."

"But you've been to Keldale already, Mr. Carrington!" said Miss
Peterkin. "I wonder you don't have a look at one of the other places."

"I'm one of those fellows who make up their minds slowly," he explained.
"But when we cautious fellows do make up our minds, well, something
generally happens!"

Circumstances, however, prevented this enthusiastic sportsman from
making any further enquiry as to the letting of the Keldale shootings.
When Bisset appeared at the front door consternation was in his face. It
was veiled under a restrained professional manner, but not sufficiently
to escape his visitor's eye.

"What's up?" he asked at once.

Bisset looked for a moment into his sympathetic face, and then in grave
whisper said:

"Step in, sir, and I'll tell ye."

He led him into a small morning room, carefully closed the door, and
announced,

"Miss Farmond has gone, sir!"

"Gone. When and how?"

"Run away, sir, on her bicycle yesterday afternoon and deil a sign of
her since!"

"Any luggage?"

"Just a wee suit case."

"No message left, or anything of that kind?"

"Not a word or a line, sir."

"The devil!" murmured Carrington.

"That's just exac'ly it, sir!"

"No known cause? No difficulty with Lady Cromarty or anything?"

"Nothing that's come to my ears, sir."

Carrington stared blankly into space and remained silent for several
minutes. Bisset watched his assistant with growing anxiety.

"Surely, sir," he burst forth at last, "you're not thinking this goes to
indicate any deductions or datas showing she's guilty?"

"I'm dashed if I know what to think," murmured Carrington still lost in
thought.

Suddenly he turned his eyeglass on the other.

"By Jove!" he exclaimed, "the day before yesterday I passed that girl
riding on a bicycle towards Keldale House after dark! Do you know where
she had been?"

"Into the town, sir. I knew she was out, of course, and she just
mentioned afterwards where she had been."

"Have you any idea whom she saw or what she did?"

Bisset shook his head.

"I have no datas, sir, that's the plain fac'."

"But you can't think of any likely errand to take her in so late in the
afternoon?"

"No, sir. In fact, I mind thinking it was funny like her riding about
alone in the dark like yon, for she's feared of being out by hersel' in
the dark; I know that."

Carrington reflected for a few moments longer and then seemed to dismiss
the subject.

"By the way," he asked, "can you remember if, by any chance, Sir
Reginald had any difficulty or trouble or row of any kind with anyone
whatever during, say, the month previous to his death? I mean with any
of the tenants, or his tradesmen--or his lawyer? Take your time and
think carefully."

       *       *       *       *       *

Carrington dismissed his car at Mr. Rattar's office. When he was shown
into the lawyer's room, he exhibited a greater air of keenness than
usual.

"Well, Mr. Rattar," said he, "you'll be interested to hear that I've got
rather a new point of view with regard to this case."

"Indeed?" said Simon, and his lips twitched a little as he spoke. There
was no doubt that he was not looking so well as usual. His face had
seemed drawn and worried last time Carrington had seen him; now it
might almost be termed haggard.

"I find," continued Carrington, "that Sir Reginald displayed a curious
and unaccountable irritability before his death. I hear, for instance,
that a letter from you had upset him quite unduly."

Carrington paused for an instant, and his monocle was full on Simon all
the time, and yet he did not seem to notice the very slight but distinct
start which the lawyer gave, for he continued with exactly the same
confidential air.

"These seem to me very suggestive symptoms, Mr. Rattar, and I am
wondering very seriously whether the true solution of his mysterious
death is not--" he paused for an instant and then in a low and earnest
voice said, "suicide!"

There was no mistake about the lawyer's start this time, or about the
curious fact that the strain seemed suddenly to relax, and a look of
relief to take its place. And yet Carrington seemed quite oblivious to
anything beyond his own striking new theory.

"That's rather a suggestive idea, isn't it?" said he.

"Very!" replied Simon with the air of one listening to a revelation.

"How he managed to inflict precisely those injuries on himself is at
present a little obscure," continued Carrington, "but no doubt a really
expert medical opinion will be able to suggest an explanation. The
theory fits all the other facts remarkably, doesn't it?"

"Remarkably," agreed Simon.

"This letter of yours, for instance, was a very ordinary business
communication, I understand."

"Very ordinary," said Simon.

"Of course, you have a copy of it in your letter book--and also Sir
Reginald's reply?"

There was a moment's pause and then Simon's grunt seemed to be forced
out of himself. But he followed the grunt with a more assured,
"Certainly."

"May I see them?"

"You--you think they are important?"

"As bearing on Sir Reginald's state of mind only."

Simon rang his bell and ordered the letter book to be brought in. While
Carrington was examining it, his eyes never left his visitor's face, but
they would have had to be singularly penetrating to discover a trace of
any emotion there. Throughout his inspection, Carrington's air remained
as imperturbable as though he were reading the morning paper.

"According to these letters," he observed, "there seems to have been a
trifling but rather curious misunderstanding. In accordance with written
instructions of a fortnight previously, you had arranged to let a
certain farm to a certain man, and Sir Reginald then complained that you
had overlooked a conversation between those dates in which he had
cancelled these instructions. He writes with a warmth that clearly
indicates his own impression that this conversation had been perfectly
explicit and that your forgetfulness or neglect of it was unaccountable,
and he proposes to go into this and one or two other matters in the
course of a conversation with you which should have taken place that
afternoon. You then reply that you are too busy to come out so soon, but
will call on the following morning. In the meantime Sir Reginald is
murdered, and so the conversation never takes place and no explanation
passes between you. Those are the facts, aren't they?"

He looked up from the letter book as he spoke and there was no doubt he
noticed something now. Indeed, the haggard look on Simon's face and a
bead of perspiration on his forehead were so striking, and so singular
in the case of such a tough customer, that the least observant--or the
most circumspect--must have stared. Carrington's stare lasted only for
the fraction of a second, and then he was polishing his eyeglass with
his handkerchief in the most indifferent way.

A second or two passed before Simon answered, and then he said abruptly:

"Sir Reginald was mistaken. No such conversation."

"Do you mean to tell me literally that _no_ such conversation took
place? Was it a mere delusion?"

"Er--practically. Yes, a delusion."

"Suicide!" declared Carrington with an air of profound conviction.
"Yes, Mr. Rattar, that is evidently the solution. The unfortunate man
had clearly not been himself, probably for some little time previously.
Well, I'll make a few more enquiries, but I fancy my work is nearly at
an end. Good-morning."

He rose and was half way across the room, when he stopped and asked, as
if the idea had suddenly occurred to him:

"By the way, I hear that Miss Farmond was in seeing you a couple of days
ago."

Again Simon seemed to start a little, and again he hesitated for an
instant and then replied with a grunt.

"Had she any news?" asked the other.

Simon grunted again and shook his head, and Carrington threw him a
friendly nod and went out.

He maintained the same air till he had turned down a bye street and was
alone, and only then he gave vent to his feelings.

"I'm dashed!" he muttered, "absolutely jiggered!"

All the while he shook his head and slashed with his walking stick
through the air. There was no doubt that Mr. Carrington was thoroughly
and genuinely puzzled.



XXXII

THE SYMPATHETIC STRANGER


Carrington's soliloquy was interrupted by the appearance of someone on
the pavement ahead of him. He pulled himself together, took out his
watch, and saw that it was still only twenty minutes past twelve. After
thinking for a moment, he murmured:

"I might as well try 'em!"

And thereupon he set out at a brisk walk, and a few minutes later was
closeted with Superintendent Sutherland in the Police Station. He began
by handing the Superintendent a card with the name of Mr. F. T.
Carrington on it, but with quite a different address from that on the
card he had sent up to Mr. Rattar. It was, in fact, his business card,
and the Superintendent regarded him with respectful interest.

After explaining his business and his preference for not disclosing it
to the public, he went briefly over the main facts of the case.

"I see you've got them all, sir," said the Superintendent, when he had
finished. "There really seems nothing to add and no new light to be seen
anywhere."

"I'm afraid so," agreed Carrington. "I'm afraid so."

In fact he seemed so entirely resigned to this conclusion that he
allowed, and even encouraged, the conversation to turn to other matters.
The activity and enterprise of the Procurator Fiscal seemed to have
particularly impressed him, and this led to a long talk on the subject
of Mr. Simon Rattar. The Superintendent was also a great admirer of the
Fiscal and assured Mr. Carrington that not only was Mr. Simon himself
the most capable and upright of men, but that the firm of Rattar had
always conducted its business in a manner that was above reproach. Mr.
Carrington had made one or two slightly cynical but perfectly
good-natured comments on lawyers in general, but he got no countenance
from the Superintendent so far as Mr. Rattar and his business were
concerned.

"But hadn't he some trouble at one time with his brother?" his visitor
enquired.

The Superintendent admitted that this was so, and also that Sir Reginald
Cromarty had suffered thereby, but he was quite positive that this
trouble was entirely a thing of the past. There was no doubt that this
information had a somewhat depressing effect even on the good-humoured
Mr. Carrington, and at last he confessed with a candid air:

"The fact is, Superintendent, that I have a theory Sir Reginald was
worrying about something before his death, and as all his business
affairs are conducted by Mr. Rattar, I was wondering whether he had any
difficulties in that direction. Now about this bad brother of Mr.
Rattar's--there couldn't be trouble still outstanding, you think?"

"Mr. George Rattar was out of the firm, sir, years ago," the
Superintendent assured him. "No, it couldna be that."

"And Mr. George Rattar certainly died a short time ago, did he?"

"I can show you the paper with his death in it. I kept it as a kind of
record of the end of him."

He fetched the paper and Carrington after looking at it for a few
minutes, remarked:

"I see here an advertisement stating that Mr. Rattar lost a ring."

"Yes," said the Superintendent, "that was a funny thing because it's not
often a gentleman loses a ring off his hand. I've half wondered since
whether it was connected with a story of Mr. Rattar's maid that his
house had been broken into."

"When was that?"

"Curiously enough it was the very night Sir Reginald was murdered."

Carrington's chair squeaked on the floor as he sat up sharply.

"The very night of the murder?" he repeated. "Why has this never come
out before?"

The stolid Superintendent looked at him in surprise.

"But what connection could there possibly be, sir? Mr. Rattar thought
nothing of it himself and just mentioned it so that I would know it was
a mere story, in case his servants started talking about it."

"But you yourself seemed just now to think that it might not be a mere
story."

"Oh, that was just a kind o' idea," said the Superintendent easily. "It
only came in my mind when the ring was never recovered."

"What were the exact facts?" demanded Carrington.

"Oh," said the Superintendent vaguely, "there was something about a
window looking as if it had been entered, but really, sir, Mr. Rattar
paid so little attention to it himself, and we were that taken up by the
Keldale case that I made no special note of it."

"Did the servants ever speak of it again?"

"Everybody was that taken up about the murder that I doubt if they've
minded on it any further."

Carrington was silent for a few moments.

"Are the servants intelligent girls?" he enquired.

"Oh, quite average intelligent. In fact, the housemaid is a particular
decent sort of a girl."

At this point, Mr. Carrington's interest in the subject seemed to wane,
and after a few pleasant generalities, he thanked the Superintendent for
his courtesy, and strolled down to the hotel for lunch. This time his
air as he walked was noticeably brisker and his eye decidedly brighter.

About three o'clock that afternoon came a ring at the front door bell of
Mr. Simon Rattar's commodious villa. Mary MacLean declared afterwards
that she had a presentiment when she heard it, but then the poor girl
had been rather troubled with presentiments lately. When she opened the
front door she saw a particularly polite and agreeable looking gentleman
adorned with that unmistakeable mark of fashion, a single eyeglass; and
the gentleman saw a pleasant looking but evidently high strung and
nervous young woman.

"Is Mr. Simon Rattar at home?" he enquired in a courteous voice and with
a soothing smile that won her heart at once; and on hearing that Mr.
Rattar always spent the afternoons at his office and would not return
before five o'clock, his disappointment was so manifest that she felt
sincerely sorry for him.

He hesitated and was about to go away when a happy idea struck him.

"Might I come in and write a line to be left for him?" he asked, and
Mary felt greatly relieved at being able to assist the gentleman to
assuage his disappointment in this way.

She led him into the library and somehow or other by the time she had
got him ink and paper and pen she found herself talking to this
distinguished looking stranger in the most friendly way. It was not that
he was forward or gallant, far from it; simply that he was so nice and
so remarkably sympathetic. Within five minutes of making his
acquaintance, Mary felt that she could tell him almost anything.

This sympathetic visitor made several appreciative remarks about the
house and garden, and then, just as he had dipped his pen into the ink,
he remarked:

"Rather a tempting house for burglars, I should think--if such people
existed in these peaceable parts."

"Oh, but they do, sir," she assured him. "We had one in this very house
one night!"



XXXIII

THE HOUSE OF MYSTERIES


The sympathetic stranger almost laid down his pen, he was so interested
by this unexpected reply.

"What!" he exclaimed. "Really a burglary in this house? I say, how
awfully interesting! When did it happen?"

"Well, sir," said Mary in an impressive voice, "it's a most
extraordinary thing, but it was actually the very self same night of Sir
Reginald's murder!"

So surprised and interested was the visitor that he actually did lay
down his pen this time.

"Was it the same man, do you think?" he asked in a voice that seemed to
thrill with sympathetic excitement.

"Indeed I've sometimes wondered!" said she.

"Tell me how it happened!"

"Well, sir," said Mary, "it was on the very morning that we heard about
Sir Reginald--only before we'd heard, and I was pulling up the blinds in
the wee sitting room when I says to myself. 'There's been some one in at
this window!'"

"The wee sitting room," repeated her visitor. "Which is that?"

He seemed so genuinely interested that before she realised what
liberties she was taking in the master's house, she had led him into a
small sitting room at the end of a short passage leading out of the
hall. It had evidently been intended for a smoking room or study when
the villa was built, but was clearly never used by Mr. Rattar, for it
contained little furniture beyond bookcases. Its window looked on to the
side of the garden and not towards the drive, and a grass lawn lay
beneath it, while the room itself was obviously the most isolated, and
from a burglarious point of view the most promising, on the ground
floor.

"This is the room, sir," said Mary. "And look! You still can see the
marks on the sash."

"Yes," said the visitor thoughtfully, "they seem to have been made by a
tacketty boot."

"And forbye that, there was a wee bit mud on the floor and a tacket mark
in that!"

"Was the window shut or open?"

"Shut, sir; and the most extraordinary thing was that it was snibbed
too! That's what made the master say it couldna have been a burglar at
all, or how did he snib the window after he went out again?"

"Then Mr. Rattar didn't believe it was a burglar?"

"N--no, sir," said Mary, a little reluctantly.

"Was anything stolen?"

"No, sir; that was another funny thing. But it must have been a
burglar!"

"What about the other windows, and the doors? Were they all fastened in
the morning?"

"Yes, sir, it's the truth they were," she admitted.

"And what did Mr. Rattar do with the piece of mud?"

"Just threw it out of the window."

The sympathetic stranger crossed to the window and looked out.

"Grass underneath, I see," he observed. "No footprints outside, I
suppose?"

"No, sir."

"Did the police come down and make enquiries?"

"Well, sir, the master said he would inform the pollis, but then came
the news of the murder, and no one had any thoughts for anything else
after that."

The sympathetic visitor stood by the window very thoughtfully for a few
moments, and then turned and rewarded her with the most charming smile.

"Thank you awfully for showing me all this," said he. "By the way,
what's your name?" She told him and he added with a still nicer smile,
"Thank you, Mary!"

They returned to the library and he sat down before the table again, but
just as he was going to pick up the pen a thought seemed to strike him.

"By the way," he said, "I remember hearing something about the loss of a
ring. The burglar didn't take that, did he?"

"Oh, no, sir, I remember the advertisement was in the paper before the
night of the burglary."

He opened his eyes and then smiled.

"Brilliant police you've got!" he murmured, and took up the pen again.

"There was another burglar here and he might have taken it!" said Mary
in a low voice.

The visitor once more dropped the pen and looked up with a start.

"Another burglar!" he exclaimed.

"Well, sir, this one didn't actually burgle, but--"

She thought of the master if he chanced to learn how she had been
gossiping, and her sentence was cut short in the midst.

"Yes, Mary! You were saying?" cooed the persuasive visitor, and Mary
succumbed again and told him of that night when a shadow moved into the
trees and footprints were left in the gravel outside the library window,
and the master looked so strangely in the morning. Her visitor was so
interested that once she began it was really impossible to stop.

"How very strange!" he murmured, and there was no doubt he meant it.

"But about the master's ring, sir--" she began.

"You say he looked as though he were being _watched_?" he interrupted,
but it was quite a polite and gentle interruption.

"Yes, sir; but the funny thing about losing the ring was that he never
could get it off his finger before! I've seen him trying to, but oh, it
wouldn't nearly come off!"

Again he sat up and gazed at her.

"Another mystery!" he murmured. "He lost a ring which wouldn't come off
his finger? By Jove! That's very rum. Are there any more mysteries,
Mary, connected with this house?"

She hesitated and then in a very low voice answered:

"Oh, yes, sir; there was one that gave me even a worse turn!"

By this time her visitor seemed to have given up all immediate thoughts
of writing his note to Mr. Rattar. He turned his back to the table and
looked at her with benevolent calm.

"Let's hear it, Mary," he said gently.

And then she told him the story of that dreadful night when the unknown
visitor came for the box of old papers. He gazed at her, listening very
attentively, and then in a soothing voice asked her several questions,
more particularly when all these mysterious events occurred.

"And are these all your troubles now, Mary?" he enquired.

He asked so sympathetically that at last she even ventured to tell him
her latest trouble. Till he fairly charmed it out of her, she had shrunk
from telling him anything that seemed to reflect directly on her master
or to be a giving away of his concerns. But now she confessed that Mr.
Rattar's conduct, Mr. Rattar's looks, and even Mr. Rattar's very
infrequent words had been troubling her strangely. How or why his looks
and words should trouble her, she knew not precisely, and his conduct,
generally speaking, she admitted was as regular as ever.

"You don't mean that just now and then he takes a wee drop too much?"
enquired her visitor helpfully.

"Oh, no, sir," said she, "the master never did take more than what a
gentleman should, and he's not a smoking gentleman either--quite a
principle against smokers, he has, sir. Oh, it's nothing like that!"

She looked over her shoulder fearfully as though the walls might repeat
her words to the master, as she told him of the curious and disturbing
thing. Mr. Rattar had been till lately a gentleman of the most exact
habits, and then all of a sudden he had taken to walking in his garden
in a way he never did before. First she had noticed him, about the time
of the burglary and the removal of the papers, walking there in the
mornings. That perhaps was not so very disturbing, but since then he had
changed this for a habit of slipping out of the house every night--every
single night!

"And walking in the garden!" exclaimed Mr. Carrington.

"Sometimes I've heard his footsteps on the gravel, sir! Even when it has
been raining I've heard them. Perhaps sometimes he goes outside the
garden, but I've never heard of anyone meeting him on the road or
streets. It's in the garden I've heard the master's steps, sir, and if
you had been with him as long as I've been, and knew how regular his
habits was, you'd know how I'm feeling, sir!"

"I do know, Mary; I quite understand," Mr. Carrington assured her in his
soothing voice, and there could be no doubt he was wondering just as
hard as she.

"What o'clock does he generally go out?" he asked.

"At nine o'clock almost exactly every night, sir!"

Mr. Carrington looked thoughtfully out of the window into the garden,
and then at last looked down at the ink and paper and pen. Not a word
was written on the paper yet.

"Look here, Mary," he said very confidentially. "I am a friend of Mr.
Rattar's and I am sure you would like me to try and throw a little light
on this. Perhaps something is troubling him and I could help you to
clear it up."

"Oh, sir," she cried, "you are very kind! I wish you could!"

"Perhaps the best thing then," he suggested, "would be for me not to
leave a note for him after all, and for you not even to mention that I
have called. As he knows me pretty well he would be almost sure to ask
you whether I had come in and if I had left any message and so on, and
then he might perhaps find out that we had been talking, and that
wouldn't perhaps be pleasant for you, would it?"

"Oh, my! No, indeed, it wouldn't!" she agreed. "I'm that feared of the
master, sir, I'd never have him know I had been talking about him, or
about anything that has happened in this house!"

So, having come to this judicious decision, Mr. Carrington wished Mary
the kindest of farewells and walked down the drive again. There could be
no question he had plenty to think about now, though to judge from his
expression, it seemed doubtful whether his thoughts were very clear.



XXXIV

A CONFIDENTIAL CONVERSATION


The laird of Stanesland strode into the Kings Arms and demanded:

"Mr. Carrington? What, having a cup of tea in his room? What's his
number? 27--right! I'll walk right up, thanks."

He walked right up, made the door rattle under his knuckles and strode
jauntily in. There was no beating about the bush with Mr. Cromarty
either in deed or word.

"Well, Mr. Carrington," said he, "don't trouble to look surprised. I
guess you've seen right through me for some time back."

"Meaning--?" asked Carrington with his engaging smile.

"Meaning that I'm the unknown, unsuspected, and mysterious person who's
putting up the purse. Don't pretend you haven't tumbled to that!"

"Yes," admitted Carrington, "I have tumbled."

"I knew my sister had given the whole blamed show away! I take it you
put your magnifying glass back in your pocket after your trip out to
Stanesland?"

"More or less," admitted Carrington.

"Well," said Ned, "that being so, I may as well tell you what my idea
was. It mayn't have been very bright; still there was a kind of method
in my madness. You see I wanted you to have an absolutely clear field
and let you suspect me just as much as anybody else."

"In short," smiled Carrington, "you wanted to start with the other
horses and not just drop the flag."

"That's so," agreed Ned. "But when my sister let out about that £1200,
and I saw that you must have spotted me, there didn't seem much point in
keeping up the bluff, when I came to think it over. And since then, Mr.
Carrington, something has happened that you ought to know and I decided
to come and see you and talk to you straight."

"What has happened?"

Ned smiled for an instant his approval of this prompt plunge into
business, and then his face set hard.

"It's a most extraordinary thing," said he, "and may strike you as
hardly credible, but here's the plain truth put shortly. Yesterday
afternoon Miss Farmond ran away." Carrington merely nodded, and he
exclaimed, "What! You know then?"

"I learned from Bisset this morning."

"Ah, I see. Did you know I'd happened to see her start and gone after
her and brought her back?"

Carrington's interest was manifest.

"No," said he, "that's quite news to me."

"Well, I did, and I learnt the whole story from her. You can't guess who
advised her to bolt?"

"I think I can," said Carrington quietly.

"Either you're on the wrong track, or you've cut some ice, Mr.
Carrington. It was Simon Rattar!"

"I thought so."

"How the devil did you guess?"

"Tell me Miss Farmond's story first and I'll tell you how I guessed."

"Well, she spotted you were a detective--"

Carrington started and then laughed.

"Confound these women!" said he. "They're so infernally independent of
reason, they always spot things they shouldn't!"

"Then she discovered she was suspected and so she got in a stew, poor
girl, and went to see Rattar. Do you know what he told her? That I was
employing you and meant to convict Sir Malcolm and her and hang them
with my own hands!"

"The old devil!" cried Carrington. "Well, no wonder she bolted, Mr.
Cromarty!"

"But even that was done by Simon's advice. He actually gave her an
address in London to go to."

"Pretty thorough!" murmured Carrington.

"Now what do you make of that? And what ought one to do? And, by the
way, how did you guess Simon was at the bottom of it?"

Carrington leaned back in his chair and thought for a moment before
answering.

"We are in pretty deep waters, Mr. Cromarty," he said slowly. "As to
what I make of it--nothing as yet. As to what we are to do--also nothing
in the meantime. But as to how I guessed, well I can tell you this much.
I had to get information from someone, and so I called on Mr. Rattar and
told him who I was--in strict confidence, by the way, so that he had no
business to tell Miss Farmond or anybody else. I had started off, I may
say, with a wrong guess: I thought Rattar himself was probably either my
employer or acting for my employer, and when I suggested this he told me
I was right."

"What!" shouted Ned. "The grunting old devil told you that?" He stared
at the other for a moment, and then demanded, "Why did he tell you that
lie?"

"Fortune played my cards for me. Quite innocently and unintentionally. I
tempted him. I said if I could be sure he was my employer I'd keep him
in touch with everything I was doing. I had also let him know that my
employer had made it an absolute condition that his name was not to
appear. He evidently wanted badly to know what I was doing, and thought
he was safe not to be given away."

"Then have you kept him in touch with everything you have done?"

Carrington smiled.

"I tell you, Mr. Cromarty, my cards were being played for me. Five
minutes later I asked him who benefited by the will and I learned that
you had scored the precise sum of £1200."

"I hadn't thought of that when I made my limit £1200!" exclaimed Ned.
"Lord, you must have bowled me out at once! Of course, you spotted the
coincidence straight off?"

"But Rattar didn't! I pushed it under his nose and he didn't see it!
Inside of one second I'd asked myself whether it was possible for an
astute man like that not to notice such a coincidence supposing he had
really guaranteed me exactly that sum--an extraordinarily large and
curious sum too."

"I like these simple riddles," said Ned with a twinkle in his single
eye. "I guess your answer to yourself was 'No!'"

Carrington nodded.

"That's what I call having my cards played for me. I knew then that the
man was lying; so I threw him off the scent, changed the subject, and
did _not_ keep Mr. Simon Rattar in touch with any single thing I did
after that."

"Good for you!" said Ned.

"Good so far, but the next riddle wasn't of the simple kind--or else I'm
even a bigger ass than I endeavour to look! What was the man's game?"

"Have you spotted it yet?"

Carrington shook his head.

"Mr. Simon Rattar's game is the toughest proposition in the way of
puzzles I've ever struck. While I'm at it I'll just tell you one or two
other small features of that first interview."

He lit a cigarette and leant over the arm of his chair towards his
visitor, his manner growing keener as he talked.

"I happened to have met Miss Farmond that morning and my interview had
knocked the bottom out of the story that she was concerned in the crime.
I had satisfied myself also that she was not engaged to Sir Malcolm."

"How did you discover that?" exclaimed Ned.

"Her manner when I mentioned him. But I found that old Rattar was wrong
on both these points and apparently determined to remain wrong. Of
course, it might have been a mere error of judgment, but at the same
time he had no evidence whatever against her, and it seemed to suggest a
curious bias. And finally, I didn't like the look of the man."

"And then you came out to see me?"

"I went out to Keldale House first and then out to you. I next
interviewed Sir Malcolm."

"Interviewed Malcolm Cromarty!" exclaimed Ned. "Where?"

"He came up to see me," explained Carrington easily, "and the gentleman
had scarcely spoken six sentences before I shared your opinion of him,
Mr. Cromarty--a squirt but not homicidal. He gave me, however, one very
interesting piece of information. Rattar had advised him to keep away
from these parts, and for choice to go abroad. I need hardly ask whether
you consider that sound advice to give a suspected man."

"Seems to me nearly as rotten advice as he gave Miss Farmond."

"Exactly. So when I heard that Miss Farmond had flown and discovered she
had paid a visit to Mr. Rattar the previous day, I guessed who had given
her the advice."

Carrington sat back in his chair with folded arms and looked at his
employer with a slight smile, as much as to say, "Tell me the rest of
the story!" Cromarty returned his gaze in silence, his heaviest frown
upon his brow.

"It seems to me," said Ned at last, "that Simon Rattar is mixed up in
this business--sure! He has something to hide and he's trying to put
people off the scent, I'll lay my bottom dollar!"

"What is he hiding?" enquired Carrington, looking up at the ceiling.

"What do you think?"

Carrington shook his head, his eyes still gazing dreamily upwards.

"I wish to Heaven I knew what to think!" he murmured; and then he
resumed a brisker air and continued, "I am ready to suspect Simon Rattar
of any crime in the calendar--leaving out petty larceny and probably
bigamy. But he's the last man to do either good or evil unless he saw a
dividend at the end, and where does he score by taking any part or
parcel in conniving at or abetting or concealing evidence or anything
else, so far as this particular crime is concerned? He has lost his best
client, with whom he was on excellent terms and whose family he had
served all his life, and he has now got instead an unsatisfactory young
ass whom he suspects, or says he suspects, of murder, and who so
loathes Rattar that, as far as I can judge, he will probably take his
business away from him. To suspect Rattar of actually conniving at, or
taking any part in the actual crime itself is, on the face of it, to
convict either Rattar or oneself of lunacy!"

"I knew Sir Reginald pretty well," said Ned, "but of course I didn't
know much about his business affairs. He hadn't been having any trouble
with Rattar, had he?"

Carrington threw him a quick, approving glance.

"We are thinking on the same lines," said he, "and I have unearthed one
very odd little misunderstanding, but it seems to have been nothing more
than that, and, apart from it, all accounts agree that there was no
trouble of any kind or description."

He took a cigarette out of his case and struck a match.

"There must be _some_ motive for everything one does--even for smoking
this cigarette. If I disliked cigarettes, knew smoking was bad for me,
and stood in danger of being fined if I was caught doing it, why should
I smoke? I can see no point whatever in Rattar's taking the smallest
share even in diverting the course of justice by a hair's breadth. He
and you and I have to all appearances identical interests in the
matter."

"You are wiser than I am," said Ned simply, but with a grim look in his
eye, "but all I can say is I am going out with my gun to look for Simon
Rattar."

Carrington laughed.

"I'm afraid you'll have to catch him at something a little better known
to the charge-sheets than giving bad advice to a lady client, before
it's safe to fire!" said he.

"But, look here, Carrington, have you collected no other facts whatever
about this case?"

Carrington shot him a curious glance, but answered nothing else.

"Oh well," said Ned, "if you don't want to say anything yet, don't say
it. Play your hand as you think best."

"Mr. Cromarty," replied Carrington, "I assure you I don't want to make
facts into mysteries, but when they _are_ mysteries--well, I like to
think 'em over a bit before I trust myself to talk. In the course of
this very afternoon I've collected an assortment either of facts or
fiction that seem to have broken loose from a travelling nightmare."

"Mind telling where you got 'em?" asked Ned.

"Chiefly from Rattar's housemaid, a very excellent but somewhat
high-strung and imaginative young woman, and how much to believe of what
she told me I honestly don't know. And the more one can believe, the
worse the puzzle gets! However, there is one statement which I hope to
be able to check. It may throw some light on the lady's veracity
generally. Meantime I am like a man trying to build a house of what may
be bricks or may be paper bags."

Ned rose with his usual prompt decision.

"I see," said he. "And I guess you find one better company than two at
this particular moment. I won't shoot Simon Rattar till I hear from you,
though by Gad, I'm tempted to kick him just to be going on with! But
look here, Carrington, if my services will ever do you the least bit of
good--in fact, so long as I'm not actually in the way--just send me a
wire and I'll come straight. You won't refuse me that?"

Carrington looked at the six feet two inches of pure lean muscle and
smiled.

"Not likely!" he said. "That's not the sort of offer I refuse. I won't
hesitate to wire if there's anything happening. But don't count on it. I
can't see any business doing just yet."

Ned held out his hand, and then suddenly said, "You don't see any
business doing just yet? But you feel you're on his track, sure! Now,
don't you?"

Carrington glanced at him out of an eye half quizzical, half abstracted.

"Whose track?" he asked.

Ned paused for a second and then rapped out:

"Was it Simon himself?"

"If we were all living in a lunatic asylum, probably yes! If we were
living in the palace of reason, certainly not--the thing's ridiculous!
What we are actually living in, however, is--" he broke off and gazed
into space.

"What?" said Ned.

"A blank fog!"



XXXV

IN THE GARDEN


It was a few minutes after half past eight when Miss Peterkin chanced to
meet her friend Mr. Carrington in the entrance hall of the Kings Arms.
He was evidently going out, and she noticed he was rather differently
habited from usual, wearing now a long, light top coat of a very dark
grey hue, and a dark coloured felt hat. They were not quite so becoming
as his ordinary garb, she thought, but then Mr. Carrington looked the
gentleman in anything.

"Are you going to desert us to-night, Mr. Carrington?" asked the
manageress.

"I have a letter or two to post," said he, "they are an excuse for a
stroll. I want a breath of fresh air."

He closed the glass door of the hotel behind him and stood for a moment
on the pavement in the little circle of radiance thrown by the light of
the hall. Mr. Carrington's leisurely movements undoubtedly played no
small part in the unsuspecting confidence which he inspired. Out of the
light he turned, strolling easily, down the long stretch of black
pavement with its few checkers of lamplight here and there, and the
empty, silent street of the little country town at his side. It was a
very dark, moonless night, and the air was almost quite still. Looking
upward, he could see a rare star or two twinkle, but all the rest of the
Heavens were under cloud. Judging from his contented expression the
night seemed to please him.

He passed the post office, but curiously enough omitted to drop any
letters into the box. The breath of fresh air seemed, in fact, to be his
sole preoccupation. Moving with a slightly quickened stride, but still
easily, he turned out of that street into another even quieter and
darker, and in a short time he was nearing the lights of the station. He
gave these a wide birth, however, and presently was strolling up a very
secluded road, with a few villas and gardens upon the one side, and
black space on the other. There for a moment he stopped and transferred
something from the pocket of his inner coat into the pocket of his top
coat. It was a small compact article, and a ray of light from a
lamp-post behind him gleamed for an instant upon a circular metal
orifice at one end of it.

Before he moved on, he searched the darkness intently, before him and
behind, but saw no sign of any other passenger. And then he turned the
rim of his dark felt hat down over his face, stepped out briskly for
some fifty yards further, and turned sharply through an open gate. Once
again he stopped and listened keenly, standing now in the shadow of the
trees beside the drive. In his dark top coat and with his hat turned
over his face he was as nearly invisible as a man could be, but even
this did not seem to satisfy him, for in a moment he gently parted the
branches of the trees and pushed through the belt of planting to the
lawn beyond.

The villa of Mr. Simon Rattar was now half seen beyond the curving end
of the belt that bounded the drive. It was dim against the night sky,
and the garden was dimmer still. Carrington kept on the grass, following
the outside of the trees, and then again plunged into them when they
curved round at the top of the drive. Pushing quietly through, he
reached the other side, and there his expedition in search of fresh air
seemed to have found its goal, for he leaned his back against a tree
trunk, folded his arms, and waited.

He was looking obliquely across a sweep of gravel, with the whole front
of the house full in view. A ray came from the fanlight over the front
door and a faint radiance escaped through the slats of the library
blinds, but otherwise the villa was a lump of darkness in the dark.

One minute after another passed without event and with scarcely even the
faintest sound. Then, all at once, a little touch of breeze sprang up
and sighed overhead through the tree tops, and from that time on, there
was an alternation of utter silence with the sough of branches gently
stirred.

From a church tower in the town came the stroke of a clock. Carrington
counted nine and his eyes were riveted on the front door now. Barely
two more minutes passed before it opened quietly; a figure appeared for
an instant in the light of the hall, and then, as quietly, the door
closed again. There was a lull at the moment, but Carrington could hear
not a sound. The figure must be standing very still on the doorstep,
listening--evidently listening. And then the thickset form of Simon
Rattar appeared dimly on the gravel, crossing to the lawn beyond. The
pebbles crunched a little, but not very much. He seemed to be walking
warily, and when he reached the further side he stood still again and
Carrington could see his head moving, as though he were looking all
round him through the night.

But now the figure was moving again, coming this time straight for the
head of the belt of trees. Carrington had drawn on a pair of dark
gloves, and he raised his arm to cover the lower part of his face,
looking over it through the branches, and facing the silent owner of the
garden, till there were hardly three paces between them, the one on the
lawn, the other in the heart of the plantation.

And then when Simon was exactly opposite, he stopped dead. Carrington's
other hand slipped noiselessly into the pocket where he had dropped that
little article, but otherwise he never moved a muscle and he breathed
very gently. The man on the turf seemed to be doing something with his
hands, but what, it was impossible to say. The hands would move into his
pocket and then out again, till quite three or four minutes had passed,
and then came a sudden flash of light. Carrington's right hand moved
halfway out of his pocket and then was stayed, for by the light of the
match he saw a very singular sight.

Simon Rattar was not looking at him. His eyes were focussed just before
his nose where the bowl of a pipe was beginning to glow. Carrington
could hear the lips gently sucking, and then the aroma of tobacco came
in a strong wave through the trees. Finally the match went out, and the
glowing pipe began to move slowly along the turf, keeping close to the
shelter of the trees.

For a space Carrington stood petrified with wonder, and then, very
carefully and quite silently, he worked his way through the trees out on
to the turf, and at once fell on his hands and knees. Had any one been
there to see, they would have beheld for the next five minutes a strange
procession of two slowly moving along the edge of the plantation; a
thickset man in front smoking a pipe and something like a great gorilla
stalking him from behind. This procession skirted the plantation nearly
down to the gate; then it turned at right angles, following the line of
trees that bordered the wall between the garden and the road; and then
again at right angles when it had reached the further corner of Mr.
Rattar's demesne. Simon was now in a secluded path with shrubs on either
hand, and instead of continuing his tour, he turned at the end of this
path and paced slowly back again. And seeing this, the ape behind him
squatted in the shadow of a laurel and waited.

A steady breeze was now blowing and the trees were sighing continuously.
The sky at the same time cleared, and more and more stars came out till
the eyes of the man behind the bush could follow the moving man from end
to end of the path. The wind made the pipe smoke quickly, and presently
a shower of sparks showed that it was being emptied, and in a minute or
two another match flashed and a second pipe glowed faintly.

Backwards and forwards paced the lawyer, and backwards and forwards
again, but for the space of nearly an hour from his first coming out,
that was everything that happened; and then at last came a tapping of
the bowl and more sparks flying abroad in the wind. The procession was
resumed, Simon in front, the ape-like form behind; but with a greater
space between them this time as the night was clearer, and now they were
heading for the house. The lawyer's steps crunched lightly on the gravel
again, the front door opened and closed, and Carrington was alone in the
garden.

Still crawling, he reached the shelter of the belt of trees and then
rose and made swiftly for the gate, and out into the road. As he passed
under a lamp, his face wore a totally new expression, compounded of
wonder, excitement, and urgent thought. He was walking swiftly, and his
pace never slackened, nor did the keenness leave his face, till he was
back at the door of the Kings Arms Hotel. Before he entered, he took off
his hat and turned up the brim again, and his manner when he tapped at
the door of the manageress' room was perfectly sedate. He let it appear,
however, that he had some slight matter on his mind.

"What is the name of Mr. Rattar's head clerk?" he enquired. "An oldish,
prim looking man, with side whiskers."

"Oh, that will be Mr. Ison," said the manageress.

"I have just remembered a bit of business I ought to have seen about
to-night," he continued. "I can't very well call on Mr. Rattar himself
at this hour, but I was thinking of looking up Mr. Ison if I could
discover his whereabouts."

"The boots will show you the way to his house," said she, and rang the
bell.

While waiting for the boots, Mr. Carrington asked another casual
question or two and learned that Mr. Ison had been in the office since
he was a boy. No man knew the house of Rattar throughout its two
generations better than Mr. Ison, said Miss Peterkin; and she remembered
afterwards that this information seemed to give Mr. Carrington peculiar
satisfaction. He seemed so gratified, indeed, that she wondered a little
at the time.

And then the visitor and the boots set out together for the clerk's
house, and at what hour her guest returned she was not quite sure. The
boots, it seemed, had been instructed to wait up for him, but she had
long gone to bed.



XXXVI

THE WALKING STICK


Had there been, next morning, any curious eyes to watch the conduct of
the gentleman who had come to rent a sporting estate, they would
probably have surmised that he had found something to please his fancy
strangely, and yet that some perplexity still persisted. They would also
have put him down as a much more excitable, and even demonstrative,
young man than they had imagined. On a lonely stretch of shore hard by
the little town he paced for nearly an hour, his face a record of the
debate within, and his cane gesticulating at intervals.

Of a sudden he stopped dead and his lips moved in a murmured
ejaculation, and then after standing stock still for some minutes, he
murmured again:

"Ten to one on it!"

His cane had been stationary during this pause. Now he raised it once
more, but this time with careful attention. It was a light bamboo with a
silver head. He looked at it thoughtfully, bent it this way and that,
and then drove it into the sand and pressed it down. Though to the
ordinary eye a very chaste and appropriate walking stick for such a
gentleman as Mr. Carrington, the result of these tests seemed to
dissatisfy him. He shook his head, and then with an air of resolution
set out for the town.

A little later he entered a shop where a number of walking sticks were
on view and informed the proprietor that he desired to purchase
something more suitable for the country than the cane he carried. In
fact, his taste seemed now to run to the very opposite extreme, for the
points on which he insisted were length, stiffness, and a long and if
possible somewhat pointed ferule. At last he found one to his mind, left
his own cane to be sent down to the hotel, and walked out with his new
purchase.

His next call was at Mr. Simon Rattar's villa. This morning he
approached it without any of the curious shyness he had exhibited on the
occasion of his recent visit. His advance was conducted openly up the
drive and in an erect posture, and he crossed the gravel space boldly,
and even jauntily, while his ring was firmness itself. Mary answered the
bell, and her pleasure at seeing so soon again the sympathetic gentleman
with the eyeglass was a tribute to his tact.

"Good morning, Mary," said he, with an air that combined very happily
the courtesy of a gentleman with the freedom of an old friend, "Mr.
Rattar is at his office, I presume."

She said that he was, but this time the visitor exhibited neither
surprise nor disappointment.

"I thought he would be," he confessed confidentially, "and I have come
to see whether I couldn't do something to help you to get at the bottom
of these troublesome goings on. Anything fresh happened?"

"The master was out in the garden again last night, sir!" said she.

"Was he really?" cried Mr. Carrington. "By Jove, how curious! We really
must look into that: in fact, I've got an idea I want you to help me
with. By the way, it sounds an odd question to ask about Mr. Rattar, but
have you ever seen any sign of a pipe or tobacco in the house?"

"Oh, never indeed!" said she. "The master has never been a smoking
gentleman. Quite against smoking he's always been, sir."

"Ever since you have known him?"

"Oh, and before that, sir."

"Ah!" observed Mr. Carrington in a manner that suggested nothing
whatever. "Well, Mary, I want this morning to have a look round the
garden."

Her eyes opened.

"Because the master walks there at nights?"

He nodded confidentially.

"But--but if he was to know you'd been interfering, sir--I mean what
he'd think was interfering, sir--"

"He shan't know," he assured her. "At least not if you'll do what I tell
you. I want you to go now and have a nice quiet talk with cook for half
an hour--half an hour by the kitchen clock, Mary. If you don't look out
of the window, you won't know that I'm in the garden, and then nobody
can blame you whatever happens. We haven't mentioned the word 'garden'
between us--so you are out of it! Remember that."

He smiled so pleasantly that Mary smiled back.

"I'll remember, sir," said she. "And cook is to be kept talking in the
kitchen?"

"You've tumbled to it exactly, Mary. If neither of you see me, neither
of you know anything at all."

She got a last glimpse of his sympathetic smile as she closed the door,
and then she went faithfully to the kitchen for her talk with cook. It
was quite a pleasant gossip at first, but half an hour is a long time to
keep talking, when one has been asked not to stop sooner, and it so
happened, moreover, that cook was somewhat busy that morning and began
at length to indicate distinctly that unless her friend had some matter
of importance to communicate she would regard further verbiage with
disfavour. At this juncture Mary decided that twenty minutes was
practically as good as half an hour, and the conversation ceased.

Passing out of the kitchen regions, Mary glanced towards a distant
window, hesitated, and then came to another decision. Mr. Carrington
must surely have left the garden now, so there was no harm in peeping
out. She went to the window and peeped.

It was only a two minutes' peep, for Mr. Carrington had not left the
garden, and at the end of that space of time something very disturbing
happened. But it was long enough to make her marvel greatly at her
sympathetic friend's method of solving the riddle of the master's
conduct. When she first saw him, he seemed to be smoothing the earth in
one of the flower beds with his foot. Then he moved on a few paces,
stopped, and drove his walking stick hard into the bed. She saw him lean
on it to get it further in and apparently twist it about a little. And
then he withdrew it again and was in the act of smoothing the place when
she saw him glance sharply towards the gate, and the next instant leap
behind a bush. Simultaneously the hum of a motor car fell on her ear,
and Mary was out of the room and speeding upstairs.

She heard the car draw up before the house and listened for the front
door bell, but the door opened without a ring and she marvelled and
trembled afresh. That the master should return in a car at this hour of
the morning seemed surely to be connected with the sin she had connived
at. It swelled into a crime as she held her breath and listened. She
wished devoutly she had never set eyes on the insinuating Mr.
Carrington.

But there came no call for her, or no ringing of any bell; merely sounds
of movement in the hall below, heard through the thrumming of the
waiting car. And then the front door opened and shut again and she
ventured to the window. It was a little open and she could hear her
master speak to the chauffeur as he got in. He was now wearing, she
noticed, a heavy overcoat. A moment more and he was off again, down the
drive, and out through the gates. When she remembered to look again for
her sympathetic friend, he was quietly driving his walking stick once
more into a flower bed.

About ten minutes afterwards the front door bell rang and there stood
Mr. Carrington again. His eye seemed strangely bright, she thought, but
his manner was calm and soothing as ever.

"I noticed Mr. Rattar return," he said, "and I thought I would like to
make sure that it was all right, before I left. I trust, Mary, that you
have got into no trouble on my account."

She thought it was very kind of him to enquire.

"The master was only just in and out again," she assured him.

"He came to get his overcoat, I noticed," he remarked.

Mr. Carrington's powers of observation struck her as very surprising for
such an easy-going gentleman.

"Yes, sir, that was all."

"Well, I'm very glad it was all right," he smiled and began to turn
away. "By the way," he asked, turning back, "did he tell you where he is
going to now?"

"He didn't see me, sir."

"You didn't happen to overhear him giving any directions to the
chauffeur, did you? I noticed you at an open window."

For the first time Mary's sympathetic friend began to make her feel a
trifle uncomfortable. His eyes seemed to be everywhere.

"I thought I heard him say 'Keldale House,'" she confessed.

"Really!" he exclaimed and seemed to muse for a moment. In fact, he
appeared to be still musing as he walked away.

Mary began to wonder very seriously whether Mr. Carrington was going to
prove merely a fresh addition to the disquieting mysteries of that
house.



XXXVII

BISSET'S ADVICE


The short November afternoon was fading into a gusty evening, as Ned
Cromarty drew near his fortalice. He carried a gun as usual, and as
usual walked with seven league strides. Where the drive passed through
the scrap of stunted plantation it was already dusk and the tortured
boughs had begun their night of sighs and tossings. Beyond them, pale
daylight lingered and the old house stood up still clear against a
broken sky and a grey waste with flitting whitecaps all the way to the
horizon. He had almost reached the front door when he heard the sound of
wheels behind him. Pausing there, he spied a pony and a governess' car,
with two people distinct enough to bring a sudden light into his eye.
The pony trotted briskly towards the door, and he took a stride to meet
them.

"Miss Farmond!" he said.

A low voice answered, and though he could not catch the words, the tone
was enough for him. And then another voice said:

"Aye, sir, I've brought her over."

"Bisset!" said he. "It's you, is it? Well, what's happened?"

He was lifting her out of the trap and not hesitating to hold her hand
a little longer than he had ever held it before, now that he could see
her face quite plainly and read what was in her eyes.

"I've dared to come after all!" she said, with a little smile, which
seemed to hint that she knew the risk was over now.

"I advised her vera strongly, sir, to come over with me to Stanesland,"
explained her escort. "The young lady has had a trying experience at
Keldale, and forby the fair impossibility of her stopping on under the
unfortunate circumstances, I was of the opinion that the sea air would
be a fine change and the architectural features remarkably interesting.
In fac', sir, I practically insisted that Miss Farmond had just got to
come."

"Good man!" said Ned. "Come in and tell me the unfortunate
circumstances." He bent over Cicely and in a lowered voice added:
"Personally I call 'em fortunate--so long as they haven't been too
beastly for you!"

"It's all right now!" she murmured, and as they went up the steps he
found, somehow or other, her hand for an instant in his again.

"If you'll stand by your pony for a moment, Bisset, I'll send out some
one to take her," he said with happy inspiration.

But Mr. Bisset was not so easily shaken off.

"She'll stand fine for a wee while," he assured his host. "You'll be the
better of hearing all about it from me."

They went into the smoking room and the escort began forthwith.

"The fact is, Mr. Cromarty, that yon man Simon Rattar is a fair
discredit. Miss Farmond has been telling me the haill story of her
running away, and your ain vera seasonable appearance and judicious
conduct, sir; which I am bound to say, Mr. Cromarty, is neither more nor
less than I'd have expectit of a gentleman of your intelligence. Weel,
to continue, Miss Farmond acted on your advice--which would have been my
own, sir, under the circumstances--and tellt her ladyship the plain
facts. Weel then----"

"And what did Lady Cromarty say to you?" demanded Ned.

"Hardly a word. She simply looked at me and said she would send for Mr.
Rattar."

Not a whit rebuffed, Mr. Bisset straightway resumed his narrative.

"A perfectly proper principle if the man was capable of telling the
truth. I'm no blaming her ladyship at that point, but where she departit
from the proper principles of evidence----"

"When did Rattar come?"

"This morning," said Cicely. "And--can you believe it?--he absolutely
denied that he had ever advised me to go away!"

"I can believe it," said Ned grimly. "And I suppose Lady Cromarty
believed him?"

"God, but you're right, sir!" cried Bisset. "Your deductions are
perfectly correct. Yon man had the impudence to give the haill thing a
flat denial! And then naturally Miss Farmond was for off, but at first
her ladyship was no for letting her go. Indeed she went the length of
sending for me and telling me the young lady was not to be permitted to
shift her luggage out of the house or use any conveyance."

"But Bisset was splendid!" cried Cicely. "Do you know what the foolish
man did? He gave up his situation and took me away!"

Bisset, the man, permitted a gleam of pleasure to illuminate his blunt
features; but Bisset, the philosopher, protested with some dignity.

"It was a mere matter of principle, sir. Detention of luggage like yon
is no legal. I tellt her ladyship flatly that she'd find herself afore
the Shirra', and that I was no going to abet any such proceedings. I
further informed her, sir, of my candid opinion of Simon Rattar, and I
said plainly that he was probably meaning to marry her and get the
estate under his thumb, and these were the kind o' tricks rascally
lawyers took in foolish women wi'."

"You told Lady Cromarty that!" exclaimed Ned. "And what did she say?"

"We had a few disagreeable passages, as it were, sir," said the
philosopher calmly. "And then I borrowed yon trap and having advised
Miss Farmond to come to Stanesland and she being amenable, I just
brought her along to you."

"Oh, it was on your advice then?"

"Yes, sir."

Cicely and her host exchanged one fleeting glance and then looked
extremely unconscious.

"She's derned wise!" said he to himself.

He held out his hand to the gratified counsellor.

"Well done, Bisset, you've touched your top form to-day, and I may tell
you I've been wanting some one like you badly for a long while, if you
are willing to stay on with me. Put that in your pipe, Bisset, and smoke
over it! And now, you know your way, go and get yourself some tea, and a
drink of the wildest poison you fancy!"

Hardly was the door closed behind him than the laird put his fate to the
test as promptly and directly as he did most other things.

"I want you to stop on too, Cicely--for ever. Will you?"

Her eyes, shyly questioning for a moment and then shyly tender, answered
his question before her lips had moved, and it would have been hard to
convince them that the minutes which followed ever had a parallel within
human experience.

A little later he confessed:

"Do you know, Cicely, I've always had a funky feeling that if I ever
proposed my glass eye would drop out!"

The next event was the somewhat sudden entry of Lilian Cromarty, and
that lady's self control was never more severely tested or brilliantly
vindicated. One startled glance, and then she was saying, briskly, and
with the old bright smile:

"A telegram for you, Ned."

"Thanks," said he. "By the way, here's the future Mrs. Ned--that's to
say if she doesn't funk it before the wedding."

Lilian's welcome, Lilian's embrace, and Lilian's congratulations were
alike perfect. Cicely wondered how people could ever have said the
critical things of her which some of her acquaintances were unkind
enough to say at times. As to Bisset's dictum regarding the lady in the
castle, that was manifestly absurd on the face of it. Miss Cromarty was
clearly overjoyed to hear of her brother's engagement.

"And now, Neddy dear!" cried the bright lady, "tell me how it all came
about!"

Ned looked up from his telegram with a glint in his eye that was hardly
a lover's glance.

"Cicely will tell you all about it," said he. "I'm afraid I've got to be
off pretty well as quick as I can."

He handed them the wire and they read: "Meet me eight to-night Kings
Arms urgent. Carrington."

"From Mr. Carrington!" exclaimed his sister.

Ned smiled.

"Cicely will explain him too," he said. "By Gad, I wonder if this is
going to be the finishing bit of luck!"

In another twenty minutes the lights of his gig lamps were raking the
night.



XXXVIII

TRAPPED


Cromarty and Carrington slipped unostentatiously out of the hotel a few
minutes after eight o'clock.

"Take any line you like," said Carrington, "but as he knows now that you
brought Miss Farmond back and have heard her version, he'll naturally be
feeling a little uncomfortable about the place where one generally gets
kicked, when he sees you march in. He will expect you to open out on
that subject, so if I were you I'd take the natural line of country and
do what he expects."

"Including the kicking?"

Carrington laughed.

"Keep him waiting for that. Spin it out; that's your job to-night."

"I wish it were more than talking!" said Ned.

"Well," drawled Carrington, "it may lead to something more amusing. Who
knows? You haven't bought your own gun, I suppose? Take mine."

He handed him the same little article he had taken out the night before,
and Ned's eye gleamed.

"What!" said he. "That kind of gun once more? This reminds me of old
times!"

"It's a mere precaution," said the other. "Don't count on using it!
Remember, you're going to visit the most respectable citizen of the
town--perhaps on a wild goose errand."

"I guess not," said Ned quietly.

"We daren't assume anything. I don't want to make a fool of myself, and
no more do you, I take it."

"I see," said Ned, with a nod. "Well, I'll keep him in his chair for
you."

"That's it."

They were walking quickly through the silent town under the windy night
sky. It was a dark boisterous evening, not inviting for strollers, and
they scarcely passed a soul till they were in the quiet road where the
villa stood. There, from the shadows of a gateway, two figures moved out
to meet them, and Cromarty recognised Superintendent Sutherland and one
of his constables. The two saluted in silence and fell in behind. They
each carried, he noticed, something long-shaped wrapped up loosely in
sacking.

"What have they got there?" he asked.

"Prosaic instruments," smiled Carrington. "I won't tell you more for
fear the gamble doesn't come off."

"Like the sensation before one proposes, I suppose," said Ned. "Well,
going by that, the omens ought to be all right."

They turned in through Simon's gates and then the four stopped.

"We part here," whispered Carrington. "Good luck!"

"Same to you," said Ned briefly, and strode up the drive.

As he came out into the gravel sweep before the house, he looked hard
into the darkness of the garden, but beyond the tossing shapes of trees,
there was not a sign of movement.

"Mr. Rattar in?" he enquired. "Sitting in the library I suppose? Take me
right to him. Cromarty's my name."

"Mr. Cromarty to see you, sir," announced Mary, and she was startled to
see the master's sudden turn in his chair and the look upon his face.

"Whether he was feared or whether he was angered, I canna rightly say,"
she told cook, "but anyway he looked fair mad like!"

"Good evening," said Ned.

His voice was restrained and dry, and as he spoke he strode across the
room and seated himself deliberately in the arm chair on the side of the
fire opposite to the lawyer.

Simon had banished that first look which Mary saw, but there remained in
his eyes something more than their usual cold stare. Each day since
Carrington came seemed to have aged his face and changed it for the
worse: a haggard, ugly, malicious face it seemed to his visitor looking
hard at it to-night. His only greeting was a briefer grunt than
ordinary.

"I daresay you can guess what's brought me here," said Ned.

The lawyer rapped out his first words jerkily.

"No. I can't."

"Try three guesses," suggested his visitor. "Come now, number one----?"

For a moment Simon was silent, but to-night he could not hide the
working of that face which usually hid his thoughts so effectually. It
was plain he hesitated what line to take.

"You have seen Miss Farmond, I hear," he said.

"You're on the scent," said his visitor encouragingly. "Have another
go."

"You believe her story."

"I do."

"It's false."

Ned stared at him very hard and then he spoke deliberately.

"I'm wondering," said he.

"Wondering what?" asked Simon.

"Whether a horse whip or the toe of a shooting boot is the best cure for
your complaint."

The lawyer shrank back into his chair.

"Do you threaten me?" he jerked out. "Be careful!"

"If I threatened you I'd certainly do what I threatened," said Ned. "So
far I'm only wondering. Where did you learn to lie, Mr. Rattar?"

The lawyer made no answer at all. His mind seemed concentrated on
guessing the other's probable actions.

"Out with it, man! I've met some derned good liars in my time, but you
beat the lot. I'm anxious to know where you learned the trick, that's
all."

"Why do you believe her more than me?" asked Simon.

"Because you've been found out lying before. That was a pretty stiff one
about your engaging Carrington, wasn't it?"

Simon was quite unable to control his violent start, and his face turned
whiter.

"I--I didn't say I did," he stammered.

"Well," said Ned, "I admit I wasn't there to hear you, but I know
Carrington made you put your foot fairly in it just by way of helping
him to size you up, and he got your size right enough too."

"Then----" began Simon, and stopped and changed it into: "What does
Carrington suspect--er--accuse me of?"

Ned stared at him for several seconds without speaking, and this
procedure seemed to disconcert the lawyer more than anything had done
yet.

"What--what does Carrington mean?" he repeated.

"He means you've lied, and he believes Miss Farmond, and he believes Sir
Malcolm, and he believes me, and he puts you down as a pretty bad egg.
What did you expect to be accused of?"

Simon could no more hide his relief to-night than he could hide his
fears.

"Only of what you have told me--only of course of what you say! But I
can explain. In good time I can explain."

It was at that moment that the door opened sharply and the start the
lawyer gave showed the state of his nerves after Mr. Cromarty's
handling. Mary MacLean stood in the doorway, her face twitching.

"What's the matter?" snapped her master.

"Please, sir, there are men in the garden!" she cried.

The lawyer leapt to his feet.

"Men in the garden!" he cried, and there was a note in his voice which
startled even tough Ned Cromarty. "What are they doing?"

"I don't know, sir. It sounded almost as if they was digging."

Simon swayed for an instant and grasped the back of his chair. Then in a
muffled voice he muttered:

"I'm going to see!"

He had scarcely made a step towards the door when Cromarty was on his
feet too.

"Steady!" he cried. "Get out there, and shut the door!"

The towering form and formidable voice sent Mary out with a shut door
between them almost as the command was off his tongue. A couple of
strides and he had got the lawyer by the shoulder and pulled him back.

"Sit down!" he commanded.

Simon turned on him with a new expression. The terror had passed away
and he stood there now as the sheer beast at bay.

"Damn you!" he muttered, and turned his back for a moment.

The next, his hand rose and simultaneously Ned's arm shot out and got
him by the wrist, while the shock of his onslaught drove the man back
and down into his chair. Though Simon was tough and stoutly built, he
was as a child in the hands of his adversary. A sharp twist of the wrist
was followed by an exclamation of pain and the thud of something heavy
on the floor. Ned stooped and picked up the globular glass match box
that had stood on the table. For a few moments he stared at it in dead
silence, balancing it in his hands. It was like a small cannon ball for
concentrated weight. Then in a curious voice he asked:

"Is this the first time you have used this?"

Simon made no reply. His face was dead white now, but dogged and grim,
and his mouth stayed tight as a trap. Ned replaced the match box on the
table, and planted himself before the fire.

"Nothing to say?" he asked, and Simon said nothing.

They remained like this for minute after minute; not a movement in the
room and the booming of the wind the only sound. And then came
footsteps on the gravel and the ringing of a bell.

"We'll probably learn something now," said Ned, but the other still said
nothing, and only a quick glance towards the door gave a hint of his
thoughts.

There was no announcement this time. Superintendent Sutherland entered
first, then the constable, and Carrington last. The superintendent went
straight up to the lawyer, his large face preternaturally solemn.
Touching him on the shoulder he said:

"I arrest you in the King's name!"

The man in the chair half started up and then fell back again.

"What for?" he asked huskily.

"The murder of Simon Rattar."

The lawyer took it as one who had seen the sword descending, but not so
Ned Cromarty.

"Of Simon Rattar!" he shouted. "What the--then who the devil is this?"

Carrington answered. He spoke with his usual easy smile, but his
triumphant eye betrayed his heart.

"The superintendent has omitted part of the usual formalities," he said.
"This person should have been introduced as Mr. George Rattar."

"George!" gasped Ned. "But I thought he was dead!"

"So did I," said Carrington, "but he wasn't."

"What proof have you of this story?" demanded the man in the chair
suddenly.

"We have just dug up your brother's body from that flower bed," said
Carrington quietly. "Do you recognise his ring?"

He held up a gold signet ring, and the lawyer fell back in his chair.

"But look here!" exclaimed Ned, "what about Sir Reginald's murder? He
did that too, I suppose!"

Carrington nodded.

"We hope to add that to his account in a day or two. This is enough to
be going on with, but as a matter of fact we have nearly enough evidence
now to add the other charge."

"I can add one bit," said Ned, picking up the match box. "He has just
tried to do me in with this little thing, and I take it, it was the
third time of using."

Carrington weighed it in his hand, and then said to the prisoner:

"You put it in the end of a stocking, I suppose?"

The man looked up at him with a new expression in his eye. If it were
not a trace of grim humour, it was hard to say what else it could be.

"Get me a drink," he said huskily, nodding towards the tantalus on the
side table, "and I'll tell you the whole damned yarn. My God, I'm dry as
a damned bone!"

"Give me the key of the tantalus," said Carrington promptly.

But the superintendent seemed somewhat taken aback.

"Anything you say may be used against you," he reminded the prisoner.

"You know enough to swing me, anyhow," said Rattar, "but I'd like you to
know that I didn't really mean to do it. I want that drink first
though!"

He took the glass of whisky and water and as he raised it to his lips,
that same curious look came back into his eye.

"Here's to the firm of S. and G. Rattar, and may their clients be as
damned as themselves!" he said with a glance at Cromarty, and finished
the drink at a draught.



XXXIX

THE YARN


"I needn't trouble you with my adventures before I came down here to
visit brother Simon," began the prisoner, "for you know them well
enough. It was about a month ago when I turned up at this house one
night."

"How did you get here?" demanded the superintendent.

"I did the last bit under the seat of the carriage," grinned Rattar,
"and when we got into the station I hopped out on the wrong side of the
train. The way I paid my fare wasn't bad either, considering I hadn't
half of the fare from London in my pocket when I started--or anything
like it. However, the point is I got here and just as I'd come through
the gates I had the luck to see both the maids going out. So the coast
was clear.

"Well, I rang the bell and out came Simon--the man who'd got me
convicted, and my own brother too, mind you!--looking as smug as the
hard-hearted old humbug he was. He got the shock of his life when he saw
who it was, but I began gently and I put a proposition to him. I'll bet
none of you will guess what it was!"

He looked round the company, and Carrington answered:

"Blackmail of some sort."

"You may call it blackmail if you like, but what was the sort? Well,
you'd never guess. I was wearing a beard and moustaches then, but I knew
if I took them off I'd look so like Simon that no one meeting one of us
would know which it was, supposing we were dressed exactly alike and I
did Simon's grunting tricks and all that. And Simon knew it too.

"'Well, Simon, my dear brother,' I said to him, 'I'll make you a
sporting proposition. My idea is to settle down in this old place, and
I'm so fond of you I mean to shave, get an outfit just like yours, and
give free rein to my affection for you. I'm so fond of you,' I said,
'that I know I shan't be able to keep more than five yards away from you
whenever you are walking the streets, and I'll have to sit in church
beside you, Simon. That's my present programme.'

"I let that sink in, and then I went on:

"'Supposing this programme embarrasses you, Simon, well there's one way
out of it, and I leave it to your judgment to say what it is.'

"Now, mind you, I'd banked on this coming off, for I knew what a
stickler Simon was for the respectable and the conventional and all
that. Can't you see the two of us going through the streets together,
five yards apart and dressed exactly alike! Wouldn't the small boys have
liked it! That was my only idea in coming down here. I meant no more
mischief, I'll swear to that! Unfortunately, though, I'd got so keen on
the scheme that I hadn't thought of its weak spot.

"Simon said not a word, but just looked at me--exactly as I've been
looking at people since I took his place in society. And then he asked
me if I was really very hard up. Like a fool I told him the plain truth,
that I had inside of five bob in my pockets and that was every penny I
owned in the world.

"He grinned then--I can see him grinning now--and he said:

"'In that case you'll have a little difficulty in paying your board and
lodging here, and still more in buying clothes. I tell you what I'll
do,' he said, 'I'll buy a ticket back to London for you and leave it
with the stationmaster, and that's every penny you'll ever get out of
me!'

"I saw he had me, but I wasn't going off on those terms. I damned him to
his face and he tried to shut the door on me. We were talking at the
front door all this while, I may mention. I got my foot in the way, and
as I was always a bit stronger than Simon, I had that door open after a
tussle and then I followed him into the library.

"I knew the man was hard as flint and never showed mercy to any one in
his life when he had them on toast, and I knew he had me on toast. How
was I to get any change out of him? That was what I was wondering as I
followed him, and then all at once something--the devil if you
like--put the idea into my head. I'd _be_ Simon!"

He looked round on his audience as though he still relished the memory
of that inspiration.

"The beauty of the idea was that no one would ever dream of suspecting a
man of not being himself! They might suspect him of a lot of things, but
not of that. I hadn't thought of the scheme ten seconds before I
realised how dead safe it was so long as I kept my head. And I have kept
it. No one can deny that!"

His glance this time challenged a contradiction, but no one spoke. The
circle of steadfast eyes and silent lips he seemed to take as a tribute
to his address, for he smiled and then went on:

"Yes, I kept my head from the beginning. I stood talking to him in this
very room, he refusing to answer anything except to repeat that he'd buy
a ticket to London and leave it with the stationmaster, and I working
out the scheme--what to do it with and how to manage afterwards. I knew
it was a swinging risk, but against that was a starving certainty, and
then I spied that match box and the thing was settled. I got him to look
the other way for a moment--and then he was settled. Give me another
drink!"

Carrington got him a drink and he gulped it down, and then turned
suddenly on Ned Cromarty.

"Your damned glass eye has been getting on my nerves long enough!" he
exclaimed. "My God, that eye and your habit of hanging people--I've had
enough of them! Can't you turn it away from me?"

"Won't turn," said Ned coolly, "spring broken. Get on with your story!"

Even in his privileged position as prisoner, Rattar seemed disinclined
to have trouble with his formidable ex-client. He answered nothing, but
turned his shoulder to him and continued:

"After that was over I set about covering my tracks. The first part was
the worst. Before the maids came back I had to get Simon stowed away for
the night--no time to bury him then of course, and I had to get into his
clothes, shave, and learn the lie of the house and all that. I did it
all right and came down to breakfast next morning and passed muster with
the servants, and never a suspicion raised!"

"There was a little," remarked Carrington, "but never enough."

"Not enough was good enough!"

"I am not quite certain of that," said Carrington. "However, go on. Your
next bunker was the office."

The prisoner nodded.

"It took some nerve," he said complacently, "and I'm free to confess
that to begin with I always had a beastly feeling that some one was
watching me and spotting something that didn't look quite right, but,
good Lord, keeping my head the way I kept it, there was nothing to worry
about! Who would ever think that the Simon Rattar who walked into his
office and grunted at his clerks on Wednesday morning, wasn't the same
Simon Rattar who walked in and grunted on Tuesday morning? And then I
had one tremendous pull in knowing all the ropes from old days. Simon
was a conservative man, nothing was ever changed--not even the clerks,
so I had the whole routine at my fingers. And he was an easy man to
imitate too. That was where I scored again. I daresay I have inherited
some of the same tricks myself. I know I found them come quite easy--the
stare and the silence and the grunts and the rest of them. And then I
always had more brains than Simon and could pick up business quicker.
You should have heard me making that ass Malcolm Cromarty, and the
Farmond girl, and this hangman with the glass eye tell me all about
themselves and what their business was, without their ever suspecting
they were being pumped! For, mind you, I'd never set eyes on Malcolm
Cromarty or the Farmond girl before in my life! No, it wasn't at the
office I had the nastiest time. It was burying the body that night."

The boastful smile died off his lips and for a moment he shivered a
little.

"What happened about that?" enquired Carrington keenly.

Rattar's voice instinctively fell a little.

"When I got home that afternoon I found he wasn't quite dead after all!"

"That accounts for it!" murmured Carrington.

"For what?"

"Your maid heard him moving."

The prisoner seemed to have recovered from his passing emotion.

"And I told her it was a rat, and she swallowed it!" he laughed. "Well,
he didn't move for long, and I had fixed up quite a good scheme for
getting him out of the house. A man was to call for old papers. I even
did two voices talking in the hall to make the bluff complete! Not being
able to get his ring off his finger rather worried me, but I put that
right by an advertisement in the paper saying I'd lost it!"

He was arrested by the look on Carrington's face.

"What happened?" he exclaimed. "Do you mean to say that gave me away?"

"Those superfluous precautions generally give people away."

"But how?"

"It doesn't matter now. You'll learn later. What next?"

"Next?" said Rattar. "Well, I just went on keeping my head and bluffing
people----" he broke off, looked at Superintendent Sutherland, and gave
a short laugh. "I only lost my nerve a bit once, and that was when the
glass-eyed hangman butted in and said he was going to get down a
detective. It struck me then it was time I was off--and what's more, I
started!"

The superintendent's mouth fell open.

"You--you weren't the man----" he began.

"Yes," scoffed the prisoner, "I was the man with toothache in that
empty carriage. I'd got in at the wrong side after the ticket collector
passed and just about twenty seconds before you opened the door. But the
sight of your red face made me change my plans, and I was out again
before that train started! A bright policeman you are! After that I
decided to stick it out and face the music; and I faced it."

His mouth shut tight and he sat back in his chair, his eyes travelling
round the others as though to mark their unwilling admiration. He
certainly saw it in the faces of the two open-eyed policemen, but
Cromarty's was hard and set, and he seemed still to be waiting.

"You haven't told us about Sir Reginald yet," he said.

Rattar looked at him defiantly.

"No evidence there," he said with a cunning shake of his head, "you can
go on guessing!"

"Would you like to smoke a pipe?" asked Carrington suddenly.

The man's eyes gleamed.

"By God, yes!"

"You can have one if you tell us about Sir Reginald. We've got you
anyhow, and there will be evidence enough there too when we've put it
together."

The superintendent looked a trifle shocked, but Carrington's sway over
him was by this time evidently unbounded. He coughed an official protest
but said nothing.

The prisoner only hesitated for a moment. He saw Carrington taking out a
cigarette, and then he took out his keys and said:

"This is the key for that drawer. You'll find my pipe and baccy there.
I'll tell you the rest." And then he started and exclaimed: "But how the
h-- did you know I smoked?"

"At five minutes past nine o'clock last night," said Carrington, as he
handed him his pipe, "I was within three paces of you."

The prisoner stared at him with a wry face.

"You devil!" he murmured, and then added with some philosophy: "After
all, I'd sooner be hanged than stop smoking." And with that he lit his
pipe.

"You want to know about old Cromarty," he resumed. "Well, I made my
first bad break when I carried on a correspondence with him which Simon
had begun, not knowing they had had a talk between whiles cancelling the
whole thing. You know about it and about the letter Sir Reginald sent me
after I'd written. Well, when I got that letter I admit it rattled me a
bit. I've often wondered since whether he had really suspected anything
or whether he would have sooner or later. Anyhow I got it into my head
that the game was up if something didn't happen. And so it happened."

"You went and killed him?" said Ned.

"That's for you and your glass eye to find out!" snapped the prisoner.

"Take his pipe away," said Carrington quietly.

"Damn it!" cried Rattar, "I'll tell you, only I'm fed up with that man's
bullying! I put it in a stocking" (he nodded towards the match box)
"just as you guessed and I went out to Keldale that night. My God, what
a walk that was in the dark! I'd half forgotten the way down to the
house and I thought every other tree was a man watching me. I don't know
yet how I got to that library window. I remembered his ways and I
thought he'd be sitting up there alone; but it was just a chance, and
I'd no idea I'd have the luck to pick a night when he was sleeping in
his dressing room. Give me another drink!"

Carrington promptly brought one and again it vanished almost in a gulp.

"Well, I saw him through a gap in the curtains and I risked a tap on the
glass. My God, how surprised he was to see me standing there! I grinned
at him and he let me in, and then----" He broke off and fell forward in
his chair with his face in his hands. "This whisky has gone to my head!"
he muttered. "You've mixed it too damned strong!"

Ned Cromarty sprang up, his face working. Carrington caught him by the
arm.

"Let's come away," he said quietly. "We've heard everything necessary.
You can't touch him now."

Cromarty let him keep his arm through his as they went to the door.

"I'll send a cab up for you in a few minutes," Carrington added to the
superintendent.

They left the prisoner still sitting muttering into his hands.



XL

THE LAST CHAPTER


On their way down to the hotel Ned Cromarty only spoke once, and that
was to exclaim:

"If I'd only known when I had him alone! Why didn't you tell me more
before I went in?"

"For your own sake," said Carrington gently. "The law is so devilish
undiscriminating. Also, I wasn't absolutely certain then myself."

They said nothing more till they were seated in Carrington's sitting
room and his employer had got a cigar between his teeth and pushed away
an empty tumbler.

"I'm beginning to feel a bit better," said he. "Fire away now and tell
me how you managed this trick. I'd like to see just how derned stupid
I've been!"

"My dear fellow, I assure you you haven't! I'm a professional at this
game, and I tell you honestly it was at least as much good luck as good
guidance that put me on to the truth at last."

"I wonder what you call luck," said Ned. "Seems to me you were up
against it all the time! You've told me how you caught Rattar lying at
the start. Well, that was pretty smart of you to begin with. Then, what
next? How did things come?"

"Well," said Carrington, "I picked up a little something on my first
visit to Keldale. From Bisset's description I gathered that the body
must have been dragged along the floor and left near the door. Why?
Obviously as a blind. Adding that fact to the unfastened window, the
broken table, the mud on the floor, and the hearth brush, the odds
seemed heavy on entry by the window. I also found that the middle blind
had been out of order that night and that it _might_ have been quite
possible for any one outside to have seen Sir Reginald sitting in the
room and known he was alone there. Again, it seemed long odds on his
having recognised the man outside and opened the window himself, which,
again, pointed to the man being some one he knew quite well and never
suspected mischief from."

"Those were always my own ideas, except that I felt bamboozled where you
felt clear--which shows the difference between our brains!"

Carrington laughed and shook his head.

"I wish I could think so! No, no, it's merely a case of every man to his
own trade. And as a matter of fact I was left just as bamboozled as you
were. For who could this mysterious man be? Of the people inside the
house, I had struck out Miss Farmond, Bisset, Lady Cromarty, and all the
female servants. Only Sir Malcolm was left. I wired for him to come up
and was able to score him out too. I also visited you and scored you
out. So there I was--with no conceivable criminal!"

"But you'd already begun to suspect Rattar, hadn't you?"

"I knew he had lied about engaging me; I discovered from Lady Cromarty
that he had told her of Sir Malcolm's engagement to Miss Farmond--and I
suspected he had started her suspicions of them; and I saw that he was
set on that theory, in spite of the fact that it was palpably improbable
if one actually knew the people. Of course if one didn't, it was
plausible enough. When I first came down here it seemed to me a very
likely theory and I was prepared to find a guilty couple, but when I met
Miss Farmond and told her suddenly that Sir Malcolm was arrested, and
she gazed blankly at me and asked 'What for?' well, I simply ran my
pencil, so to speak, through her name and there was an end of her! The
same with Sir Malcolm when I met him. And yet here was the family
lawyer, who knew them both perfectly, so convinced of their guilt that
he was obviously stifling investigation in any other direction. And on
top of all that, all my natural instincts and intuitions told me that
the man was a bad hat."

"But didn't all that make you suspect him?"

"Of what? Of leaving his respectable villa at the dead of night,
tramping several miles at his age in the dark, and deliberately
murdering his own best client and old friend under circumstances so
risky to himself that only a combination of lucky chances saw him
safely through the adventure? Nothing--absolutely nothing but homicidal
mania could possibly account for such a performance, and the man was
obviously as sane as you or I. I felt certain that there was something
wrong somewhere, but as for suspecting him of being the principal in the
crime, the idea was stark lunacy!"

"By George, it was a tough proposition!" said Ned. "By the way, had you
heard of George Rattar at that time?"

"Oh, yes, I heard of him, and knew they resembled one another, but as I
was told that he had left the place for years and was now dead, my
thoughts never even once ran in that direction until I got into a state
of desperation, and then I merely surmised that his misdeeds might have
been at the bottom of some difficulty between Simon and Sir Reginald."

"Then how on earth did you ever get on to the right track?"

"I never would have if the man hadn't given himself away. To begin with,
he was fool enough to fall in with my perfectly genuine assumption that
he was either employing me or acting for my employer. No doubt he stood
to score if the bluff had come off, and he banked on your stipulation
that your name shouldn't appear. But if he had only been honest in that
matter, my suspicions would never have started--not at that point
anyhow."

"That was Providence--sure!" said Ned with conviction.

"I'm inclined to think it was," agreed Carrington. "Then again his
advice to Sir Malcolm and Miss Farmond was well enough designed to
further his own scheme of throwing suspicion on them, but it simply
ended in his being bowled out both times, and throwing suspicion on
himself. But _the_ precaution which actually gave him away was putting
in that advertisement about his ring."

"I was just wondering," said Ned, "how that did the trick."

"By the merest fluke. I noticed it when I was making enquiries at the
Police Office on quite different lines, but you can imagine that I
switched off my other enquiries pretty quick when Superintendent
Sutherland calmly advanced the theory that the ring was stolen when
Rattar's house was entered by some one unknown on the very night of the
murder!"

"This is the first I've heard of that!" cried Ned.

"It was the first I had, but it led me straight to Rattar's house and a
long heart to heart talk with his housemaid. That was when I collected
that extraordinary mixed bag of information which I was wondering
yesterday whether to believe or not. Here are the items, and you can
judge for yourself what my state of mind was when I was carrying about
the following precious pieces of information."

He ticked the items off on his fingers.

"A mysterious man who entered the garden one night and left his
footprints in the gravel, and whose visit had a strange and mysterious
effect on Rattar. Funny feelings produced in the bosom of the housemaid
by the presence of her master. Doors of unused rooms mysteriously locked
and keys taken away; said to be old papers inside. Mysterious visit of
mysterious man at dead of night to remove the said papers. A ring that
couldn't come off the owner's finger mysteriously lost. Mysterious
burglary on night of the murder by mysterious burglar who left all
windows and doors locked behind him and took nothing away. Mysterious
perambulations of his garden every night at nine o'clock by Mr. Simon
Rattar."

"Great Scot!" murmured Cromarty.

"I have given you the items in what turned out to be their order of
date, but I got them higgledy-piggledy and served up in a sauce of
mystery and trembly sensations that left me utterly flummoxed as to how
much--if anything--was sober fact. However, I began by fastening on to
two things. The first was the burglary, which of course at once
suggested the possibility that the man who had committed the crime at
Keldale had returned to Rattar's house and got in by that window. The
second was the nightly perambulations, which could easily be tested.
When Mr. Rattar emerged at nine that night, I was in the garden before
him. And what do you think he did?"

"Had a look at his brother's grave?"

"Smoked two pipes of tobacco! A man who was an anti-tobacco fanatic! The
truth hit me straight in the eye--'That man is not Simon Rattar!' And
then of course everything dropped into its place. The ex-convict twin
brother, the only evidence of whose supposititious death was an
announcement in the paper, obviously put in as a blind. The personal
resemblance between the two. All the yarns told me by the housemaid,
including the strange visitor--George of course arriving; the man who
came for the papers--George himself taking out the body; and the
vanished ring. Everything fitted in now, and the correspondence between
Sir Reginald and Rattar which had beaten me before, gave the clue at
once as to motive."

"I guess you felt you had deserved a drink that trip!" said Ned.

"I didn't stop to have my drink. I went straight off to see old Ison
and pumped him for the rest of the evening. He wasn't very helpful
but everything I could get out of him went to confirm my theory. I
found for certain that Simon Rattar had never smoked in his life, and
that George used to be a heavy smoker. I also learned that a few
recent peculiarities of conduct had struck the not too observant Ison,
one being very suggestive. Rattar, it seemed, kept an old pair of kid
gloves in his desk which he was in the habit of wearing when he was
alone in the office."

"Don't quite see the bearing of that."

"Well, on my hypothesis it was to avoid leaving finger marks. You see
George was an ex-convict. It was a very judicious precaution too, and
made it extremely difficult to catch him out by that means, for one
could scarcely approach a respectable solicitor and ask him for an
impression of his fingers! And anyhow, nothing could be definitely
proved against him until we had found Simon's body. That was the next
problem. Where had he hidden it?"

"And how did you get at that?"

"Guessed it. At first my thoughts went too far afield, but when I went
over the times mentioned in the maid's story of the man who took away
the papers, and the fact that she heard no sound of a wheeled vehicle, I
realised that he must have simply planted it in one of the flower beds.
This morning I prodded them all with a stout walking stick and found the
spot. Then I talked like a father to old Sutherland and fixed everything
up with him. And then I sent my wire to you."

"And you deliberately tell me you got there as much by good luck as good
guidance?"

Carrington's eyes thoughtfully followed his smoke rings.

"I can see the luck at every turn," he answered, "and though I'd like to
believe in the guidance, I'm hanged if it's quite as distinct!"

"If you are telling me the neat, unvarnished truth, Carrington," said
his admiring employer, "I can only say that you've a lot to learn about
your own abilities--and I hope to Heaven you'll never learn it!"

"But I assure you there are some people who think me conceited!"

"There are guys of all sorts in the world," said Ned. "For instance
there's a girl who has mistaken me for a daisy, and I've got to get back
to her now. Good night! I won't say 'Thanks' because I can't shout it
loud enough."

When his gig lamps had flashed up the silent street and Carrington had
turned back from the pavement into the hotel, he met his friend Miss
Peterkin.

"Mr. Cromarty's late to-night," said she. "A fine gentleman that! I
always say there are few like Mr. Cromarty of Stanesland."

"That's lucky for me," said Carrington with a smile that puzzled her a
little. "My business in life would be gone if there were!"

                              THE END





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